Guitar Buying 101: Purchasing Your First Acoustic Guitar

Once you’ve been bitten by the strum-bug, and you’ve got the urge to learn to play guitar, it’s tempting to go out and purchase the first six-string you come across.

Any guitar will suffice if you just want to strum casually once in a while — but if you’re committed to learning how to play properly, it’s important to pick up a guitar that fits both your play style and your needs as a beginner. Of course, when you’re just starting out, you don’t necessarily want to break the bank on your first instrument purchase.

Here are a few tips on how to buy your first acoustic guitar.

Setting a Budget

Before you do anything, it’s important to set a budget; the recommended range of about $300 to $700 is a good starting point. This range isn’t arbitrary. Anything below $300 is priced that low for a reason: it probably won’t sound all that great, the quality is most likely quite low, and it won’t be that comfortable to play. Guitars over $800 will most likely be solid wood instruments, and anything over $1,000 is usually expert-quality — in other words, these expensive instruments are designed with professionals in mind. They are finely tuned, expertly crafted pieces of art, and they are designed to last a lifetime.

So, if you’re in love with the idea of playing acoustic guitar for the long term, purchasing an instrument in the $800 (or more) range could be considered a decent investment. If you’re a beginner, you may want to pick an option that won’t necessarily damage your finances. Later, you can decide if you want to invest in a professional instrument once you’ve progressed beyond the “beginner” stage.

If you’re on a severely tight budget — and you can’t afford to drop several hundred dollars on a brand new guitar — considering purchasing a used guitar, either from your local guitar shop or online. Remember, before purchasing anything online, it’s always a good idea to check out the guitar in person first.

Keep in mind that borrowing a guitar from a friend is always a great option for a beginner looking to try it out; especially if the friend can offer a few pointers on learning to play.

Choosing the Right Fit

If you’ve ever been to a guitar shop before, you know that most shops don’t just have a few dozen options out on display — there are usually hundreds of different guitar models arranged all over the shop. With so many to choose from, which is the right instrument for you?

Thankfully, when it comes to picking the right guitar, there’s no special trick — you just have to find the option that feels the most comfortable to play. Talk with the guitar shop attendant or owner, and ask them to help you choose a few basic models within your price range. Then, sit down and hold each one to get a feel for each instrument. Because guitars come in different sizes, it’s critical to find one that actually fits your frame and build. Can your fingers reach the frets properly? Is the guitar too unwieldy? Can you hold it comfortably while sitting and standing? Simply put, if a guitar feels good in your hands, then it’s probably a good pick.

Test Driving the Guitar

If you’re purchasing from a reputable store or chain, you likely won’t have to worry about your guitar’s quality — but if you’re buying a used instrument (or borrowing one from a friend), make sure to give the guitar in question a good once over. Most importantly, look for any splits, scratches, or major dings. If the guitar’s neck is split or bowed, this is a bad sign and you may want to reconsider your purchase.

Once you’ve determined there’s no visible damage, give the guitar a few test strums. If you know a few chords, try playing an open D chord, and then play that same chord at the 14th fret. By playing the D chord at the 14th fret — even if it’s out of tune — you should be able to hear if anything is off or wrong with the guitar.

Selecting a Model

The Martin D-28 is your standard workhorse acoustic guitar: as a solid, reliable option, you truly can’t go wrong with a Martin. It’s powerful and durable, so it should be able to carry you through the majority of your beginner years.

If you’d prefer something smaller, you can go with a Grand Concert-size Taylor; if you’d like something a bit bigger, check out one of the jumbo-sized Gibson guitars.

Synthetic-top guitars are popular nowadays, and their quality has improved vastly over the years — just because these guitars aren’t made from traditional wood doesn’t mean they’re poor quality. It’s true that guitars with spruce, cedar, maple or rosewood tops will generate very clear, potent sounds; but you can expect to pay a little extra for these more traditional options.

Ask Questions

If you purchase from a traditional guitar shop, don’t be afraid to ask questions — in fact, we encourage you to. The staff are there to help you, and with their own passion for music and guitars, most will be more than happy to talk to you about different playing methods, models, accessories, and more. They may even be able to offer you a good deal, to help you save a little cash. On top of buying the instrument itself, many guitar and music shops will have great recommendations for music lessons in your area; ask if they can refer you to a talented and highly esteemed teacher, if you haven’t found one already.

When it comes to picking up your first acoustic guitar, remember to take your time. Research your options, define a set budget, and then try out a few different guitars in person. You’ll find your ideal first guitar in no time; and you’ll be on your way to learning the chords, strumming the tunes, and maybe even making history alongside the world’s most renowned guitarists.