After I began to outgrow my first guitar and develop musical tastes of my own, I started asking for a new guitar. The problem was, I didn't know exactly what I wanted. Walking into a guitar store was mind boggling. The brands and prices became a blur; was there a “best” brand? Was there an ideal model? And, of course, money is always a factor. Few can afford to walk into a store and buy a several-thousand-dollar-dream guitar.
While everything is subjective, here are my own opinions and experiences I've developed while guitar shopping. Hopefully they will help guide you through the process!
1. Ignore brand names
This can seem counter intuitive. A lot of people run right for a Gibson or a Fender or a Martin because they're the “best.” The truth is, some of that is marketing, and you may be paying for a name. Within each brand there are several tiers of guitar, usually based around price point.
Now, I'm not knocking any of these brands – I actually own or have owned all of them and have found them to be great – I'm only trying to point out that sometimes people can go “brand blind.” Maybe you walked past some brand you've never heard of that's on par with that expensive guitar but a third of the price.
This has happened to me many times. When looking for that new guitar as a kid, I played every name brand I could find – nothing really knocked me out. Finally, I picked up a brand I had never heard of and was blown away not only by the sound, but the price: It was several hundred dollars cheaper than the other guitars with comparable craftsmanship.
Just because a guitar has a household name doesn't make it amazing. Just because a guitar has a name you've never heard of doesn't automatically make it bad. You may even find that some of those brands you've never heard of are actually offshoots of the big brands!
2. Buy your unique guitar
While obviously each brand and model are unique, that's not what I mean – you can pick up the same brand, model, everything, and it feels totally different. This is due in part to tiny variances in the wood or slight imperfections in how the guitar is made. This is doubly true if it happens to be handmade – which, granted, is a bit more of a rarity these days.
A good friend of mine described looking for a specific kind of Telecaster. He played every one in the store, same brand, same basic guitar overall – different colors, of course – but only one was “right.” Only one had the magic he was looking for.
I say this to caution you – if you like a particular guitar, buy that particular guitar. Don't walk out with the model number and cruise the internet for a deal. You may find that your perfect model is lacking what you heard in the guitar you had played!
3. Don't buy sight unseen
This is a dose of old-school common sense and something musicians a generation or two behind us would never dream of doing, but it's worth noting. With the advent of computers, it's easier than ever to sort through guitars at your price point, read reviews, and have the instrument shipped right to you.
While you may be able to pull this off if you've got some experience and know exactly what you're looking for, doing it when you're just browsing guitars to find the one you want just creates a lengthier process in my opinion.
Again, I speak from experience – a few years ago I really wanted to try this one particular guitar. It was flying off the shelves, and nobody could keep it in stock long enough for me to go play it. I had a few years of experience under my belt, and I should have known better, but new-guitar fever had me in its powerful grip – I had to have this guitar. I bought it sight unseen.
Thinking I had gotten my hands on an in-demand guitar, I eagerly awaited the brown UPS truck. When I finally unpacked it, I was sorely disappointed: It sounded tinny and empty. Nothing like I expected or even like the reviews described. There was nothing actually wrong with the guitar as such – the craftsmanship was fine, and someone else may have had a completely different opinion of it. But it wasn't for me.
If you absolutely, positively must do this (and, believe me, I do understand new-guitar fever) make sure the place you're buying from has a no-questions-asked return policy.
Getting a new guitar is an exciting time. It's bound to be a bit stressful and hectic, but take your time and don't rush the process. Don't let pushy sales people steamroll you. And most importantly, trust your ears – yours are the only ones that matter.
Next up: 5 Guitars You Should Never Buy
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.