When considering your guitar purchase, it’s important to ask yourself what you intend using it for. Do you wish to sound like a heavy metal rocker, or do you prefer old style rock and roll? Perhaps you wonder how Eric Clapton produces that unique distinctive tone; or perhaps you simply enjoy many types of music and want a good quality general purpose instrument.
We will start with electric guitars as generally they are considered the best instrument to start learning on. Broadly speaking, electric guitars fall into two basic categories, solid-body guitars and semi-acoustics. The solid-body is by far the most commonly used in rock music; its name deriving from the fact that its body contains no resonant cavities, instead it relies entirely upon the electric pickup to produce the sound. The semi-acoustic is as the name implies a combination of both electric and acoustic guitar; this is clearly audible, if not at great volume, without the use of an amplifier.
Solid-body guitars are extremely resistant to general feedback and therefore most advantageous if you intend playing at any serious volume levels. Considering this and other reasons such as all-round versatility, convenience etc. it generally is the preferred option. Another very important consideration is the choice between single coil pickups or twin-coil. To put it simply, single coils have a more biting sound, whilst twin coils haw a heaver sound.
Both types have a fairly wide versatility, but if you mainly prefer to play rock music, a guitar fitted with twin-coil pickups would likely be the preferred choice. Those who mainly play with a clean sound, generally opt for the single coil.
When purchasing your first guitar, your knowledge of the subject may be limited. This is why buying second-hand is not recommended, unless you have the help of an expert. Problems such as fret buzz or even a badly twisted neck could be overlooked and might leave you with an unsuitable instrument.
Guitars can vary widely in price, with some being very inexpensive and others very expensive. The very expensive price tags don’t necessarily denote vastly superior sound quality as compared to a decent mid-priced guitar (£400-£500). Quite often you really are paying too much for a prestigious name; however this may be what you really want. This can be the wish and dream of many people purchasing their first guitar.
If money is no object, here are many to choose from; with so many guitars available and more appearing all the time, generally it is always best to purchase the best you can afford. So many have wasted their initial money by purchasing a cheaper guitar, only wishing very soon after they had gone for a better more expensive instrument. Remember if you invest initially in a good quality guitar, well cared for, it will last a lifetime.
Another consideration when trying out an electric guitar is to remember that whichever amplifier is being used for the demonstration will have a substantial effect upon the sound quality produced as will the playing skill of the person who may be demonstrating the guitar for you. If you hear the guitar through a £2000 amplifier at 200W, don’t expect the sound to be the same when played through a 10W practice amplifier.
If you decide to initially purchase an acoustic guitar and many people do, many of the points apply as when choosing an electric. We refer to the fully acoustic instrument as opposed to the semi-acoustic. A semi-acoustic is basically an electric guitar with some acoustic properties; the opposite is true of a traditional steel string acoustic instrument.
This is primarily intended for use with no amplification other than its own body/soundbox. That said there are various ways of increasing its volume output whilst retaining the distinctive acoustic tone, for example a separate instrument microphone.
When purchasing this type of guitar, much the same advice applies as with an electric. The question of tonal quality is best decided by simply listening to the sound and volume which the guitar is capable of producing. The more expensive acoustic guitars have tops made of solid tone wood, combined with all solid wood back and sides.
The lower price guitars tend to use laminated woods and many simply use a combination, such as a solid wood top, with laminated back and sides. These often have good tone quality and volume projection. The best choice is simply to listen and bear in mind most of the aforementioned advice regarding electrics. Always purchase the best you can afford and generally the more expensive all sold wood guitar, if well cared for, will last you a lifetime.
There are lots of other equipment you may wish to purchase, such as amplifiers, tuners, effect pedals etc. However we just want to give you some advice on the necessary and very simple Plectrum. Also known as a guitar pick, the plectrum is a small usually triangular piece of plastic or other materials, used for strumming the strings.
Some guitarists prefer to use their fingers; there are certain styles for which a plectrum is more or less essential. They vary in size and thickness, Start with a medium gauge, this will prove generally satisfactory; we suggest you initially purchase several as you will lose them from time to time. You may wish to try different materials and different gauges to eventually find your favourite.
Another must buy is a guitar tuner. The electronic turners and simple and accurate to use and can cost as little as £15 – £45. It is important to always keep your guitar in tune especially if the instrument is not regularly played. A good and more expensive guitar will tend to stay in tune for longer.
Some musicians will reduce the tension in the strings if the guitar is being stored and unused for long periods; also when the guitar is being transported in any way, such as in a plane, by road or rail. This tends to reduce the overall tension to the neck and body of the guitar.
With both electric and acoustic guitars, it is important to purchase a good quality case. A hard case is preferable as this protects and helps to maintain an even temperature during storage. It is also important to note that as these are generally wooden instruments, try to keep them in a room where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too much.
A guitar will suffer (or anything wooden!) that is left out near a window in a room that gets direct sunlight; a room that will have extreme fluctuations in hot and cold temperatures. Over time, this can eventually lead to timber cracking or twisting.
In the following section we will profile just some of the well-known types of guitar that are available. This may help to give you a basic insight into what is available, to generally assist you in your decision making when purchasing either your first guitar or perhaps adding to the collection.