A few tips for choosing your first guitar.
Buying your first (or second, or third…) guitar is an important milestone in the life of any young (or old) musician. I bought mine when I was 14. I knew 4 chords (almost 5!) and I thought it was high time to give back the old Fender that I had borrowed from my aunt. I had saved all my money for what seemed like an eternity and I wanted MY guitar.
But how to choose the right one?
There isn’t one right answer. You just have to choose the right one FOR YOU. But there are some questions to consider to help you make up your mind:
1: Acoustic or electric?
When you're ready to buy your first guitar, take the time to think about what you want to play. What's your favorite music? What made you want to learn the instrument? Of course, if you've had Metallica posters pinned to your walls since kindergarten, you might want to go straight to the distortion section... On the other hand, many people will choose to turn to an acoustic guitar, regardless of their musical inclinations. It requires no other equipment, no amp or pedals, and it provides a great playground for learning the basics of the instrument.
For me, the love of Simon and Garfunkel trumped my Lez Zeppelin phase and my passion for acoustic guitar was born.
2: Metal or nylon strings?
Many beginners will be drawn to nylon strings, which are softer, easier to play (yes, they hurt your fingers less!)... which is completely valid for playing many styles, including classical music. But the metal strings of an acoustic guitar, (or as some call it, a "folk" guitar) are not to be overlooked. They offer many other sonic possibilities, tones, brilliance and volume. Try them both, listen, and choose the sound you like. And don't worry, after a few months of practice, you'll have built up enough callouses on your fingertips for them to stop throbbing in pain, regardless of which guitar you choose.
3: Am I comfortable?
I know, I just kind of implied "no pain, no gain". It may seem contradictory, but it is not. Comfort is key. For example, a smaller person, or a child, will not be comfortable with a guitar that is too big. You have to take each guitar in your arms, hold it, and see how it feels. The proportions of the neck and body often vary. If you play standing up, you might also consider the weight of the instrument.
4: Is it love at first sight?
I have a very emotional relationship with my guitars and I have to admit, this is an important factor. When I spent all of my childhood savings on my first guitar, all I knew was that I loved it. I didn’t really know why. It was a Gibson Epiphone, sunburst finish. To me, the most beautiful one in the store. It was a Dreadnaught, (the big standard shaped model) and had volume and depth (which would come in handy years later when I started my career belting out tunes on a street corner!). Most of all, it sounded good to MY ears.
There is a certain mystery in guitars, as in human relationships. There are people, like guitars, that we are drawn to... and this should not be neglected. The more you feel a connection with your instrument, the more you will play it.
4: What is my budget?
Delicate subject, I know. The initial investment may seem steep, but remember that the right guitar can last you for years, even a lifetime! (Like Willie Nelson who has been playing his nylon-stringed Martin N-20 since 1969…) I suggest having a rough idea of your budget before you go shopping for your instrument, but try to stay flexible. Without breaking the bank, avoid the lowest-end models. Although there are exceptions, you often get what you pay for. A bad guitar will make you want to play less. Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for advice. Music store employees (like your friends at La Boîte Musicale) can help you find the best possible value for your budget.
5: What else?
Don't forget a tuner (because it trains your ears for pitch... and everything sounds better when you're in tune!), picks (if needed), a strap and a humidifier.
Of course, after you’ve put in those hundreds of hours of practice, you will have a host of other considerations. (We'll talk about that when it comes time to buy your second guitar!) Different shapes of guitars can lend themselves to different genres of music or styles. Dreadnaught style guitars are designed to resonate and have volume. They support the voice well in a band or singer-songwriter context and are able to project melodies in a bluegrass jam. Smaller, models like the Parlor or the OOO (triple “O”), with a narrower waist, may have less low frequencies, but are full of brilliance and lend themselves well to fingerpicking.
Of course, one never completely excludes the other. You can always play Metallica on a classical guitar or Willie Nelson on the electric. What matters is the heart that you put into it.