Ask any guitarist for advise on purchasing your next guitar and the result will be as unique as the guitarist. Hey wait, isn't that common sense? A waste of typing effort? I say, "No". Why? Well, I am the one who typed it but beyond that I believe that there is much more to it.
Open up any website from one of the mega instrument dealers and add up the number of choices they offer for guitars. I did this for you and one site offers 3,083 different guitar models. That's models and not individual instruments. If you travel to a site that offers more upper end instruments then the choices will be lower in the number of models to choose from but then you might begin to see the emphasis on each guitar's individual identity. No two guitars are alike. Take two guitars that came down the line together and there will be a definite similarity but they will have individual properties and will both age differently.
Now let's venture to a guitar show for a birds eye view of used instruments for sale with a large number of dealers present. For many of them what they might bring will only be a fraction of what they have on stock within their shop. Plenty to choose from and each and everyone is an unique piece of art or garbage depending on what you find. Ebay? Craigslist? The choices now become a little unruly. A certain overload of choices for the uninitiated. Wait, you say you are initiated? Let's see your card.
The purchase of a guitar can either be a thrill that can border on obsession, a job where instruments pass through their doors like leaves or a true nightmare for a parent that wishes to help their child grow with the blessing of creating music. We all buy stuff. We all buy stuff that we have no knowledge of. If we buy a can of soup that is not to our liking then who cares, just pour $1.48 down our disposal and carry on. We all have purchased something that due to the price/object ratio made us feel ripped off or worse yet, suckered. That is a pain that can bury itself to hide and then arise fresh when something bumps that particular electrical socket of your brain. When it comes to the world of the guitar how do we avoid that? Honestly, the world goes around and guitars and amps cost more then a can of soup and vultures need to eat like the rest of us. The difference is that they can sleep at night after doing something that would keep the rest of us sitting in our beds with our knees pressed into our chests and the covers pulled up to our wide open eyes while we shake like an unbalanced mixer.
Like cars or lawnmowers or bowling balls it is the time tested method of doing your homework and looking before you leap. For now lets just keep with the parents who want to buy something for little Alesha of Evan. When you start off ask your precious one, "What type of music do you like and who is your favorite guitar player?". It will be a waste of time and money to purchase an acoustic for someone who only loves electric and the other way around. For most students it will be somewhere in the electric guitar land and that now presents a two sided coin (I have a one sided coin but I keep it locked up. I think it will be worth something someday.) because we just added an amplifier into the cost and education question. Uh-ohh, I just opened the big can-o-worms called "cost". It is the primary consideration for just about everybody who is trying to do this.
Young people are…young. Evolving and changing at a pace that we never see again and what is cool today is left to become yard sale inventory tomorrow. I get it. I have two lovely children myself. (Ok, I cannot take full credit. Other people were involved.) The crick in the neck here is that if you purchase junk then you just put up a big firewall right from the start. If the instrument is hard to play due to bad quality or proper set up (We'll just use Uncle Elmer's acoustic we have in the closet. It was bought in the '50's and played so bad that he gave up because of it.) or the amplifier sounds like a '70's transistor radio (Please reference "My better half" blog entry) then the desire to play is pretty much cramped from the beginning. That means that it might cost you a little more then you might think. "Hey Pal, don't tell me what I can afford, times is tough." Believe me, I get it. What's my answer? If you could only hear the number of adults I have heard say "I tried when I was young but it was too hard." or "I could never get into the music I wanted to play" you might consider what is the price of blocking the creative side of your kids. Sports are great. They also come with a price for equipment and so on but I have never heard of a 16 year old needing rotor cuff surgery, breaking a fibula or tearing an achilles from doing a Pete Townshend windmill on a guitar. ( Wait, that's not entirely true. I was sitting front stage at a Mojo Nixon concert when he did a windmill, caught his hand between his guitar and the strap and sent the peg head of the guitar right towards his face where a tuner cracked him right above his nose so hard they could only do two more songs before he left bleeding and confused.)
I can hear you through the site yelling, "Just tell me what to buy and where to buy it.". I'm sorry but we need to go a little further. Not everybody likes Raspberries or feels comfortable with the same couch. Let's go with the guitar first. Fortunately this is an area that is easier now then ever. Chinese electric and acoustic guitars from Fender and a score of other brand names litter the highways. The electrics are closer then ever to their big brother brand names. For a Strat or Tele style Fender offers the "Squire" brand and Gibson has their "Epiphone" line and now offers a new budget friendly line with the Gibson name on it.
The real bottom feeder cheapest price Squires have OK wood and look pretty but the metal parts are really cheap and the fretwork is only determined by the individual instrument. The nice thing is that they can be set up to play well and to the untrained ear will sound just fine and you will feel better when you understand that it's time to step up the next notch. Understand that anything with the "Squire" name on it will resale for ½ or less when you walk out the door. All of this applies to ANY new guitar in the $99.00 to $250.00 price range no matter what name is on it or what style it is. The Epiphone's are the same except that their price range and quality have a much larger range. You will also pay more just to step inside the door but this is the Les Paul, and other Gibson styles, recognized alternative.
I am a fan of the Mexican made guitars from Fender. Usually well made, decent metal items and tone they can be "modded" easily to be made an even better player. Unfortunately the entry price is around $500.00. In the guitar world $500.00 is "budget" but the definition for the entry level player purchaser may be different. That's just the way it is. It's the game you are playing. A new "budget" car is what, $12 to $15 thousand? That's expensive but opinion doesn't change the entry price if you want to buy a new car. Wait, did I say "new"? How about used? This is even a better way to find an entry level guitar. You see there were plenty of guitars that made the "guitar purchase into yard sale inventory" and if you just use good common sense then you can pick up something off of Craigslist, or whatever method you might use, pretty easily. Check the mega site retail cost, cut it in half and you will have a good starting point for anything under the new price of $350 or so if it's in like new condition. Maybe use a 75% for guitars with a new price from $350 to $1000 in the same like new condition.
Now we get to go back to the old problem of the amp. That's for the next time and for now I again refer you back to the "My better half" blog entry. It covers things pretty well but I will stop back to help out the beginners. So just go out and spend lot's of money on really great stuff and you will have no worries because the really good stuff you can get your money back if you need to sell. That's the true answer!
by Robert Gundry