Posted by: worshipguitarguy | August 28, 2006

Beginning Your Guitar Journey Pt. 1

acoustic_guitars.jpgOk, you’ve watched other people play long enough and now you’ve decided it’s your turn.  Maybe you want to play with the worship band at church, or maybe you just want to sit around on your back porch strumming chords.  Either way, get ready for one of the best (and most challenging) times in your life. 

But you’ve got questions…  You know that $99 First Act special that’s next to the checkout lane at Walmart isn’t for you, but outside of that, you’re not sure what to do.  So here you go

Should I begin with an acoustic or electric?
The following is my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth… but if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend going with an acoustic guitar first.  Here’s my reasoning:Playing acoustic teaches you rhythm.  A guitar’s a guitar, but acoustics are generally used more as rhythm instruments.  Learning good rhythm is critical to being a good guitar player, whether you want to play an acoustic or electric in the long run.  Learning acoustic teaches you about chords and chord changes, keys, strumming, and dynamics.  All of these principles are critical for electric players to understand before they ever begin playing lead.

Acoustic guitar action tends to be stiffer than electric guitar action.  By the term “action” I’m referring to how hard it is to press the strings into the fretboard.   Sone young guitarists think it’s easier to learn on electric because of softer action… the truth is, once you get used to the action on an acoustic, making the transition to an electric is a breeze. 

Acoustics may cost more upfront, but cost less in the long run.  I’ve heard young guitarists say that they picked up an electric first because it cost less than an acoustic.  Well, that’s partially true.  But by the time you add in the costs of buying an amp, cords, power supplies, and effects pedals, you’ll probably find you’ll pay more than you would’ve for the acoustic in the first place. 

Playing lead electric is a more involved process.  I know some acoustic guitar players who will rail me for this comment, but lead electric players have more to think about than rhythm acoustic players.  While rhythm acoustic players are focused on strumming and chording, lead electric players have to focus on using both hands and their feet to play and mix tones.  Once you get the fundamentals of playing with your hands down, then you can learn about playing with your feet.

Should I buy the cheapest guitar I can find?
My advice would generally be no.  Most extremely cheap guitars are not built well, so they have poor tone and bad action.  In my experiences, guitarists who begin on cheap instruments become frustrated very quickly and often quit.

Should I buy an expensive well known guitar?  After all, aren’t good guitars investments that grow in value?
This is a myth that’s partially based in reality… and I think it was spread by some guy who found a mint 1935 Martin Acoustic in his grandpa’s attic and sold it for big bucks.  Truth is, guitars are much like cars.  You can buy one brand new, but if you turn around and sell it a year later, you’ll probably take a good hit on it.  (Look at the retail prices in your local store, and compare them to what the same guitar used is going for on ebay.  You’ll probably find a 20%-50% drop in price.)  Classic guitars have become huge investments in recent years but the ones that fetch top dollar usually have a couple of things in common… first, they’re 30 or more years old, and second they’re in very good condition.  It’s hard to keep instruments you play in mint condition… so don’t plan on buying an instrument for investment if you’ll be playing it regularly.

What about buying used?
This can be a super way to get more guitar for less money, and you can get a great deal going this way.  Just make sure to take a friend with you who understands guitars and who will be honest with you about their strengths and weaknesses.  Good musicians will often spot faults that you may not notice as a beginning guitarist. 

(Note: My primary electric, a Fender American Telecaster, is running about $900-950 brand new.  I bought mine used, at the time it was three years old and had only been played a couple of times… and I paid just under $600 for it!  So good deals are out there.)

How much should I spend on my first guitar?
This really depends on how much you are willing to spend.  But reasonably $200-400 is a good amount for a beginning guitar.

What accessories are good to buy with my first guitar?
If it doesn’t come with one, the first thing you should get is a guitar case or gig bag.  This will protect your guitar from damage when you’re hauling it around.  Other things to get include a tuner, an extra pack of strings, a metronome, and a string winder.

Anything Else to Think About?
When buying, ask the salesperson about performing a setup on your guitar.  Some shops may throw it in for free, others may want to charge a small fee.  If you’re buying a more expensive guitar, you do have some leverage, so you can try to negotiate a free setup. 

In part 2, we’ll discuss learning to play.

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Responses

  1. Another good thing to whack in the bag early is a chord shapes book. Oh, and a dose or two of confidence! Of all the instruments I’ve learned to play, the guitar is still the most challenging.

  2. Funny you should mention a chord chart Rodd, check out Wednesday’s post. 😉

  3. Great stuff here. I am a worhship leader and get these questions all the time, especially the question of “What guitar should I buy for little Johnny?” We just reviewed a Taylor Big Baby at http://www.worshippl.us. I now highly recommend that to beginners. Thanks for the fantastic content!

  4. To add to the list: Please do get an electronic tuner to tune the guitar. It’s good to train the beginner’s ears on the proper guitar tuning coz they will know it in the future whether their guitar is out of tune or not. And this is crucial if they were to do gigs in the future. You don’t wanna embarrass yourself in front of your audiences, do you?


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