What to look for when buying a guitar

Here are my Top 10 Tips tips for buying a guitar. Hope it helps you get the guitar of your dreams or at least a great one to start your journey with ;)

1. Go to a store yourself!

Buying online might be slightly cheaper, but I really think you need to 'feel' the instrument and find one that speaks to you. Like going to a rescue centre to get a dog - they kind of choose you - and I think getting a guitar is somehow a bit like that.

  • Take someone with you who can play a bit - but also
  • Play a load of guitars and see what you like the feel of
  • If you get a bad vibe from a salesperson, go shop somewhere else!
  • Play them yourself (getting someone to play it for you can help too!)
  • Listen to your gut instincts!

2. Get one you like

Don't get a guitar you think you should get, or that your mate likes, or that had great reviews but doesn't feel right in your hands. Go with your gut.

Your guitar is YOUR connection to the sound - make sure it feels good and YOU like the look of it.

3. Check the Action

Take a ruler (seriously) and see how hard it is to press down the strings - and look - strings shouldn’t be more than 3 or 4 mm from the neck! Certainly not more than 5mm at 12th fret! Many times a guitar with a high action can be fixed by a luthier (or even a knowledgeable persona at a guitar store) but not always.

4. More than one?

You are VERY likely to buy more guitars in the future if you stick with it! So get one to learn on that you like now - see if you like it and if you stick with it for a year you can treat yourself to another guitar or an upgrade.

5. Pre-loved is a great idea!

Buy second hand if you can and spend the extra on a setup. This is what I recommend as standard - it’s like cars - you lose a lot of value as soon as they’re out of the shop, but as well - older guitars generally sound better too - so it’s a double win. Maybe an older thing might need a little tlc, but a good setup on an old guitar beats a poor setup on a new one by far!

6. Put amp budget into a first electric

You don’t really need an amp to get started, technology has come far and you can get incredible sounds using software! If you want an amp then I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but it’s something you don’t need to buy before you start learning! Get an amp later if you need one.

7. Avoid 3/4 size guitars

I don’t recommend ¾ size guitars, even for children. There are plenty of videos around of very young children playing incredible stuff on full-size instruments and I started guitar before I was 10. Small hands? Learn to stretch or adapt. Unless you're 8 years old, you don't need one!

8. Buy the best you can afford and look after it!

A racing driver mate of mine gave me this advice about choosing helmets and protective clothing when I was getting into motor racing - and my first thought was how it exactly related to buying guitars for beginners! That said... I don't think a complete beginner (even a super rich one!) should go and buy a super expensive limited edition custom made with unicorn horn guitar... save that for when you really know what you like. But if you can afford a high end guitar, then go for it - buy second hand and look after it and it'll probably even hold its value!

9. Buy the guitar, not the brand

The two biggest players in the guitar world, Fender and Gibson, are aspirational for many beginners but they're not what they used to be. I have quite a few guitars of both brands, mostly pre-1970 when they were making their best instruments. The budget guitars by both brands tend to be pretty poor value in my experience and there are much better guitars for the same money by other brands. In the high-end instrument department, Gibson appears to be still producing high-quality instruments but Fender has been eclipsed by others making much better Strats than they do! I play Suhr Strats and Teles which are (in my opinion) far superior to the new Fender customs shops now residing in my attic (I have no deal with Suhr by the way!).

So when you're trying out guitars, don't think 'it must be good because it's a Fender' - use your ears, hands and gut to decide! :)

10. Avoid G.A.S.

I swear if we all spent as much time practising as we do deciding which guitar to buy there would be a lot more great guitar players in the world. Seriously, dudes and dudettes, when you are starting out, just get yourself a guitar that plays well. If you dig playing the guitar and play for a few years you are almost certainly going to want another guitar, even if your first guitar was awesome. It's called G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome) and it's a very painful condition for the wallet... I've been suffering for many years so now I'm just used to it!

Buying guitars is fun, and searching for the right one is fun too, but make sure you are actually doing enough practice as well, so you can enjoy your new toy when you get it!