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29 Apr 2020

Buying your first guitar? Here’s everything you need to know!

Instruments Buying your first guitar? Here’s everything you need to know!

Buying your first guitar can be extremely exiting, but it can also be pretty daunting. We’re going to break down all the things you need to be aware of, when it comes to splashing the cash on your first guitar.

Things to look out for:

  • Steel String Acoustics, Nylon String Acoustics & Electric Guitar’s
  • What styles of music do you like?
  • Body shapes & styles
  • Different types of pickups
  • Check the ‘setup’ – action and tuning stability
  • What’s your budget?
  • Try before you buy

Steel String Acoustic

The steel string acoustic is probably the most common choice when it comes to picking your first guitar. This guitar is acoustic, meaning it resonates and produces sound from the sound hole in the centre of the body. Perfectly suited for folk, country, singer songwriters and just about every genre. Steel strings mean this guitar has a bright tonal quality, and is ideal in un-amplified situations. Gibson, Martin & Taylor are pedigree names that offer some of the highest quality steel string acoustics on the market.

Nylon String Acoustic

This tends to be the first guitar you would pick up at a young age. The main differences between nylon string and steel string acoustics are the type of strings, and the body shape.

Nylon string guitars (often referred to as classical guitars) are strung with plastic strings, as opposed to the metal steel choice on steel string acoustics. This gives the nylon string guitar a much softer quality and is often favoured by fingerstyle guitarists. Nylon string acoustics are typically shorter in scale length, and also have a narrower body shape. This can make them a more comfortable option for learning your first chords, scales and songs.

Electric Guitar

As the title suggests, this guitar is electric and not acoustic. It uses pickups which sit underneath the strings on the body of the guitar to amplify the signal to a speaker. When paired with an amplifier, the electric guitar is the loudest of the bunch, and is also the most versatile in terms of tonal options. Electric guitars typically use solid body woods. Therefore, they are much quieter in acoustic settings, as they have no sound hole to resonate from.

What styles of music do you like?

At the beginning of your selection process, you need to outline which styles of music you want to initially learn and which guitarists you’d like to study. This will help determine what type of guitar you require. For example, if you’re inspired by classic rock riffs and heavy metal licks, you’ll want to purchase an electric guitar. But if you favour the likes of country and folk artists, the obvious choice would be a steel string acoustic. However, there may be many of you aspiring to play many different types of music. Fear not! The most practical solution when learning guitar, is to have a few different types for this exact reason. If you’re a complete beginner, just buy one guitar and see how you feel after a few months of playing and learning.

Body Shapes and Styles

Guitars come in many different shapes and sizes. This can greatly impact the tone of the guitar and should be something to pay attention to when trying out your first guitar.

Dreadnought

This is the most common acoustic guitar shape you’ll come across. A good all-rounder for many different styles, and very loud.

Triple 000

Think of this as a halfway house between a dreadnought and travel/parlour style guitar. Its hourglass figure means it’s a very comfortable guitar and perfectly suited for fingerstyle players.

Travel guitars

Although this is a relatively modern shape, the travel guitar has firmly made its staple in guitar history. Made famous by the likes of Ed Sheeran, the travel guitar features a small compact body and short scale neck making it very easy to play.

Stratocaster

Arguably the most popular electric guitar of all time, there’s a reason the Stratocaster is owned by many guitarists. A descendant of its predecessor (the Telecaster) the Stratocaster features a scalloped body, 3 single coil pickups and a vast array of sonic capabilities. Its triple pickup position means this guitar can play just about anything you throw at it.

Telecaster

The Telecaster has a single cutaway body enabling easy reach high up the neck. The body houses two single coil pickups at the neck and bridge, offering a broad range of tones for a wide range of genres. It’s simple yet effective design has been in the hands of many world-famous guitarists, from Keith Richards to Prince.

Les Paul

Named after the owner, founder and pioneer of Gibson guitars himself, the Les Paul is one of the most famous guitar shapes of all time. The Les Paul body shape is commonly referred to as a ‘carved top’. What makes the Les Paul so unique is the pickups it uses. ‘Humbucker’ pickups are essentially two single coil pickups combined, this cancels out the infamous noise and hum that single coils generate. They also have a lot more power and offer a thicker, warmer sound favoured by many legends such as Jimmy Page and Slash.

Different Types of Pickups

Put simply, a pickup is a microphone for the electric guitar. A pickup is a transducer that converts vibrations into an electric signal, that can then be amplified. There’s a whole list of guitar pickups to choose from. Single coils to gold foils, P90’s to lipstick pickups. It’s a long list! Below are just a few of the most common pickups you’ll find when buying your first guitar.

Single Coil’s

Single Coil pickups are well known for producing great clarity and high frequency response. For that reason, they’re best suited to funk, pop and blues. They are however susceptible to electromagnetic interference, so you may encounter these issues with Stratocasters and Telecasters.

Dual Coil (Humbucker)

The humbucker is essentially two single coil pickups combined. Les Paul being a pioneer in audio, discovered that this eliminated the hum issues found on single coil guitars. Humbuckers are considered ‘hotter’ pickups meaning they distort easier than single coils. This is why rock and metal guitarists favour humbucker pickups over single coil pickups. As they offer a warmer, fuller and more distorted sound.

P90 – P90s are also a type of single coil pickup, however they are larger than a Strat-style pickup and have a slightly warmer, thicker, and grittier tonal quality. A great choice for alternative, punk, country and blues. P90s are also prone to noise issues, as they are a single coil pickup.

Check the setup

What sets apart the higher price tag guitars from the more budget friendly guitars is the parts, and more importantly how well the parts are setup. The most important things to look for before you purchase your guitar are the action and tuning stability. Action determines the distance the strings are from the fretboard. If your strings are too low, you’ll encounter ‘fret buzz’. If your strings are too high, you’ll struggle to even play the notes and blister your fingers in the process. 

So, make sure the strings aren’t buzzing and are comfortable to play without any buzzing issues. Before you purchase the guitar you’ve got your mind set on, tune it and play it for a few minutes and then check the tuning again. It’s natural for the strings to slightly go out of tune but if they’re way out of, there could be a problem with the machine heads (or tuning pegs) slipping.

What’s your budget?

Budget is undoubtably one of the most important things to bear in mind when buying your first guitar. You can get some incredibly good quality guitars now for around £200-350. If you go any below this threshold you might start to come across those issues listed above, and end up spending a lot of money on professional setups and repairs. A great way to buy a quality guitar at a good discount, is to buy second hand. As long as the guitar has been well looked after, you could pick one up worth £500+ for £300 or less, depending on your negotiation skills!

Try before you buy

If you do one thing on this list, do this. Try before you buy! There are still loads of instrument stores on the high street, and If you’re buying second hand you can ask to try it before you part with your cash. Trying the guitar will make the process a lot more personal, and should make you aware of how comfortable the guitar is.

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