Ah, the age old question. You want a guitar but you don’t know what to buy. With so much choice these days, you can be forgiven for not really knowing where to start. I thought I’d write a blog to try and answer this as best I can. I’ve been buying, selling and playing guitar (bass and 6 string) for long enough to have a decent idea of what to do.
If you’re a beginner, or you’re buying a guitar for a child, please read my blog about that first – Buying a Guitar for a Beginner or Child
Once you’re past the beginner stage and you know you’re sticking with the guitar as an instrument, you’ll probably be prepared to spend a little more money if needs be. While spending a ton of cash isn’t necessary to get a good instrument, it can certainly help.
Buying a Guitar – New or Used?
One decision you’ll need to make is whether to buy new or used. I personally think you can do either and be happy, it’s more about personal preference here. Some people like a guitar that’s a little worn in and has a few stories to tell already. Some people like a shiny new guitar never touched by another hand. One thing is for certain though, used guitars are cheaper to buy, and if you buy smart (read my blog about buying guitars on ebay) you can get a great instrument at a knockdown price.
If you’re going to use your guitar a lot, and gig it regularly, it’s going to get a few knocks and scrapes as time goes by. I think this is a good reason to buy used. if you’re a bedroom guitarist with plenty spare money, you may want a shiny new guitar, as you’ll be able to keep it looking nice as you won’t be giving it much abuse.
Once you’ve got an idea of which flavour (used or new) you prefer, you will have a better idea of where to look for your next guitar. If it’s used, eBay is always a good start. If you’re buying new, big guitar retailers such as GAK, PMT, Andertons or Dawsons are good places to start. They all have big ranges in stock, competitive pricing, and some offer credit if you want it.
Buying a Guitar – How Much to Spend?
What i’ve learned over the years is that there’s no point in spending money on stepping stones to good gear. Be it guitars, amps, pedals – whatever. if you know you’re in it for the long haul, buy the guitar of your dreams (money permitting) straight away. that mid level guitar isn’t going to keep you happy forever and sooner or later you’re going to sell it to upgrade. When you sell a guitar there’s always a chance you will lose money on a deal (eBay take 10%, so even if you get your money back, you won’t really) so buying cheaper guitars can cost money in the long run.
I would save up, borrow, do what you have to do. Make the money available to buy whatever guitar you decide is REALLY what you want. Unless you’re wanting a guitar that’s really esoteric, nearly all guitars can be had for less than £1500. That’s the price of a cheap second hand car, and we’re talking about a guitar that you could play for a lifetime. If you plan on having a playing career of 40 years, that’s only £37.50 a year. Not a lot, I’m sure you’ll agree. If you’re buying new, take advantage of the interest free credit deals that are around. If you’re buying used, you could always consider a personal loan.
Buying a Guitar – What Do You Actually Want?
This might sound silly, but what actually IS your dream guitar? Does the guitar you lust after actually fit in with your style of music, and does it fit in with the ‘fashion’ element of the band(s) you’re likely to spend time playing in? If you’re a rockabilly player with a hankering for pointy headstock Ibanez, there’s a bit of a conflict there. We all lust after guitars that are wholly impractical for our needs, but there’s no need to actually go ahead and buy one. it’s fine to worship from afar, but what we’re looking for is a guitar that you will love forever AND a guitar that will sound, play and look right for the type of music that you want to play.
Now, some guitars (Strats are a good example) can sound and look right for many genres. Good for blues, country, jazz, rock – even metal so long as you’ve got a humbucker in the bridge. Other guitars (take a bright yellow Ibanez JEM for instance) are going to look out of place in all but the right environment. I have a lot of Ibanez guitars (many are glittery blue) and while I think they are some of the best guitars in the world, they do have a time and a place. My Washburn N4 is also a lovely guitar, but has a much more understated look, and thus gets more use in different band scenarios.
Only you know what your guitar is going to be used for, so you’ll have to make your own mind up about this. Just don’t end up with a guitar that you’re afraid to take out of the case in case your band mates laugh at you.
Buying a Guitar – What Do You Actually Need?
How much do you need to spend to get a guitar that will last a lifetime? Good question. It is completely possible to buy a guitar for £100 and make it do the business for many years. However, you are likely to always be coming up against some issues that are simply part of the fact that it was built cheaply. Spending sufficient money to get a guitar that’s made well enough to last is what it’s all about.
I like Ibanez guitars, but for me, not all Ibanez are made equal. As far as I’m concerned, Ibanez guitars aren’t actually Ibanez unless they’re Japanese, and made in the FujiGen factory. The range starts with the archetypal rock guitar – the RG550, and goes up from there. All these guitars have the best trem in the world (the Ibanez Edge) and the build quality and fit and finish is second to none. The lower models in the Ibanez range are made in Korea or Indonesia in the same factories that make other budget guitars, and I wouldn’t touch them.
The same can also be said for many of the other top brands. A Strat really isn’t a proper Strat unless it’s a USA made model. Same for Gibson. There is a level in every manufacturer’s range where the quality starts and this is at least where you want to be looking. A little research into your brand of choice will let you see where the smart money goes. You can always contact me if you’ve got any questions, and I’ll try to offer some pointers.
In the past, I’ve had a Les Paul Studio (still USA made but with less frills) and currently play a Stingray SUB 5 string bass, again – still USA made but with less frills. There are many examples of this type of guitar if you look for them. Proper quality, but sold at a cheaper price due to simpler manufacturing methods – guitars that are made cheaply, not cheaply made.
Pulling the Trigger on a New Guitar
So you’ve decided whether used or new is the way to go. You’ve squared away the cash. You’ve also decided what guitar is right for your needs, and identified what model is essentially where the ‘smart money’ goes. If you do your homework, you’ll end up with a guitar that lets you sleep well at night knowing that there simply isn’t anything else out there in the world that is better for you. You’ll never need to sell it. There won’t be much that you need it to do that it won’t be able to do for you. Your band mates will even be happy that their guitarist looks and sounds the business.
So get to it, and let me know how you get on in the comments below.