What’s that? You want to start playing guitar? Awesome.
It’s probably a good thing to get introduced. The image below runs through all of the parts of the guitar.
- The head stock (or just “head”) holds the tuning keys, and also helps to add balance to the guitar and counterbalance some of the string tension on the neck.
- The tuning pegs (tuners, tuning keys) adjust the string tension so we can (hopefully) tune the guitar.
- The nut is what separates the neck from the head stock and provides a smooth surface for the strings to sit in so they stay in tune.
- The neck is the long part where you place your fingers.
- The frets are the little metal bars on the neck. These give you different notes.
- Fret markers let you know where you are on the neck. Generally speaking, they’re on odd-numbered frets: 3, 5, 7, 9, 15. Usually, you’ll find a double dot on the 12th fret. We’ll get to that later.
- The heel is where the neck meets the body.
- The body is what gives the guitar its sound. On an acoustic, the body creates resonance and on an electric, the body houses all of the wires and circuitry that allows us to plug it in.
- On an acoustic, the sound comes out of the sound hole, but on an electric, the pickups actually take the sound and transmit them to the output jack.
- The pick guard does two things. First, it protects the wood from the pick, especially when you’re strumming hard. On some electrics, the electronics are actually attached directly to the under side of the pick guard. Bonus: Some of them are really cool-looking.
- The bridge is where the strings cross to go to the head stock. Besides holding the strings in place, the bridge on an acoustic actually helps to transmit the sound into the body so we can hear it.
- Strap buttons are there just so you can attach a strap and rock away.
- On an electric, there are additional controls – a pickup selector switch to isolate certain pickups or pickup combinations (for different sounds) and volume and tone controls.
Now the next question is really important. If you haven’t yet purchased a guitar, what should you look for?
The first question I usually get from a parent or a new student is, “How much should I spend on my first guitar?”
The answer is, “There isn’t a set price.”
Your budget will have a lot to do with it. Basically, my advice is to get the most guitar you can afford. A budget of $100 will buy a $100 guitar. Most guitars in a given price range won’t differ enough to worry about. At least not usually for a beginner.
That being said, let’s try and limit the damage you can cause yourself.
The first thing I do is check the neck. Without a good neck, your guitar will never stay in tune and never sound good.
Take the guitar and look at the neck from the head stock toward the bridge, like this:
The frets should look just like the guitar above. They should be even and look kind of like a runway. Ideally, there will be a little “dip” somewhere in the middle of the neck. That’s actually a good thing – it’s called “relief” and it helps to counter the force of the strings.
Next, you should run your fingers very gently along the edges of the neck. If the frets aren’t finished properly, you can actually cut yourself on them. Normally, you’ll be able to feel the edges of the frets, but they shouldn’t be sticking out so far that they can cut you.
After making sure the neck is OK, do a general check. Make sure the guitar feels solid and all the parts fit together tightly and properly.
Running through this quick checklist will give you two things: First, you’ll know you’re getting the best instrument you can and second it will put you in control and not the salesman who is most likely working on commission.
Once you’ve narrowed down your guitar choices, take each guitar you like and sit down with it. Even if you know nothing, sit with it. If the guitar isn’t comfortable to hold, you won’t hold it and you won’t play it.
If you are either a smaller adult or are looking for a child, you may need to ask for a fractional guitar. I suggest either a three-quarter or seven-eighths sized instruments. Half and quarter sized guitars usually amount to toys unless purchased from a really good store.
Make sure the hand you use for the frets can reach all 6 strings fairly comfortably.
Now that you’ve got a couple that feel good, give each guitar a couple of strums. If you’re looking at electrics, make sure you plug both guitars into the same amp.
As long as the guitar passes the checklist, it’s comfortable to sit with and you like the sound, you’ve made a good choice.
One final note on choosing a guitar: I personally suggest a steel string acoustic. Acoustic guitars in general (whether steel or nylon string) will give you much stronger fingers and better finger dexterity simply because they are harder to play. Electric guitars tend to be easier to play and therefore, you may develop some sloppy habits starting on an electric.
Notice that I never mentioned any specific brands or even went near colors. Machining has come a long way and therefore, most beginner guitars are fairly comparable. Get started with a guitar and as you get better, brands and colors will become preferences that you can worry about as you are able to justify new purchases.
Play in the Key of YOU!