Guitar Purchase Tips

5 Things You Must Consider When Buying Your Next Guitar

There’s a seemingly infinite variety of guitars on the market.  When it comes time for you to upgrade, how do you know where to begin?

Choosing the right guitar is a pretty important part of a guitarist’s career.  While some people have extra money to burn to collect instruments, most people need to think carefully about a guitar purchase. The next guitar you buy may be your main axe for many years to come.

Here are what I consider the 5 most important aspects to consider when choosing your next guitar.

Why are you purchasing a new guitar?

One critical and sometimes overlooked aspect of a guitar purchase is the reason to purchase a new guitar.  Taking the reason to make the purchase into account, you can hone in pretty quickly on a more narrow selection of instruments.  If you’re relatively new to guitar and have been playing on a beginner instrument, your next guitar probably shouldn’t be an incredibly expensive model.  You’ll want to wait to make an investment like that until you’re more knowledgeable about the direction you’re going in and other factors that will become apparent over time.  On the other hand, if you’ve moved into the pro arena, you may want to consider making a real investment in a professional level guitar.

If you don’t have the money, instead of opting for something that’s just a little better than what you’re currently playing, it might be better to save up and wait until you can afford something that better suits your needs. Last, there is a possibility that a new guitar isn’t what you need.  We’ll get a little more into that below.

Cost

The cost of your guitar purchase is usually one of the first things to consider.  There are many classic, famous and timeless instruments on the market that I’m sure we’d all love to get our hands on.  The only trouble is, the majority of these guitars come with very large price tags.  There are also an absurd number of knock-off brands and low-price options that can be difficult to tell if they are really a good value.

The truth is, if you’re willing to go with a lesser known brand, there are a number of low-cost options for high quality instruments.  However, there are a lot more junk guitars in those price ranges and it can be pretty difficult to tell without playing them yourself. Paradoxically, low cost “brand name” instruments can be of far lower quality than a similarly priced obscure brand guitar.  Instead of determining your budget based literally on what you have to spend, I highly recommend taking some time to research lower cost options and watch videos of those guitars being reviewed online.  Make sure to watch at least a few unaffiliated reviews from trusted sources. Then, if possible, try to find a music store that carries instruments from that brand that you can try out in person before making a purchase.  Keep in mind that it’s possible to get a higher quality guitar for less money when you go with a more obscure brand.  The money you save can be put towards a new amp or FX pedals.

My good friend Max Carlisle has been doing guitar reviews on YouTube for the last couple years.  His channel Guitar MAX is a great resource.  He also spends a lot of his time focusing on surprisingly low-cost instruments.

Playability

Now this is a pretty critical aspect of choosing your next guitar.  Let’s say that you have a guitar that is somewhat difficult to play compared to other guitars.  Before making a decision to buy a new guitar purely based on playability, it’s important to get to the bottom of what is causing the issues on your current guitar.  There are a couple reasons to do this.  The first is that it’s possible the problems with your guitar are easily fixed.  It could simply be a matter of lowering the action and getting a truss rod adjustment to get your current guitar playing the way you want it to.  The other reason is that you want to make sure you are getting a guitar that will play the way you want it to long-term.  If your current guitar’s issues stem from it being cheaply made, you don’t want to end up with another cheaply made guitar.  The same problems could arise in a short period of time.  The more you know about why a guitar plays well or not, the better informed your next purchase can be.

It’s important to understand that just because a guitar doesn’t play exactly how you want it to at the store doesn’t mean that you can’t adjust it to where you want it to be. When you know how these adjustments work, you will be able to tell what you can do with a prospective new guitar.

Tone

There are endless discussions and debates about guitar tone.  Clearly there are subjective and relatively objective aspects to what makes a good guitar tone in a specific genre of music.  There are definitely some objective aspects of what makes a bad guitar tone!   But that’s something for me to write about on another day.  For now, let’s assume that you generally know the guitar tone you’re after and talk instead about what you need to consider about tone when buying your next guitar.

First and foremost, while your amp and FX chain significantly shape your tone, they can’t create guitar tone that isn’t there.  It’s true that the most apparent “tonal colors” will be from your amp and FX, but it’s important to remember that the foundation for the overall tone comes from your guitar.  Your amp and FX have to work with the signal you put through them.  You can have the best amp and “perfect” FX setup and still get a terrible tone with the wrong guitar and/or guitar setup.

The type of wood a guitar is made from, the construction of the guitar (neck-thru, set-neck, bolt-on, chambered body, etc.), the amount of wood used, the neck scale and even the string height are all major factors in your guitar’s tone. There’s no perfect road map to go by with these, but they can give you a good place to start.  As an extreme example, a guitar made with little or no wood (or analogous resonant material), will typically sound thin or dull.  A wooden electric guitar with hollow chambers can have a more resonant sound while also increasing feedback.  Again, this is something that I could spend a lot of time writing about on its own.  For now, this is something to pay attention to when demoing different guitars.

The pickups of the guitar are a major factor in the tone you get.  If you’re not an expert on pickups, I would highly recommend doing some research on the pickups used be your favorite guitarists. If you want to get a similar tone to a certain player, pickups will take you a long way.  Another thing to consider is that it’s possible you’ve been trying to get active pickup tone with passive pickups, or vice versa.

If tone is your problem, you may want to consider simply upgrading the pickups on your current guitar. Of course, your rig could also be the problem.  If you want to know for sure where the tone problems are coming from, bring your guitar down to your local music store and demo some of their top amps with it.  If it sounds incredible through a good amp, then your guitar is probably not the main culprit.

Style

Last but not least, we have guitar style.  This one is fairly self-explanatory, but it’s still worth thinking about.  There are a lot of eye-catching guitar styles out there and some of them are pretty well pigeon-holed into a specific genre of music. I have to say, I’ve known more than a few guitarists who bought themselves a truly wild looking pro-level guitar and found themselves wishing for something a little more subtle down the road.

If you’re going to be making a real investment in a guitar that you’ll be using for a long time, I recommend considering what you’ll be using that guitar for in the future. If you’re going strictly Metal, then that B.C. Rich Beast might be just what you’re looking for.  But if you’re also going to be taking it to the local Blues Jam every weekend, you might want to find something that fits in both places, that’s about personal preference.  See you next week.

Dan Mumm