Buying a Guitar
December 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm #16491
What to tell your students parents:
Buying a guitar kind of reminds me of buying a car. There are economy models and then there are luxury cars. What’s the difference? Both models will get you from point A to point B. You know the difference, the ride might be quite a bit nicer in a luxury vehicle. In a way there are similarities in guitars. You need to try before you buy. Set a budget. Is the instrument a comfortable fit? Go to your local “brick and mortar” store. I do not recommend buying a guitar on the Internet. With acoustic guitars there are basically two types: Nylon-string guitars (classical) and Steel-string guitars. They have a different sound and feel. Try out different guitars. Traditionally a nylon-string is played finger-style and a steel-string is played pick-style. Entry-level guitars are made with laminated wood and they are priced between $100-$300. The next step-up guitar will have a solid wood top with laminated wood for the back and sides; these run for about $200 and up. Solid wood guitars start at around $600 and the sky is the limit. Have fun shopping, enjoy the ride.December 15, 2012 at 1:31 am #16890
One of the great things about the guitar is that you can get a pretty decent instrument relatively cheaply. (Particularly when compared to most horns or other strings) If someone has never played before, I like to encourage them to get a nylon string guitar. The nylon strings are MUCH easier on the fingers – especially for children, who usually have delicate skin. Furthermore, the strings are far less likely to break. A high ‘E’ on a steel string will frequently snap if tuned even a whole step too high, whereas the same nylon string can be tuned as much as a 4th too high before breaking. For the beginner learning to tune their instrument, this scenario is fairly common. You will find that most classical guitars are much more standard in shape and size than steel string guitars as well.
Glen made a great point in his last post about the different classes of guitar. I have found that those on a budget will be most satisfied with a solid top guitar with laminate sides. The vast majority of a guitars volume and tone is from the top – not the sides – and therefore the side material is really not a very important factor. Furthermore, the overall quality of your guitar will generally be better. It will have better tuning machines, etc.
Think about what you want to do with your guitar. If you want to accompany yourself singing, both work great. If you want to play rock or bluegrass music, you probably want a steel string for authentic sound. If you’re going to play classical, new age, or most latin styles, you probably want to go with a nylon guitar. Steel strings are louder.
Lastly, consider the materials used to build your guitar. Most acoustic guitar tops are made of either cedar or spruce. Spruce is most common, is lighter colored, and has a brighter sound. Cedar is darker in color and in tone. Good quality cedar is cheaper than good quality spruce, so generally you can get a better cedar guitar for the same money.December 22, 2012 at 6:49 am #17230
Great additions Matt! I also recommend nylon string guitars for my students. If you have a steel string and your fingers are hurting there are two types of strings that can be used to make it easier on your fingers. One type is called “silk and steel”. The core of the wound strings are a combination of guess what, “silk and steel” which makes the string a little easier to fret (press down) than a wound steel string (where the core is steel). The other option is a set of nylon strings that have ball ends on the strings. They are available and do work. You may have to adjust the neck if you use either type as the strings do not have the same amount of tension as steel strings. NEVER put steel strings on a nylon string guitar.January 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm #18059
Hello, and Great Topic! Many students begin guitar study with “the guitar my aunt xyz had in the attic.” quite a handicap, and I am glad to join this discussion.
Size is an extremely important element to consider in a guitar, particularly for younger students. I have seen way too many children with their right elbows up in the air trying to wrap themselves around a full-sized dreadnought guitar; and their left hand must stretch so far that a good hand position is impossible.
Unfortunately sizing for guitars is not as standardized as it is for the bowed strings (e.g. 4/4 3/4 1/2 sizes). Classical guitars are somewhat more standardized but steel strings labeled “3/4” or “travel guitars” run a gamut of sizes, both in terms of scale length and body size. Both are important in sizing a smaller player.
I have to source instruments almost yearly to find good beginner guitars in several sizes. Both manufacturers and stores change that frequently, but I keep on top of it because this eases a beginner’s journey significantly. Though I won’t mention any brands here, when a parent asks me I most certainly do, I share links through which they can purchase instruments I have “pre qualified.”January 9, 2013 at 8:50 am #18221
Glen, I have given that exact speech to my kids about buying a guitar!January 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm #19058
I am looking to start a guitar class in my school. My principal want to make the class all inclusive…that is, no student should have to purchase anything to take the class. I agree with him because the school is in a poor area and there are enough students that can only get by with the basics. If I am going to purchase a class set of guitars, what would you recommend?January 25, 2013 at 9:53 am #19128
Glen has excellent advice above about purchasing guitars and how to determine the quality and price you would like to pay. When it comes to a class set, you want acoustic. Nylon string (classical) or steel string will be your choice. Nylon string guitars work well for developing good posture and hand position. The strings are easier on new hands that haven’t developed calluses from playing. The size will also be more manageable if you have smaller students. Steel string guitars will have a skinnier neck and strings closer together. This can help if you are playing chords. I use both nylon string and steel string guitars with my students depending on what level of guitar they are taking.
The high school kids will sometimes turn their noses up at nylon string because they don’t find it relevant to the music they listen to. The easy way around that is simply to tell them that anything you teach them on a nylon string guitar will transfer to a steel string acoustic or an electric and it will make them better. I often have my rock band kids practice intricate licks on an acoustic to get them clean and then move them to electric.
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