Sunday, 27 January 2013

Confession #1 - Buy Quality Gear!

Most people starting out on the guitar can't justify spending a thousand bucks on a Fender American Stratocaster and another fifteen hundred on a Fender '65 Twin Reverb.  If you find that the guitar is not for you, you're gonna take a beating when you re-sell your gear.  But, if you buy the cheapest guitar and amp you can find, the guitar may be difficult to play and the amp will probably sound terrible.  You'll get frustrated and give up.  The challenge is to strike a balance between the two extremes.

My first guitar and amp cost me a grand total of $300 (Edit - I think it was $225).  The guitar went out of tune easily, and the amp sounded terrible.  It's a wonder I ever kept at it.

Tip: Avoid inexpensive guitars with whammy bars.  You'll be tempted to use it, and it will just throw your guitar out of tune.


Obviously buying quality used gear is a good alternative to buying new.  If after 6 months you decide the guitar is not your thing, you'll take less of a beating when you resell your gear.  Now, if you're new to the guitar you won't know if a used guitar from the classifieds is any good or not, so although it will cost you a bit more, consider buying a used guitar from a reputable local shop.  This lessens the chance of you buying a used guitar that has problems, and provides you some recourse if it does.  A reputable shop should try to help you if there are problems.  Ask the shop if the price of the guitar includes set-up.  They should either say yes, or tell you that they set-up all their used guitars before putting them on display for sale.  If the shop wants to charge you extra, well, I'd be leary about a guitar shop that was putting poorly intonated guitars with truss rods that need adjusting up for sale.


I love my acoustic, but for a beginner, I would recommend an electric guitar.  Why?  Because electrics use lighter string gauges, and thus are easier to play.  The downside is that you need to lug an amp around, whereas acoustics travel easily.

When buying an electric, be aware that the pickups on some guitars are "hotter" than others.  If you want a heavy metal guitar, then that's great, but if you don't you're going to have a hard time getting a clean tone from that guitar.  The sound is going to distort very easily, and distortion just 'amplifies' your mistakes, which as a beginner you're going to be making plenty of.


Guitar amps are a lot louder than you would expect from their stated wattage.  Consider where you'll be using the amp before you run out and buy a 100 watt amp.  As a beginner, you're probably just going to be playing in your bedroom or basement .  The other people in the dorm, house, and yes the neighborhood aren't going to appreciate your 100 watt amp, and neither will your ears.


I've not tried every piece of equipment out there, so I'm not making any recommendations   But I will share with you some of the inexpensive gear that I have and enjoy.

I have a Yamaha APX500 acoustic.  They are not expensive (~ $300 now) and I find it plays easy and sounds good.  It has a small body, which is much more comfortable for a beginner, and it has a built in chromatic tuner.

I have a Paul Reed Smith SE Custom.  Again, it was not expensive (~ $400), and it sounds good and plays well.  It's neck design allows easy access to the upper frets.

I have a Fender Frontman 25 amp. It's an entry level amp and was only ~ $100, but unlike my cheap first amp, it does have some tone to it.

I recently bought a Vox AC4TV 4 watt tube amp.  This thing sounds amazing, and can be had for ~ $275 (most tube amps are higher power and start at $500).  That's a bit much for a beginner amp, but if you are serious about the guitar you're not likely to regret having spent the extra buck.  It has a built in power attenuator so you can select 1/4W, 1W or 4W power output.  You may think that 4 watts would be too quiet.  You'd be wrong.  I brought mine home, sparked it up in 1W mode (at less than full volume) and my wife was closing the doors to my den in no time.  :-)


From right to left: Input, Tone, Volume, Output Level (4W, 1W, 1/4W), Power

Next Week's Confession - Tune Your Guitar!

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