The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Guitar

We’ve gathered the most up to date and relevant information for Australians when it comes to buying a guitar. We asked the experts and got top tips for buyers.

Introduction

guitar being played

People play guitar for a lot of reasons. For some it’s for the scientifically-proven health benefits, such as lower stress levels, cardiovascular health, and even mental health. For others it’s the innate magnetic draw musicians have on the opposite sex (which also happens to be scientifically proven). Most players, however, buy guitars for the pure enjoyment of playing music and having a good time with friends or family.

 

No matter whether you’ve been playing the guitar for years or are just a beginner, you’ll need to consider a few things to find the right guitar for you. There are many questions to answer:  Which kind of guitar should you look for? How much should you spend? Is brand all that matters?

 

If you follow the guidance below you’ll have a good idea what to look for when buying a guitar, whether it’s your first, second, or tenth. Considering that, at any given time, there are some 5,000 new and used acoustic, electric, and acoustic-electric guitars listed on Gumtree, your choices are fantastic – but can get pretty confusing. A little guidance should clear that up.

What Kind of Music Do You Want to Play?

acoustic electric

The first thing you should consider is what kind of music you want to play. This may also be your most important consideration, especially if you are just learning the guitar. After all, if you like the music you’re learning, you’re more likely to practice and get good enough to show off to your friends and family.

 

So ask yourself:  Are you a rock ’n roller looking for an electric guitar, or do you prefer folk music and classical guitar? Perhaps a better question would be, “Who are your guitar heroes?

 

For the most part, if you’re looking to play Sony Playstation’s “Guitar Hero” for real, or your heroes happen to be AC/DC’s Angus Young and Malcom Young, then you’ll want to look for an electric guitar and an amplifier. On the other hand, if you are absolutely in love with Tommy Emmanuel’s intricate finger-picking, then you’ll want to go with an acoustic guitar.

 

If you’re not sure what you like, or your tastes run across the musical spectrum, acoustic-electric guitars are something of a hybrid between the two. They have the mellow tones of an acoustic, but with the pickups for connecting to an amplifier.

Guitar Prices and Equipment Prices

Beginner Guitar Brands and Costs

 

If you’re just beginning, you’ll probably want to look for a guitar on the low end of the scale, maybe $300 to $700 (or even lower – there are plenty of inexpensive quality guitars to choose from). This will give you a more affordable path into the musician’s world, plus, after taking lessons and practicing all hours of the day and night, it’s possible you may find you don’t like it, and parting with it won’t be as painful if you kept your costs low.

 

Thankfully, there are plenty of great-sounding guitars in and below that price range that are great for beginners, amateurs, and even intermediate players. Introductory brands, such as Cordoba, Fender, and Yamaha, generally fall into this price range.

 

Keep in mind that electric guitars are typically more expensive and require the additional expense of an amplifier. When in doubt, spend more money on the guitar than the amplifier, because you can always upgrade the amp later.

 

Intermediate Guitar Brands and Costs

 

Let’s say that you’ve been playing for a while, and you’re really starting to enjoy yourself. Perhaps it’s time to upgrade to a better guitar. If you figure that better means more expensive, you’d be right. One can spend up to $2,000 for a really good intermediate guitar.

 

Guitars by Fender, Gibson, Martin, and Gretsch fall into this category. In this price range, you’re looking at premium materials and excellent construction, something that, when taken care of well, will sound great long after you’ve strummed your last chord.

 

Advanced, Expert, and Collectable Guitar Brands and Costs

 

Budgets starting at $1,500 or so will begin the climb into the echelon of famous brands and heirloom-quality guitars. If you are playing gigs at local bars regularly, or are just that much of an enthusiast, then the sky is the limit for high-end, limited-edition, and artist-signed guitars.

 

Most limited edition guitars or anything touched by a famous guitar player falls into this category. In 1992, for example, Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster – the very same one on which he belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock – was bought by Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen for some $2 million USD and is now on display at the Experience Music Project Museum.

 

Best Guitar Brands for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Guitar Players

Player Skill Level Best Acoustic Guitar Brands Best Electric Guitar Brands
Beginner Players
  • Seagull
  • Bristol
  • Cordoba
  • Epiphone
  • Alvarez
  • Art & Lutherie
  • Taylor
  • Fender
  • Washburn
  • Yamaha
  • Squier

 

 cordoba c5
  • Epiphone
  • ESP
  • Kramer
  • B.C. Rich
  • Fender
  • Ibanez
  • Schecter
  • Yamaha
  • Squier

 

  epiphone les paul 100 
Intermediate Players
  • Faith
  • Washburn
  • Vintage
  • LAG
  • Martin
  • Sigma
  • Yamaha
  • Epiphone
  • Fender
  • Guild
  • Walden
  • Taylor

 

washburn wd7s
  • Ibanez
  • Peavy
  • Fender
  • ESP
  • Epiphone
  • Squier
  • Schecter
  • PRS
  • B.C. Rich
  • Godin
  • Dean
  • Hagstrom
  • G&L

 

ibanez sa160fm
Advanced Players
  • Bourgeois
  • Breedlove
  • Brock
  • Collings
  • Gibson
  • McPherson
  • Martin
  • PRS
  • Santa Cruz
  • Taylor
  • Cole Clark
  • Maton
breedlove acoustic
  • Fender
  • Gibson
  • PRS
  • Charvel
  • Gretsch
  • Ibanez
  • EVH
  • Jackson
  • Schecter
fender american standard telecaster

New or Used?

