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Buy Acoustic Guitar

So you are ready to buy your first (or fifteenth) acoustic guitar! But how do you choose the right one? The golden rule when buying a guitar is - you get what you pay for. Start with a realistic budget, read the following information then make a trip to your local guitar store to get an idea about the price ranges. Click here if you want information on buying electric guitar instead of an acoustic guitar.

guitar storeThe type of music that you are interested in dictates some of the specifications of your new guitar. If you are into classical music or want to play with your fingers instead of a pick (finger picking), you will probably want an acoustic guitar with nylon strings. Rock, blues, country, and jazz music would probably prefer a steel string acoustic guitar.

All normal acoustic guitars are made of wood. The cheaper acoustic guitars are made of laminate material (plywood) or from multiple pieces of wood glued together. Naturally, these do not sound as good as the higher end guitars, which are made from premium wood and have a solid top, sides and back. There are many parts of an acoustic guitar that may be made from different woods. The top or soundboard (where the sound hole is) is the most important material since it gives the distinctive "sound" to that guitar. The back and sides are also important, natural solid wood will sound better than plywood, since it doesn't muffle the music. The neck and finger board also contribute to the distinctive sound of each guitar. There are several types of wood used to make guitars, with different combinations used for the top, back and sides, neck and fingerboard. Click to view Acoustic Guitar Types for more details on guitar wood used. In between the cheap guitars and the high end acoustic guitars, some manufacturers offer economical options such as solid spruce tops with laminate sides and backs, or laminate tops and sides with solid backs, and so on. Ultimately it comes down choosing what sounds good and is in your price range. One unwritten (and untested) rule with acoustic guitars is: the lighter the acoustic guitar, the better the sound.

guitar sizeAlways TRY out the guitar before buying it. Try as many guitars as you want to, even if they are outside your budget (so you get an idea of what to look for in your price range). Even if you can't play yet - just sit down and hold the guitar to see if it is comfortable. Acoustic guitars come in different sizes (thickness) and scale (length). The largest (and loudest) acoustic guitar size is called the Dreadnaught (D size). If you are a medium or small sized person, you may have difficulty holding this size comfortably. The full size acoustic guitar is the normal size. Some manufacturers have an Orchestra Model (OM) size which is a little smaller than full size. The 00 and 000 sizes are smaller and less thicker, useful if your arms are shorter than most people. The Travelling size acoustic guitar is very small and meant for portability, although their sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. For small kids around 5 years of age there is the 1/2 (half) scale guitar, which is smaller and shorter so kids can handle it. The 3/4 (three quarter) scale guitar is for larger and older kids, which is a little smaller than a 000 size guitar so they can hold it comfortably.

Another factor to consider is the shape of the guitar neck. There are two main types of neck shapes, the V neck and the C neck. The V neck is, obviously, shaped like a V (or rather a sideways < ) and tends to make the neck feel thicker - if you have short fingers (as I do) then avoid the V necks. The C neck has more circular neck shaped like a C which allows smaller hands a more comfortable grip. Comfort is everything, if your hand is not comfortable, you're not going to be happy playing that guitar. Another factor to consider is the width of the fretboard, which affects the spacing between the six strings. Fretboards can vary from 1.5 inches to 2 inches. If you have fat fingers, you will want a wider fretboard, if you have small hands you may find a smaller fretboard more comfortable. The wider fretboards are also preferred for fingerpicking, and likewise the narrower fretboards are preferred for playing with a pick. On most acoustic guitars you can only reach 12 frets, some have a "cutaway" in the body that lets you reach a couple more frets. Note that cutaways change the internal shape of the guitar and you do sacrifice some sound quality. There is no big benefit in reaching those two extra frets.

