Buying A Guitar For A Beginner

7 Top Tips When Buying your First Guitar

So, you have decided to take up the guitar, or you have been left with the job of buying an instrument for a child who’s expressing an interest? Whatever the reason, let Freya Guitars Ireland talk you through some guitar basics to get you started.

There are several critical issues in choosing which guitar is the right choice for you, and this is even more important when you’re choosing an instrument for a child. As a parent, grandparent or caregiver, your child will be depending on you for help in making the right decision (of course this may not apply if said child is a teenager). The gift of music can last a lifetime, and can help build confidence and creativity.

1. Choosing the right size guitar.

This is especially true for children. A guitar that is too large will make it difficult to make the proper reach with both the right and left hands. Having your arm/their arm as high at shoulder height to reach over the guitar can become uncomfortable, and at worst painful. Having to reach too far for the first fret puts you/them at a technical disadvantage because muscles are already stretched, making it difficult for fingers to move properly on the fingerboard. Generally, adults are comfortable with full size guitars. Due to the generally slimmer proportions of the bodies on electric guitars a smaller person might feel more comfortable with one of those. However, at Freya Guitars we also carry a range of 3/4-size and 1/2-size acoustic guitars to suit a child, smaller person or someone that just feels more comfortable with a smaller guitar.

2. Buying big-brand-name as opposed to Freya.

Most major brand name companies compete with minor brand name companies for the entry and intermediate level player. Smaller brand name companies (such as ourselves) rely less on media advertising and more on customer service, care and knowledge. Obviously, the big companies factor in the cost of media advertising in the glossy magazines in the overall cost of the instrument. You may end up paying more for the brand name while the quality is the same. Somebody has to pay for the advertising…..don’t let it be you. Most of the time, €-for-€, you will get a better instrument from a smaller company. We keep our advertising costs low and pass the savings onto our customers.

If you want a good-quality acoustic,

For a good quality electric,

3. Buy a tuner.

As a beginner you most likely will not have a trained ear. Nothing sounds worse than an instrument out of tune. Playing an out-of-tune instrument will soon have others within earshot complaining. You do not need a very expensive tuner, just something that will do the job. Some acoustics, especially semi-acoustics, will have a built-in tuner as part of the electronics package.

4. Making the case for a case.

Most guitars are sold without a case. There are three reasons for this:

Number one is that it adds to the up-front cost of the instrument.

Number two – which kind of case do you need, hard or soft?

Number three – is a case really needed?

Which case do you need? If you are going to be taking your baby to gigs and putting it in the back of a van with all the other gear, then you need a hard protective case, a soft gigbag will not give it the protection it needs. You need a good hardshell case, and in this case (if you’ll pardon the pun) the extra weight and bulk is necessary.

If, on the other hand, you’re just starting out and only taking your guitar to lessons or perhaps to jam with a few friends, a soft case might be all you’ll ever need. It will protect it from the small bumps it will get now and then, is lightweight and usually has straps to enable you to carry it on your back.

If your guitar never leaves your house and spends its life sitting on a stand (not recommended if you have pets or small children) then you don’t really need any case at all. Sometimes the bother of getting your guitar out of its case can be enough to stop you playing it, and that’s not the point of having it, is it? No, better to have it closely at hand so whenever you feel the need to play all you have to do is reach for it. Leave the clip-on tuner (if that’s what you have) permanently attached to the headstock so all you have to do is check the tuning and away you go.

Remember to clean the normal household dust off every time you change strings.

5. Understanding what you are buying, especially if buying second-hand

Very importantly, only select a guitar you know is fully inspected, adjusted for easy playability, and has good-quality components. The guitars you can buy at the local discount shop (&  the type of shop that only carries them for special occasions) is not a good place to start. Here at Freya Guitars we get these in after every Christmas for adjustments, and in many cases the cost of bringing the guitar up to spec can exceed the original cost of the instrument. Hmmm…..not such a good deal after all, eh?

Buying second-hand is not without it’s risks either. Yes, there are bargains to be had, but if you’re not familiar with what to look for take it to someone who does, or have a friend look at it for you. Make sure this friend knows what he/she is talking about. Beware of a seller who claims “It’s never been used, it’s been in the attic for 10 (or more) years”. That’s the worst place you can store an instrument, the heat of the summer & cold of the winter will usually result in structural problems. Twice, in all the years I’ve been in the guitar business, have I seen a guitar that came out of an attic that didn’t have damage. Get it checked by a pro (like our own Robert) before you buy this one.

6. Buying a guitar from overseas

Nothing wrong with this, especially from a well-established vendor. However, bear in mind that if you do encounter a problem it will have to back to the shop you bought it from. Most of the time (99.999%) you will not have access to service (unless you are willing to pay) or be able to claim on your warranty here in Ireland, and it can take up to eight weeks from the time you pack it up and send it back, to the time when it is returned to you. Buy it locally and it can be serviced and adjusted locally. Here at Freya Guitars we provide a full-service workshop with fast turnaround times.

