Guitar Buying Guide

A first guitar can be the first step to a lifelong love and appreciation of music. This guitar buying guide will help you choose the right guitar for your musical interests and skill level.

Guitars 101

Choosing a guitar takes a bit of time and research, but it’s the only way to ensure you get the right one for you. Apart from price, there are three key factors to consider when shopping: construction quality, sound and how the guitar fits the player. For the soulful singer-songwriter, a hollow-body acoustic guitar is a portable and versatile choice. If plugging in and playing loud is more your style, there’s nothing better than an electric guitar. You'll also need to consider secondary factors such as the guitar's strings, pickups and bridge. These are all essential components that affect how the guitar feels when you play it and the sounds you're able to produce. Read on to learn more: soon you’ll be pickin' and grinnin' away the hours and entertaining friends with your new musical skill.

Types of Guitars

Acoustic%20Guitars

Acoustic Guitars

The acoustic guitar is a portable, versatile and convenient instrument, perfect for beginners and people who love to sit around and jam. A favourite of folk musicians and singer-songwriters, acoustic guitars are also a great starting point for learning almost any musical style. And since there's no need for amplifiers and extra equipment, you can easily take your music wherever life takes you. When purchasing an acoustic guitar, look for one that feels comfortable and fits the style of music you want to play. Nylon-stringed classical guitars are a popular for beginners because they’re easier on your fingers. Steel-stringed acoustic guitars are a staple for anyone who likes to play and sing around a campfire or on the back porch with friends. 
Electric%20Guitars

Electric Guitars

Unleash your inner rock star with an electric guitar. If guitar solos, rock riffs and the blues all sound like music you want to play, then the electric guitar could be for you. Whether you're a beginner or a pro, there's an electric axe to match your skill level and style of play, including small-format electric guitars for kids and teens. Electric guitars are built with ports to plug in amplifiers and pedals that can completely change the sound of your picking and strumming. Look for electric guitars that are compatible with the latest electronic devices, including pickups, volume controls and computers.

Guitar Buying Tips:

• To determine if a guitar is the right size, make sure the player’s elbow is bent when touching the furthest tuning peg, and their opposite hand reaches the sound hole comfortably
• Many people assume acoustic guitars are starter guitars, but anyone can learn on an electric guitar just as easily
• Quality accessories are as important as the guitar itself: even the best electric guitar will sound wrong on a poor amp
• Some beginner guitars come with extra equipment like amplifiers, picks and instructional DVDs so you can start playing right out of the box
• Acoustic-electric guitars come with pickups and plugs just like an electric guitar so you can use an amplifier
• When buying a guitar amplifier, choose a model with a headphone jack, so you can play without disturbing others
• Guitars made of solid wood mature with time and start to sound different

Guitar Features

Tonewoods +

The term for the wood used in the construction of musical instruments, including guitars, is tonewood. In some guitars, the same tonewood is used for the body and neck, but it's also common to use different woods. The particular type of wood used will affect a guitar's weight, sound, longevity and price. Mahogany, a more affordable tonewood option, has a soft, well-balanced sound but is heavier than other woods. Basswood guitars are popular and lightweight with a strong midrange sound. Maple, a strong and dense wood, is a great choice for younger players since it makes for more durable guitars. Try to choose a tonewood that both meets your practical requirements and produces the sound you want.

Body Type +

Part of the fun of learning guitar is discovering how seemingly small details like differences in body shape can change how a guitar plays and sounds. The right guitar body is the key to a happy guitarist, so select a shape and size that’s comfortable for the player. A full-size guitar suits an adult, and full-sized acoustics sound fuller and deeper, depending on the tonewood. Smaller guitars can be a more comfortable fit for kids. Some guitars have cutaways on the top that makes them easier to play, especially for people with a shorter reach. A guitar’s shape and size needs to fit the player first and sound right second. After all, a guitar that’s too big is a guitar that collects dust.

Neck Type +

The neck of a guitar also affects both playing comfort and the guitar’s sound. Most guitars use a set-in neck joint, where the neck is a separate piece fixed in place with a mounting pin and glue. Set-in necks are generally strong and resilient, but the joints vary in quality depending on the materials used. Some higher-end guitars are built from a single piece of wood. This type of design, often referred to as a neck-through, produces a clear sound well suited to playing at high volumes. The width of a guitar's neck doesn’t greatly influence its sound, but smaller hands will appreciate thinner necks. Thicker guitar necks tend to be stronger and feel more comfortable in the hands of larger adults. Above all else, a neck should feel sturdy and be easy to grip.

