The Two Key Things To Look For In Your First Guitar
If you’re a complete beginner at the guitar you’re probably a little nervous about buying your first instrument. After all, even at the cheapest end of the market, a new guitar is still quite an investment to make, and you want to be sure that it’s the only one you’ll have to buy for quite a while. A badly made or badly set up guitar can make playing difficult even for a guitarist with excellent technique. Worse still, a look around the web can throw up all sorts of baffling and contradictory advice. There’s endless discussions on types of wood, number of frets, starting on electric or acoustic, Fender vs Gibson and so on. But for a beginner taking their first look at buying a guitar there are only a couple of things that really matter.
Will the guitar be comfortable to play? This is the number one thing you should be concerned with when buying a new guitar. My initial advice would be to test out a guitar and see how it feels. Having a free trial lesson using one of my guitars will give you an idea of how a guitar should feel, and just enough technical ability to strum a couple of guitar chords and try some instruments out for yourself. However, if you are keen to get straight out and buy a guitar before having lessons, the main thing you want to look for is the ‘action’ of the guitar. This refers to the gap between the strings and the fret board. In a well-made and well set up guitar this gap should be almost identical for the full length of the fret board. Poorly set up guitars tend to have an action that gets higher and higher, peaking around the 12th fret (the centre point of the guitar string). This means that the further up the neck you play the harder it will be to hold down the strings. Most guitars can be adjusted, so if you find one you like and are considering purchasing ask the guitar shop staff to set it up for you.
Will the guitar stay in tune? It may seem obvious, but tuning is very important to guitar playing. You can play with the best technique in the world, but no amount of good playing technique will make an out of tune guitar sound good. Most modern guitars, even at the low end of the range, have decent enough tuning pegs that will keep your strings at the tuning you set them to. However what many of them suffer with is poor intonation. This is the fine tuning of the guitar. To check the intonation of the guitar on each string you should use an electronic tuner and play the 12th fret note on each string. This should be identical in pitch to the harmonic played at the 12th fret. If the notes are the same then the intonation is good, if there is a difference then this means that the string is not centred around the 12th fret, and the guitar will become more out of tune the higher up the neck you play. In your free trial guitar lesson I’ll show you how to check this. As with the action this is more easily adjusted on an electric guitar than on acoustic, and so when looking at an electric guitar you like you should ask the guitar shop staff to set it up for you. With an acoustic guitar altering the bridge is far more difficult, and it’s far easier to simply find a different guitar that is properly intonated.
Martin Sean McConnell Guitar Teacher - 30/04/15
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