Choosing a Guitar - Guide to buying the right guitar for learning

Views 9 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful

So, You're thinking of taking up playing the guitar? 

But, if you've decided to buy one there are two ways to go and there seems to be a catch 22 in there... 

     Should you: B
uy a cheap one and when you get good buy a better one?


               Should you: Splash out on a good one now and have the trouble of selling it if you're no good? 

Trouble is: Will you get good on a poor quality guitar?

              Probably not! 

And what's worse, you'll get a lot less back for it if you decide to sell than if you're no good on a good one...

              Which is less likely because you'll be better on the good one! 


Confused?  I hope to sort that out for you - Read on dear reader!



     Above: It's important to get the right guitar, even if you just sit at home to entertain yourself.

The fact is that you are MUCH MORE LIKELY to succeed in learning the guitar if you buy a GOOD ONE to start with. 

     This is for a number of reasons. 

          If you buy a good one you'll try harder! 

               The actual playing will be EASIER

                    The sound will be a little more pleasing and encourage continuation. 

                         Your friends and family will love it, and there's always the WOW factor with a 'good' instrument.

How can it be that a good guitar can be 'easier' to play?

How can an expensive guitar be easier to learn on than a cheapie? You think, 'It's my fingers that won't play not the guitar surely?'

Well, a quality musical instrument is made to exacting precision, out of expensive materials and is built to last.  They can be 'set up' so that the strings are closer to the fingerboard without string rattle (They are easier to play if you don't have to push the strings down too far!).  

This means that your poor old fingers don't have to work as hard to press the strings down and they don't hurt so much after an hour's practice!  If you're not in pain you'll enjoy playing more and be able to concentrate on what you're fingers are doing better.

You'll find that one day the fingers will just do what they're supposed to do without thinking about it, so until that day just keep plonking away and enjoy it relatively pain free with a good guitar!

Speaking from experience, I had a cheap 'Audition' guitar from Woolworth's when I was a kid.  The build quality was non-existant, the strings rattled on the frets even though the action (the distance between string and fretboard) was about 11mm at 12th fret!. (When I bought my first electric (Gibson Marauder - See below.) it was set up with 2mm clearance (Low E) 1mm (Top E) with no fret-buzz at all). 


You can learn on any type of guitar.

Classical, Folk, Steel, Dobro, Semi-solid or Electric.  The best way to do that is practice, practice and practice some more.  But to give yourself a head start and avoid wasting money you should consider the advantages of buying a good make.


A word about the different kinds of guitar: Electric guitars have the lowest 'action' (The gap between fretboard and string) because they are amplified by the 'amplifier' and not by strumming harder as is the case with acoustic guitars.  A good guitar can have a 2-3mm action at the 12th fret. (See pic)

Folk guitars (Steel string) have a medium action 4 - 5mm at 12th fret.   This is because they are louder and brighter with the steel strings, but the volume comes from strumming harder.  

Classical guitars have the biggest 'action' as they have the quietest strings (Nylon) and so need a lot of welly to make them very loud, consequently, an 'action' of 5-6mm is expected at 12th fret. 

You can learn to play on a classical guitar, a steel string folk guitar or an electric guitar and with a little conversion practice you can play the others too.  There is no right and wrong about which type of guitar you learn on - But it is very important to choose a good make to give yourself the best start.

Setting up a guitar is not a matter of trial and error. If you're not trained you can make a real mess of it!  Proper setting up involves adjustment of the nut, the neck truss-rod, bridge (Both height and intonation), and in the case of an electric guitar, the neck angle, the pick-up heights and pole-piece settings.

Best leave it to the professionals until you get some experience!

My first guitar, the Audition, was difficult to tune, and the low quality tuning pegs meant tuning was something I had to do every twenty minutes!  Now everyone needs to tune their instrument when they pick it up each day - But more than twice a day is ridiculously excessive!


I nearly gave up ...


But, one day, I spotted a genuine USA built 'Gibson Marauder' (Not the prettiest guitar) in The Fylde Guitar Centre, in Blackpool, and at £150 I couldn't resist having a 'REAL' Gibson...  

A Gibson Marauder (Not my actual one but dark brown body, maple (bolt on) neck, and white scratch-plate -Just like mine!)  When I bought mine it was 1983 and I paid £150 - Now the Marauder is rare and can fetch up to £500 for a good example - Yes, I wish I'd kept it! :o)

The difference was astounding - Within two days I could do 'bar chords' - Impossible with the audition!  I learned more in a week with the Gibson than I had learned in the previous six months struggling with the cheapie! (And I didn't come away from practice looking for the plasters for my finger ends!)

When I came to change guitars I actually MADE money when I sold the Marauder (To get another Gibson) and I threw the Audition away in the bin - I really didn't think anyone should have to try to learn on that thing! 

I'm not suggesting that you can pick up a Gibson on eBay for £150 nowadays - But, you have to consider getting a good make and not a bargain basement model.

The Gibson Marauder - Nice if you can get one!

I was lucky enough to land a job at the Guitar shop I bought the Gibson, and very soon after that I became the manager of their other branch, 'Preston Music'.  I doubt very much if that would have happened if I had soldiered on with the Woolies wonder!


Selling guitars on eBay is easy -

They're the most popular musical instrument by far.  When you're buying watch out for copies and fakes.  You really need to make sure you're getting the real thing.  There are plenty of guides telling you how to avoid the scammers selling knock-off copies.

OK - So how much am I looking at?

I would suggest that the question of money should be up to you.  I bought a brilliant guitar off eBay for £32 and it has been wonderful!  But, I wouldn't try to suggest that just anyone can do that!  Or that I wasn't, to some degree, very lucky to get such a good guitar for so little.

Above: Me and my £32 'Elevation' guitar - A good buy!

I have recently bought myself a second guitar and followed the advice in this guide to avoid getting something sub-standard.  

I got an Epiphone Dot 335.  That's a semisolid, electric guitar, from a very good manufacturer - Probably one of the top five major manufacturers (Don't get into hand-built guitars, they're thousands!)

This guitar was £185 (Two bids: starting price £180).  Now, that's not quite two thirds of a week's wages - Which, in the grand scheme of things isn't a lot of money for a guitar that should last a lifetime and never hold back my playing improvement or possibilities.

If I ever decide to sell - and I don't think I will - But, if I did, I would get all my investment back, plus some!  So, that's a good thing to have at the back of my mind... I will never be out of pocket because I bought a good guitar.

Left: My actual Epiphone Dot 335 Semi-solid Electric.

You don't have to spend hundreds, just make sure you're buying a good guitar.  this is easiest accomplished by buying a good make.
When you buy you'll know that if it doesn't feel comfortable or the action is ridiculous or something, that at least you can take it to a guitar shop and they'll be able to sort it out - Because it's a good guitar!  If you think you'd like the action lower, take it to a music shop and have it done professionally!

If it turns out that you have three left thumbs, sell it on eBay (Where you will probably make at least your money back if that's where you bought it in the first place!)

If you plan to buy off eBay, then please take some time to check out sellers and carefully look at the guitar spec - If you're not sure then trot along to your local guitar shop and have a go on some different ones.

Me at home by the pool with a £55 Marlin 'Seagull' guitar - Another good investment!

I Hope this has been useful for you...   Any specific questions I can help you with, please message me.  :o)   



Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides