Get A Guitar!

What kind of guitar do I need? What do I look for in a good guitar? These questions and many others will pop up as you search for a good instrument. Here's a little help! This information is not the complete picture, but I hope it will assist you in your search for a good instrument. Happy Guitar shopping!

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Hand-Me Down Guitars

It’s always nice to get a “loaner” or “hand-me-down” guitar – you can’t beat the price! They don’t always look fabulous, but when you’re lucky enough to get a free guitar, take it! Look it over and start picking! If it buzzes, sounds crackly, or does not play easily, have your teacher check it out. If it’s electric and it makes unwanted noises, turn off the amplifier, unplug all electrical connections immediately, and take it to a trained repair person.


Have your teacher check the “action” of the instrument. The action is the distance of the strings above the frets and fingerboard. If the action is too high, the guitar will be very uncomfortable to play. It might also play “out of tune”, even when electronic tuners indicate that the strings are “in tune”! Beginning guitarists become easily discouraged when trying to learn on an unplayable, out-of-tune instrument. Often adjustments can be done to bring the strings closer to the fretboard, but sometimes the problem can’t be corrected.

If the strings are too close to the frets (low action), they'll bump against frets when they vibrate, resulting in a "buzzing" sound. This sound can also be caused by a warped guitar neck or a variety of other problems. Some can be fixed, some can't. Once again, a visit to a trained repairperson is your best bet!

Tuning Gears (Tuning Machines)

The tuning gears (machine heads) should offer some resistance when twisted. If they feel loose when twisted, the strings will go out of tune easily. The photo below right shows open tuning machines on a classical guitar; you can actually see the gears. This type can be cleaned and lubricated.

Open Tuners
Closed Tuners

Most closed tuning machines (pictured above) are permanently sealed and lubricated. When they do not function properly, they need to be replaced. Replacement tuning machines are available and either type can be changed, but this job should be done by an experienced instrument repair person.

Wood Problems With Hand-Me-Downs

Inspect the guitar to see if all of the wooden seams are glued and sealed - especially where the neck of the guitar attaches to the body. Great tension is placed on the guitar neck when the strings are tuned properly. I have actually seen inferior instruments fold in half when the strings are tightened to the correct pitch. Inspect the wood surfaces on acoustic guitars for cracks. Cracks in acoustic guitars (especially in the top) can cause unwanted vibrations when the guitar is played.

New Guitar Quality

Judging guitar quality can be a difficult task. There is a great amount of variation from brand to brand, and even within brands, because the “big name” guitar manufacturers are in a stiff competition for the beginner and intermediate markets. One way to see the difference in quality is to visit a large guitar store and compare a low cost guitar with an intermediate, and a high cost instrument. Differences in feel, looks, wood quality, workmanship, and hardware are usually obvious. Play one guitar in each price range and you will usually hear and feel the difference!

Beginner's Guitars

Almost every major manufacturer makes a good beginner’s guitar. If you’re buying for a young beginner, choose a price range, show them a picture, get a little advice from a teacher, and buy the one they want! Young players are more motivated if they have a guitar that “looks cool”, so why not? Learning to play an instrument of any type is great for self-esteem, developing focus, discipline, time management, social networking, and many other reasons. Get them one they like and give them a shot at success by finding a [[file:/C:/Documents and Settings/rauvil.UNITEDAD/Desktop/Physical Guitar/get_teacher_2a.htm|good teacher]]!

Which Size?

Comfort and relaxation are two important keys to success with Physical Guitar; if you are relaxed and comfortable with your guitar, you’ll play it more often! Guitar manufacturers make half and three-quarter size guitars for children or adults with small sized hands. The scale length (string length) determines the distance from one fret to the next, so guitars shortened scale lengths have the frets placed closer together. Therefore, less finger stretch is required to reach from one fret to the next. These small-sized guitars are great for young players! Nevertheless, through many years of teaching, I have seen dedicated students with smaller hands overcome the obstacle of playing full-sized instruments.

A full size guitar will have about a 24-inch to 25-inch scale. Three-quarter size instruments have about a 21-½ inch scale. Half-size guitars have a scale length of about 20 ¾ inches. The body sizes of these instruments are also in proportion to the scale and neck length.big_little.jpgexternal image big_little.jpg

If you buy a small size guitar, I recommend light gauge strings. Sometimes the smaller instruments are not built to handle the tension of medium of heavy gauge strings! You should also know that sometimes manufacturers cut corners on quality of materials and workmanship when making these instruments. You should also be aware that the resale value on some of them could be much lower. The lighter gauge strings are easy on the fingertips of beginning students!

There is really no set rule for guitar size; get one that feels best in the your hands. Comfort is an important key to success with Physical Guitar. If the guitaris a good fit, you’ll play it more often!

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Acoustic or Electric?

Personally, I don’t think beginners should start lessons with an electric guitar. If you already have one, it’s ok, but it will pose some additional learning concerns. Electric guitars present extra technical issues for beginners because of their fantastic sustain power. Novice guitarists sometimes find it difficult to control the sound of an amplified instrument. They must learn to set the string into vibration properly AND learn to control that vibration with special techniques of the right and left hands. These are intermediate and advanced techniques that often take months to master.

There are far too many other concerns that require the focus of beginning guitarists! Learning proper posture, the development of BASIC left and right hand technique, the set, press, and release of strings within the frets, exercising the fingers for strength, getting a natural feel for your guitar, coordinating basic strum patterns, chord playing, and a myriad of other issues will demand your attention. I feel that the basic skills of Physical Guitar are best accomplished and practiced on an acoustic instrument.

