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15 Jan


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How to buy a guitar

January 15, 2010 | By | One Comment

More than anything, don’t be in a hurry. Buying a guitar is fun. Its a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and something wonderful to do by yourself or with a friend.

Set up at least two days when you can set aside some time: one day to listen and learn and the other to listen and learn some more. Never buy a guitar the first day for several reasons: Your guitar, like a boyfriend or girlfriend, is going to be with you for awhile and these sessions are like dates. You need to do some research and find what will fit you the best and what will annoy you the least. You need multiple days because, for whatever reasons, we hear and feel differently on different days. If the first date is good and the second date is bad, maybe you need another date or another mate (boom!). Deducing this usually takes more than a day.

Listening to instruments is fun.
Everyone has different listening skills, but we can all develop them more.
Here are some things to listen for:
– Try to hear the differences in the color of the sound. Is the sound bright or dark?
– Is it loud or soft?
– How long does it sustain?
– How does it handle the sound? Meaning does it shoot out of the guitar like an arrow or does it fill up the room like cloud?
– Does every single fretted note sound good? This will take a minute- again don’t be in any hurry. Slowly play and listen to every single fret on every single string up to the 14th fret and all the way up on highest string. They should sound like perfect little bells.
– Play the open strings or a chord all at once. Are the different strings balanced or is the bass louder than the treble or vice versa?
– Ask the sales person to check the “intonation at the 12th fret.” This should be in tune or the guitar isn’t set up properly.

What to do with the Sales People:
You might start getting antsy or feel hurried because you cant wait to get away from the annoying sales people. They can be really helpful/insecure/manipulative/brilliant/intimidating/funny/chatty/etc… Whatever the case, they are there for you. Help them use their skills and abilities for your benefit by being clear in what you want and need.
Some ways they can help:
– I suggest telling the sales people straight up that you are not going to buy a guitar today. Rather, you are doing research and looking into a good guitar. This way they can stop pitching the sale and talk about the more important issue: is this the right guitar for you?
-Think of questions ahead of time or after your first session. Here are some good questions: What type of wood is this? What is your return policy? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the guitars we are looking at?
– Ask them to tune the guitar if you aren’t able. (Everyone will appreciate this.)
– You can ask them to leave you alone or if there is somewhere more quiet where you can play the guitar.
– My favorite is to ask them to play the guitar for you: have them play about 20-30 seconds of music and then play the exact same thing on the other guitars you are looking at. Repeat this process so you can listen in different ways (see suggestions above). And no showing off- ask them to play something simple so you can hear it and they can actually play it right.
– If they ask you to make value judgments (Do you like this? Which one do you like more? Doesn’t this sound great? etc…), and you dont have a strong feeling- be honest.

How to buy a guitar
Look at the guitar:
– This is crucial: Hold the guitar like a rifle with the headstock in your trigger hand and guitar body supported with the other hand.
Bring the headstock to your eye, look down the side of the neck and line up the 1st and highest fret on the neck. Line it up like a site on a rifle. All the frets in between should be level along that line. If they do not line up, the neck is bowed. If it has a truss rod ask the sales person to adjust it. If it does not have a truss rod, the wood has warped- do not buy it.
– If there are scratches anywhere on a new guitar it should be discounted.
– Look inside the body and make sure there aren’t any loose parts.
– Make sure the tuners work.

Where to go:
– A locally owned shop. They are frequently rude at first, but, after they see that you like guitars and are there to learn and listen, they are usually the coolest and most helpful. Also, if you have a problem or need advice/repair/etc.. a local shop will always do more with greater care.
– I have one rant and that is never ever ever buy a guitar from Walmart, Costco, Target, Best Buy or the like. A guitar is not a sofa or broccoli or a microwave. It is something you will spend a lot of time interacting with in a very complex fashion. I guarantee you will be annoyed by whatever you buy from Walmart. Because it sucks. I know it and you will quickly discover its a cheap piece of crap. You dont go to a barber to get your oil changed. You dont go to Walmart to buy a guitar. And dont ever damage your kid by buying a guitar from one of these places. Go to a music shop and get something that will help you make music.

To sum up:
– Dont be in a hurry
– Leave your money at home.
– Listen
– Learn
– Enjoy yourself
– Find a guitar that you will love
Olivier Fanton D'Andon


  1. Great post, very informative, would love to see a video though

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