Buying Guide: Guitars

Choosing a guitar

Step one: Acoustic vs Electric

Acoustic: an acoustic guitar is the perfect starting point for any aspiring guitarist: it is a standalone instrument, meaning you do not require expensive Amps and various equipment to play and you can take it anywhere from an intimate live gig, to the campfire with your friends. That being said, all acoustic guitars are not made equal and there are a few things to consider when choosing your instrument.

Body shape: Body shape will make a difference in the sound and playability of your guitar. Be sure to explore the options and choose the one that will serve your intended use best.

Classical: classical guitars not only are played with Nylon strings (which creates a softer sound than steel strings) but are also smaller in size. This is both due to the softer sounds that the guitar produces and to accommodate standard classical guitar posture that requires the guitar to be held on an upward angle while resting between the knees.

Concert: the next step up from the classical body shape, is the concert or ‘0’ body shape. This body type allows for a larger sound and greater playability compared to the classical guitar, but is still a more compact than some of the larger body types.

Grand Concert: the grand concert or ’00’ body shape offers a little bit of everything. It can be played in the more intimate settings like the concert body type, while also providing a more robust tone when desired. This shape is very popular for those wanting an electric/acoustic guitar as it can provide a captivating tone when amped up or unplugged. Versatility is the hallmark of this body type.

Dreadnought: the dreadnought body shape is one of the most popular shapes for an acoustic guitar. This style provides a deeper, more powerful tone that is the go-to shape for bluegrass players and many folk-style players. It is the largest body size, next only to the Jumbo.

Jumbo: the jumbo body shape is a great guitar that projects boldly and is a great guitar for strumming or finger picking style. Historically popular in pop-country and rockabilly styles.

Tone woods: the wood that your guitar is made of will affect the sounds that it produces as much or more than the body shape. There is an endless list of descriptions for each type of tonewood used on guitars today, but the following are popular examples of the spectrum of tones you can achieve with various woods.

Spruce/Cedar/Maple: these tonewoods produce brighter, crisper sounds that allow one to emphasize clear, piercing notes that will shine through when playing with other instruments.

Mahogany: provides a deep, rich sound that is full of mid-range and harmonic overtones. A thick sound.

Rosewood: Rosewood provides an extension of the range that Mahogany provides in that it has a thick, rich sound that Mahogany has, yet both the upper and lower ends will be a bight brighter and a bit deeper, respectively.

Now that you have learned about the body type and tonewoods involved in acoustic guitars, it’s time to consider which brands are right for you. If you’re buying your first guitar, chances are you aren’t looking to buy a $5600 Martin.

However, it is good to know that when it comes to acoustic guitars, names like Martin, Taylor, Gibson and a few others are the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the acoustic world. That does not mean that some great brands like Yamaha, Epiphone, or Fender don’t make wonderful instruments, it just means that they’re more like the Cadillacs and BMWs in comparison.

These brands offer tremendous value when buying your first guitar – most of these guitars will have a great sound, versatile playability, and great value.

Starting guitars: 

Yamaha

Epiphone

Advanced guitars:

Martin

Taylor

Gibson

For those of you who are looking for more than an acoustic guitar and simply HAVE to rock, the electric guitar is what you’re looking for.

When we think of the Ferraris of electric guitars, we must mention Gibson – with iconic guitars like the Les Paul – as well as Fender, who created such rock icons as the Stratocaster  and the Telecaster.

That being said, there are some great starter instruments that you can find from Epiphone, Ibanez, Yamaha, and Squier.

Electric

Body types: When considering body types of an electric guitar, the options are fewer, and therefore more straightforward than when purchasing an acoustic guitar. There are three basic types of electric guitar bodies: Solidbody guitars and semi-hollowbody guitars are the most versatile, while the final hollowbody electric guitar fills a niche.

Hollowbody: these guitars have hollow body designs much like an acoustic guitar. This allows for a resonating tone that produces some very authentic sounds that are popular among contemporary jazz players. The downside of this design is that it is highly susceptible to feedback and therefore may perform at a lesser standard at high volumes.

Semi-hollowbody: these guitars have a warm tone that one might expect from an acoustic guitar, while also having the capability to reproduce the sounds of their solidbody cousins when setup properly. For those wishing to play softer musical styles such as blues, country, or softer rock, this guitar will provide you with the soft subtleties that you are looking for. An extra benefit of the semi-hollowbody type is that due to the somewhat acoustic design of this guitar, you can produce sound while unplugged, which is ideal for those who need practice without disturbing those around them.

Solidbody: solidbody guitars are made for those who straight up want to rock. With excellent sustain compared to the hollow/semi-hollowbody guitars, solidbodies are more responsive to added effects and can be played at high volumes with little concern for feedback. The kicker? Since they are solid design, they can come in any shape or size.

Pickups: the type of pickup you have in your guitar will affect the sound that it produces. There are two basic types of pickups: single coil and double coil (commonly known as a “humbucker”).

Single coil: these pickups have a very clean, crisp sound that you may recognize in the works of gentleman like Jimi Hendrix on the Fender Stratocaster or Bruce Springsteen on the Fender Telecaster. The only downside to this pickup is that it is susceptible to interference from nearby electrical wires etc..

Double coil (humbucker): the pickup affectionately known as the “humbucker” is the pickup heard most commonly in the Gibson Les Paul that many associate with blues legend B.B. King. The humbucker pickup is named so because it has been built to prevent the electrical interference that can be experienced with single coil pickups, therefore, “bucking the hum”.

Tonewoods: 

Alder: this wood provides an incredibly balanced sound, providing a rich layer of tones from the low end to the slightly pronounced upper-mid ranges. For someone seeking clarity in blues/rock, or someone looking for an all-around sound, this tonewood will work in just about any situation.

Swamp Ash/Hard Ash: swamp ash provides a similarly balanced tone as alder, however, it offers a slightly brighter sound that focuses on the upper end. Hard ash provides a step up from swamp ash in terms of producing a very bright sound. This harder wood is perfect for those looking for a more aggressive, louder playing style.

Maple: this wood is one of the hardest woods used for guitars and gives an extremely bright sound that will highlight the upper register, while still handling the low end frequencies impressively. Maple is ideal for those looking to play hard rock or metal style.

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