Buying A Guitar: Budget & Recommendations

So, you’re looking to buy your first guitar? There are so many models, options, and features to compare, I thought it would be beneficial to outline some of the features to look for, some of my personal picks, and market trends.

Depending on your goals; wether you intend to dive in and learn yourself, take classes, or just dabble around a bit and see how you like playing, Adult player, or youngster there’s a guitar that’s just right for you.

Your budget is your first consideration. Have a price you’re willing to pay in mind before you go shopping. It’s real easy to get up-sold on features or looks when comparing instruments side-by-side. Even online shopping can be a kid in a candy shop experience with your credit card burning a hole in your pocket and thoughts of that shiny new guitar arriving at your doorstep.

With that in mind, here’s a chart outlining typical price points and features you can expect to find in your price range. As the chart shows, beyond a certain point you are mostly paying for cosmetics and/or other professional features. Those top of the line instruments are suitable for collectors, pros, and that retiree that always wanted a custom instrument. But realize this, in the hands of a beginning player they all sound about the same. There’s no magic wood or pick-up that will make you a better player quicker than practice, and lots of it. In fact, I’d wager that very few players are masters of their instrument to a degree that they can squeeze those mystical notes out of them. So, head out of the clouds, budget in mind, let’s find you a guitar.

This is how the market for instruments is trending as of Fall 2011.

$99 – $179 Beginners instruments, suitable for children, and those who really just want to give playing a try but don’t want to invest much in a instrument. There’s a lot of this sort of guitar around, you friends and neighbors probably have one collecting dust in a closet or attic.

Pros: Cheap enough to be pretty careless with them, no concern of collect ability. Generally good enough to learn the basics on. Good instruments for modders, a whole instrument for the price of custom parts.

Cons: Quality concerns. They may look the same to the untrained eye, and to a beginner might even seem to play as well as any. But very quickly the quality of really cheap instruments tends to overshadow their usefulness. Often the components are unique sizes unrelated to industry standard specs, making upgrades not worth the expense. One of my biggest concerns with starting a player off with a very low cost instrument is that the playability is not going to be as good as the mid line models out of the box. While they can be adjusted, fret work done, all the things a luthier (guitar maker/repair person) can do to improve the playability, by the time these things have been done the cost becomes equivalent to a better instrument.

How many new players have set the guitar down for good disappointed at their progress in learning to play never realizing that a lot of the cause was a cheap instrument with a bad factory set-up? I can only imagine.

To their credit there are some good bargain models out there. Today’s $99 big box store impulse buy is a much better instrument than those of just 5 years ago.

Conclusions: If you must and budget dictates shop around for a bargain instrument. Have a player with some experience go with you. Online purchases – as with other instrument purchases online, read the posted reviews, and get your ear to the ground to find out what others have found out about your prospective new instrument – before you spend a dime.

Also, at this level a good used instrument can be a real upgrade in quality though you don’t get to tear open the box.

Recommended:
Rondo music SX series:
Fender Squire series:
Epiphone:
Ibanez:

Note: often you can find entry level instruments sold as a kit, complete with a small amplifier a few picks and a starter booklet. Not a bad deal, generally, for the absolute beginner or a child.