Buying Your First Electric Guitar

So you’ve decided to learn how to play the guitar but you have just realized that buying a guitar on some level can be like walking on to a car lot. With literally hundreds of choices in brand, color, and style if you know absolutely nothing about guitar at this moment, playing one is the last thing on your mind.

Before we get started there are some things that you should have in place before you even step foot in to a guitar store.  Some of the decisions you make before you buy could save you lots of $$$.  1) You should have a good idea of what your budget is. This will help you and the salesmen to get started in the correct price range.  2) Do a little homework.  You are off to a good start by reading this article, but you can also research the internet to get a good idea of the price ranges and choices you have with some of the popular household names for guitar e.g. Fender or Gibson.  3) Have a good idea what your level of commitment is for learning guitar. If your just starting out you are probably raring to go excited and motivated but understand that to some degree buying a $1500.00 guitar is like drinking a fine wine without developing your pallet to appreciate or even notice a difference from a $10.00 wine.  4) If you have the cash to buy, use it. Have you ever heard the term “Cash is king”…it is.  Music stores may be willing to give you a discount if you can buy with cash, further more if you ask to deal with the store manager your chances for a cash deal may be even better.

So, with some of these things in mind lets look at some things you can expect when buying a guitar.

All popular guitar companies like Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, to mention a few, have a line of guitar priced to meet anyone’s budget.  You will usually find a low, middle and high range in their pricing.  Generally speaking, each of these companies keep their prices relativity close in the low and middle range; they are competing for your business.  Over the entire spectrum, you can expect to see a price range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Let me break these down for you:

You are most likely to see these price ranges in brand name guitars.

  • Starter Packs $150-$299
  • Low range: $299-$499
  • Mid range:  $499-$799
  • High range: $800-up

(These prices vary depending on what music store you are in.)

As a professional guitarist and instructor, it is very difficult for me to recommend the low line guitar to anyone.  Although, if your budget does not allow for the mid range guitar or you are purchasing for your son or daughter and are not sure of their commitment, this may be a good place to start. Most of these companies offer what they call “Starter Packs” which usually includes all the necessary items to get started:  guitar, amp, picks, cable, strap etc…I would say the “Starter Pack” from anyone one of these companies would be good for someone ages 8-12.  By and large anyone above the age of 12 might see this type of guitar as a toy and not take the endeavor seriously.  So, if you plan on taking lessons which I HIGHLY recommend you may actually waste money by buying the least expensive guitar. On the other hand, if you decide to up grade or the person learning loses interest, you won’t be out too much money.

If you decide that the starter pack is not for you and are able to spend a little more money you can get a good guitar.  Fender has what they call a Mexican Stratocaster, which is made in Ensenada, Mexico.  These are good guitars for the money and seem to hold up well.  Similarly, Gibson has a line of guitar called Epiphone, which may be comparable to the Mexican Stratocaster.  Do keep in mind that even two guitars of the same make and model may feel and sound a bit different so have the sales person play a couple of guitars of the same make and model and compare similarly price but different brand guitars.  You will probably notice a significant difference in sound between all three of the guitars I’ve mentioned.

With the mid price priced guitar you are usually getting a more quality instrument.   You will typically see better construction of the guitar and more quality hardware.  The hardware on an electric guitar is the bridge, pickups and tuners.  Most mid priced guitars from these companies are good guitars that you can stick with for a while.  I have several students that have been happy with this type of guitar for years and only up grade when they have really been bitten by the guitar bug and begin to consider guitar more than a hobby.  If you can afford a guitar between $499 & $799 and feel a strong commitment to learning the guitar you may want to consider this.

Guitarists that pursue music on a more serious level usually consider the higher priced guitar.  Simi-professional and professional musicians that play live in bands, make money from playing music or are very committed to the instrument are the ones that consider paying a $1000 or more for a guitar.  At this level all the elements of a guitar seriously come in to play for a guitarist.  The wood of the guitar, hardware, pickups the shape of the of neck all kinds of things that critically affect the sound…don’t get me wrong, all of these matter on the lower and mid levels, just not to such a degree.  I would definitely wait to buy an instrument of this level, as it is back to the fine wine analogy.

I would say that as a good rule of thumb if you are new to the world of guitar, sticking with brand names such as Fender, Gibson or Ibanez you will be dealing with companies that have built a good reputation for building guitars.  There are countless other reputable companies that do an exceptional job building a quality guitar, but the examples I use almost seem to be household names.

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