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A bit of advice for people taking up the guitar

Buying your first guitar

Where to buy
If you are about to buy your first guitar or are buying one for your child, you don't want to spend a fortune until you know that you or your child are going to stick with it. That said you also don't want to buy a nasty cheap guitar that either doesn't stay in tune or when in tune at the open strings, is out of tune by the time you go five or six frets up the neck.

My personal opinion is not to buy a cheap guitar package from someone like Argos. The first reason is because a lot of the cheap guitars that you get aren't very good. I'm not saying that all the guitars that shops like Argos sell are rubbish because some are undoubtedly very good value for money. The trouble is that you don't get to test the guitar before you buy it. Even if you did you probably wouldn't be able to tell if it was any good. Secondly you can't get any help or advice about the guitars from a member of staff.

I would also avoid buying your guitar online for the same reasons as above i.e. You can't talk to anyone or test the guitar. If you do buy it online I advice using a well known service or from a website with a store you can visit if you have problems! A friend of mine bought an effects board online and had problems with it. He then found out that it was a faceless company probably run from a warehouse in Europe somewhere and there was no one to talk with to resolve the problem.

I would personally go to a reputable music shop where there are people who know about the guitars they are selling. In a good music shop they will give you advice for free and let you test the guitars before buying them. If later you have a problem with the guitar, it needs setting up or new strings fitted, you have a shop to go back to. I personally think this is worth paying a little more for!

A few bits of information on guitars
The guitar that's best for you depends on the type of music you want to play. Below are pictured some of the most common types of guitar.

Acoustic guitars
Acoustic guitars give a reasonable amount of volume and normally only need amplifying when gigging

An Acoustic Guitar
On the left is an Acoustic guitar

This type of guitar is a key component in Folk Music but can also be used in most other styles. The guitar has a hollow body to allow the sound to resonate and some Acoustic guitars have a cutaway where the body and neck meet to give easier access to the higher frets. They only have metal strings. Some models have electronic pickups, EQ and volume controls, and a socket to plug straight into an amplifier. These are usually referred to as Electro Acoustic guitars.

A Classical Guitar
On the left is a Classical guitar
They can also be called Spanish guitars and this type of guitar is sometimes used in Pop, Rock and other styles but is mainly used in Flamenco and Classical music. It is probably best to only get this type of guitar if you are looking to specifically learn either of these two styles. They usually have the three lowest strings made of metal and the rest are made of nylon.

Electric guitars
Electric guitars are not very loud on their own and will require a guitar amplifier to be played properly

A Fender Stratocaster
On the left is a Fender Stratocaster.
This is one of the most popular guitars and has been made famous by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. It usually has 21 frets and 3 single coil pick-ups. It is ideal for Blues, Country, Pop, Funk, Reggae and moderate Rock.

An Ibanez guitar
On the left is a Ibanez guitar.
This is one of the most famous guitars in the Rock and Metal world and has been made famous by the likes of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. It usually has 24 frets and 2 Humbucker pick-ups which give it a much more cutting tone. Humbuckers played through a heavily distorted amp will give you the classic Heavy Rock and Metal sounds.
There are many other types of Electric guitar but they mainly have either single coil pick-ups, which normally give a smoother more mellow tone great for Blues, Funk, Reggae, Soul etc. or Humbucker pick-ups that are ideal for Rock and Metal playing. Some guitars have a combination of both to make them more versatile.

Bass guitars
Electric Bass guitars are not very loud on their own and will require a Bass amplifier to be played properly

A 4 String Bass
On the left is a 4 string Electric Bass guitar.
4 string bass guitars are probably the most popular and as with electric guitars they come in a number of different styles with varying numbers of frets and types of pick ups. The strings are usually the same as the 4 lowest strings on an electric guitar just much lower in pitch.
A 5 string Bass
On the left is a 5 string Electric Bass guitar.
Although most bass guitars tend to have 4 strings you also commonly see them with 5 or 6 strings, and these days can get them with even more. A 5 stringed bass has an extra low string and 6 stringed ones also have an extra high string.
As well as electric bass guitars you can also get acoustic ones suited to acoustic songs and more mellow music


how much to spend
With all guitars you tend to get what you pay for and some cheap guitars can be really nasty. Also the better quality the guitar the more likely it is to hold its value if you eventually need to sell it. If you do have a tight budget then something worth bearing in mind is that a £150 second hand guitar will probably be a better guitar than a new one for the same price and wont devalue as much.

Brand names
My personal opinion is, with a Brand that has a big reputation like say 'Fender', you generally only get good guitars but you will pay for the name to some degree. On the other hand small unknown makes will probably not have the buying power of a big company and will probably pay more for the components on their guitars. This can mean to keep prices competetive they sometimes have to use cheaper conponents.
I feel a large company like Yamaha is a fairly safe bet especially at the cheaper end of the market. They have a good reputation, are a big company with a lot of buying power and either make their own conponents or get good prices when buying them. Also unlike makes like 'Fender' there isn't the prestige held with their name so they don't tend to charge too much.

What type of guitar to buy

If you are into Folk Music or acoustic type stuff then I would opt for the best acoustic I could afford. The same applies to Flemenco or Classical music, opt for the best Spanish guitar you can.


On the electric guitar front if you are into Blues, soul etc. then a Strat type guitar will probably suit you. If you are into Heavy Metal shredding then you are better off having at least one Humbucker on your guitar and at least 22 frets.
I personally recommend working out the maximum amount of cash that you have to buy your guitar, decide what type of guitar i.e. more mellow, full on rock or a bit of both and finally visit as many shops as possible and get them to demo the guitars they have within your requirements.
Unfortunately if you have a tight budget you may only be able to afford a Strat type guitar as most cheap guitars seem to be modelled on this.


As for Bass guitars I would work out my budget and then go to some music shops and tell the assistant what type of music you intend to play and they should give you the options within your price range. As for how many strings you need that is up to you and what you can afford although 4 strings will be fine for most beginners. It may be worth considering the extra strings for certain types of music if its in the budget but you may also need to think about how wide the neck is on a 5 or 6 string bass especially if you have small hands.

A few bits of information on guitar
If you have enough in your budget an amp with two channels would be best. This means one channel has a clean sound and the other a distortion sound. The clean is the clear and more natural guitar sound and distortion is the more noisy Rock sound. Foot switchable is preferred, then if you are playing a song that changes from clean to distortion you can do this whilst playing. This obviously does not apply to bass amps as they usually only have one channel. As for in-built effects, if you can afford an amp with them great. If not most guitarists buy an effects unit of some description eventually anyway.

Hopefully this page will help get you started. If you need any other free advice please don't hesitate to contact me by phone or e-mail. Details are on the contact page. Good luck and have fun.


All content copyright © 2017 Mark Driscoll