When looking for a guitar, it’s not like you just stride into the store and point and say, “I’ll take that one,” or purchase online without doing at least a little homework. After all, electric guitars are big-ticket items.
Even a relatively inexpensive instrument will still cost you. Most people drop $250 to $600 on their first electric, and the really expensive ones are practically investments, so you want to buy smart.
So to help you navigate the glut of information that will undoubtedly come your way when researching your new instrument, here are 10 basic electric guitar buying tips:
1. Get a Grip
A guitar with well-adjusted action should be easy on your hands and fingers — you shouldn’t have to have a vise-like grip just to comfortably hit a C chord.
2. Sample and Hold
Try out different guitars. Play them. Hold them. Play them standing up and sitting down. Stand in front of a mirror with them. Plug them in and turn them up. Hold it up high like George Harrison. Hold it way down low like Slash. It’s different horses for different courses — there are no hard and fast rules, but your hands, eyes and ears will tell you which one is the one.
3. Pack It
If you’re a beginner, guitar packs are a cool and very affordable way to go—containing everything you need to start playing: the guitar, small amp, strap, gig bag, tuner, cable, strings, picks. Some even have stands and instruction books/DVDs.
4. Get the Setup
Guitars are made of wood, and wood changes with temperature and humidity. On the long road from manufacturer to dealer, it’s natural for a guitar’s original factory-spec setup to change, so don’t worry if everything isn’t tip-top right off the rack, spec-wise. Electric guitars are highly adjustable machines, and a setup can make an amazing difference.
5. Import-ant Note
Most domestic guitar makers also offer models built outside the United States that deliver good quality for great prices. Imports built in Japan, Mexico, China, Korea and elsewhere have improved in recent years and often mean solid value, especially if you’d prefer to wait a little longer to buy a more expensive U.S.-made instrument.
6. The Amp
The amp affects the sound too. If you’re trying out several guitars in a store, try them out through the same amp. That amp, by the way, should be as close as possible to the one you have or the one you’re going to get. Use your amp, if possible.
7. Guitar Speak
If you’re new to playing and you don’t really speak guitar fluently just yet, bring somebody with you who does. If you don’t know a truss rod from a humbucker and action from intonation, it certainly couldn’t hurt.
8. Cross Check Pricing
New or used, it’s fairly simple to hit websites like eBay and CraigsList to see what the instrument you’re after is going for in various degrees of age and condition.
9. Beware of Too Much Advice
There is such a thing as too much advice. If 10 different well-meaning confidants are trying to sway you in 10 different directions about what to buy or where to buy it, remember that you’re the one who’ll be making the call, spending the money and playing the guitar. Get what you want.
10. Educate Yourself
Related to No. 7 above. If you don’t speak guitar yet, start learning. Ask questions of those who already know something, and there are all kinds of cool books and websites that are great educational resources.
By Jeff Owens