Shopping for your first Acoustic Guitar: A Quick Guide for 2020

Shopping for your first Acoustic Guitar: A Quick Guide for 2020

Where to buy

Buying from a brick & mortar shop means you have somewhere to go back if you have any problems, and you’ll probably get more personalised advice from a real-life human. They should also be able to demonstrate the guitars so you can hear the differences in sound.

In Leeds, try Dawsons (Vicar Lane, City Centre) or PMT (Kirkstall Road near the Casino).

The two main types of Acoustic Guitar – and how to tell the difference

Classical = Nylon string (sometimes called “Spanish” guitars)

On classical guitars, the strings are spaced further apart – but some don’t like how chunky the necks are. Classical guitars give a soft tone because of the nylon strings.

Acoustic = Steel String

Steel strings sound brighter. They are less forgiving to start out with, but in a few weeks of playing, you’ll soon develop callouses on your fingertips.

Choose a style of guitar that fits the sound you’re looking for.

Guitar Size

Children age 8-12 should consider a 3/4 size guitar, as they will struggle to hold a full size guitar properly. Younger children (5-8) may need to go with a 1/2 size. Most teens and adults should be ok with a full-size guitar.

If you’re not sure which size is right for you, I can offer personal advice in my free introductory lesson. With the guitar resting on your right leg in a playing position, you should be able to easily reach over the end of the headstock.

For full-sized guitars, there are different body shapes & sizes too:

Jumbo – as the name says, this is the biggest body size.

Dreadnought is the standard size body

000 size- a bit smaller, with a slimmer body.

Parlour guitar – smaller still. Good choice for travel guitars, or for Folk & Acoustic Blues.

Generally the smaller you go, the more tightly spaced the strings will be. Every guitar will have slightly different dimensions, so it’s worth asking at a guitar shop to try some out.

Price

The most common mistake I see is people spending too little on their first guitar, and finding it difficult to play.

I wouldn’t trust the build quality of anything with an RRP of less than £100.

Chances are, it’s made of cheap components, and you may have issues with tuning stability, sharp frets (ouch!), dodgy string height, and generally unpleasant playability.

I’ve found that somewhere between £150-£300 you can usually get a nice enough guitar that will last you a long time, and hold it’s value better if you decide to sell it on.

You could also look at used listings to save ££. Just be sure to bring someone along who knows what they’re looking for and can check it over.

Brands

Go for a well known, reputable brand.

Yamaha, Fender, & Epiphone are all popular choices.

Other brands worth looking at are Sigma (from the makers of Martin guitars) and Farida.

Electrics & Pickups

Some acoustics will have a pickup fitted, which would allow you to use a built in tuner, and plug the guitar into an amplifier or recording unit.

This will put the price up of course, and you can always get these fitted later on.

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Woods

There are lots of different woods used in guitars – I won’t tell you all about how these affect the sound, because this would be a very long & boring post.

But I will tell you that a guitar built with a ‘solid top’ will have a better tone.

The top is the flat piece of wood with the sound hole cut out.

On guitars around £250+ RRP, this will be one solid piece of wood, which gives more resonance. If you can afford it, look for the words “Solid Top” in the description.

On cheaper guitars, this will be made of 3 or so thinner pieces of wood, glued together. This is called Laminate Top (but the label won’t boast this as a feature). As a beginner, you might not notice the difference, and will probably be fine with a laminate top guitar.

Looks

Get something you really like the look of.

I’ve had guitars that sounded nice, but didn’t look great to me, and they ended up collecting dust.

You should want to pick it up and play it every day.

Think of this as a ‘cost per use’ investment.

Recommended accessories:

Before you blow all your money on your first guitar, make sure you budget for these:

Stand – £10 for a basic ‘A’ shape stand. When you leave you guitar on a stand, you’re more likely to pick it up and play, and it’s less likely to get knocked over.

Case – £10 will get you something to protect it from the elements. Every time a student brings a guitar to their lesson without a case in the rain, I cry a little bit inside.

Capo – A great tool for a beginner to have – it will give you access to more songs, and can be used as a beginner practice tool, too. It’s good to spend £10+, as I’ve tried cheaper ones that have weak springs and didn’t clamp down firmly enough.

Clip on Tuner – or you can use a free Guitar Tuner app.

Extra set of strings

Picks – because they always go missing.

Guitar Set-Up

In most cases getting your new guitar professionally ‘set up’ by a guitar repairer will make your guitar nicer to play.

So if you’ve taken your guitar home and you’re not happy with it straight away, don’t go sending it back just yet. Most guitars need time to settle in to the temperature & humidity of your home. If you’re still getting lots of string buzz (and you know it’s not the player!) then it’s time to call a professional guitar repairer.

In Leeds I recommend Gordon White @ Single Coil Guitar Repairs.

As my mum used to say: You buy cheap, you buy twice!

Leave a comment and let me know if you have any more questions.

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