Buying Guitar ?

So you want to pick up the guitar? If you have an instrument already, good. But if not, you're going to have to get one. There are a lot of choices out there. This article will help you with what you need to know.

If there's a cherry red axe you've been lusting after lately or if you're picking one out as a gift, it's time to learn about what you're buying. I know people who've spent thousands of dollars on instruments and it didn't help play one lick better. Guitars can make nice trophy items, but you've got some decisions to make before you can become a real guitar-playing badass.

Now it's time to start searching for your special guitar. First check out a trading post or the local classifieds. Don't go to Ebay! A guitar is something you must play before you buy. Especially when you're looking for that first guitar, there can be a wide variation in the quality out there. How will you know if a guitar is really for you unless you play it first?

Another good place to find guitars is at your local guitar shop. There are rows of them just hanging from the walls begging to be played. Most places don't mind if you try one out, though it's always nice to ask first. Some of these instruments are very expensive and delicate items. A tiny nick in the finish or scratch in the chrome can ruin a guitar in some people's eyes! As for what kind of shop you want to go to, most small shops specializing in guitars have very knowledgeable and skilled staff. While instruments and equipment are often more expensive at these places, there really isn't a better place to find advice or get lessons.

In any case, you should be able to find a good starter guitar for somewhere around $100 to $200. If you decide on an electric guitar, then you'll want to purchase a practice amp too. 15 watt practice amps usually retail around $50 and sometimes you can save money on package deals.

It's a Good Guitar ?

The most important thing when buying your guitar is to listen. When you strum the strings do you hear weird noises? Well, other than your playing... Seriously though, if the action on the guitar is too low, it can cause the strings to vibrate against the metal frets. Other times, cheap tuning pegs cause problems. Let's take a look at these next. Do they turn smoothly or are they kind of jerky? You don't want pegs that turn too easily or ones that require serious muscle. Good tuning pegs will have a bit of resistance at first and then turn smoothly and steadily once moving. Now be careful and don't tune it too much! Those tiny E and B strings like to break.

Next up, take a look down the neck of the guitar. Make sure the neck is straight, otherwise funny things will happen when you play further up the neck. Do you see the enameled dots on the fret board? We need to find the fret that has two of those dots. That fret is what we call an octave. When you press down at that fret, the string will play the same note as when it's played open or unfretted. You can test your ear here and also listen for the quality of the guitar. Play the string open, then play it at the octave mark. Do they sound like the same note or do you hear discordance between the two? If they sound like the same note that means the intonation on your guitar is in good shape. You can take a guitar to a repair shop, but if it doesn't start out with good intonation then there's not a lot that can be done.

Play It Already!

Once we're done the snooping out the hardware, we're down to the moment of truth. Let's hear how it sounds! Plug it in or if it's an acoustic just start playing.

With guitars it can be tricky knowing what you want in the beginning. Generally, you're listening for a nice thick low end that you can really feel. On the high range we want a clear and present sound that can pierce through walls. All guitars vary widely in their sounds, pickups, and EQ's. Some guitars will sound awesome through a certain distortion pedal while others are meant to be played with a certain style amp. A lot of your choice depends on whether you want to play rhythm or lead. A good way to figure it all out is by listening to your favorite musician and finding out what equipment they use. I can't offer much advice here other than make sure it sounds cool!

Be aware that no guitar will ever sound right if it's out of tune. Unfortunately for us, a lot of guitars aren't already tuned. This is when it definitely helps to have absolute pitch or, at least, a guitar tuner. If you have no idea what you're doing, then you can always ask an employee to help you out. If they think you're interested, they won't mind tuning it up for you.

While you're doing all this is the time to buy a couple picks for a buck or two. Everyone seems to have their own preference with picks. Generally, you want one that is pliable yet sturdy. That way you can strum chords and pick out notes with the same pick.

Now once you've got a pick in hand and that beautiful guitar is in tune, let's play some chords. If you don't know any, then just try picking the strings. It can be hard to tell without strumming, but what we're looking for is a well-balanced, rich tone. The high notes and the low notes should have an even balance and it should create a nice sonorous sensation to your ears. If the high notes sound "plinky" or the low notes sound dull that's a bad sign. Old strings can badly degrade the sound, so watch out for those. Otherwise, with acoustic guitars the sound you hear is a pretty straightforward indicator whether it's a worthy specimen.

What About The Electric Guitar ?

It can be a little harder to test electric guitars. EQ settings and pickups play a larger role with electric instruments. If the tone knob on the guitar is turned down or if the amp's treble/bass settings are wrong, then you'll get a false indication of what the guitar can do. Also beware, most sales people will hook you into one of their best amps. I would recommend playing on the kind of amp you're looking to buy. This way you'll get a good idea of it will sound like at home.

As far as basic guitar EQ's, turn the tone knob on the guitar most of the way up and adjust the amp settings; for treble around 7 o'clock and for the bass control around 3 or 4 is good. Obviously there will be a lot of variation on these settings depending on the style of music you play. For now though, the basic settings suffice.

Conclusions Are For Winners

Once you've decided on the guitar that sounds best to you, it's time to check out the accessories. The essential items you'll need include a pitch tuner, a case, an extra set of strings, a comfortable strap, and most importantly, a whole bunch of picks. I can't count the number of picks I've lost in my lifetime. No matter what you do, you will lose them!

Now if you decided on an electric guitar then you'll need another group of accessories. Start out with a little practice amp and a couple of 1/4" cables. Unless you're going to be playing in a massive room, short cables are better. They take up less room and are much easier to store and untangle. Ten foot cables are usually optimal. Eventually, you might consider picking up some effects pedals. The basic ones include distortion, delay, reverb, chorus, phaser and tremolo. Personally, I like overdrive pedals because they give a nice fuzzy edge to your sound for rock'n roll. Another route to go is the ubiquitous multifunction effects box. The quality of each effect tends to be substandard on these, but it can be cool to try out different effects and see which ones you might want to purchase individually later on.

My last word advice is something most wanna-be rockers don't like to hear. I recommend starting out with an acoustic guitar. They force you to have better technique and that makes you better in the long run. Also, I find acoustic guitars are better for learning chords and writing songs. The great thing about them is they can go practically anywhere you can. And there aren't many better ways to attract people than by playing a guitar.

So yes, be cool and get yourself a guitar. Inevitably, you will suck at first, but you don't have to be that way for long. If you find someone who can explain and show you, you'll be playing soon enough. Above all, don't be discouraged! If you try hard enough, you will get better.

This article is authored by Daniel Crenshaw. He is a musician and writer from Richmond, Virginia. He runs the website