Buying Electric Guitars - The Beginners Guide

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Buying your first guitar for yourself or your kids?  This hopefully will be a small aide to help you through the pitfalls of buying your first electric guitar, and set you on the road to one of the most rewarding hobbies in the world..........music.

Sadly buying a guitar for the first time is daunting, especially if you decide to go into a large guitar store for your first introduction.  The walls will be covered with all sorts of guitars in all shapes and sizes (and colours) and there will normally be some show-off sitting in a corner with an amp turned up seriously loud proclaiming how amazingly good he is.  If you're a parent this is just irritating because you can't hear yourself think, if you're the kid this is one of the most intimidating things you'll ever encounter (I should know - I've been playing for 13 years and still hate trying out guitars in stores!).  Now I'm trying to write this without any form of bias towards any of my favourite guitars (experienced people will be able to tell what I like from my member log in!), but sadly buying from one of the big high street stores in the UK is going to result in bias anyway, because they'll be obliged to plug whatever brand they sell, and whatever they have to get rid of.  They do also have a rather bad habit of trying to sell you loads of stuff that you don't need.  This what you WILL need to start out :-

1.  A guitar

2.  A tuner

3.  A lead to connect the guitar to the tuner

4.  A couple of plectrums in varying thicknesses

That's it, anything else they try to sell you is extra stuff that you probably won't need yet.  You don't even need an amp to start learning, and to be wholly truthful it's probably best to learn the basics without an amp because you'll be making a lot of mistakes and an amp will do as it says on the tin...........it's an amplifier..........it amplifies the sound from the guitar..........it also amplifies all the mistakes from the guitar too!  There's nothing worse than learning and having all your mistakes blasted back at you ten times worse.  Guaranteed to put quieter kids off playing the thing for good.   In all seriousness from my experience no amp is certainly a LOT better than having a cheap amp.  Kids will use the cheap amp if they have it around and it will only add to their frustration when they're going to be frustrated enough learning to play the guitar! Unfortunately most stores will offer special deals on guitars where you get a guitar, an amp, lead, strap, case, learning DVD (often not a tuner, because they'll sell that to you seperately), and a few plectrums to get you started, and these deals will proliferate around Christmas so watch out.  On the surface they look like great bargains - and to start out they quite often are - at only around £100, but what you're getting is a load of equpiment that can actually hold back the beginner guitarist and can be impossible to move on when the time comes.  A deal on a Chinese made guitar with a same brand amp might look good, and for the two months after Christmas will be the best thing you ever brought your kid, but they quickly show their shortcomings and it won't be long before you're either looking at never hearing the guitar being played again, or your kid wants something better.  I've experienced it first-hand myself, and witnessed it with other friends and their children.  If you're a budding young guitarist you want to sound like your heroes.  If you've got a cheapo Chinese tinny little amp, all you're going to be able to get out of it is tinny little music.  This'll either encourage you to get a new amp (Muuuuuuuum, Daaaaaaaad) or just convince you that you'll never sound like Billie Jo Armstring from Green Day and give up.  It does happen all to often, and you're then left with worthless equipment to sell on.

£100 is very tempting for the beginner guitarist or their family, but I would stress that for that money you could buy a good starter guitar with a recognised name on the headstock which you would be able to sell for half to three quarters of what you paid for it.  Good names to look for are :-

Yamaha

Squier

Epiphone

Washburn

Ibanez

BC Rich

There are lots of others but you're then getting into the realms of silly money for the big boys toys by companies such as Gibson, Fender, PRS etc.  Most of the beginners instruments do tend to have their roots in the more expensive instrument lines anyway.  Squier is Fenders basic company, in the same way that Epiphone is Gibsons basic company.  You're getting products that look like the classic instruments, but not at the prices for an original.  The main reason the beginners guitars are so much cheaper is because they are made - on the whole - in China or Korea where labour costs are low, and the internal electronics are cheap to get in.  Now you can find beginners guitar complete sets from any of those manufacturers I mentioned earlier, and mainly for under £200, but they all come with some cost cutting measure built into them..........normally a shockingly bad amp.  You can even buy a guitar starter set from Marshall who are a world renowned amplifier company (normally sells for about £199) and you'll get a great little Marshall Amp..............but a shockingly bad guitar! You can't win.

My recomendation?

If money is tight, buy the best guitar you can afford, and the other ancillary items I mentioned (the tuner, lead and plectrums).  Your kid can learn on the guitar, it can live in the carboard box it will come with if it's brand new, and the other bits can be brought further down the line.  A good guitar will make learning easier, will stay in tune better, and won't sound dire when you finally get an amp to plug it into.  A huge amount of these really cheap un-branded guitars you won't even be able to get into tune properly because major factors like the guitars intonation will be off.

If you have a bit of money, buy a guitar from one of the major manufacturers (should cost about £100 - £120), then go for a soft case to protect the guitar as well as the ancillary items.  Now look at amplifiers.  Rolands Cube 30, Vox's AD30VT, or Marshalls MG30DFX are all good little starter amps which have built in effects and good circuitry to make it sound like a bigger amp.  They all cost about £120 and will enable you or your kid to sound like their heroes without pulling all the doors off the house with the sheer volume of bigger amps.  Once you've chosen what you want...........HAGGLE!  I know it's a very unBritish thing to do, but you'd be amazed what deals you can get out of the high street guitar stores if you want to buy a few bits and bobs as a package deal.

Buying on eBay.  For a beginners guitar I would say it's definately a case of buyer beware.  There are an awful lot of UK sellers who are selling their own brand instruments that have come straight out of the same factories in China that the big companies use.........sadly those big companies have their own quality control, whilst a lot of these private brand instruments DO NOT!  What looks like an absolute bargain could end up being the biggest waste of money you ever spent, and end up putting off a budding guitarist for life.  There are also a lot of the big guitar companies complete deal boxes for sale on eBay, but as I mentioned earlier they tend to have a major flaw somewhere in them, and you can't haggle to create your own deal like you can on the high street.  Buying secondhand, whether on eBay or from the free ads is a good way to get hold of a half decent instrument, and is the way that most of us old hands get our instruments.  But not to state the blindingly obvious a 30 year old with a £4000+ guitar will tend to treat it better than a 13 year od with £100 one.  If you fancy buying secondhand please ask a friend who plays guitar to go along with you if it's your first.  I recently sold my Fender Mexican Stratocaster to a guitar tutor who was buying it for a family who son he'd just started teaching.......he knew what he was looking for whereas the student didn't.

For fun..............

If you have silly money to spend.  Lucky you!  But what to buy?  Well if it was a case of money no object then I'd say that you might as well go top shelf for everything.  A Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Historic 59 will always hold its value, may even appreciate if you get one with a good top to it (lots of nice stripes!), but that'll cost £4100 here in the UK.  A nice Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier amplifier head (it's the thin box on top of those speaker cabinets every stadium rock band in the world has!) will cost about £1800, and a pair of speaker cabinets to attach it to will cost £900 each so that's another £1800.  You don't have to worry about the case as the Gibson will come in its own case at that price!  Then a gold plated lead (£40) and a Korg foot controlled tuner (£70), topped off with a nice leather strap (£20) and a stand (£20) and you have the perfect starter rig all for the measley sum of............£7850!

It's a costly world isn't it?  Get good and that's what you could have, and that's all from the initial outlay of £100 on that first guitar

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