When it comes to learning any western musical instrument, it’s the ‘Guitar’ which comes to our mind first and foremost. It is one of the affordable instruments in the world and easy to carry anywhere you go. It is easily available in any musical store and easy to learn too! Yes, you can learn by yourself, through tutorial videos or from tutorial books but it is always advisable to learn from a proper tutor. The tutorial part will be discussed in my next article. But for now, I am here to guide you to select the best guitar for you.
If you have a friend who knows about guitars or a guitar teacher, please request them to come along with you to select a good guitar. The next possible idea is to rely on the sales person who might guide you to get a good guitar for you. However, my personal advice is to get some knowledge about the instrument before you endeavor to select on your own. Even if you have no idea about guitars, this article will guide you and educate you enough to select the best guitar by yourself. I will write everything about a good guitar, but you just need to go through it carefully. I will not talk about the brands, but simple specifications which an acoustic guitar should have. For your better understanding, let me describe it point wise.
1. Body structure of an acoustic guitar:
You might have seen many guitars but hardly care about its structure. All looks the same from outer body but have different specifications model wise or brand wise. So, first we will talk about an acoustic guitar’s body parts. While looking at the above image, you can find that a guitar has three main parts.
i)Top Head ii)Neck iii) Body
This is the top part of a guitar where the ‘Tuning Machine Head’ gets fixed to tune the strings. Normally in a good guitar these machine heads or tuning pegs should be smooth, i.e., should be easy to tighten or loosen. The quality of a guitar can be determined from this too. If the machine head is not smoother or you find it hard to move it that means the quality is cheaper. It may not bring you immediate problems, but in the longer run you may find it tough. Some high-end and branded guitar comes with high quality machine head but it totally depends on the kind of guitar you are looking for. If you are looking for a basic guitar, a normal and smooth machine head is good enough to solve your purpose.
When you look at the back side of the top head, please check if the machine head is screwed properly and it is strongly fixed with the wood. If you find the screws are not fixed properly or that they are loose, avoid buying this guitar.
A guitar neck is a very important part which connects the top head and main body of the guitar. This part is also called ‘Fret board’ or ‘Fingerboard’. Normally the wood which is used for this part is rosewood. It contains ‘Nut’ on top and frets. The fingerboard wood varies according to the quality of the guitar. Most of the economical guitars will have very basic rosewood used, whereas the expensive ones will have high quality rosewood. No matter whether you buy a very basic guitar or an expensive one, the fingerboard should be smooth so that you can easily move your fingers up and down. Please remember that for a basic learner, the smoother the fingerboard, the better it is. Initially, you may not require using the entire fingerboard but later on when you use, you should be able to move your fingers smoothly and freely. So, when you buy a guitar you should keep this in your mind.
The above image is of a medium sized guitar. There are mainly three sizes of guitars available in the market, Junior, Medium and Jumbo. If you are buying for a 7-10 years old kid, then you should buy the junior size. There is no point in buying a medium sized guitar for an 8 years old student keeping the future n mind. The reason – a student should feel comfortable holding the guitar. They can only play the guitar freely if they can hold the guitar comfortably. For teenagers and adult, again it is dependent on which size of guitar they can hold properly. A jumbo size is little bigger in body size than a Medium sized guitar. The sound too will be little better in Jumbo guitar because of its body shape and size. But for a beginner it will be better if they start with medium size.
Earlier, there were not much cut away guitars available but nowadays it is available right from beginners’ level. Cut away design gives freedom to play easily till the last fret of the fingerboard. So, preferably select the cut away design. Body part of the guitar also contains Bridge, bridge pins, saddle and body wood.
