Guitar Buying Guide
Guitar Buying Guide
We explain the differences between the main types of guitar, and what to look for when buying your first guitar!
At The American Guitar Academy we get asked constantly by potential and current students about what guitar would be best for them.
Guitars can be overwhelming at any level. There are so many to choose from and they can be very expensive. Except for maybe the obvious acoustic vs. electric there may not seem to be much difference between a guitar that costs ￥10,000 and one that costs ￥100,000.
Well buckle up for some buyers' advice! What I’m going to say is good for whether or not you are buying a guitar for someone else or for yourself!
I’m going to start with something that probably isn’t considered much but I think is hugely important: COMFORT. At first, the sound differences between guitar types aren’t going to be very apparent and how long we are willing and able to practice will make the most difference in our early days of playing.
If you or the person you are buying for enjoys playing the instrument then a new one will eventually be wanted anyways! At first though, it’s best to get something easy and fun to play right away! The best thing to do is to try out many instruments in the store and just focus on what is easier to hold and press some notes on. For comfort, the most important things to pay attention to are: SIZE and STRING MATERIAL.
Steel-String, Acoustic Guitar
The steel-string acoustic guitar is perhaps the most commonly found type of acoustic guitar today. It has a bright and powerful sound and is often used to accompany singers. It is often played with a guitar pick but can also be played with the fingers or even percussively. Beginners may find that the steel-strings are hard to press and can make the fingertips sore in the early stages. Steel-string guitars are popular with singer-songwriter, pop, rock, and blues musicians.
Nylon-String, Classical Guitar
The nylon-string, classical guitar (sometimes called folk guitar in Japan) is slightly smaller than the steel-string with a wider neck. Many find that it easier to play due to the low tension nylon-strings, wider neck and more manageable size. Classical guitars are typically played with the fingers and have a more warm/mellow sound compared to the steel-string acoustic guitar. Classical guitars are popular with jazz, latin/brazillian, folk, and of course classical musicians.
Generally speaking, smaller guitars are more comfortable for everyone. For children who haven’t hit any major growth spurts I almost always recommend 1/4 - 1/2 size guitars.
Teens and up can try out different sizes and shapes.
Again, ask yourself, “what feels good enough to not get in the way of practicing?” That’s what you’re looking for!
Strings come in two basic materials: steel and nylon.
Steel strings (see right) tend to have higher tension, brighter sounds and are more common in popular music styles. They can be harder to press with the fingers and require a little more perseverance to get a desirable tone.
Nylon strings (see left) tend to have lower tension and can also be a little easier to press with the fingers.
Electric guitars are smaller, heavier and usually only have steel strings. They also require a different general approach to making sound.
You will depend on an amplifier to hear and practice your sound and tone. But because of that, it’s easier to make a sound and the playing technique is more delicate. For some people this is easier, and the gear can be a lot of fun to explore!
Remember, unless you or the person you are buying for already has an image of the perfect guitar, a first guitar should be the one that’s most comfortable because it takes practice to get better and we don’t practice if we don’t take our comfort into consideration!
Okay now that you have a better idea of the options to try, the elephant in the room...
Guitars can be expensive. Especially if you want a more unique and fitted one. A reasonable budget to have looking for a first guitar that will be playable and enjoyable is between ¥10,000 (~$90) and ¥35,000 (~$300). It is possible to find all of these guitar types within this price range. With a budget of ¥25,000 you can almost certainly find any of these guitars from almost any store! For ¥35,000 you absolutely can and may even be able to shop from some more high end stores. When you get to the store it’s important that you stay solid on your budget and either you or the person you are buying for play a variety of guitars like the ones I talked about.
Armed with this knowledge and the openness to experiencing several guitar types, I’m certain you will make the best decision for your guitar playing future! Happy guitar shopping!
And if you want more guidance, come to The American Guitar Academy and try out all these guitars during a free 30 minute trial lesson where you can have a teacher help you explore and decide for yourself!