How to Buy a Guitar: Get on the Electric Train with This Guide

December 13, 2016 4 min read

Leather guitar strap with a lion laser engraved.


You’ve been watching your rock idols for a while and now you’re wondering how to buy a guitar.

With roughly 2.3 million guitars sold in the US every year, you’re in good company.

But it’s a good idea to think about what type of music you’d eventually like to play. It’ll affect everything from which body to go for, to what custom guitar straps you might like.

So keep reading and find out how to choose the guitar for you!

The genre of music you want to play will affect the type of guitar you go for.

If you favour rock, punk or metal, then go for a solid body guitar. Unlike acoustic guitars, they have no resonance chamber.

That just means they need an amplifier to really make any sounds. A combination of pick-ups and electronics pass the noise from the strings onto the amp and presto! Music appears.

You’ll have seen plenty of solid-body guitars in music videos or at gigs. The Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster are two of the most famous.

Not sure what a Gibson Les Paul looks like? Think Jimmy Page, Slash, or Zakk Wilde. Like the sound of the Stratocaster? Check out Jimi Hendrix, Bryan Adams or Eric Clapton.

Alternatively, if you know you want to play metal, choose an axe suitable to the task. Ibanez and ESP do guitars aimed specifically at metal players.

They have thinner necks to make it easier to move up and down the fretboard. That makes it far easier to play at high speed.

But if you’d rather play jazz, then look at hollow body electric guitars. They don’t have a sound hole like an acoustic. They also use different pick-ups than their solid-body cousins.

Hollow body models often have a warmer tone to their sound. That hollow body gives you extra sustain, which is also great for blues or indie music. Think Noel Gallagher.

Last but not least, you can also get electric acoustic guitars. Very simply, they’re acoustic guitars with pick-ups. You play them like an acoustic, but you can plug them into amps if you want to play in public.

But we’re assuming you want to shred like a maniac!

And don’t just look at it. How does your chosen guitar sound?

It’s amazing how many new guitar players choose the look of an axe first. But when you ask how to buy a guitar, you’re also asking how to buy a particular sound.

So don’t buy a guitar you’ve never tried. That’s especially true if you’re going to choose a used model. If its sound doesn’t suit what you want to play, you won’t get any satisfaction.

Try plucking a few strings to see how they sound. Can you feel the vibration of the note throughout the entire body?

Does the sound seem metallic, or warm? It depends on the wood used and really affects the sound you can make.

You’ll also need to pay attention to the pickups. If they’re oval-shaped with metal spots under the strings, then you have single-coil pickups.

They’re more suitable for blues or rock lead players.

But if the pickups are metal rectangles, then you have humbucker pickups. They give a great level of ‘growl’ to your playing, especially if you’re a rhythm player. They’re also fantastic to use with distortion pedals.

You’ll certainly be able to unleash your inner James Hetfield with those!

Will your chosen guitar be comfortable to play?

Flying V guitars look really cool. But they’re not very practical if you want to sit down while practicing.

And comfort is a surprisingly overlooked issue when people ask how to buy a guitar. But there’s no point buying an axe you won’t want to play.

So look at the distance between the frets. Is it a comfortable distance for you? Will it tire out your hands having to stretch your fingers too far?

Then have a look at the action of the guitar. That just means how high the strings are relative to the fretboard.

A high action means you’ll need more pressure to play a note because the strings are further away. Low action strings are nearer the fretboard and easier to press.

But if they’re too near, you might end up with string buzz. (If so, you can get the neck adjusted to raise the strings.)

Also check where the bridge is. Does it have string-guides? Does it get in the way when you rest your hand on the body?

Finally, think about what kind of strap you want to use. It can make all the difference in how comfortable your guitar is. And it can also say a lot about you!

You want a guitar to be comfortable to play, so be sure you’re happy with the bridge placement.

Don’t just think about how to buy a guitar – also think about how much to buy one!

You wouldn’t get your driver’s permit and buy a Lamborghini as your first car. So likewise don’t buy a Gibson Les Paul for $1000s when you’re starting out.

But you don’t need to buy the cheapest of the cheap to start playing.

Used models can be a great place to start. Look for more advanced players looking to upgrade their guitars and pick up their entry level axes.

Further down the line you can even consider building your own!

If you really want a guitar by a big name, then check out their lower priced series. Fender has the ‘Squire’ series which uses the same designs but cheaper materials.

If you’ve really got your heart set on a Les Paul, check out the Epiphone range that is Gibson-affiliated.

Bear in mind you’ll also need to buy accessories to bring your new guitar to life. Think:

  • Amplifers
  • Cables
  • Pedals
  • New strings
  • Guitar straps

So don’t blow your budget on an amazing guitar and find yourself stuck with a pitiful amp. As well as asking how to buy a guitar, you also need to ask ‘how much to buy a guitar?’

And if you’ve got your heart set on a guitar that costs more than a small house, don’t worry. Just use that as an incentive to practice!

So there you have it! If you want to know how to buy a guitar, then keeping these questions in mind will certainly help you choose the model for you!