Buying Your First Guitar : What You Should Look For?

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Getting Started

Buying your first guitar can be difficult because of the wide range of offerings available. If looking to start guitar lessons, you might not know what you are looking for. Any guitar can be made playable but buying a quality instrument makes learning easier and enjoyable.

Getting In The Ballpark

Most people have a vague idea of what style of guitar that they want to play before they go shopping. The three common ‘classes’ of guitar; Classical, Acoustic and Electric. Each type has certain tonal characteristics, benefits and drawbacks. Guitars are precision instruments, requiring a modicum of care to keep them playable.

Classical Guitars

Classical Guitars are designed for playing scales and have wide necks and large frets. Classical guitars are difficult to play as they tend to go out of tune and the neck width makes it difficult for new players to form chord shapes as the distance between notes and strings is greater and requires more of a stretch to play. Classical guitars use nylon strings which are easy to press down which helps playability but it does not offset the wide neck shape. In addition to being difficult to play, Classical Guitars have little aesthetic appeal for new players looking for an iconic guitar shape.

Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic Guitars are similar to Classical guitars in construction but use steel wound strings and have a slimmer neck which is easy to play. Acoustic guitars come in many sizes, from small parlour and folk sized guitars to gargantuan dreadnaught sized guitars. Acoustic guitars are loud and are built for maximum resonance and projection. This means that you’ll be able to hear someone playing an Acoustic guitar wherever you are in a building, even if they are trying to play it quietly. Bare this in mind if you are buying a guitar for someone, especially if they live in an area high noise levels are prohibited.

Electric Guitars

Electric guitars are the easiest type of guitar to play, with their necks being designed to be ‘fast’ or easy to play. Electric guitars have strings closer to the fretboard than a Classical or Acoustic guitar, will hold tuning better and will have a thinner neck. Electric guitars made from solid wood, so dropping them or bumping them into things is unlikely to ruin the entire guitar, instead, chipping the paint. Electric guitars are quiet when you play non-amplified and can be played using headphones to keep the noise down whilst practicing.

I recommend that you start learning on an Electric guitar. In addition to the benefits noted, electric guitars allow for correct hand positioning whilst the wider neck of an Acoustic or Classical guitar can strain your hands if you are not used to it. If you are buying a guitar for a child or are worried about the weight of the instrument, there are half-sized and three-quarter sized guitars available.

Other Considerations

Budget and Aesthetics will play a part in first-time instrument purchases and they are important to think about before you go and buy something. Many people are unsure whether they are going to enjoy playing guitar so they will buy a cheap guitar. This is a false economy as cheap guitars are made from low quality hardware and are difficult to play. In addition to this, cheap guitars have little to no resale value. The cheapest guitars that you might find in supermarkets will sound dull, be difficult to keep in tune and play and you will not want to practice playing with them. Anything that costs less than ~£100 new is unlikely to be worth buying.

How much should you spend on your first guitar is a difficult question to answer. Whilst having a low quality guitar is better than having no guitar, it is difficult to recommend the cheapest models. Cheap manufacturers such as Encore, LAG or Stagg use poor quality tonewood and cut corners to achieve their low prices.

Aim to spend a little more than the minimum and you can get a perfectly serviceable guitar around the £200 mark. If you go down the second hand route, your money will stretch further. Manufacturers that create inexpensive but good instruments are Fender/Squier, Ibanez, Crafter, Tanglewood, Epiphone and Jackson when you are looking in a shop, whilst you can look at even better guitars when you look at the second hand market, with Paul Reed Smith (PRS) SE series guitars going for as low as £180.

Try Before You Buy

Visiting your local music shop(s) to see what models they have in stock when you are buying your first guitar. This will allow you to try out different guitar and feel the differences in body shapes, neck widths and pricing and often the shop assistants can tell you more about the different variants that each manufacturer offers. By playing a range of guitars, you will develop a feeling for what 'feels right’. Don’t feel pressured to buy something and try as many guitars as the staff will allow you to. Try the expensive guitars as well as this will inspire you to save up and purchase a professional grade instrument some time in the future. Ask the shop assistants what kinds of guitar that your favourite musician or band plays and they will be able to point you in the right direction. If you are buying for a child and they have their eyes on an instrument that is out of your price range, you can implement some type of system so that when they practice guitar and make progress, you save a little money up for them to purchase their dream guitar in the future. This is a great way to encourage practicing without forcing your child to practice and will make it feel like they have earned the guitar.

What Accessories Should I Buy?

