A guitar is for life, not just for Christmas.
At least that's how I think of it. So many instruments are purchased around Christmas time, and the right instrument can make a solid, worthwhile investment - rather than another consignee to the attic room or garage!
It doesn't have to be Christmas either - at any time of year, it's important if you're buying your first guitar to buy the right one first. The right instrument can be the difference between playing or giving up!
With this in mind, we've compiled a list of hints and tips to look out for when choosing your guitar -
What is it made from?
The wood a guitar is constructed from can make a huge difference to the sound it produces. Cheaper guitars will use cheaper woods to keep costs low - Nato is a very popular choice in cheaper guitars as it offers robust construction despite being very cheap. It is however useless as a tone wood! Mahogany and Sitka Spruce are popular choices, and you don't need to pay the earth for them. The tone would be much better for it.
Check the Parts
This is more important on an Electric, but the tips here apply to all types of guitar.
The tuning pegs (also called Machine Heads) are what keep the tension on the strings. If they're badly made or adjusted, the strings will be much more likely to slip out of tune, which can be offputting as well as annoying - particularly when you're first starting and it takes you longer to tune up! Chrome are the more robust construction but you will also see plastic on lower end guitars. All brand new guitars will need bedding in, so string stretching over the first week or so is completely normal - after that they should stay in tune fairly well, depending on their environment.
More important on Electric guitars (just because there's more on them) - The pickups, selector switches, pots and the bridge should all look and feel well built. The bridge inparticular shouldn't move. The selector switch and pots should operate without causing crackle or feedback. These too should feel robust to the touch. Generally the rule of thumb here is you get what you pay for - more expensive guitars will use more expensive hardware.
This is the bit where it all comes together - the body and hardware can be the worlds best, but if the neck is no good, you'll do nothing but struggle. This is where your fingers do all the work. Make sure the Frets are mounted properly and don't buzz at any point. Frets can be expensive to put right and can put you off playing, so it's important to check these thoroughly. This is also where the Action becomes important - this is the gap between the strings and the neck. A high action will make it harder to play, where an action that's too low can cause buzzing. Necks usually come in a Rosewood or Maple finish. Which one you choose is largely down to experience as they do offer slightly different playing characteristics. If you're buying second hand, it's also worth paying close attention to the neck - if there's plenty of wear on it, it's probably a good one. (Think of it like a restaurant - if the place is busy, the food must be good!)
If it's your first guitar, chances are you won't have the gig bags, cables, capos, finger slides, plectrums..... etc etc!
Thankfully, many guitar manufacturers also put together packages for peace of mind. These include everything you'll need to get started, from the guitar and amp to gig bags, cables and spare strings too!
Check what you're getting with your guitar. If you only need a few bits, it's probably not worth it - if you need everything, a package can be an easy way to save money.
For some advice on what models we think offer the perfect first instrument experience, have a read of our articles below -