Choosing an Instrument

There is nothing more dispiriting than playing a guitar of poor quality. It will be hard to keep in tune, and even when in tune it will sound bad. So, if you are buying a guitar, or renting a guitar, get the best one you can afford. Having said that, how are you going to know what is good, and what is bad, if you cannot play well yet? Here are some thoughts.

What type of guitar should I get? Basic choices include:

  • solid body electric,
  • steel string acoustic,
  • nylon string acoustic,
  • steel string acoustic with pickups,
  • nylon string acoustic with pickups.

There are other types as well, such as midi-guitar, Chapman stick, flamenco guitar, and more. For now, consider the above list as the basics.

A solid-body electric is the basic guitar for rock and also is used extensively in other styles. The techniques, the repertoire, the sounds are very different for this type of guitar. It requires an electric amplifier and cables as well. You can use it to drive your family and even the neighbours crazy, but have a pretty good time while doing so. Oh yeah, you can also use headphones and make your neighbours happy.

A steel string acoustic is the staple for singer song-writers, in various genres of music. They are most often played with flat picks, but fingers can be used for finger style playing. Sometimes, artificial nails are used, or individual finger and thumb picks.

A nylon string acoustic guitar is used by classical and flamenco guitarists, but also other finger style guitarists use them. They have a more mellow sound than the steel string instruments, and the neck is typically wider. A few guitarists (e.g., outlaw country singer Willie Nelson) play them with flat picks.

Both steel string and nylon string guitars can be purchased with pickups for electronic amplification. It is pretty easy to find steel string acoustic with built in pickups, and there are even a few nylon string guitars with true six string pickups. It is commonplace to find either steel or nylon strung guitars with acoustic microphones built-in.

A good quality guitar will not only sound better, it will continue to sound better as it ages. Probably your best bet is to go with a friend with experience to the guitar shop. If you have found a teacher, they should be willing to make some recommendations. You can also ask the guitar store salesman, but remember that they have a vested interest in making a profit, and not all are fair minded and ethical. I have met great ones, I have met arrogant ones, and I have met con-men in my decades of frequenting guitar stores.