When we talk about wood in guitar, the most important wood is the top wood which affects the total tonal quality of an acoustic guitar. Mostly, in guitars, top wood is always made of spruce. There are two types of wood used, solid and laminated. Solid means single piece of wood and laminated means sheets of wood glued or attached to each other. You must look into the top wood when you buy a guitar. Solid wood top are expensive guitars and if you have budget, there is nothing better. But if you want to go in for an affordable basic guitar, make sure that the top should have at least laminated spruce. There are guitars which are so basic and are made of simple ply. If you are looking for long term learning, avoid the ply. When you are new, you may not have the knowledge of quality tone. But once you spend six month or a year, you will surely find the difference between a good tonal quality guitar and the normal guitar. At that point of time if you have a good quality guitar, you will keep enjoying it and if you don’t, then you will sure lose your interest. So, it is always advisable to select a little better guitar than the very basic one from the starting so that you can enjoy it for a long period of time.
The other most important part in the body of a guitar is “Truss Rod”. It gets fixed just at the back of the fingerboard and can be visible if you look at it from the sound hole, just below the fingerboard. It has a very important role to play in an acoustic guitar in the long run. Normally, in Indian climatic conditions, the fingerboard get stressed or worp. If you have truss rod in your guitar, you can always straighten the fingerboard and continue playing the same way. If the guitar does not have truss rod in it, it will be very difficult to make it right once the fingerboard get stressed out or bent. Then, there is no other option but to change the guitar. So, it is very important to have a guitar with truss rod fixed in it.
2. Don’t look for the brand, but sound:
Music is all about sound and good sound quality gets produced by the quality of wood. In the market you may get hundreds of brands both local and imported. Different brands have their own quality or construction made by different wood. When you go to select a guitar, please make sure that you should only focus on the tonal quality of guitar rather than any brand. It is possible that you may get quality sound in a cheaper guitar as well. So, select the one with the sound or tonal quality you like the most. After all it is you who is going to spend time with the guitar. Try to visit such stores which have a variety of guitars so that you can select the best out of many guitars. Check the sound of few guitars. If you can’t play, ask the sales person to play for you.
3. Stay calm and composed at the store:
Once you step in to a store, the sales person will welcome you with smile. Once they come to know about your purpose, they will try to show you the guitar which they would like to sell. Never mind let them do their work and you do your own. Remember, you have visited there to provide them business so always stay calm and composed. Ask them what you are looking for with your own smile. Tell them your budget and preference. Accordingly, they will show you the instruments. In the meantime try to get maximum information about the guitars. Never shy away to get your queries clarified. Ask the questions if you have any doubt. Select the guitar which satisfies you with both sound and built quality. Once you finalize your guitar, ask the sales person for final check up. Ask him to play the entire fingerboard with each fret and check for any unusual or buzz sound. If the guitar has a buzzing sound, ask the salesperson to correct it. The buzz or unusual sound comes when the fingerboard action is high or low. With the help of the truss rod, they will clear the buzzing sound.
After you select the guitar, get proper Invoice and Warranty card. Along with the guitar some stores provide guitar bag, electronic tuner, one set of strings and few plectrums (picks). So, be sure of getting all these before your leave the store.
4. Respect and care your guitar:
So, finally you bought the guitar and you are on your way to become a successful musician. But wait, your work is just not only to play guitar and learn music but to respect and care the instrument like any living thing. It is a musical instrument and you must respect it while holding, placing or playing. If you are carrying your guitar without a bag, carry it in standing position holding the lower neck part. I would like to remind you that if you are entering an exam room holding your guitar the wrong way or casual way, be sure that your marks will be deducted. A musician is judged or identified by the way he respects and cares for his/her instrument.
If you are not playing your instruments for more than a week or so, please de-tune it one note by loosening the string tension from the machine head. If you keep your guitar fully tuned and don’t play it, the chances are high to get your fingerboard and bridge damaged. Also keep it clean once you finish playing it. These good habits will not only give your instrument a longer life but also keep you motivated towards music.
Finally, I would like to conclude my article here with my best wishes to you and welcome you into this fascinating world of music. Just make your own identity with your own hard work and practice. If you have any kind of query, please feel free to drop your comments here and we will make sure that you get your answer. Thank you all for reading this article.