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The "I've Never Played Guitar, What Should I Buy?" Guide

Elton has been playing, writing and teaching guitar both professionally and as a hobbyist for over 20 years. He also writes...a lot.

Types of guitars

Types of guitars

Consider the Dream Killer . . .

Having never played guitar before, it’s hard to determine what you should buy because what you should buy is largely determined by your commitment to learning.

Millions of people before and after you face the same dilemma. How do I get started? More importantly, what kind of guitar should I buy?

Slow down a second. It's time for a bit of deliberation.

Slews of people buy guitars and embark on learning the instrument every second of the day. However, they often fail to consider, appreciate, or frankly, just don't know that the hardest work you’ll ever do is in the beginning. After that, it’s just plain difficult.

Most potential player’s aspirations end as soon as they begin. Hardly anyone hangs up their spurs one year in . . . or even three. It’s that first month in that kills guitar dreams.

Is Anything Better Than Nothing?

Is Anything Better Than Nothing?


It’s a number of factors . . .

  • The pain
  • The patience
  • The aggravation
  • The comparison
  • The sound
  • The interest


The Pain

Oh yes, there will be pain. After cramming virgin finger tips down on the grating metal of a low E string for a lesson, a lot of people never come back. That finger pain alone has made for more closet guitars than any single factor associated with the process.

It is painful and it sucks, intensely. To be honest, there's never been a viable way around it. Well, except for not playing at all. It all seems worth it after the feeling you get hearing yourself play that one clean note; that one clean chord.

With students, a tell tale sign of who would keep going and who would shirk it off after a lesson or two; their eyes. The students that can bite down on that bullet, get pissed at what that guitar is doing to them and say to themselves, “You don't get to win, guitar. You can tenderize my fingertips all you want. You’re going to sing for me.”, they succeed. There’s an inner reward for every note you wring out of it.

A new guitarist playing out one note without humming or muting it; they just light up. After that, they want more and they’ll get it if they have . . .

The Patience

Too many times someone will start to play and instantly want to make a grand, improbable leap from something like Mary Had A Little Lamb to Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing. Then, reality is the bad guy that has to tell them it takes time to get there, if you ever can at all.

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Trying to explain to someone, who has never done their time on a guitar, that the nuance and technique needed to play a high level song takes years. Its like explaining why acting is hard. Sure, the guy in the movie is just saying words, just like you can also say words, but he or she is doing way more complicated than that. the concept doesn’t register.

So, inevitably patience for the gain, is lost and they figure, “To hell with it.”

That’s sad. Not the saddest, no, but it’s pretty tragic. If you’re planning to learn, going to learn or are in the process of learning, know you’ll get better; just damned know it and one day, you’ll get to Little Wing.

Don't Get Upset

Don't Get Upset

The Aggravation and Frustration

Aggravation, for guitar players, is like the flu. It sweeps over newbie and old timers alike and makes you feel terrible about the whole deal. Yet, just like an illness can make your immune system stronger, so can aggravation. It’s what you do with that aggravation that counts.

New students that don’t “have it” right away will use that aggravation of (not picking it up fast enough, not understanding it all, not “getting it”, etc.) to quit. Old guys or soon to be old guys use it to push themselves to overcome whatever in the hell is pissing them off so much.

There have been 13 year old girls, that have throw down her guitar and walke out of a lesson and there have been others that stick it out . . . and became great. Age isn't relevant either as the same can be said of 50 year old men that have done the same thing.

The important thing is to overcome, and come back. Sit down, perhaps mutter a curse word or two and get back into it.

Aggravation will happen. Use it.

The Comparison

Too many times I’ve seen someone who has never, ever touched a guitar learn a little bit (I mean a very little bit) set a “goal song” (a song I would have students pick themselves as a goal, we’d then tear down the song and build up, with lessons, the means with which to play that song properly), they’d learn enough to play it through. Do it well and want to quit because they weren’t as good as the original guitar player. It’s rare, but it happens.