There are a huge number of accessories out there for people to buy to aid them learning the guitar. Whilst not all of them are worth buying for guitar lessons, it is worth purchasing at least one of the following:

  • Guitar Stand
  • Plectrum(s)
  • A Tuner
  • Spare Strings
  • String Winder
  • Soft Case

In time, you’ll also want to buy a metronome and some music books and a music stand to aid you in your learning.

Buying your first guitar should be an exciting and interesting venture and with luck you’ll have a great instrument that allows you to learn to play easily. If you would like a little more help with picking a guitar to play, you can contact me for more personalised advice.

 
 

Open Chords

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Open Chord Shapes

Open chords form the basis of thousands of songs. Open strings vibrate freely, making open chords sound fuller and are easy to play, so are very widely used. Other chord shapes (Barré Chords and Power Chords) do not use open strings so will not be covered in this article.

You should be able to make a decent effort at most of them straight of the bat. If not, it’ll only take a few minutes to figure out better positioning for your hands. We’ll start with the most basic of all guitar chords, the E Minor (Em) chord.

Reading Chord Diagrams

To use chord diagrams, you place your fingers where the spots are on the fretboard diagram. Some chords diagrams will have numbers inside the spots to show you which finger you are to fret the note with.

To play E Minor, take your middle finger and place it on the second fret of the A string and add your ring finger on to the second fret of the D string. This will create the right shape for the chord and you can strum away. With the E minor chord, play all strings on the guitar to make it sound fuller.

E Major; note how Major is not written on the chord name.

Chords are assumed to be major unless specified otherwise!

The next chord to try is the E Major chord. This one is similar to E Minor chord with only one note difference between it. Adding one more finger to the chord, you want to use your index finger to play the first fret of the G string. This changes the entire sound of the chord, due to changing the third from minor to major. This is a little complicated for right now, but if you want to learn more about theory, this site is a great start

The X symbol means not to play that string.

After the E Major, we’ll progress to A minor. This is the same shape as the E Major chord, just moved up a string. Rather than playing all the strings, don't play the lowest pitched string and only play the 5 highest pitched strings.

This one is a little more difficult as you need three fingers in a line. Try sloping your fingers diagonally!

This one is a little more difficult as you need three fingers in a line. Try sloping your fingers diagonally!

The A major is a trickier chord as it requires you to use three fingers on the same fret. Whilst there’s an easier way to play a variant of this chord, practicing this shape is important. To make the correct shape for A major, use your index finger on the D string, middle finger on the G string and ring finger on the B string. Leave the highest E string unfretted and play the highest pitched 5 strings.

Voila! A Major!

The remaining basic open chords use different shapes to the E and A Major/Minor. The D Major chord is the easiest to practice after E and A. This chord looks like a triangle. To play it, place your index and middle finger on the G and high E string on the second fret. Then, place your ring finger on the third fret of the B string.

Two X's here, only play four strings, otherwise it is not correct.

Two X's here, only play four strings, otherwise it is not correct.

Playing the D Minor chord is similar playing a D Major. Swap your index and middle fingers round so that you are fretting the first fret of the high E string with your index finger. Your middle finger goes to the second fret of the G string. The next one is a tricky. C Major requires more of a stretch than the chords you have played so far.

D Minor Root chord

To play C Major, fret the third fret of the A string with your ring finger. Then, the second fret of the D string with your middle finger and the first fret of the B string with your index finger. Play all the strings, apart from the low E and you’ve played your first C Major. Once you’ve got a handle on these shapes, you can move on to the most difficult open chord in this article. This is the G major chord and luckily it becomes much easier when you have played it a few hundred times.

This is usually an easy one to grasp, but make sure you aren't muting the upper string!

This is usually an easy one to grasp, but make sure you aren't muting the upper string!

G Major requires a stretch with your left hand and it can be frustrating to practice it. Start off by fretting the third fret of the low E with your middle finger. After this, use your index finger to play the second fret of the A string. To finish the chord off, add your ring finger on the third fret of the B string. play all the strings and you have yourself a G major Chord.

G is tricky because it uses your pinky finger too!

G is tricky because it uses your pinky finger too!

 

Exercises

Click here for a handy printable refresher on all the chords in this article.

Knowing chord shapes is great, but putting them together and switching between them is how you make music. Learn which fingers stay still whilst listening to which chords lead to others takes practice but is well worth the time. Try some of these chord progressions to get used to swapping between the chords you’ve just learnt.

Em - G - D - Am

G - C - D

Dm - Am - C - G