We all gotta start somewhere. And if you can say anything about shopping in the 21st Century, its the overwhelming amount of options! Guitars and basses are no exception. There’s plenty of products out there and in order to be a smart consumer, you gotta know how to approach the hunting grounds. In our experience, here are 3 important things to consider when undertaking the search:
1) Pick Something That’s Going to Make You Play It:
It’s true that you’re practically chomping at the bit to start shreddin’ your stuff right now! But, as any life-long musician can tell you, that burning desire to play and noodle around ebbs and flows over time. Life gets hectic! Making time to relax and get busy with your music can be hard enough as it is, and experience will tell you that an ill-suited instrument can make you that much more procrastinate-y about it. It’s important to strike while the iron is hot and pick an instrument that isn’t going to make you feel like playing is a chore.
The key word here is Comfortable. Granted, if you’ve never picked up a guitar in your life, pretty much everything feels awkward at first. But certain physical characteristics of an instrument can make or break it for you. Body style, for example, is a big comfort factor. If you’re a three-foot-nothing petite lil’ thang trying to juggle an arched back jumbo acoustic, it might be a good idea to try a smaller body style before you go, “Yeah, this’ll work”. Guitars are made in all sorts of shapes and sizes so try as many different types of necks (widths, profiles) scale lengths, and contours. Some people’s arms are only so long and hands only so large.
Though some people aren't as easily discouraged...
Though sound-shaping qualities like tone woods and pickups are also major deciding factors , I recommend not auguring in on tone before feel. Tone is adjustable. You can change quite a bit about a guitar’s tone later on (different kind of strings, pickups, effects, etc). And yes, a good set-up can do wonders for some playing discomfort. But when it comes to sitting or standing, the way the instrument fits against your body and feels in your hands, you should take the time to pick something that doesn’t feel abundantly awkward. The guitar should work for you, not the other way around.
Next, don’t just go exclusively for high-end stuff. Sure, high-end is high-end for a reason: there’s nice stuff out there worth the cash! But it isn’t worth the cash if you’re not going to play it. For example: we all know that guy who pours money, time and life itself into neurotically maintaining that expensive luxury sports car, yet never drives it. When you’re in the music retail biz - especially from the repair/tech vantage point - you’ll see those people who spend a lot of their hard-earned mula on the high-end, expensive [insert pretentious brand name here] guitar only to never play it out of guilt or paranoia. Remember, an instrument is a tool to be used and enjoyed.
…Well, unless you’re just in it for the prestige and bragging rights. In that case, feel free to ignore me. I’m just gonna go home to my lowly, mid-range plebian guitars and freely enjoy the miracle of music.
When it comes to choosing a guitar, trust your instincts! If you try enough of ‘em, you’ll get a sense for what you gravitate towards and what you don’t. Try not to worry about brand names or price tags. Don’t bother about what works for [insert famous person] or the grumpy, elitist gearheads on those internet forums. Instead, think about what works for your style and your purpose. If you like the sound and feel of a Takamine over a Martin, go with that Takamine. If you like folk sizes, screw dreadnoughts! In the end, you are the one with the sense for what’s best.
2) Know How to Best Leverage Your Budget:
Here’s a little industry insider’s secret: a bigger price tag does not always equal a better guitar. It just depends on your definition of “better”. If you ask most folks, “better” comes down to getting the most for your money. With that in mind it’s a bad idea to rule out lower-end or mid-range options right away. Be Impartial When Comparing! This is also my gentle push back on the “Domestic Manufacturing is ALWAYS BETTER” argument that comes up now and then.
To clarify, keeping your green stuff red-white-and-blue is a great gesture of patriotism and helps keep our American luthiers clothed and fed, so absolutely do that for such reasons! But these days it isn’t fair to assume domestic-equals-complete-superiority. Modern manufacturing has managed to make the quality gap between overseas and domestic products pretty freakin’ narrow. The result is that lower-to-mid-range manufacturers have come to nearly rival most of their higher-end counterparts; these days to NOT try guitars in both camps only robs you of more (and possibly less expensive) choices. Remember that every guitar is different. Every guitar is a sum of its parts. Don’t let the reputation of one kind color your view on other kinds. I promise, Uncle Sam’s ghost won’t haunt you if you go for the Epiphone Les Paul instead of the Gibson.
Or, better yet, LTD ;)
Another way to make sure you’re getting the best deal for yourself is to Anticipate Your Needs. Know what you need and what you don’t. There are practical examples, like spending the extra $100 on that acoustic with a built-in preamp versus $100 on the acoustic with nicer tone woods. It comes down to what your musical goals are. Not planning on taking the local coffee shop’s open mic by storm anytime soon? Maybe that $100 is better invested in a nicer guitar. Couldn’t care less about solid tops; just want to get LOUD? Get the guitar with the preamp.
And sometimes, less practical examples…a Les Paul with those demon robot tuners that are flashy and cool looking, for instance. The future is here! But is cutting out the 30-ish seconds it takes to adjust your guitar’s tuning worth the extra couple hundred dollars in the price? It’s up to you, and your wallet. I write blogs for the living so, my wallet says, “No”.
If instruments are tools and tools are used to accomplish goals, ask yourself, “What are my musical goals? What will I be using this instrument for?” Recording? Gigging? Busking?
Wanton acts of reckless destruction? Again, my wallet says "No".
Keeping the objective in mind will help to better shape your decision making. Don’t know what your goals are yet? Then try everything!
Now, is all this to say that there isn’t a buttload of crappy products out there? Oh yes, yes there is. And that’s why you should always…
3) Buy From Folks You Trust!
Some of you may feel like I’m not encouraging discriminating taste when I say “try everything”, and I’d like to clarify. It’s true that there’s just as much crap out there as there is good stuff. That’s why you should always buy from people who are doing the crap-weeding for you and who’ve had enough experience to know what will be worth your money and what won’t be. That’s where we come in!
Pictured: The friendly face of customer service
Customer service is what we’re really big on at Bigfoot Music. As far as we’re concerned, it isn’t good enough for our customers if it isn’t good enough for us and ours first. Everything we carry here at the shop we personally and professionally endorse, and we’ll happily tell you why! You’re not gonna have us tell you anything different than what we’d tell a friend or family member because, funny, being honest usually keeps you in business. How ‘bout that!
So if you’re setting out on a new guitar or bass shopping adventure, hit us up at Bigfoot! We’re more than happy to take the time necessary to answer all questions, find out what you need and then go about the best way to set you up for success. And sure, feel to try a department store “guitar-in-a-box”, but I promise that if you see us first, we could save you some trouble ;)
Stay excellent and have a good week!