7. Ask lots of questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask what has been done to make the instrument easy to play.

Has it been checked over by a qualified person at a guitar shop?

Are the strings in good condition? (they can tarnish in storage – while not a very serious issue, it needs to be addressed).

Has the action been adjusted to make the guitar easy to use, and are the strings light-gauge rather than heavy-gauge for ease of playing (you can always change this at any time)?

A beginner will find the lighter gauges of strings easier to play.

Has the intonation been checked? This ensures the guitar plays in tune as you move around the fretboard.

Are the frets polished or do they look very dull? Most frets will tarnish in storage due to the high silver content in them.  No big deal, easily sorted, but important to have this done to ensure smooth playing. Of course, if your frets tarnish after you bring your new baby home it means that you’re not playing it enough……….

Has the nut (the bit that holds the strings at the end of the neck) been adjusted? If this is too high, and it usually is, the guitar will be hard to play near the first few frets – just where a beginner will be learning the first few chords. It takes skill and the correct tools to adjust this.

If the salesperson’s answer to any of the above questions is “no”, “I don’t know”, “what?” or “huh?” – no matter how good a deal it seems, no matter how low the price, run away. Don’t walk, run. You will not have support or help when you need it. Guitars are the same as anything else made from wood. As the moisture content in the air changes from season to season, wood contracts and expands, and your guitar may need to be adjusted to suit. In a shop that sells groceries & power tools, you will be looked at blankly.

A good shop may or may not charge you for this service, but usually they will give you the first setup free. After all, good shops want their customers to leave happy and thus become a return customer.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have bought a Freya guitar from us, we will provide these adjustments to the original owner for life, free of charge (and if you’re nice and bring us sticky buns and tea we have even been known to do it free even if you’re not the original owner of the Freya guitar).

All new Freya guitars are sold having had a full pro setup before you receive it.  At Freya Guitars, it comes as standard. This can cost you an extra €50-60 if the shop you’re considering buying it from hasn’t done it.

Don’t buy a guitar from anyone except a musical instrument dealer. Buying from hardware shops, discount grocery shops, seasonal shops or other discount outlets is not a good idea. After all, you don’t go to your doctor for advice on which transaxle lubricant you need for your car, do you? Always go to the correct person.

The quality and playability of your instrument are important. If it is difficult to play you will not “bond” with it and will become discouraged by your lack of progress. It should give you pleasure, not grief.

We often see well-meaning parents bringing their children in to Freya Guitars for their first guitar and believing that they should play a “proper” (read: acoustic) guitar before learning to play electric. Most of the time an electric is easier to play. Well-meaning parents come in to us wanting their child to learn acoustic guitar, when the child really wants an electric guitar. If your child dreams of playing the electric guitar and you believe they should play acoustic, you may well wonder in a few months’ time why your child has lost interest. Of course, the opposite also applies. Let your child have their dream.

Also, the technical approach for the electric, acoustic or classical guitar is somewhat different. If you master the acoustic guitar it will not necessarily translate well to the electric guitar. While the chords, notes and scales may look the same, the approach is different. Choose the kind of guitar you are most interested in playing, and one that suits the type of music that you like.

8. Avoid guitars and “packages” that promise to be huge value for an amazingly low price.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, should guide you here. Be suspicious when presented with guitar packages valued at €600.00 and selling for only €199. No manufacturer can do this. If it’s on sale for €199.00, then the items included, if bought separately, might, at the most, cost €300. There’s nothing wrong with an inexpensive guitar package as long as it’s good-quality, but it was never meant to sell for €600 in the first place.

If in doubt about what your needs are, bring a QUALIFIED friend/expert with you to the shop. If you are looking for a guitar to play folk music on, then the neighbourhood Death Metal Shredder is not the person you need. The opposite is also true.

Do NOT bring a brand-name snob with you. You are looking for value here, and the name on the headstock has nothing to do with this. Buy the guitar on it’s own merits, not what the name on the headstock is. A well-known US manufacturer has been caught importing guitar parts from the Orient and assembling them in the US, labelling them “Made in the USA” and selling them at Genuine USA-made-guitar prices. Here at Freya Guitars we sell a similar-quality guitar, but at a much more realistic price point.

Both are good. Very good. The Freya guitar sells for about one-fifth the price of the other. Do the math.

Have a budget in mind. There’s no need to stick to it like glue, if you find you like a guitar that costs €50 more and you/your friend agrees that it’s worth it, then buy it. Generally however, €50 guitars are just that, €50 guitars. Spend a bit more, your fingers and ears will thank you for it.

Here at Freya Guitars every Freya instrument we sell has been through Robert’s capable hands and comes with a fresh set of top-quality strings and a proper setup. As long as you own your Freya we will give your guitar a free setup any time you like, as often as you like, and to your own specs – the only thing you will pay for is any parts that need replacing (outside of the warranty period) and consumable items such as strings etc. Why shop anywhere else?

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