Buying your first guitar - acoustic or electric?

A minefield this one! I was 50 years old before I could afford to buy the guitars I've really wanted to play since I was a teenager. The 'Greco' Les Paul I toured with, playing electric hard rock, was effectively only a cheap Japanese copy – but its playability was the key. My left hand felt comfortable on the neck and the strings were not centimetres away from the frets!

The guitar is, mechanically, one of the hardest musical instruments to physically master. You have to have the desire to want to hold those strings down against metal to create the notes over and above the open strings you pick with the right hand. (Reverse that if you definitely feel you ought to play the other way around!).

 

My advice to total beginners divides into to two - not easily definable - sectors (more to do with hand size than age):

¾ scale instruments
Full-size instruments.
They say start them young – the younger the better. In which case you may need to consider a guitar that is scaled down, shorter in length so smaller hands can actually achieve something fingering the fretboard. There are perfectly playable instruments that are ¾ scale length for smaller folk.
Older kids (late teens onwards) and adults should be able to work on full-size instruments.

 

How much to spend on my first guitar

Money will be the deciding factor for most folk trying out guitar to see if they like it – whether it an acoustic or electric model.

Money is probably a wise guidance these days. There would be nothing worse than investing £1,500 to £2K in a guitar that is wonderfully playable – but finding you haven't the patience and then finding it's only worth £600 on the 'online' market. The market for so called 'valuable' guitars is awful at the moment – a bit like car and houses – they are only worth what someone is willing to pay!

Experience tells me going below £100 in the brand new purchase market ends in disappointment or even despair with many youngsters giving up and returning to playing on their iPad or iPod! Spending between £100 and £200 you can acquire a perfectly useable acoustic practice instrument.

This picture is my 'bash-around' guitar that was hanging in a Cash Converters in Watford where I spend some work-time.

It is a well-known brand – 'Aria' - and cost me about £50. It has some strange ingrained marks on it, but is comfortable to play and sounds perfectly reasonable in the hotel bar strumming with mates. It's 'brother' – you can hear and see on Facebook and YouTube clips being played by Jade Duncombe (Mick my bass player's daughter) – is a fabulous electro-acoustic (i.e. you can plug it in) but that was £400 – and sounds expensive!

 

 

The cheap end of the guitar market are generally poorly set up beasts, a devil to tune, they won't stay in tune as the timber or winders move and sound out-of-tune when you fret strings higher up the neck. Notoriously the strings seem miles from the frets and it hurts like hell to play them. The experience is therefore poor and many give up after a couple of weeks. £200 to £300 pounds will buy you an acoustic or electric instrument that will more than get you through your first public performance at open mic night down the pub.

Decision time - Acoustic or Electric?

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