When looking at the difference between new and used guitars, there are a couple trade-offs.

 

New guitars, fresh from the factory, are usually more expensive. However, it is virtually guaranteed that they’ll tune and play well. Plus, if something goes wrong, the warranty will cover it.

 

Used guitars are usually less expensive, naturally, so they’re an excellent option to get great sound at a more affordable price. However, they usually doesn’t come with any kind of warranty, especially if you’re buying from a private party.

 

When buying a used guitar, bring along a friend who really knows guitars who can help you determine if there are any problems with the guitar you’re considering and if you’re getting a good deal.

 

If you’re looking at buying a used electric guitar, make sure to plug it in and play through an amplifier before purchasing to ensure the pickups are still working well.

Guitar Size, Feel and Useful Accessories

Guitars come in different sizes, including different-size bodies, neck width, and overall size, so choose what fits your body, feel, and situation the best. Younger people, with their shorter arms and fingers, may have a hard time learning on a full-size guitar, for example. Look for a guitar that’s comfortable to hold and play in both sitting and standing positions. If it doesn’t feel right, maybe a different guitar size or style will suit you better. Keep looking until you find something you’re comfortable with and really like.

 

Don’t get swayed by expensive add-ons such as hand-tooled leather straps or a special case. Focus your purchasing factors (and your money) on the guitar itself, and look for the best-quality guitar in the best condition that you can afford.

 

Other guitar accessories, like fancy cases, straps, and tuners, can always come later. Perhaps the first things you should buy for your new guitar, if it doesn’t come with them, is a good case, a new set of strings, and a basic tuner.

Expert Tips

We’ve asked the experts for their advice on what you should look for when buying a guitar.

Here’s what the folks at Guitar Noize had to say:

Join a facebook group for guitarists or a guitar forum such as rig-talk.com, create a post stating how much you want to spend, what kind of guitar you want (electric, acoustic) and what kind of genres of music you like to play. There are always plenty of guitarists happy to help out.

 

Beware of fakes! Now this is a tricky one especially if you haven’t been playing guitar for long, some of the Chinese Gibson & Ibanez fakes are very convincing until you get them in your hands. If you are serious about buying an instrument Google articles on how to check for fakes, if you are worried ask the seller for the serial number and try and verify with the manufacturer. Generally if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Know the Market. It is very easy to get carried away when you see a guitar you really want but make sure you have researched thoroughly first to ensure that you are getting a bargain. Is the model new? Old? About to be replaced by version X announced at NAMM or Musikmesse? If so you may have a good case to haggle.
Finally, and I think this is very important, does the guitar include a case or gig bag? Every guitar should include at least a decent padded gig bag!

 

We also asked Jason Allman, Co-Owner of guitar pick manufacturer, Grover Allman:

PICKUPS

Broadly, there are 2 kinds of pickups that you will find in electric guitars, Single Coil and Humbucker. Some guitars will have just one or the other, and then there are guitars that will use a combination of both. The first electric guitars all used single coil pickups whose sound is often described as bright, clear and transparent. Single coil pickups lend themselves well to country, rock and pop styles.

Double coil humbucking pickups were developed as a way to eliminate the slight hum that can be produced by single coil pickups. Hence the name ‘humbucker’. These pickups produce a thicker, meatier sound and are most commonly associated with hard rock and blues style playing.

A lot of modern guitars will feature a combination of single coil and humbucker pickups which can be switched together to produce a wider variety of tones.

When purchasing a new guitar it’s important to play through an amplifier to hear the different tones specific to that guitar, you can then judge if this sound suits your style of playing.

 

NECK PROFILE

A Guitars neck profile is a very important but is an often overlooked area of consideration when buying a new guitar, especially for beginners. Neck profiles are often described by letters such as “C”, “U” or “V” in shape, this is in reference to the shape of the wood at the back of the neck. Modern manufacturers will often abandon this letter analogy and describe the guitar neck as being wide or narrow and use terms such as thick or thin.

No matter how it’s described, the neck profile has a major effect on how your hand fits the neck and how easily you can move from one fret to another. A lot of blues players prefer a fatter “C” profile neck as the chunky feel allows for stronger string bends whereas metal players often prefer a wide flat neck which facilitates fast movement up and down the neck.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to neck profile, it’s simply a matter of trying as many different types as you can and finding one that fits you comfortably. You should be able to easily move from one chord shape to another and single note runs should feel smooth at all positions along the neck.

