This article will talk about the fundamentals that you need to know before buying a guitar (Electric, Acoustic & Bass).
You’re just starting out playing guitar; choosing which type of instrument, which brand, model, and even which color can be pretty overwhelming. On top of that, if you consider the massive amount of random information on the internet, the task can indeed be complicated. We hope this article will condense and summarize all this information in an inspiring way for you to make the best decision.
What Should I Know Before Buying A Guitar?
Before buying a guitar, you need to know two things: which music you like and what’s your budget. The first will help you choose between acoustic, electric, or bass guitar, while the second will guide you through brands and models. Considering these things beforehand will save you a lot of time and energy.
For example, if you like metal and you’d like to play heavy guitar riffs and shredding solos, an electric guitar will surely be the best option for you. On the other hand, if you have a passion for folk or singer-songwriter music, then an acoustic guitar will get you that exact sound.
Last but not least, we got the bass guitar, another string instrument that plays a different role than a regular guitar. If you’re all about that bass, if you like those groovy-low-end bass lines that make you dance or that can shake the foundations of a building, then a bass guitar is your go-to.
After thinking about what music you’d like to play, you just have to set a realistic budget of how much you want to spend. Don’t worry: you won’t need to bust the bank; there’re amazing well built, great-sounding guitars at a fair price, for starters.
That leaves us to choose between different guitar styles, brands, models, shapes, and colors of a guitar. In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know before buying your first guitar, as well as give you tips and tricks to help you find the right instrument.
Why do ergonomics matter while buying a guitar?
Ergonomics is a fundamental aspect of buying a guitar for the first time. Many new players don’t pay much attention to this, but finding an instrument that actually feels comfortable will help you speed up your learning curve and prevent any hurt on your body.
The way some guitars are more ergonomic than others relies on their design and construction, specifically on the way their weight is balanced from the bridge to the headstock and some contours made on the body to fit the player’s body. Some well-known, great-sounding guitars don’t consider this stuff, so make sure you read the points below to find which guitars do have an ergonomic feel.
- Contoured bodies
A contoured body is a hugely important factor in finding a comfortable guitar. These cuts on the instrument’s body will perfectly fit within your body, creating an overall comforting feeling while playing. You’ll most commonly find this type of body on Stratocaster-like guitars (Squier, Cort, Ibanez, Shecter).
Some bass guitars also come with contoured bodies, like Jazz Basses and Precision Basses (Squier, Cort), but this can be a rare find when it comes to acoustics. This is due to the fact that acoustic guitars generate their sound by the resonance their body creates, so they need a full size-symmetric to make it happen.
- Single cutaway vs double cutaway
A guitar’s cutaway is a feature designed to have easy access to the higher notes of the instruments by removing wood and making a “cut” on that zone. This is very important if you want to play comfortably on the instrument’s higher register (prevalent on guitar solos).
You should always check the single-cutaway models, especially if you’re looking for an acoustic guitar, which tends to have bigger bodies and necks, and therefore more complicated access to the higher notes of the neck.
Now, if you’re looking for an electric or bass guitar, you can also find double-cutaway instruments. Double cutaways allow the thumb to grab the lower part of the neck, making it even easier and more comfortable to play the highest notes of the instrument.
The most common examples of single and double-cutaway guitars are:
- Les Paul (electric, single-cutaway)
- Stratocaster (electric, double-cutaway)
- Jazz Bass (bass guitar, double-cutaway)
What’s the instrument’s playability, and why is it important?
Playability is key. Aside from ergonomics, playability refers to how easy an instrument plays and the overall feeling you get from it. When picking up your first guitar, you want to make sure you not only buy an instrument that sounds good but that’s easy to play.
Most of the playability of a guitar comes from its neck. Necks can be very different from one another, so we’re going to break down their qualities into four fundamental points so you can determine what makes a beginner’s guitar play well. Stick around to see which neck has the best playability for you.
- Neck profile
Necks come in different shapes that vary their size and thickness. Aside from having an influence on the guitar’s tone, this has a significant impact on how comfortable the feeling is when playing, and since all hands are different, you’ll have to find which one feels best on your hands.
As a rule of thumb, big-fat necks have great sustain but are harder to play, while thinner necks have a lighter sound and feel. A thin-to-medium size neck would be the best to start with, and you can find this on any instrument (acoustic, electric, bass) or model.
