Guitar For Dummies
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Before you walk into your local music store ready to plop down your hard-earned dough on a new guitar, you need to take stock of what you're doing. You need to ask yourself some tough questions about your pending purchase — and you need to do so now.

Don't simply wait until you get to the store to develop a buying strategy (which, by that time, usually translates into no strategy at all). Keep in mind that the two most important factors in making any purchasing decision — especially concerning a guitar, where passions tend to run high — are to develop a plan and to gather all the information you need to make the best choice.

Start developing your purchasing plan by answering some specific questions about exactly what you want in a guitar — and how much you can spend to attain it. Narrowing your scope doesn't mean that you can't change your mind after you get to the store and see all the nifty instruments available or that you can't let on-the-spot inspiration and whim play a significant part in your final decision. ("I just can't decide between these two guitars . . . oh, what the heck! Just give me both of them!") But you do need a point from which to depart.

In focusing on the instrument of your (practical) dreams, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What's your level of commitment? Regardless of your current ability, do you realistically envision yourself practicing every day for the next five years, pursuing a dedicated program of guitar excellence? Or do you first want to see whether this whole "guitar thing" is going to stick? Just because you can afford a $1,000 guitar doesn't mean that you should necessarily buy one. You can buy a quality instrument for much less than a grand. Before plunking down any cash, honestly determine the importance of the guitar in your life and then act responsibly according to that priority. (Or completely ignore this advice and go crazy, you guitar-playing rebel, you!)

  • What's your spending limit? The answer to this question is critical because, often, the more expensive the guitar, the greater its appeal. So you need to balance your level of commitment and your available resources. You don't want to have to give up food for six months and live in a cardboard box just because you got carried away in a moment of buying fever at the music store. You can very easily overextend yourself. If you don't set a limit on how much you can spend, you can't know whether you exceed that limit . . . or by how much.

  • Are you a new-guitar person or a used-guitar person? You're going to have a much easier time comparing attributes among new guitars. And prices of new instruments are pretty much standardized, though variation does exist among different types of retailers — large, urban stores versus mom-and-pop establishments, online retailers versus brick-and-mortar sellers, and so on.

    Both retail and online operations offer a warranty against any manufacturer defects on new instruments. You don't find any comparable protection if you're buying a guitar from a newspaper ad (although music stores also sell used instruments, usually with their own, store-issued warranties) or from Craigslist, eBay, or other online classified service. But on the other hand, you can sometimes get a really good deal on a used instrument … if you know what to look for. And, of course, if you want a vintage instrument, you're looking at a used guitar by definition.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Mark Phillips is a former director of music at Cherry Lane Music, where he edited or arranged the songbooks of such artists as John Denver, Van Halen, Guns N??? Roses, and Metallica.

Jon Chappell is a multistyle guitarist, arranger, and former editor-in-chief of Guitar magazine.

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