Now that you’ve decided to learn to play the guitar, let’s look at the guitar types available out there for you. Essentially there are two kinds: the acoustic, or the electric.
The choice, however, is not so simple. Those two divisions have quite a few sub-divisions. Acoustic first.
Acoustic Guitar, without stirring up a scandal, basically comes in 5 kinds:
Electric Guitar, on the other hand, can’t act alone. It needs help from its partner in crime, the amp. Electric guitar I can’t cover in a few lines, or even in a whole book. But you do need to know what makes up an electric guitar. Or how it works. There’s a great electric guitar review blog you can look at.
As I was saying, the amp is where the sound really takes shape and form. The right amp will have your electric guitar mouthing – “You complete me.” Thankfully, Amptone has got you covered on all things imaginable about amps. Mad props!
So, take a little time and decide what’s to be your main axe. Perhaps this is a good time to share what I own. Since a lot of my upcoming lessons will likely feature any one of those guitars, it’s best to introduce them.
I own two electro-acoustics –
1. Yamaha steel string, my first in the US. Bought in 1995, I wanted something to allow me to fake an electric guitar as well. The cutaway helped me reach for notes beyond 14 and 15 frets a little easier. Plugged in to an amp, it sounds awful. But the guitar itself has beautiful sound. Most of all, I feel comfortable with it. Very important point, guys – acoustic guitars need to be picked up and played. You might feel the most comfortable holding and playing a $200 dollar guitar as opposed to a more expensive one. If the frets don’t buzz (you have to play all the frets and strings individually to test that) and if the sound breathes, you want that guitar.
Granted, Gibsons and Martins and Taylors are great guitars, and no one would be happier if you bought or owned any one of those, but the truth is – not everyone can afford it. More on guitar buying in a bit. I paid around $400 for mine 13 years ago. The same one wouldn’t sell for $100 now. Technology has advanced and the pick-ups are way better now. However, electro-acoustics served one purpose for me – reaching those high notes.
To give you an example of how my guitar sounds, listen to these two instrumental demos I wrote and recorded almost 7 years ago. With a nice set of D’Addario strings – I like them Xtra Light – the Yamaha got me the bell-like tone I like. Listening to these make me cringe a little but that’s because I can hear many, many things I would do differently, or not do at all. The mix is a little hot and the balance is not quite there. But they do just fine as demos.The second one, ‘Celebration’ is probably the fastest I completed a tune; it came, as if, pre-written. Anyway…
2. Some years later, I bought the above, an Ibanez Electro-Acoustic Nylon String. Cost me $279. It has done okay for me considering the number of gigs I’ve played with this. The pick-up’s better. Would I miss it if I didn’t play it anymore? Eh. At one point I learned Flamenco with this…even stuck a skin protector underneath so the right hand fingers tapping on the body wouldn’t damage it. It’s still there.
I wrote this for the same demo. Again, with the right set of strings – I used La Bella because Dennis Koster, my Flamenco teacher, used them; and so do a lot of these guys – the a decent priced guitar can sound good enough to learn on. Recording it, however, can be tough as mic placement, which I knew nothing about those days, is a big deal when you want good acoustic sound. More on that at a later post.
3. I saved up and bought the Ibanez JS 100 9 or so years ago because I idolized Joe Satriani. And the guitar looked mighty sexy. Too bad I only played gigs with it, and no recorded entry exists, yet. Maybe the world is a better place because of that. 😉
The best part is, there are tons of Satriani live shows you can look at to see what this guitar can do.
Let’s get to it, then. Which guitar is the one for you. The best way to approach this is: 1) What do your favorite guitarists play – Acoustic, Electro-Acoustic, or Electric.? Then 2) Make a couple of trips to the guitar store and try out all of them.
The common reasoning most teachers and others will give you is: Learn on an acoustic because it’s harder to fret them, so when you move on to an electric, it will feel easier. Now if you like a croc of shit, you’ll go for that. If you know for sure you’ll never play an acoustic, why bother with one?Another one is: buy guitar with higher action (larger distance of strings from fretboard) so your fingers learn how to take pressure. Again, ignore!
Tips on buying acoustic guitar:
Mine are simple:
1) Take a friend who plays guitar, with you.
2) Pick out a guitar that feels good and sounds good to you.
Meaning: a) Sounds good when you play it. b) Sounds good when your friend plays it for you. You need to hear it from the opposite side.
3) Play every fret, every string all the way up the fretboard. Up means up to 16, 20, or 24 frets.
4) Don’t let the prices and brand names fool you. Not all brand named guitars will do it for you.
5) Don’t let anyone tell you that if it feels uncomfortable at first, you’ll learn to grow into it.
6) Find a sound proof room to play.
Tips on buying electric guitar:
1) Almost all of what I mentioned as per acoustic guitars apply.
2) The most important, however, is – take into account how much you’ve budgeted for an amp. You’ll play yours through an amp most of the time. While your $200 will sound awesome on a Marshall amp, you’ll need to find that Pignose or Fender amp and play your guitar on them.
3) Again, have the sales person show you what sounds you can get out of the amp you can afford, not the expensive ones.
So, you’re asking: I’ve never played guitar, don’t have a friend to take with me. How the hell am I supposed to know what feels right or what doesn’t!? Well, the safest bet is to look at your budget, research some guitars within that budget (look for audio examples always), head over to store and try them out. Just put one on your lap and see how it feels. One of them will feel right. Then find out which sales person is cool and ask him to play something for you in different styles. If (s)he’s cool, you’ll get a free demo. Most guitar stores have pretty good return policy. Don’t like how it feels or sounds when you’re at home and playing where you will be most of the time when you practice, return or exchange it.
Guitar buying is not an art, and doesn’t have to a science. It has to be a good experience because you’re investing your time and money. Often times you’ll be unlucky and have a douche bag try to get you to buy something expensive, or make you feel stupid for buying a guitar you actually think sounds good. Walk away from douche bag and come back when (s)he’s not there.
I remember one time when a sales guy at Sam Ash in NYC turn off the amp I was trying out – I was on, at the most, 10 minutes – and ask, “Are you going to be getting one tonight?” I replied no, to which he said “Then you should come back when you will.” I did the right thing and went up to the manager to complain. The manager simply ignored me. It was 12 years ago and it doesn’t bother me anymore. All I’m saying is, don’t let anyone intimidate you. Don’t let some of these wannabe guitarists with guitar store tenure tell you what to do or buy. I’ve met some genuine nice folks in the same store after that, so the lesson is to walk way and come back when different group is working, or go to a different store. If that doesn’t work, buy online.
This is where I ask you for tips on buying guitar. Both electric and acoustic. I know for a fact that I haven’t covered all the basics of buying a guitar, but the point is to begin a conversation.
So, look forward to your tips, suggestions, recommendations, stories etc.