So you've decided to take up playing the guitar. Congratulations! To the uninitiated, musical instruments can seem like delicate technology from an alien world. But focusing on things that matter to you even as a beginner — how the guitar looks and how it sounds — can go a long way toward successfully launching a long musical partnership between you and your instrument.
What kind of music do you want to play? Choose a guitar based on the style of music you enjoy most. If you buy an acoustic guitar when you really want to be shredding on an electric, you'll be disappointed and eventually lose interest. If you aspire to play classical guitar or folk, look for an acoustic instrument with nylon strings. If you're headed toward rock or country, you want steel strings instead. Don't let a salesperson talk you into nylon strings if that's not the sound you're going for; your fingers are going to be sore when you're first starting out no matter what type of strings you have, so don't hold back from steel if that's the sound you want.
So you've dreamed of playing the electric guitar...
There's no real reason not to get an electric guitar or bass guitar if that's what you see yourself playing in your dreams. Still, it's a more expensive proposition. You'll need to buy not only the guitar itself but also an amplifier plus some effects, if you want to generate killer sounds. That's a lot to commit to if you're not even sure the guitar's going to be your thing. If you're uncertain about your commitment, it might be smarter to stick with an acoustic instrument for a while.
What brand should you look for?
A brand name you recognize doesn't mean nearly as much for an entry-level guitar as it does for a professional instrument. The world-class instruments of a particular manufacturer may bear little to no similarity in materials, design or manufacturing to its beginner-level products. Evaluate a potential guitar based on how much you like it, not by the name attached.
What materials should your guitar be made from?
The key here is real wood. You don't want plywood top on your acoustic guitar; that will pull apart sooner rather than later. Both spruce and cedar tops will give you lasting quality and good tone. The rest of the guitar can be made from a different kind of wood, such as mahogany or maple.
Is the guitar too big or too small?
If your guitar doesn't fit, it won't be comfortable and enjoyable to play. Don't buy an adult-sized guitar for a child or smaller person. When you sit down with the guitar in a normal position, you should be able to reach the soundhole (the big round hole in the middle of the front) without stretching. If not, investigate a smaller instrument.
What factors can I look or listen for to help guide my choice?
For your guitar to become something that irresistibly draws you to come play and practice, it needs to appeal to you. Choose a guitar you like the looks of — yes, that means get the color you like! And find one with a sound you enjoy. Ask a salesperson or friend to play some selections for you on different instruments, and then choose the one that seems to sound right to you. Remember, look and sound are subjective; it's you who needs to enjoy those factors, not your salesperson or buddy. Have fun with your guitar, and you'll enjoy it for years to come.
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