The last article addressed the differences between guitars – mainly nylon and steel strung – and this article shall provide a few pointers to watch out for when buying a guitar. Naturally, the quality of instrument will be reflective of price and that’s essential to keep in mind but there are a number of factors you want to make sure you are aware of before you purchase.
The type of timber a guitar is constructed from is essential to its sound, feel and demeanor. Very high-quality guitars will be constructed using fully solid natural tone-woods; each of which has a different sonic characteristic. At the lower end of the scale, guitars are made from manufactured timbers like plywood and laminate. Indeed it’s common to see a mixture of laminate and solid timber on some instruments as many mid-range guitars consist of a laminate back and sides with a solid top.
Unless it’s a very high-end guitar, you can be sure that the back and sides will be made from manufactured timber and a quick look in the sound hole will reveal whether the top is solid or laminate. If the grain can be clearly seen running through the wood as shown, then the top of the instrument is made from solid timber.
The body shape of a guitar will also affect the sound and comfort of the instrument. You’ll want to know whether you want a full or cutaway body type before you purchase. A cutaway is designed to allow the player access to the higher frets on the fingerboard and is a curve cut in to the lower shoulder on the guitar’s body. Purists argue that this negatively affects the sound of a guitar but the differences are often too subtle to be noticeable.
Many acoustic guitars come equipped with a facility for amplification called a pickup. This means that the guitar is fitted with some electronics which enable it to be plugged in to an amplifier or speaker. Most first time buyers will not need a pickup on their guitar – in fact these inflate the cost of the instrument and on cheaper instruments can be a troublesome addition.
Build and Setup
Regardless of the materials that a guitar is constructed from; build quality and setup are the two main factors that determine the quality and playablity of an instrument.
Sonically, music is a science which requires strict accuracy in its execution and musical instruments require exceptional precision during their construction to ensure that they meet such rigorous demands. Nut spacing, neck angle, scale length, intonation and string-height are all contributors to the success of the instrument and it’s essential that these are all constructed with the utmost attention to detail.
There are many post-construction tweaks and adjustments that can be made to a guitar and these are often called guitar ‘setup.’ In fact the setup of a guitar is the largest contributor to how well or comfortable it plays. Having the neck-angle, string-height (action), intonation(tuning) and nut position all set correctly should produce a very playable instrument which stays in tune and is comfortable to play.
Some mass produced instruments will be relatively OK to play straight out of the box. However, they often require some degree of setup to bring them up to standard and many reputable guitar dealers will carry out a full review and setup before the instrument leaves the shop. Some will request that you bring the guitar back after a few months for a second setup as new guitars take some time for the timber to settle or to become ‘played in.’
There are hundreds of guitar brands on the market all producing instruments at different specs and price. High-end solid timber guitars from makers such as Martin, Gibson, Lakewood and Lowden are extremely expensive, often retailing above two thousand euro. Makers with established brand names such as Takamine and Taylor do manufacture more affordable guitars; however, guitars under the six hundred euro mark from these brands tend to give less ‘bang for buck’ as the brand name adds to the price.
Entering the market at this level and below are manufacturers like Cort, Tanglewood and Yamaha. These brands produce instruments with a relatively high quality to price ratio and are a shrewd choice when looking to get the best for what you have. While they may not hold their value as well as the more traditional brands, they will provide you with a very playable instrument for a lot less.
Essentially what you’re looking for is a guitar that stays in tune, is built to a standard that can be setup as you want, is the right size, is comfortable to play and sounds good. It would be unusual if all of these requirements were met on a budget below two hundred euro. However, there are a few guitars retailing below the three hundred euro mark that do – The Cort Earth-100, Vintage V-300 and Yamaha FG720S are all guitars which, with the correct setup will suit the needs of any player. Of course there are others but these ones are stocked widely and are easily accessible.
Remember, everyone is different. Everyone’s hands are a different size, everyone has a unique way of playing and everyone has their own taste regarding sound – so the right guitar for one person may not be the right one for you. Hopefully the above article has provided enough information to help you get what you’re looking for but at the end of the day you have to chose your own instrument.