In my opinion, the steel string acoustic guitar is the best choice for beginners. It is convenient - you can pick it up and play without concerns about amplifiers and short-circuited wires. An acoustic guitar is portable - you can take it anywhere. And, most importantly, beginners can learn to play unencumbered by the control issues presented by an electric guitar.

Acoustic (or folk) guitars are available in hundreds of shapes and sizes. Most acoustics have steel strings, which make your fingertips a little sore when you play a lot. If you stick with a regular practice routine, the tenderness in your fingertips will go away as a light callous forms.

The acoustic guitar usually has a narrow neck making it more comfortable for beginners. Acoustic guitars might also be “cutaway” (see the photo below). The “cutaways” give guitar players easy access to the higher frets. Acoustic guitars are hollow-bodied so there is no need for an amplifier, making it more economical to get started. It’s also much more convenient to just pick up your guitar and play without the need to plug it in every time.

If you can’t get enough volume amplified, some acoustic guitars called “acoustic/electric” have a “pre-amp” and “pick-ups” built in to them. They can be plugged in to an amplifier like an electric guitar, so you have the best of both worlds!. Acoustic/electric guitars are becoming very popular because they are in a wide variety of musical styles. The following is a photo of my own Takamine acoustic electric guitar:


Basic Electric Guitar Structure

The design and building of electric guitars has been evolving for almost six decades! It’s impossible to compare each style, model and brand, so I’ll just mention some basic information about solid body electric guitars. They seem to be one of the most popular types. Major areas of concern are the electronics (pickups, switches, and control knobs), wood, hardware (tuning gears, bridges, and tailpieces), and the construction and attachment of the neck.


The sound produced by electric guitars is entirely dependent on the electro-magnetic signal generated by vibrating metal strings located close to the sensitive pickups. Each of the three major types of pickups, single coil, humbucker, and piezo, have a unique set of sounds. When you audition guitars, be sure to play a guitar with each different type.

Single coil pickups are known for their cutting edge and twang; they are one of the first types in modern use. The single coil in the picture below is mounted on a Fender “Stratocaster” guitar.

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Humbuckers send a smooth, mellow tone to the amplifier; they’re also known for their power and sustain capability. Picture below is a humbucker pickup on a Gibson “Les Paul” guitar.

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Piezo pickups (pictured above) are usually made from a type of crystal and they are mounted under the bridge of the guitar. Piezo pickups are found mostly on acoustic/electric guitars and are used to generate a more acoustic, “wood like” tone. Most Piezo’s can’t be seen, but the picture below is a top-mounted, piezo-electric disk pickup. Maybe you need one of each! I am sure the salesperson at the guitar store will be happy to agree!

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The wiring in guitars is different depending on the number of pickups it has. A guitar with two pickups usually has a three-way switch; a guitar with three pickups has a five-way switch. Each position activates a different pickup grouping of pickups. Some very good guitars have independent volume, and tone switches for each pickup. The most important thing about all wiring, switches and knobs is that they all operate smoothly and noise-free through your

amplifier. The photo below left shows the controls and switch on a Fender “Stratocaster” guitar. The photo on the right shows a blade switch which was removed from the guitar.

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Electric guitars should not buzz or crackle when plugged into an amplifier. These symptoms usually indicate electrical problems. The internal electronics of the guitar, the guitar cable, or the amplifier could be short-circuited. Electrical problems are dangerous and should always be referred to a qualified repairperson.

Most electric guitars you see are “solid body” guitars. Solid body electric guitars are available in thousands of shapes, colors, and sizes. They must be amplified because the solid body of the guitar does not resonate like an acoustic guitar. Magnetic pickups usually transfer the vibrations of each string to the amplifier. They always have steel strings to transfer the electro-magnetic energy through the pickups, and into the amplifier.

The higher notes on the electric guitar are easier to reach because they usually have longer necks and fingerboards. Single and double cutaways are common features on solid body electric guitars. Cutaways are also featured on acoustic, and even on classical guitars.


General Consumer Tips

When an experienced player (or older beginner) shops for a guitar, the stakes are higher because they are willing to spend more money. Therefore, a little more research and advice is necessary. I’ve traveled with some of my adult friends and students to guitar stores and guided them through the instrument audition and selection process (and I’ve never had a complaint!). It’s a good idea to practice your favorite lead riff, tune, or chord progression to audition the various guitar styles. This will be your “tryout tune”. Try each type of guitar by playing the same tune through the same amplifier without changing any of the tone or volume settings. Listen closely to the differences in sound and decide what you like. This will help narrow down your selection. It is also a good idea to ask the salesperson if you can try the guitar through your own amplifier, or one comparable to yours.

The Set Up

An affordable guitar, when set up properly, can feel and play like an instrument worth five times it’s cost! The opposite is true of a fine guitar with a poor set up. Many of the fine adjustments made to delicate parts of the guitar are tricky, and very important to the playability of the instrument. It is easy to over tighten, or damage the fine adjusting screws and other critical parts of the guitar. Therefore, I recommend that you leave the set up work to a qualified technician.

There are a number of steps involved in a guitar set up: changing the strings; adjusting string length, height, and intonation; adjusting the nut; adjusting the truss rod; cleaning the guitar; and twenty-five or thirty other considerations. Some people will tell you that it’s possible to do all of these things yourself, but most likely you do not have the experience or training to accomplish them successfully.

Some small jobs such as cleaning the guitar, tightening the strap buttons, keeping the case clear of obstructions and books, and other minor maintenance tasks are easily accomplished. Stick to those things and trust the others to a trained repairperson, but by all means, GET A GOOD SET UP! Your guitar will sound much better and play more comfortably!