Radius is another important fact you should consider to determine the instrument’s playability. Its concept is similar to the neck profile, but in this case, it applies to the front face of the neck, measuring how flat or how curved the fretboard is.
If you’re looking to play chords and rhythm guitar, a more curved radius will give you a better grip, while if you want to play fast and light, a flatter radius will be more comfortable. Playability is not a rigid spec of a guitar, so don’t forget that a great starting guitar is the one that works for you.
- Frets size
Another aspect you have to take into account in terms of playability is the size of the frets. Guitars come in various frets sizes, which can significantly affect how you feel and perceive the fretboard. For starter players, medium to large frets will give you a tight and consistent grip.
If you like the sound and feel of a guitar, but you’re not sure about the frets, don’t worry. Just ask your local shop or online guitar dealer for a version of the same model but with different frets. It is pretty standard that brands build their models with slight specs differences that you can choose.
Last but not least, we got action. Guitars with high action are a lot harder to play, so it can be challenging for a beginner. When buying your first guitar, you’ll want to buy a low-action guitar: this means the strings will be as close as possible to the fretboard, making it nice and easy to play.
Are there guitars for left-handed people?
There’re plenty of options in the left-handed market. If you’re left-handed, you don’t have to worry about crazy stuff like learning to play right-handed or inverting the strings of your instrument. Almost any guitar brand has left and right-handed versions of their classic models; just look for it.
Do you need a specific guitar model to play a particular music genre?
New players tend to make this common mistake, and the internet community emphasizes that, but no guitar is designed to be played in just one music genre. A guitar will do what it does: create sound. And, maybe, in the process of playing a style with a “wrong” guitar, you’ll find your own sound.
Of course, some guitars work better than others for specific genres, but in no way is that a limitation that could stop you from playing all the music styles you like. Having said that, here are some recommendations on which models suit specific genres better. As you’ll see, they even share lots of ground!
- Stratocaster: Blues, Funk, Neo-Soul
- Telecaster: Rock, Country, Funk
- Les Paul: Rock, Blues, Hard Rock
- SG: Rock, Metal
- Jazzmaster: Alternative, Indie
- Jazz Bass: Rock, Pop, Funk
- Precision Bass: Rock, Soul, Funk
Do you need a guitar amp?
When buying an electric guitar or bass guitar, then you’ll need an amp. But don’t worry: just like guitars, beginners amps come in all shapes, sizes, and prices, so we’ll talk about which amp is the best for you. Let’s take a look into it.
The first thing you need to know is pricing: beginners amps range from $50 to $300 approximately, and you can find them in any local shop or online seller. As with guitars, you have different brands and models, each with its unique sound and features. So what makes an amp the best for starters?
First of all, its size. Make sure to look for a small or medium-size amp; big amps you see on studios or concerts are not only super heavy but loud. And we mean, LOUD. They’re tough to use in a room that’s not prepared for them. But you can find an easy-to-carry and neighbors-friendly amp. For example:
The Marshall MG30GFX is an excellent amp for starters. It has two channels and built-in effects (reverb, delay, chorus), so you won’t have to expend extra money on guitar pedals for a while. Solid and versatile, it’s a great amp both to start learning guitar and eventually play your first gigs.
If you want something quieter and smaller, you can check out the Blackstar FLY 3 Mini Amp BK. or the Fender Mini Tonemaster (Check Amazon). These amps work on batteries or DC and are fantastic to play around the house at nice and even volume, but they surely won’t be enough once you want to play some gigs.
How durable are beginner’s guitars?
Contrary to common belief, beginner’s guitars are pretty durable and, if you correctly take care of them, they can last you a lifetime. Guitar’s construction is solid as ever, even in the starters market, so don’t worry about your guitar breaking or having a major technical issue.
Not to say that these instruments are ideal for making upgrades, like changing pickups, tuners, or bridges, if you eventually buy a more professional guitar. You’ll exponentially expand the use of your instrument by doing something that can be a bit risky to do with an expensive guitar.
What set of strings do you need?
Go with a light/medium set of strings. 0.9 or 0.10 are suitable gauges for acoustic and electric guitar strings, and 0.40 will do just fine for bass. Thicker strings sound louder but are much harder to play with. A set of comfortable strings will significantly improve the instruments’ playability!
What should you know about your first guitar’s tone?
The most important thing to know about tone when buying your first guitar is quite simple: that you feel comfortable. The guitar tone is an endless rabbit hole with lots of people talking about it, but at the end of the day, the right guitar tone should be the one that helps you express your musical ideas.
