If you’ve been learning to play guitar with an old electric ax you borrowed from a cousin or neighbor, the time will come when you’re ready to buy your very own guitar. This can be an overwhelming experience for many beginners. With so many brands and styles, all at widely varying prices, it’s difficult to know where to start.
It’s important that your guitar is comfortable, since you’re going to be spending a lot of time with it. Make sure the guitar is not too heavy overall. This can be a drawback when you’re carrying it to your guitar lesson or when you want to play standing up.
Also check to see that the weight is evenly distributed throughout the guitar; it shouldn’t be neck-heavy. If you have to support the weight of the neck when you practice, your arm will soon become tired.
When checking out electric guitars, as well as acoustics, you should pay attention to their action, fretwork, and intonation. Action is the space between the fretboard and the strings.
If the action is too high, it will be hard to press the strings down to the frets. If the action is too low, you’ll get a lot of fret buzz when you strum the guitar hard.
Action is adjustable, and reputable music stores are pretty good at keeping their instruments set up well, so if you find a guitar that you love despite its high action, ask the store manager if a setup can be included in the price.
Another thing to look for is properly crowned frets. Slide your hands up and down the sides of the guitar’s neck. If the frets are sharp and stick out on the sides of the neck, they haven’t been properly crowned and the guitar won’t be comfortable to play. Getting fretwork done on a guitar can be a costly job, so steer clear of instruments with poor fretwork.
Is the guitar properly intonated? In other words, is it in tune all over the neck? You can check this by bringing an electronic tuner with you on your shopping trip.
Pluck each string while holding it down at the 12th fret and then play the string open, or unfretted. If the two pitches match, then the guitar is properly intonated. If not, put that guitar back on the rack and keep looking.
When you plug the guitar into an amp, there shouldn’t be a lot of hum, although some guitars, such as those with single-coil pickups, are inherently noisy.
Make sure the guitar you are interested in isn’t significantly noisier than similar models. It might not seem like a big deal in the store, but a constant hum will definitely grate on your nerves down the road.