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Where should I Buy a Guitar?

I have a confession to make… I am addicted to buying guitars. I would say that was hard to admit, but the truth is I am well aware of my problem. However, this is not the worst affliction you could be burdened with! Years of being a broke teenager, a struggling student and then a working professional with extra bills to pay have left me with a certain set of skills that could benefit anyone looking to purchase a new guitar.

I won’t go through the entire rigmarole of making you ascertain if actually buying a new guitar is the right thing for you at this moment in time. Maybe you are purchasing your first guitar or upgrading to something you’ve always wanted. There are some important points to consider!

As a working professional, I have had to be careful when choosing to buy a new instrument. I have fallen for the all too common trap of buying signature guitars of famous guitarists and, whilst I still own some, they remain in my collection for reasons other than the signature on the headstock. Try to think about some specific reasons for buying a new guitar, do you need it for a specific tuning? Or are there specifications that you need and don’t already have? I bought my first floating tremolo equipped guitar, an Ibanez RG550EX, as I had joined an ‘80s tribute band and needed that specific piece of equipment. For now, let us assume you have already made the decision to buy another guitar. 

I have always been a believer that there are three important factors when buying something, but before those even come into play, you must always try a guitar out in person. That’s not always possible, but try wherever possible and perhaps even make a day out of it (I certainly did… many times!).

Buying a guitar

The Look

This is probably the most important point for a beginner. Just looking ast the guitar must inspire you to pick it up and play. Yes the aesthetics can be changed, but that can be expensive and is the last thing you want to do when you are starting out. Some people prefer plain, single coloured guitars whereas others might like garish colors or a highly figured natural wood finish. All of these things contribute to the cost too.

I have been riding motorcycles since I was 16 years old, and they have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. There is a popular saying in the community, which is “If you don’t keep looking at your bike as you walk away, you’ve bought the wrong one” - I apply this to my guitars too. Also, my guitars are like a piece of art to me, and I sometimes get just as much joy out of looking at them as I do playing them.

The Feel

Basic maintenance is relatively easy to learn, with only basic tools. That way, you can adjust the guitar to suit your playing preferences. However, it is always a good sign if the guitar feels right from the moment you first play it. When testing out my current number one guitar, a Suhr Classic S, I only managed to play one chord before I had decided it was the right guitar for me. The entire guitar vibrated and it resonated so freely in sustained for what seemed like forever - it was intoxicating! 

Consider the action (how high the strings are from the frets) and the intonation (how in tune the guitar is up and down the neck. Also, does it fight back when you try to play it? Or does it feel smooth and respond as instructed?

You should also take this opportunity to check the fit and finish of the guitar. Certain brands that manufacture guitars in vast quantities may have the best intentions with their quality control, but I recall the case of a student who bought a brand new, out of the box guitar that turned out to have a protruding fret that was almost razor sharp! It cut her fingers and she couldn’t play for a short while, rest assured I instructed her to return the guitar and it was replaced immediately with another guitar that was identical, but was double checked and that one turned out to be fantastic.

The Sound

Whilst trying out the guitar mentioned above, I instructed the guitar store to set up an amp that was similar to what I already used at home. This allowed me to make a decision whilst being as close to my typical playing scenario as possible - you already know how that ended!

Make sure the strings are not muted in any way and that all of the controls and electronics function as they were designed to be. If you are a heavy metal guitarist that likes to use a lot of distortion, see if the guitar is controllable in that situation - certain styles of the instrument lend themselves to specific genres.

Where to buy a guitar

As I mentioned before, the best place to buy a guitar is at a physical store, though not all are created equal. Look at some reviews online, or ask some friends for their opinions. Having many repeat customers is a good way to see how good a store really is, as is the general tidiness of the establishment and how quickly they rotate their stock. If a store has a guitar in for too long, what does that say about the quality of their stock or their customer service?

There is something magical about walking into a store, laying your eyes upon the guitar that speaks to you and walking out with it - retail therapy is real, I swear! You can do all of the relevant tests you need to do, just make sure you keep a clear head and don’t get too excited. 

It should also be mentioned that most stores have some form of website or online ordering process. This is useful given that not everyone has the luxury of visiting a store for whatever reason, and when dealing with individuals over a corporation, you get a much more personable service and they care for your instrument more. 

There are also many online retailers such as Amazon or Rakuten that sell guitars. They mainly sell starter kits that come with all the necessary accessories needed for a beginner, such as an amplifier, a strap and a cable etc. They are not really well known for dealing in higher end guitars, and any staff don’t really have any association with the instrument. 

One important thing you must keep in mind when buying online is that not all stores have a concrete returns policy. In Europe and the United Kingdom, you are protected by law if something is not as described, and many stores are legally bound to accept returns. You can often find various policies published on their respective websites, so make sure you check this before you place your first order. 

Shipping costs and local taxes can also cause you to go over budget. There is often free shipping if you spend over a certain amount, however, this changes between companies so watch out for that.

Second-hand stores or flea markets can also be a good avenue to explore, providing that you have the knowledge to determine if the price is correct and the instrument is in good condition - in this instance, I would recommend taking a guitar playing friend, or perhaps your teacher, along with you if you are not confident that you can make an informed decision by yourself. 

Things to Avoid

Try to avoid purchasing from social media marketplaces. You have no protection from a legal standpoint which means there is an increased likelihood of being scammed. There is also no guarantee that the item will be as described and you cannot be sure of the history behind the instrument. You can find some great bargains, though. Make sure you operate with extreme caution if you choose to follow this path.

Always set yourself a budget - this is very important! Do not feel inclined to go over budget just to get the right instrument, something I have fallen foul to many times in the past. Without getting into the complications of financing an instrument, understand that it is almost always a better idea to pay for a guitar in full at the point of purchase. If the absolute perfect instrument is just out of budget, you may like to consider part-exchanging something else, haggling within reason and to an appropriate limit or simply letting the guitar go and continuing to save your money until you can afford it. Also, try not to settle for something that isn’t quite right. If what it takes to make it right is simple and easy to do, changing the tuners for example, then go ahead.

Finally, buying a guitar from a friend is a good way to get a nice deal and be satisfied knowing the instrument has a good history. However, if anything does go wrong, or the deal sours in some way, it would be at the cost of the friendship and I’m sure that is something everyone would like to avoid.

To wrap things up, you should now know how and where to buy a guitar as well as what you shouldn’t do. I am sure you will be happy with your purchase, and your new score should hold you over for a while… until the next one!



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