 

FIT & FINISH

As they say, ‘The Devil is in the detail’. Particularly when purchasing an instrument at lower price points, it’s important to look for small imperfections that could have a big impact on how the guitar performs long term.

Pay particular attention to how the frets are finished, are they smooth along the edge of the neck? Poorly finished frets can have sharp or rough ends, also check that frets are seated and dressed correctly by playing up and down the neck of the guitar; frets that are not seated or dressed correctly can cause strings to buzz. A good value budget guitar should still have great finishes.

 

BUDGET

It’s always a good idea when purchasing a new guitar to keep in mind the intended use and ability of the player when setting your budget. Experienced players who are regularly playing live in front of an audience will most likely be looking for a more expensive instrument, where every effort has been made in the design and construction to produce a superior sound. For these players, the sound of the guitar as well as its durability will be the most important factors.

Beginner guitarists may wish to start with a cheaper instrument that still has all the features that they require but, when amplified, may not produce a sound that is as rich and dynamic as their more expensive counterparts.

When thinking of budget you should also factor in the accessories that most guitar players will need, the most important of these being. . .

 

Guitar Strap

Tuner

Guitar Picks

Amplifier and Cable

 

 

We also got a few expert tips from the pros at Guitar DownUnder:

 

Tip 1: Check out a variety of guitars at a music store that has a large range of stock.

 

Once you have a particular type of instrument in mind and an idea of the price range you can then start looking online.

 

Tip 2: Allow some of your budget for a setup.

 

Always factor in the cost of a setup in your budget.

 

A neck setup ensures that the height of the strings above the finger board are at optimum level for ease of fingering. The nut is also adjusted for correct height so that fretting at the first fret is not a problem. String length is also adjusted at the bridge so that the guitar plays in tune across the whole fingerboard.

 

Having your guitar action set up by a good guitar tech can make a huge difference to your guitar’s playability.  You will find an amazing difference when you play a guitar set up correctly. Most guitar students that struggle, particularly with barre chords, can probably trace their problem to a high action.

 

A regular setup is a must even for a new guitar. Professional players will normally have their favourite guitar tech and have their instruments setup frequently.  For a beginner it is just as important that their instrument is setup correctly so that they are not fighting against a high string action and incorrect nut height which is a sure way to invite failure in their practice efforts.

 

 

Tip 3: Try and view the guitar in person and do the following 5 point check. If you don’t feel qualified yourself then see if you can have a knowledgeable guitar playing friend with you.

 

  1. Check the neck relief for any bows or bulges at the neck joint. A slightly high string height is not normally a concern unless it is excessive, which could indicate major structural problems.

 

  1. Make sure the tuning heads are all operating smoothly, if not then a new set of machine heads will cost you up to $100.

 

  1. Check the sound board for loose braces.

The top of an acoustic guitar is strengthened by a series of struts on the underside of the soundboard. If they become loose they will create a buzz when playing. Do a check by tapping on the top of the soundboard and listening for any vibration that may suggest a loose strut.

 

  1. Check for high frets

Start from the first fret and play each note up the fingerboard as far as you can go. Listen for any buzzing or strange sounds that could mean a high fret. This will mean extra work and cost with your setup.

 

  1. Check for Belly Bulge at the bridge

A little bulge in the top around the bridge area is normal in an acoustic guitar because of the tension from the strings but check that this is not excessive or that the bridge itself is not lifting. Again this will cost you big $ to fix.

 

Conclusion: A high string action is not a problem because it will be fixed with a good setup, but if the instrument fails the other checks then it is better that you pass on this one and continue searching.

Buying a Guitar on Gumtree

Now that you’ve figured out what kind of guitar you’re looking for and how much you want to spend, your list has probably shrunken to a manageable size. Now what?

 

Take the time to sit down, tune the guitar, and play a few chords and riffs. If you’re just learning, take along your teacher or friend who knows guitars to help you out. They’ll be able to hear the subtle differences that separate a good guitar from one that’s bad or just ok.

 

As you should with any musical instrument, especially used ones, listen for anything that sounds non-musical, such as buzzing and rattling sounds. Excessive scratches, warped bodies and necks, or missing parts are probably indicative of a guitar that’s met some negligence and abuse and is not worth your time as a buyer.

 

Gumtree has a massive selection of acoustic and electric guitars, both new and used. The quickest and easiest way to peruse Gumtree’s inventory and low prices is to simply type in ‘acoustic guitars’ (http://www.gumtree.com.au/s-acoustic+guitars/k0) or ‘electric guitars’ (http://www.gumtree.com.au/s-electric+guitars/k0).

 

You can find specific guitar brands or models by being more specific in your search, such as ‘Fender American Standard Telecaster’ (http://www.gumtree.com.au/s-fender+american+standard+telecaster/k0). If you need guitar amplifiers or other accessories, you can find them easily with direct searches like ‘Fender amps’ (http://www.gumtree.com.au/s-fender+amps/k0).