Comparing yourself (a student) to a professional is a losing battle. The pro has years of time in and you don’t. I’d tell them, “No one would quit driving because they’re not as skilled as a Formula One driver. You shouldn’t either.” Sometimes it would get them back on board, sometimes not. Still. It shouldn’t be done.


The Sound

Playing like Eric Clapton is one thing, sounding like him…a complete other thing. You might get close, that's a possibility, but you’ll never sound like the man. Don’t try. Do your own sound instead. You’ll find that’s plenty hard enough.

Many elements go into a player's "sound". Some find it to be incredibly easy to nail theirs down and do it early; for others, it's an ongoing challenge that covers a lifetime.

The Interest

Losing interest is without a doubt one of the saddest reasons I can think of to not play guitar. There is an entire universe of possibility in a guitar, why would anyone who has done the work or is doing the work, want to trail off and toss their guitar under a bed to be come an “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.” artifact months or years later. If you do stick with it and find yourself getting bored with the whole thing, watch Roy Buchanan

Roy Buchanan - Blues Shuffle (Instrumental)


...and wonder, “How the hell is he doing that?!”…and understand that you can do that yourself. It’s like a puzzle to solve. Only what you “solve” is added into your skills. it’s like leveling up. So, don’t lose interest, instead find another puzzle to solve and use it to level up.

The Guitar

Now, if you’re comfortable with what might come from learning guitar, I’d suggest buying an acoustic guitar to learn on. Here’s why:…

  1. You’ll get the purest feedback from an acoustic instrument, because acoustics don’t lie. You hum out a chord, it’ll scream it loud and clear that you did it wrong. There’s no hiding behind reverb or distortion. If you learn how to make things sound right on an acoustic, you’ll make them sound right on anything.
  2. It’s the hardest on your fingers. If you can take the brute force of an acoustics thick strings and build up fingertip calluses from it an electric guitar is a cakewalk. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to pick any guitar, anywhere and make it sing like a champ.

It's understandable that being hard on the fingers seems to feed into the reasoning for quitting mentioned above and rightfully so. However, pounding on an acoustic guitar is the hardest (other than learning bass) work (guitar wise) your fingers will do. Everything beyond that is "cake".

As said before the work you do on guitar is easier from there. Once calluses are formed on fingertips from playing on an acoustic guitar, you can play on anything, whereas someone who started on an electric, with its thinner strings, will feel that "pain" all over again should they decide to play on one.

The reason, of course, is the thicker strings used on an acoustic in comparison to an electric. Acoustic strings needing to resonate without the aid or amplification of an electric amp have to have more girth to create the necessary reverberations.

Guitar Bodies

Guitar Bodies

What Kind Should You Get?

A popular acoustic shape is the "dreadnought". A shape originally made by the Martin Guitar Company, it's now used by guitar manufacturers all over the world. It's considered the most popular shape for acoustic guitars, in general. It's said to have a "a bolder, perhaps richer, and often louder tone" than smaller bodied guitars.

Given the versatility of the "dreadnought" shaped acoustic, it's used as a "go to" guitar in learning, recording and performing with a guitar. It's been a starter guitar for generations and continues to be to this day.

Choosing a "good" one can be daunting for new guitar player. You don't want something too high priced, as it might not be followed up with dedication and a lot of play, yet an inferior instrument might "put off" a potential player with it's defects.

Fender, though not particularly known for their acoustic instruments, does in fact produced well made, well rounded dreadnoughts. Many of which are made for a very reasonable price. However, there are many manufacturers (Epiphone, Ibanez, Yamaha, etc.) with offerings in the same price range as well.


Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on January 29, 2018:

Excellent work here, Sir.

"it’s hard to determine what you should buy because what you should buy is largely determined by your commitment to learning."

I love that sentence because it is perfect, and I wish I'd crafted that one myself.

Absolutely true about beginnings. Making those fingerboard fingers do what they ought to is more difficult than a non-player could ever imagine. But I tell people it is just like riding a bicycle - once you've mastered them with your mind, they don't unlearn how to obey, they just get out of shape when you don't play.

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