Besides (and here it is where the fun starts), you can improve the guitar’s tone by changing the pickups. That means that if you eventually want to experiment and try new sounds, you can easily replace them with a new set of pickups and keep on expanding your sound pallet.
Lastly, don’t forget that tone is mostly in your fingers. Some guitarists get obsessed with guitar tone almost before they learn how to play, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s no need to spend lots of extra money on gear when you still got a lot of juice to squeeze on your guitar.
Do aesthetics matter when buying your first guitar?
Having a guitar that looks good to you and that matches your vibe can surely have a positive impact on your learning process. While many of the online discussions surrounding the guitar community emphasize tone and vintage gear, guitar aesthetics end up being relieved to a secondary stage.
When looking for your first guitar, try to find one that you like visually, almost like a piece of clothing. Playing music is all about connection, and we believe that the more you feel related to that instrument, the more you’ll want to play it, and the more comfortable you’ll feel when playing it.
Is buying a second-hand beginner’s guitar a deal?
Buying a used instrument is an excellent alternative for your first guitar. Overall, the guitar uses fundamental technology that stands the pass of time. Just make sure the instrument is in good shape. A luthier can quickly fix any minor issues (strings action, electronics).
Economically speaking and unlike vintage guitars, second-hand beginners guitars tend to be cheaper than new ones, and you can find some rare, discontinued models that work and sound just fine. Keep reading to find out where you can get the best deals for buying used instruments.
How much does a beginner guitar cost?
You’ll find beginner guitars at a $100-$600 price range approximately (US dollars). If you want to scoop your search further, you’ll find the best ones of these in the $400-$600 range (economic line of renowned companies), while in the $100-$300 range, you’ll find well-done imitations of these famous brands.
Where to buy your first guitar?
When it finally comes to buying your guitar, there’re two ways you can do it: buying it online through a guitar dealer (like Amazon or Thomann), which has a solid shipping system too), or going to your local music shop to try and compare models.
We strongly recommend the second option, since it’s important to try your instrument personally to find out how comfortable it is to you. Remember, the best beginner guitar is not the most expensive, but the one that feels best to you and that you feel stoked to play.
When it comes to used guitars, you can look at a local music shop that sells second-hand, or you can either dive into the depths of the online used market. To make that search more manageable, let’s talk a bit about the two most prominent sites for buying used instruments: Reverb and eBay.
- Reverb: The biggest and most complete site dedicated to selling and buying used gear. With its easy-to-navigate interface, you’ll find many beginner guitars (acoustic, electric, and bass) at fair prices.
- eBay: eBay is another solid option when looking for second-hand instruments. Though its user interface may not be the prettiest, you can find good deals, especially on their bids.
Do you need accessories when buying your first guitar?
Accessories are a great addition to your set that’ll come handy in your learning process, so we’ve compiled a list of some essential in-expensive items that you should consider adding to your rig. They can make a difference and help you get the best out of your guitar.
- Clip tuner: most important of all, for sure. There’s a lot of free tuning apps available, but for this stage in which you’re just starting, we recommend using an accurate clip tuner. The Snark tuner is a must!
- Cable: it’s a redundancy to say that you need a cable to play electric guitar, but if were about to buy one, make sure to go for (at least) a 3 meters/10-foot long cord.
- Set of picks: a set of picks made of different shapes, textures, and materials will give you a wider sound pallet to play with. And, trust us, picks fall into black holes more often than you think, so it’s a good idea to always have some extra picks to replace the lost ones.
- Strap: having a guitar strap has at least three benefits: first, it’s a must for live situations most of the time; second, it can be advantageous while practicing or studying on a chair and you want to regulate the height of the guitar; third, it looks astonishingly cool.
- Strap locks: a set of strap locks will effectively prolong the useful life of your instrument. Most of the damage a guitar receives comes from unexpected problems with straps and fell-offs, so a set of strap locks will secure your instrument from possible accidents.
- Gig Bag: essential if you want to protect your guitar from humidity and dust, or you want to take it with you anywhere. Keep reading till the end to find which of our favorite beginner guitars comes with a spectacular semi-rigid gig bag.
- Flight Case: yes, flight cases can be expensive (sometimes more expensive than the guitar inside!), but if you’re planning to fly with your instrument, then this is a serious purchase you need to make. Guitars (especially acoustics) can result heavily broken if you don’t use the proper case.
