After several weeks of casually strumming your friend’s guitar, you finally decide to invest in one of your own. You can’t wait to learn the chords and play your favorite songs. And you hope to impress your special someone with your new-found skills.
But as a beginning musician, you don’t feel comfortable investing in a top-of-the-line, custom-made instrument. You want to learn the basics first and take a few classes. You’d rather work out any clumsiness with an older guitar than potentially damage a new one.
Fortunately, you can find a used guitar at most local pawn shops. And when you ask the following questions, you’ll have an easier time sifting through multiple instruments and finding the right guitar for your needs.
1. Is It Your Size?
Many newcomers mistakenly assume that one size fits all. But if you buy a guitar that feels too heavy, you’ll struggle to hold your instrument for long. And if you buy a guitar that’s too long, you’ll have to stretch and strain your fingers to complete some of the most basic chords.
The dreadnought guitar, for example, is bigger and boxier than the classical acoustic guitar. The dreadnought body also has a more rectangular shape as opposed to the classical’s deep curves. And if you go into most music stores or pawn shops, you’ll likely see more dreadnought than classical.
But smaller individuals with shorter arms may find the dreadnought style too big and uncomfortable to hold. The sides dig into their arms, and they may have to constantly reposition their fretting hand to play cleanly.
When you shop for a new guitar, don’t be afraid to try different instruments on for size, and ask for smaller options if needed.
2. Does It Match Your Style?
With their gorgeous colors and eye-catching finish, some guitars almost scream “play me.” But their initial appearance doesn’t guarantee that it matches your playing style.
Although acoustic guitars share basic features, the following will affect the way your instrument feels and plays:
- Neck width and length
- Nylon or steel strings
- Wood composition
- Body shape
Nylon strings, for example, produce a soft, mellow tone. So these strings work best in classical, folk, and flamenco-style songs. Steel strings, in contrast, create a louder, brighter tone that better suits rock, country, and pop songs.
Cedar wood, similarly, generates a bright tone that favors those with a light hand, such as flamenco players. On the other hand, mahogany wood creates slower, stronger sounds associated with blues playing.
As you select your instrument, do a little research into the kinds of songs you want to play, as well as guitar features that best match the music.
3. How Does It Sound?
Once you’ve settled on a style and size, you have to consider the overall sound your new guitar produces. Even guitars with identical shapes and strings will vibrate differently. This distinction creates subtle tones that will affect your music.
So pick up the guitar and play it for a few minutes. You don’t have to know complicated chords or tabs just yet. Just strum and feel the wood’s vibrations. When you switch guitars, you’ll quickly notice the difference between what sounds and feels good to you.
When you’ve narrowed your selection, step back and let a friend or store owner play for you. Have him or her cycle through loud and soft strumming to see if your guitar projects sound clear, even from several feet away. When you listen from a different perspective, you’ll soon pick up on whether or not you like how the instrument plays higher or lower tones.
4. Do You See Any Damage?
Although many pawn and music stores sell instruments in like-new condition, you still run the risk of finding a damaged guitar in your selection. Some guitars may sit around for years before anyone bothers to tune or play them. This long-term storage could permanently affect the instrument’s playability.
Before you settle on your favorite guitar, inspect it from the headstock to the strap pin. Avoid instruments with splits, cracks, or hairline fractures. And leave guitars with a rising or sinking top face, as the bulges indicate moisture damage.
When you carefully follow these four steps, you’ll quickly find a guitar you love for a price you can afford.