Matt's Music Stage and School


Matt’s Guitar Buying Tips 101

 So you want to buy a guitar for yourself, or perhaps a guitar for your child? We wrote the following article to help the new guitar buyer increase their guitar buying IQ, increase confidence in their guitar buying decision, & help to avoid pitfalls that we encounter everyday as we see folks come to us with bad guitars that need fixing. (Sigh.....if only they had come to us first!) The following article represents the sole opinion of Matt Franscioni & is uniquely based upon his experience. Although these tips are focused on buying a guitar, many apply to all musical instruments too. We hope it is helpful!

1.    Know your budget. Set your budget with long term needs in mind. If you are a new player and establishing your budget, always factor in a few needed accessories: A Hardshell Case or Soft Padded Gig Bag  is essential for protecting and transporting your guitar. At our shop prices start at about $3 for a nice padded gig bag. A Digital Tuner is essential operating equipment for keeping your guitar in tune. (starting at $18) A Guitar Stand  is helpful for keeping your guitar safe when not in it's case & having your guitar out and available will encourage practicing! ($17-39) A Music Stand is needed for holding sheet music & books. ($17-39) An Amplifier will be needed if you are playing an electric guitar. (starting at $69) A Cable is needed to connect your electric guitar to your amplifier. (starting at $6)

2.    Know what kind of music you want to play. For example, do you want to be amplified?  Do you want to play classical music or rock?  This will make a difference in the type of guitar you purchase.

3.    Only buy from someone you trust! Like always, use your gut and intuition when determining trustworthiness.

4.    If buying for a child who wants to learn to play, don’t buy a toy guitar.  A bad guitar will actually discourage a young learner from continuing to play.  Buy a guitar like you would a pair of shoes for your child. It should feel comfortable now and yet have some growing room.  Your child's hands will not "out grow" the guitar but his or her ears will as they become more discerning.

5.    Be very sure that the guitar is “set up” properly, allowing for the easiest playability.  Buying a guitar that is not set up is like buying a car that is not tuned up, has flat tires, and no power steering.  Getting stuck with a guitar that has not been set up can be very common when buying over the internet, from discount warehouses and infomercials.  Internet discount warehouses & box stores simply don't offer this kind of essential service.  If your guitar is presented to you in the original box, that's a hint that a guitar tech has probably not play edit, let alone inspected and set it up!  When you buy from us, your guitar always comes set up by Matt and post-purchase adjustments are included as needed!  We often tell customers "your guitar comes with Matt but he doesn't fit in the case!"

6.    Be sure the guitar is the correct size.  A large “dreadnought” body size will probably be too big for most children and small adults, making it uncomfortable to play.  Many guitar stores only stock larger guitars so new buyers don’t realize they have a choice.  Very young children (ages 4-7) may even want to start out on Ukulele.

7.    Buy as much value as you can.  At our shop, a lot of this is done for you because as you go up in every price point, Matt (the ultimate shopper) is able to offer you more for your money.  Just like TVs and VCRs, advanced manufacturing and oversees labor has brought the cost of guitars way down over the past years. 

8.    Beware of “bundling.” “Bundling” is a trick that retailers do to lure customers in.  They will offer an attractive price for a whole kit of products.  (for example a guitar, amp, DVD, cable, picks, and pitch pipe for a great price) Customers get attracted to the quantity of products listed and don’t realize that some of the items are poor quality or of little use. Examples of "bundled" products include pitch pipes (digital tuners are now standard), unpadded gig bags that are nothing but a glorified garbage bag (your gig bag should be padded!) and guitars that are not set up properly. Uneducated customers are also lured into making one buying decision on the whole package, trusting that all the parts of the package are good.  Take the time to buy the best value for each product. 

9.    Buy a guitar for looks, feel and sound. Because there is no guarantee that an instrument will increase in value, I always encourage folks to buy a guitar based upon how it looks, sounds, and feels right now without thinking about what it may be worth later.  If the instrument increases in value, that’s just icing on the cake after years of playing and enjoying it.

10. Be sure to get the most quality for the dollar. Most of the sound that comes from an acoustic guitar, comes from the top of the guitar (a little comes from the sides & back.)  Consequently, the guitar's tone will be determined by the quality of the wood that is used on the top.  Many guitars under $200 are made with plywood tops.  The sound of these guitars is usually fine for beginners and the durability of the plywood is a plus for the hard knocks that a child's guitar may get.  At about the $200 level you can get a solid wood top and conversely it will produce a more desirable sound.  Many manufacturers are also now offering electronics in entry level guitars as standard equipment.  (Electronics enable the player to plug into an amplifier.)   As you go up in price you will also get fancier woods, paint jobs and other decorative elements such as inlay work.  Such elements may or may not affect the sound quality of the guitar but they will often make the guitar esthetically more attractive.

11. Regarding electric guitars, most inexpensive electrics are made from the same few factories in Asia.  As a result, price variations usually reflect the brand name on the headstock, not quality.  Don’t be fooled by buying a guitar with a fancy name and bad quality.  These large companies have sold out and will put their name on just about anything.  Unfortunately these guitars do not come set up from the factory and they will only work properly when set-up by a qualified technician.  (see #5)  We have found that set up issues from the factory are more common with inexpensive electrics.

12.   Acoustic vs. Electric… Ahh the age old question:  Should one start with an electric or an acoustic?  We believe that one should start playing the instrument that they are most passionate about.  This passion will motivate the student though the tough learning curves.  If one likes the sound, image, and “cool factor” of their instrument, they will be more likely to stick with it.  If they are “stuck” playing an instrument that doesn’t meet the image they want, they will be more likely to be discouraged and prematurely quit.  Electrics require a bit more gear which will increase the initial cost of starting. Acoustics don’t require electricity.  Both are equally easy to play if they are set up properly (see #5).  Ultimately, most guitar players will own both. Both are a blast!

We think that buying your guitar should be a comfortable and fun process.  For more information, stop in our store.  We would be happy to guide you every step of the way!