Everything you ever wanted to know about buying your first Electric guitar…
Okay, last time, we talked about buying that first acoustic guitar.
Now, I know I gave you hell about considering an acoustic first, but some of you are just hard headed and you just wanna rock… 😉
We’ve talked about stuff… Hey we’ve even insinuated that many people are reluctant to invest too much money on a “first” instrument, because frankly, some people don’t have faith in themselves. It’s because of this that there is a very large market for inexpensive (read “cheap!”) guitars. It’s the place those damned “packages” come from! Companies are in business to make money, and one of the fastest sources of income, is “disposable products.”
So, music manufacturers and suppliers are eager to fill the market with cheap guitars, usually built out on the edge of the radar, in places like Korea and China. Labor and materials are cheap there, and it’s easy for the manufacturers to meet demand.
And it’s this condition that becomes the minefield for the inexperienced player. You get what you pay for in the guitar realm, folks. If you only fork over pennies, that’s exactly what you’re gonna get. That cheap guitar you just bought may look decent, but cheap guitars aren’t very playable, they don’t adjust well, and they’ll just slow you down. Nothing frustrates a new music student more than not being able to achieve success, because of shoddy, low quality instruments. Wanna quit before you even get started? Buy a “package deal,” and get a cheap guitar, and fulfill your dreams of failure!
I know this sounds harsh, but remember two things;
(1) I’m not trying to sell you guitars. I ain’t in the guitar selling business.
(2) I’m trying to keep you from making the mistake that 75% of all new guitarists make. And it’s a mistake that very few of them recover from.
A new guitarist can’t tell that the tone isn’t “quite right.” And they can’t tell you why they’re frustrated, because they lack the experience to know what to expect. That’s why it’s really important to take someone with you that knows the difference between a good guitar and a BAD one.
And it’s why you need to pony up some real cash to buy that first “axe.”
A good to high quality guitar will carry you through as you learn to play.
And kids, if you need to, PRINT THIS OUT and give it to your parents, as “proof” when you’re begging for that Les Paul…
If your parents are “helping” you learn to play the guitar, they need to understand that a cheap guitar is just like a Yugo. It’s trash before you even get it home and “it’ll be broken, before it’s broken in…”
Before buying a guitar it is important that you find out what has been done to ensure that the instrument is playable. How can you know that you are not getting a bad guitar?
A good guitar store will go out of it’s way to insure that you get what you need to succeed in developing your skills and enjoying a lifetime of music making on your electric guitar. It’s more than just getting your cash, folks. The music business is very competitive. Shops close every single day! So, it’s about getting you as a guitar customer for life. If they can guide you along, they can stay in your pockets and that’s gonna affect their bottom line. So, it’s in their best interest to help you get that great guitar you crave.
One of the things that they will do is inspect your guitar, to make sure that it’s in good shape, and playable.
Your guitar will be set up and adjusted, to make sure that it performs the way it was designed to. Even in the guitar “mid-range,” this is the “norm,” for guitar businesses. And, “mid-range” is “at least” where you’re gonna start, if I have anything to say about it.
Here’s a checklist of things you need to do, in order to insure that you’re getting a good deal;
1. Unpack and visually inspect guitar for shipping damage
2. Inspect guitar for unacceptable finish blemishes
3. Tune guitar to standard pitch.
4. Check tuning machines for proper operation
5. Check to be sure strings are properly wound around tuning post to maximize tone and insure less wear on tuning machines.
6. Check ring nut on each tuning machine to make sure they are secure.
7. Check neck bolts to be sure they are secure.
8. Do a preliminary inspection of action and overall playability.
9. Check to see if bridge/tremolo system is properly adjusted and is not pulled forward from string tension
You’re gonna come across a few different types of Bridges/tremolos. Here’s the three main types;
1. The Gibson type is the easiest of the three to use as it is just a curved piece of metal with the saddles on it, which can only be adjusted up and down by two screws, one on each side.
2. The Fender type is a bit more complicated to use. It is like the Gibson as it can only be moved up and down by adjusting two screws (one on each side), but the saddles are individual and can be moved one at a time to get a better sound and for easier tuning.
3. The Floyd rose type is different to both the other types as it is not attached to the body, it rests on two grooved screws, these screws help to make the bridge move up and down. A Floyd rose can be adjusted like the Fender and the saddles are “individual.” Floyd roses also have fine tuning which helps create a better sound, and much more precise tuning.
Gratuitous “righty” photo!
10. Play the guitar acoustically to check for unwanted vibrations or noises.
11. Plug in guitar and check input jack
12. Check pick-up selection switch in all positions
13. Check volume and tone controls
14. Inspect the string height or action at the nut. Get that ruler back out!
15. Inspect the string height or action at the bridge and saddles.
16. Inspect the truss rod adjustment:
There are a few different types of truss rods you may come across;
1. The Fender type
As you tighten the truss rod the neck will bend and give you a smaller action, and you slacken the truss rod your neck will loosen, giving you a bigger action.
2. The Cheap aluminium type
This is just a cheap version of the Fender type cased in a rectangle metal case. It’s not as good as a Fender, no matter what the salesman says. It’s a “knock-off!” Because of that, it’s junk! Hello? It’s CHEAP! Avoid this like the plague!
3. The Gibson type
Instead of bending the wood like the Fender type, the Gibson type of truss rod squeezes the wood making it bend in or out.
4. The Ibanez type
This works in the same way as the Gibson, it is just made in a different way. It is two rods welded at one end and the end of one end is welded to a collar, which is screwed onto the bottom rod.
Have someone who knows what they are doing perform the following work as necessary:
WARNING! If you screw this up, you’ll ruin your guitar! If you over-adjust this, you might as well just burn that guitar on stage!
(At least it will entertain the audience!)
17. Adjust truss rod for overall playability or action.
Okay, now that we have “that” out of the way… Get that guitar tech to do the following;
18. Adjust the bridge and/or bridge saddles of each string for ease of playing.
19. Check intonation of each string and adjust as necessary.
20. Cut string nut slots deeper to adjust the height of each string appropriately above the first fret. This is for ease of playing in first position.
21. File nut slot back angle to keep the string from buzzing inside the nut and help insure proper intonation and tone.
22. Hone frets if they are uneven and affect playability.
23. Apply fingerboard oil to fingerboard if the wood appears or feels dry.
24. Re-tune the guitar to pitch and check overall playability.
25. Polish your axe as necessary. Hey! I know what you’re thinking… and that’s NOT what they’re calling it nowadays! I was talking about the guitar! A shiny guitar is a happy guitar!
If you’re not buying your guitar from a guitar business, then you still need these steps performed, or you’re going to get ripped off!
A guitar tech may take a quick look at that prospective purchase for free, but… once you’ve paid for it, a good guitar tech is gonna charge you between $40 – $70 bucks to do this walk-thru of your guitar. Stop whining! It’s the best money you can spend on your guitar! Trust me!
And I cannot suggest strongly enough that you enlist one, to insure that you have a good, adjusted, playable guitar.
Here’s the last rule for buying a new guitar;
Cherish it, covet it, and gloat… You’re not a MUSICIAN… You’re becoming a GUITARIST!!
Now git! Go on… Git!