Sound, of course, is what it's all about. If you don't play yet, ask the salesperson to play the guitar for you so you can hear how it sounds. While it is true that an acoustic guitar "gets better with age" - a bad sounding guitar will just get less bad sounding. What you want is a good sounding guitar that will sound even better with age! And note here, it takes 5 to 10 years for a guitar to "age" so for all practical purposes - just pick a guitar that already sounds good. Another factor to apply the comfort factor is the "action" of the guitar. Note that guitars are usually shipped in a box and "set up" by the store. Mostly they do a good job - but sometimes they do screw up and a badly setup guitar is going to give you years of grief. The problem is the saddle, the part where the strings come out of the bridge (before the sound hole), the saddle raises the strings. If the strings are too high (HIGH action), the guitar is difficult to play as one has to press down very hard. If the strings are too low (LOW action), the strings will rattle against the frets. The saddle is a piece of plastic that has to be shaved down to size, if it is cut too low there is no way to un-cut it - and you are stuck with too low an action. So the stores play it safe and keep the action very high, which also is not good. The best bet is to find a guitar with the right "feel" on the action, that is, when you press down on a string at a fret it is comfortable; and picking all the strings (one at a time without pressing on a fret) does not make any rattling sounds.

shiny guitarThe guitar is a beautiful instrument and comes in a high gloss finish, and is very delicate. The neck of the guitar should be straight when you look along the strings, not bowed at all. Check the cosmetics and workmanship of the guitar, make sure there are no visible cracks in the body or scratches that may indicate it was dropped at the store by some half witted customer. You do NOT want to buy a damaged guitar. Check the finish on the guitar, high price acoustic guitars will obviously be flawless, but lower priced units may have ugly spots. The most important piece of workmanship to check is the frets. Run your finger down both sides of the neck, the frets are metal pieces that are glued into grooves along the neck, and their edges should be exactly flush with the edge of the neck - NOT sticking out or coming short. Granted, you get what you pay for, but badly installed frets are not good in any price range.

Sometimes finding cosmetic ugly spots, or minor scratches, can help you haggle a better price for the guitar. In a store, you NEVER pay the "LIST" price - always whine, if you have children wave their pictures at the salesperson while bemoaning the high cost of diapers. On high end acoustic guitars, you can expect a discount upto 30% off the list price (that is, for a $10,000 guitar you would pay $7,000). Lower priced acoustic guitars will give you less of a discount, but never pay full LIST price, nonetheless.

guitar tunerIn addition to your new guitar, you will need some accessories. A tuner is strongly recommended, you can't play well if your guitar is out of tune. A digital tuner with idiot-proof red/green lights is the best for quick and accurate tuning of your acoustic guitar. A metronome (timer that clicks) is very useful for learning to play the guitar. You gotta have some picks, even if you just want to do finger picking. Picks come in different thicknesses, try out different picks such as 0.4mm or 0.5mm thickness. Get several picks of each size, you always lose picks - and once you start playing, you will "burn them out" real fast (they get scratched and scraped down). If you want a strap, go ahead and get one. But one word of caution, straps just sit over a peg on the guitar and fall out VERY EASILY - resulting in a smashed guitar. Stores sell strap "locks" that clip the strap onto the peg, definitely get those. If you intend to travel with your acoustic guitar, you need to get a hard case. Again, acoustic guitars are delicate, one good bump and its buh-bye-birdie. Soft cases are cheap but don't protect like a hard case, which as you guessed, is HARD. One important accessory you really must have, is a guitar stand. Your guitar can't be propped up against the wall (it will fall), nor can it be wedged into your closet. A guitar stand supports the neck and base to help prevent the wood from bowing, and it looks way cool as well - not to mention making it easier to have the guitar handy so you can practice at every opportunity you get. A Sheet Music Stand is a simple paper/book holder that can also make your life much easier - it holds your music sheets steady while you play.

Finally, when you buy your new acoustic guitar, have the store put new strings on it for you. You don't know how long that particular guitar has been on the shelf at the store, or how many other customers have abused the strings. Always insist on the best quality strings for that guitar, the price difference for strings is miniscule. Acoustic guitar strings come in various grades, such as heavy, medium, light, and extra-light. Heavy strings have the best sound but are difficult to play, most people prefer the medium grade which is a fair balance between comfort and sound quality. The newest light grade strings made from new materials (such those as made by CF Martin), have exceptional sound and have a great feel.

Now that you have your acoustic guitar, click for your Basic Guitar Lessons, or click here if you want information on buying electric guitar.

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