Buying Your First Guitar

This is it! Today is the day you've decided, "I'm going to start playing guitar!" There's just one little caveat: you need a guitar. Buying your first guitar can be a daunting process on par with buying a car from a dealership: potential for pushy salesfolk constantly trying to up-sell you, using music jargon that goes completely over your head, not to mention the cost! You quickly find yourself questioning every little decision and before you know it you've either left the store empty-handed (mission failure) or you've dropped way more money that you had budgeted and are starting to wonder if the giant guitar outlet has duped you. Have no fear! We're going to help you with this handy guide to buying your first guitar. 

Before even thinking about the guitar, ask yourself: "Do I know any musicians?" If the answer is "Yes!", get in touch with them and ask for a store recommendation. Finding a reliable guitar store is crucial and you'll quickly see why. Now, if you don't know any musicians, doing a quick Yelp search will be helpful, as well. A guitar/instrument store's value is more than their inventory; look for a shop where the staff are knowledgeable, helpful, and experienced musicians. While those traits seem like a given, you'd be surprised how many of these stores are chock full of none of those. That said, Yelp is a great resource for personal experience if you don't have someone at hand to guide you. 

Down to business! The next thing you need to consider: Do I want an acoustic or electric? There is no rule as to which you should start with, however, each have their pros and cons for getting started. Electric guitars tend to be a easier because the strings are lighter and easier to press down, whereas acoustics have heavier strings which can tire your fretting hand out much quicker. (With respect to strings being "lighter" vs "heavier", strings come in different thicknesses. We'll go over that in greater detail in a different post!) On the flip side, starting with an electric guitar means buying more accessories (E.g. amp, instrument cable) in addition to your basic guitar necessities (E.g. the guitar itself and a case). All that said, there's no right or wrong, it's simply a matter of preference. Play both! See which you like better and go from there. Furthermore, it's important to play the instrument to make sure it fits and feels good in your hands. So while buying online is appealing for its ease, it's a bit of a gamble and something I would avoid when you're first starting out. 

Your next question: Budget. Once you've figured out what kind of guitar you want to start with (acoustic vs electric), you need to think about how much you're willing to spend and this can be tricky. At the beginning, we want to eliminate any obstacle and starting with a decent guitar will certainly help! While you don't want to drop big bucks on a new hobby, it's important to keep quality in mind and with instruments, you get what you pay for. Like a car, guitars require some regular maintenance (e.g. change of strings, setups) and the last thing you wanna do is buy one that'll cost more to maintain than it's worth. And should anything go wrong, it is important to get a guitar that is repairable. Be prepared to spend between $150 to $500. Oh, and if it has the words "beginner" or "starter" anywhere in the name of the instrument, it's not going to be well-built.

OK, you've found a store, decided what kind of guitar you want (electric vs acoustic), and figured out your budget. Now what? Brands! Below is a list of my preferred brands for your first guitar: 

  • Epiphone is a subsidiary of Gibson and they make great beginner instruments! My first guitar was an Epiphone acoustic bought in 1995 for $200. I still have it to this day, it sounds great, and the only work it needs beyond the basics is new tuners. Notable artists: John Lennon, Gary Clark Jr, Joe Perry, Nancy Wilson.

  • Alvarez - of my four acoustics, my favorite (which once belonged to my first guitar teacher) is an Alvarez-Yairi. It's nearly 30 years old, plays like a dream, and only cost $300 used in 2001. Notable aritists: Bob Weir, Ani DiFranco.

  • Ibanez is my favorite electric guitar company. Their instruments are high quality and very competitively priced. I've owned many over the years, one of which I've had since 1999. They are arguably the best guitar for the money. Notable artists: Steve Vai, Tosin Abasi, George Benson.

  • Fender - though one of the "bigger" brands, Fender actually make some really great and fairly priced guitars for starting out. Notable artists: Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, J Mascus, Kim Gordon.
  • Squier is a subsidiary of Fender and there actually are some really nice Squier guitars out there. However, their beginner/starter guitars are a total waste. Be careful if you should decided to go with Squier as their instruments require a more keen eye to ensure it's worth the investment. 

Companies to straight out avoid include: 

  • Rogue
  • Stadium  
  • First Act

If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line at INFO [at] PHILLYGUITARSCHOOL [dot] COM!