Newbie Series Part1 : Buying Your 1st Guitar

Neal September 26, 2011 12

So you want to learn to play guitar but are unsure of where to start?  You’ve come to the right place my friend; this eight-part guide will clue you in on everything you need to know when starting out with your new hobby.


We are periodically adding to this guide so keep checking back for updated information. Everything in this series will also apply to our right handed friends so tell them to check the information out as well.

Part One : Important Tips Before You Buy
Part Two : Beginner Electric Guitars
Part Three : Beginner Acoustic Guitars
Part Four : Beginner Bass Guitars
Part Five : Amps
Part Six : Effects
Part Seven : Accessories
Part Eight : Lessons

Part One : Your First Guitar and Important Tips Before You Buy

First of all, a few examples of what I think are fairly fundamental ideas that will hopefully help you to avoid any newbie pitfalls.

Decide What Your Budget Is

The first thing to do is to plan out what your total budget is, and then when buying your equipment stick to that budget! You’ll most likely need more than just a guitar, so tally up all of of the equipment you will need when doing your calculations.  For example if you want to play electric guitar you will at minimum require a guitar, a lead, and an amp or effects unit.  Also budget for any additional expenses once you have your gear such as instructional materials, lessons, guitar stands, gig bag etc.. Playing guitar can be an expensive hobby and it only gets increasingly more pricey as you advance!

Buy The Best You Can Afford

As far as guitar is concerned, it really is a case of ‘you get what you pay for ’. It’s a false economy to purchase a cheaper guitar now only to spend more money further down the line when you realise that you need something of a higher quality. Start off with a great setup and it will service you for years to come and save you money in the long run.

Buying the most inexpensive guitar you can find will also risk discouraging you from learning to play altogether.  A budget guitar will generally play poorly and sound awful, leading to a lot of early frustrations.  My first guitar was a left handed Stratocaster copy by a company here in the UK, and my parents bought it because it was the cheapest thing in the store.  It was HORRIBLE, the neck was bulky, the tuners were plastic, the pots were crackly, the frets were scratchy etc etc..  To make matters worse, the guitar was part of a starter kit, so it also came with a cheap 99 cent lead and a 10 watt amp that couldn’t have been worth more than $20.  I can still remember having to wiggle the cable around until any sound would come out. Needless to say it played and sounded terrible and I quickly gave up trying to learn.

Five or six years after getting my first guitar some of my friends in highschool started getting into playing. I picked up a higher quality model and the difference was so evident that I kept at it the second time around.  So please, please, please, buy the best guitar you can afford in order to give yourself the greatest chance of sticking with your new hobby.

I’m not saying to go out and buy a $3000 Fender Custom Shop as your first guitar (although how cool would that be?!), just do yourself a favor and don’t buy whatever is on sale in your local Best Buy.

Consider Buying Used

When starting a new hobby there’s always the worry that after some time you may decide that it isn’t for you.  This can result in losing a good chunk of whatever money you’ve put into your new pastime.  The easiest way to sidestep this problem and effectively try out learning guitar for free is to buy second hand.  You can generally be safe in the knowledge that as long as you look after your equipment you will be able to sell it on for more or less what you bought it for.  Or even better, borrow a friend’s spare guitar for a few weeks before you drop your own coin.

See my eBay Guide for tips on finding the cheapest deals.

Keep It Simple Stupid

When choosing your first guitar you don’t want to become overwhelmed by buying something loaded with fancy gadgets and gizmos.  For example I would not recommend initially buying a guitar with a floating tremolo (floyd rose style) system. I cannot imagine the frustration a beginner would have trying to tune his or her guitar for the first time with one of those bridges.  Most guitars in the lower end of the price range with any sort of floating bridge will not stay in tune spectacularly well when using the bar and are generally best avoided altogether.

Looks Aren’t Everything

No one outside of your own family is likely to catch sight of you more than a handful of times with your new axe.  For that reason, if you are into metal don’t pass up a great deal on a quality Stratocaster just to get a guitar with an evil looking skull on it.  When you eventually come to sell your guitar so that you can upgrade there will be far more people interested in a Strat than a niche guitar with crazy graphics.

You also have to take comfort into consideration.  Your first guitar is primarily going to be something you play at home, probably in your bedroom, possibly in front of the mirror! You may think it will be cool to buy a Flying V style model right off the bat, but you are going to get quickly frustrated when you’re sitting at home and the thing keeps sliding off your leg… Don’t worry too much about aesthetics for now.

In saying that, don’t go out and buy something you find repulsive, you want your guitar to entice you to pick it up! Once you get some experience and have a better idea of what you need, by all means go out and buy something laser targeted to your niche.

Beware of Guitar Store Sales Staff

It can be incredibly intimidating stepping into a guitar store for the first time.  Unfortunately the sales staff in many stores are there for one reason and one reason alone; to make the biggest commission possible.  If your newbie ass ventures into a guitar store alone they are going to eat you alive, and you’ll come out of the place $1000 poorer with a guitar that they’ve been trying to shift for months.  Have a good idea of what it is that you’re after before heading to the store, and if possible take some guitarist friends with you.

Make Use of Internet Knowledge

Sign up to one or more guitar websites that have online forums (LeftyFretz has a forum!) and read the relevant sections – you can learn a lot in there by reading other new players’ questions.  Ask as many stupid questions as you like, people are always glad to help out newcomers.  They could save you making a costly mistake.

Now that you have these basic rules under your belt, let’s move on to the meat of this series!

Part One : Important Tips Before You Buy
Part Two : Beginner Electric Guitars
Part Three : Beginner Acoustic Guitars
Part Four : Beginner Bass Guitars
Part Five : Amps
Part Six : Effects
Part Seven : Accessories
Part Eight : Lessons


  1. chris tyrie August 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    just ordered a g&l asat classic. im not terrible at guitar but im not awesome either. i mean i know my minor blues pentatonic all the way down the neck in any key. and iknow all major chords just now getting into 7ths and advancing a bit. but ive learned mostly on a cheap acoustic (rattley ole thing) but i make due with it(IM POOR!!$$$$) anyway i finally spent the money its a telecaster style that i think sounded like gold. is this a good first electric guitar choice? in yer opinion? also im buying a peavey vyper it has a built in looper to help with lead. and lots of effects im very excited! is this a good choice as well? thanks for your time.

    • Neal August 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm - Reply

      The ASAT is a fantastic guitar – i’m pretty jealous actually! It should cover most bases, but might struggle a bit with the really heavy stuff if that’s your thing. Sounds like you’re a blues man though? In which case it is absolutely perfect.

      The Vyper should also serve you well, it gets great reviews and is super versatile due to all the in-built effects. A tube amp it ain’t, but certainly a solid choice for a first amplifier.

  2. Sloane August 23, 2011 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    Your hints have been the most helpful I have found on the web. Thanks so much.

    • Neal August 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks Sloane, glad you found the information useful :)

  3. anil October 19, 2012 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Hi, I am Anil from India. I am a left handed person.i am learning guitar from last 3mnths and my teacher recommend to buy a higher version of electro acoustic guiter. i shotlisted IBANEZ ael10le bk. kindly suggest, is this a right guitar i should go for, if not suggest some with left cut. my budget is $300-$400.

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