Pickups +

Pickups are devices on electric guitars that “pick up” the sound and convert it into an electric signal for transmission to an amplifier. Choosing the right pickups depends on both your sound preferences and amplifier model. They come as single- or double-coil designs, or a combination of both. Single-coil pickups offer a crisp sound but can be susceptible to unwanted humming noises from nearby electric appliances and wiring. Double-coil pickups produce a warmer sound, perfect for playing blues and rock. Some combination pickups let you switch between the single- and double-coil formats, offering greater versatility and control over your sound.

Frets and Fretboards +

Frets and fretboards are the heart of any guitar, the area on the neck face where you turn string and wood into beautiful music. A good fretboard with the right frets is smooth to the touch and easy on your strings. Always inspect your new guitar's frets by looking down the length of the fretboard. The frets should be even in height. Most frets are made of nickel. Though nickel is a soft metal susceptible to wear, it's easy on fingers and guitar strings. Some frets are made of stainless steel, which is more durable but can be painful to use if not set perfectly. When deciding on frets and fretboards, it's important to balance durability and comfort, so your guitar is both long lasting and easy to play.

Guitar Strings +

Guitar strings affect the sound, style and playability of a guitar. Electric guitars generally use thinner steel strings that are easier on the fingers. Acoustic guitars can use both metal and nylon strings. Nylon strings are associated with classical-style acoustic guitars but can be used on other acoustic guitars as well. This type of string is affordable and easier to play, making it popular with beginners. Steel strings are suited to a wide range of guitar playing styles. They're also durable and allow you to produce the sounds you want more accurately. However, steel strings are harder on fingers that aren’t used to playing a guitar. Many new players build up finger calluses on nylon strings before moving on to steel strings.

Truss Rods +

As guitars age and are exposed to the elements, the neck can bow, causing changes in the sound. Some guitars have a steel rod, called a truss rod, running through the neck. By adjusting the truss rod, you can correct the bow and make your guitar sound good as new. Truss rods are sometimes hard to see in the neck itself, but the widget for adjusting them is generally found inside the guitar’s sound hole.

Scale Length +

Scale length is the distance from where your strings attach at the bridge to the 12th fret. Different guitars have different scale lengths, and this affects how the guitar sounds and plays. Longer scale lengths generally produce a strong, bell-like tone, while shorter scale lengths sound warmer. Picking the right scale length depends on the music played and the person playing. Shorter lengths are easier to reach, which is ideal for younger players, while longer scale lengths create more space between the frets, allowing experienced guitarists to play hard without tripping over their fingers.

Bridge +

Bridges are especially important with electric guitars because they let players change their string’s sound and keep them in tune. Bridges for electric guitars come in two main varieties, tremolo and stoptail. Tremolo bridges, often called whammy bars, can manipulate the strings to produce a warbling sound effect. Stoptail bridges are fixed to the guitar and help notes last longer while keeping the strings better tuned. If effects are your favourite part of playing guitar, then try a whammy bar. A stoptail bridge is a better choice for beginners and those who love clear, precise guitar playing.

Finish +

The finish on a guitar has minimal impact on the sound. It's primarily about appearance and protecting the wood. Look for a finish that will guard against scuffs and scratches. Also, moisture can cause the wood in the body and neck to bow, so make sure the finish is formulated to be water resistant.

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Guitar Maintenance Tips:

• Guitars are especially sensitive to temperature and humidity, so avoid leaving them in basements, attics or car trunks
• Always store your guitar in its case to protect against temperature changes, humidity changes, and normal wear and tear
• Dry climates can ruin guitars very quickly. Consider a room humidifier for your guitar if you live someplace dry
• All repairs and modifications to your guitar should be done by a professional
• Become familiar with restringing your own guitar and always keep extra strings handy
• Inspect straps and strap pins regularly
• Always clean your hands before playing your guitar and wipe it down with a damp cloth after finishing
• An electric guitar tuner is an easy way to keep your guitar perfectly tuned
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