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How to choose your first guitar

"Life in the twentieth century is like a parachute jump: you have to get it right the first time."

- Margaret Mead

Before we get into actually learning to play, you’ll need a guitar. Yep, I’m sorry. You can’t learn to drive without a car, that’s just the way it is.

My recommendation is to always start small, and build from there. Now, that does not necessarily mean start cheap (since cheap stuff always end up costing a lot) but rather start smart. Only with experience you’ll be able to tell which guitar is better for you.

If you already have access to a guitar (maybe someone in your family already has one which you can borrow), by all means use it before you invest some money on a new one for yourself. It doesn’t matter what kind of guitar it is, it’ll always be great to start learning.

It makes no sense to buy a very expensive guitar as your first, since there is always the risk of you not actually liking to play once you start to practice. If you have no trouble whatsoever with money and you can spend whatever amount without worrying, you could do it, but you could also use a new friend me...

Acoustic or electric?

For your first guitar, that is a personal decision. When you get more experienced I recommend you get at least one of each, but for now, you’ll have to decide which one you would like to start with.

Do not fall on the trap that some people lure newbies into. There is a common saying which says that “you should start with an acoustic guitar because they are more difficult to play”. That is nonsense. We are not looking for difficulty: we are looking to learn what you want and (hopefully) have fun with it.

If you are like me and listen to mostly rock music, I would recommend an electric guitar. Otherwise, you can go for an acoustic. Even though there are many kinds of each (some of which fit specific styles better) I still recommend you buy a “general purpose” guitar, whether it’s acoustic or electric.

You might have heard about electroacoustic guitars too. This is a special kind of acoustic guitar which has built-in electric amplification capacity, but in any other way is playable just as an acoustic guitar.

Acoustic guitars have an additional capacity of being able to have nylon strings or metal strings. Right now that is not hugely important, so just pick one that serves your particular musical tastes. Nylon strings lean towards classical guitar, and steel strings tend to rock and country music.

Some examples of beginner guitars

Depending on where you live, prices and models available will vary, but I’ve found that Amazon’s prices and models are quite widespread, so I’ll give you some recommendations you can find online there.

You must have heard of guitars for right and left handed people. In general, right handed people will want to use a guitar with their left hand as the fret hand, and left handed people will use their right for that matter. This is just a preference, by no means will it prevent you from learning either way; in fact, there are many successful players, like Michael Angelo Batio, who do not follow this rule (MAB is left handed but plays a right handed guitar). It’s up to you to decide, but my recommendation is to follow the rule.

The general thumb rule is that you should spend between $ 100 and $ 150. Too high price would be spending too much, and too less would mean a crappy guitar, and you want to avoid having a guitar that you cannot sell if you decide to quit playing. With that in mind, here are my recommendations (remember that prices may vary, the prices I show are the ones right at the time of writing this).

Acoustic guitars

Electric guitars

If you choose an electric guitar, you’ll have to get an amplifier too. Again, we want to avoid the crappy ones and stick to a model which can hold itself. At this point you don’t have to worry too much about the amplifier’s capabilities; we’ll cover those later. For now, it just has to be able to do it’s job moderately well, that is, amplifying the guitar. I do not recommend you spend more than $ 100 in the amplifier either, although it’s OK to spend a little less, unlike what we saw with the guitar.

Here are my recommendations:

These are just basic amplifiers that you can use to practice, not for playing live, of course.

Also, to play an electric guitar you will also need a lead cable to connect it to the amplifier. It does not need to be a pro cable. You can start with one of these:

Fundamental gear

The guitar alone is good, but certain accessories are due too.

  • Tuner

The guitar must be in tune or it will not sound well. A physical tuner is not really needed, since you can get apps for your smartphone or tablet that can do the exact same thing and are either free or cost a few bucks. You might want to try gStrings, Guitar Tuna, or PitchLab for Android devices, or Cleartune, Free Chromatic Tuner, or Pano Tuner for iOS devices. We’ll learn how to use a tuner later.

If you do want to buy a physical tuner, which I recommend, you should take a look at the following:

  • Metronome

This is a device which sets a constant rhythm, which you can use for practice. A physical metronome is not really needed since you can also get apps for your smartphone or tablet that can do the same thing. For Android devices you can check Pro Metronome, Metronome Beats, or Real Metronome, and for iOS you can take a look at Metronome Ϟ, Tempo, or Pro Metronome. We’ll learn how to use a metronome later, and you’ll see why it’s so important to use one while practicing.

If you want to buy a physical metronome, which I recommend too, you should take a look at the following:

  • Shoulder strap

You use this to hang your guitar from your shoulder so you can play while standing up. This is optional, although I recommend getting one since they are so cheap, and you never know when you’ll have to use it (and also, we’ll see later that you have to practice standing up as well as sitting down).

A few options:

  • Guitar picks

Even though there are many successful guitar players who play only using their hands, I believe that practicing with a pick is a necessity. And also, they are so cheap…

You should get an assortment of different sizes and hardnesses. A few recommendations:

  • Gig bag

These bags are good for two uses: carrying your guitar around, and storing it (it will protect it from moisture and dust), which is why you should absolutely get one. You could also consider a hard case, but I believe that is a more advanced accessory (mostly useful for carrying your guitar on a van or truck alongside other gear, where it will be safe). Note that there are bags which are designed for acoustic guitars and others which are made to fit electric guitars (acoustic guitars tend to be bigger and bulkier, which means the bag has to be bigger to accommodate it).

You can start just fine with one of these:

  • Guitar stand

This is used to hold your guitar vertical on the floor. This is an optional accessory, but it is still very comfortable to use while practicing. There are stands which are designed to fit acoustic guitars and electric guitars, because of the size difference, and others can fit both.

You might want to get one like these:

There are plenty more accessories that you could consider getting (like a foot rest), but they will only come in handy later on in your guitar journey, so I recommend you forget about them for the time being.

We will cover more accessories in a future post.

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