What to Consider When Buying Your Second Guitar (and Beyond)

By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell, Hal Leonard Corporation

Your toughest decisions in buying a guitar may come not with your first instrument at all but with your second. Admit it — your first time out was probably a blur, but now that you know a little bit about guitar playing and what’s available out there, you face perhaps an even more daunting prospect than before: What should you choose as your next guitar?

If you haven’t already developed gear-lust for a certain model but are hankering for a new toy just the same, consider the following three common approaches to choosing another guitar:

  • The contrasting and complementary approach: If you own an acoustic, you may want to consider getting an electric (or vice versa), because having an array of different guitars in your arsenal is always nice. Diversity is very healthy for a person seeking to bolster a collection.

  • The clone approach: Some people just want to acquire as many, say, Les Pauls as they can in a lifetime: old ones, new ones, red ones, blue ones … hey — it’s your money. Buy as many as you want (and can afford).

  • The upgrade approach: If all you ever want to do is master the Stratocaster, just get a better version of what you had before. That way, you can use the new guitar for important occasions, such as recording and performing, and the old ax for going to the beach.

How much should you spend on your second (or later) instrument? One guideline is to go into the next spending bracket from your old guitar. This way, you don’t end up with many similar guitars. Plan on spending about $200 more than the current value (not what you paid) of the guitar you own. By doing so, you ensure that even if you stick with a certain model line, you’re getting a guitar that’s categorically different from your initial instrument.

When should you stop buying guitars? Why, as soon as you die or the money runs out, of course. Actually, no hard-and-fast rules dictate how many guitars are “enough.” These days, however, a reasonably well-appointed guitar arsenal includes a single-coil electric (such as a Fender Strat and/or Telecaster), a humbucker electric (such as a Gibson Les Paul), a semihollow-body electric, a hollow-body jazz (electric), an acoustic steel-string, an acoustic 12-string, and a nylon-string classical. Then maybe you can add one or two more guitars in a given specialty, such as a steel-bodied guitar set up especially for playing slide or a 12-string electric.

When upgrading to a second guitar, the issue again becomes one of quality. But this time, instead of just making sure you have an instrument that plays in tune, frets easily, and doesn’t collapse like a house of cards if you breathe on it, you also need to make informed decisions. Don’t worry — that’s not as grave as it sounds. Consider for the moment, however, the following four pillars for judging quality in an instrument:

  • Construction and body type: How the guitar is designed and put together

  • Materials: The woods, metals (used in hardware, pickups, electronics), and other substances used

  • Workmanship: The quality of the building

  • Appointments: The aesthetic additions and other doodads