So now that we’ve talked about all these different aspects, we get the idea of what you need to know before buying a guitar. Regardless of the type of instrument (acoustic, electric, bass guitar) or the music you like, here are the top aspects you should take into consideration:
- Look & Feel
- Pricing & Budget
But you might still be wondering: So, which is the best guitar for me? Which model out of all of these is the most convenient? Well, as a way to wrap all of this information, here’s our selection of the best acoustic, electric, and bass beginner guitars!
Best beginner’s Acoustic Guitar
- Taylor Baby Taylor BT1
With its supreme construction and sweet-defined tone, the Baby Taylor is a hit among guitar players, and there’s a reason it is so prevalent in the beginner’s guitar world: its size. Being a 3/4 guitar, it’s the perfect acoustic for somebody who’s just starting and needs a guitar that’s comfortable, great-sounding, and easy to transport.
It is a fantastic guitar in terms of quality, with many years of playing ahead. Due to its characteristic sound and stable intonation, it has become a favorite of players who even have more expensive acoustics on their arsenal. So you can think of this as a long-term guitar when deciding your budget.
This instrument gives beginner guitarists everything you need when looking for an acoustic: lightweight, great tuning, comfortable neck, and since it comes with a fantastic semi-rigid gig bag made by Taylor, you can take it with you anywhere you want.
We know that you’re just starting, and it can seem way far out to think about recording. But if interested in making guitar content for social media or recording your own stuff in the future, this guitar will do a rock-solid performance. It sounds wonderful when recorded.
- 3/4 size
- Spruce top
- Maple neck
- Layered walnut back and sides
- Includes semi-rigid gig bag by Taylor
Best beginner’s Electric Guitar
- Squier Stratocaster Classic Vibe series
Comfortable. Versatile. There’s nothing like a Strat. It’s no wonder it’s a favorite of starters and seasoned players. The revolutionary guitar introduced by Leo Fender in the 50s now gets this rock-solid, great-sounding economic version. Out of all the Squier series, the Classic Vibe sounds and plays like no other.
The Stratocaster has stood the pass of time and remains one of the most popular guitar models in the market thanks to its uniques features. The double-cutaway and contoured body, as well as perfectly balanced headstock, make the Strat one of the most comfortable guitars out there. But what makes it so unique?
Its versatile and dynamic tone. The Stratocaster has three pickups, out of which you can get five different combinations, giving you a wide and rich tone variety. Also, the bolt-on neck makes it ring in a smooth yet defined way, eliminating rumble and undesired low frequencies.
Throughout history, the Stratocaster has been a symbol of innovation and discovery. Each decade’s generations of guitarists have brought it to new sound territories, redefining this classic guitar. Who knows where you can take it? You just can’t go wrong with a Strat.
- Solid body
- 1 volume knob
- 2 tone knobs
- 3 single coil alnico pickups
- 5 way switch
- Vintage style tuners
- Floating trem bridge
Best beginner’s Bass Guitar
- Squier Jazzbass Classic Vibe Series
The Jazz Bass is the most popular bass among all. This affordable version has everything that made it so famous: outstanding construction, defined lows and mids, and flawless playability. This option is a way to go if you want to start with a great sounding, versatile and comfortable bass.
The Jazz Bass has two pickups which you can control with two separate volume knobs to blend them and one tone knob to help you dial in the right tone. From bright and punchy mid-range tones to deep and smooth low ones, this bass will cover all the ground you need in your learning process and beyond.
The Jazz Bass is to the electric bass world what the Stratocaster is to the electric guitar: a foundation in which most of the recordings and music you love were made; its combination of tone, design, and playability is a no-brainer when it comes to choosing your first bass. You can’t beat a classic.
- Solid body
- 1 tone knob
- 2 volume knobs
- 2 alnico pickups
In a world with so much information popping everywhere, doing online research to find out what you need to know before buying your first guitar can be overwhelming. Always take your time, look for as much information as you want, and follow your gut.
We hope this article is helpful and inspiring to you. We covered a lot of technical ground, but don’t forget that finding the right instrument can take some time, or it can be love at first sight. And either way, the right guitar is not the most expensive or the most hyped: it is the one that resonates with you.
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Dante is a professional session guitarist, composer, producer, and mix engineer with over a decade of experience and +600 tracks of his own licensed for Film and TV, as well as dozens of placements on Spotify, curated playlists. With his studio based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he focuses his productions on Indie, Pop, Neo Soul, Hip Hop, and Orchestral Music.