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Choosing the Right Guitar


5 Things You Should Know About Buying a Guitar



This is the time of year when many people are looking for guitars to buy as gifts.  If you’re not a guitar player, you may have no idea what to look for.  It can be intimidating when looking online or walking into the big guitar store with hundreds of guitars on the wall. You may wonder why some guitars are less than $100 and some are in the thousands. This quick guide will help you to choose the right guitar for the person you are buying it for.  


1.    Shop local.  Work with someone who is knowledgeable and someone you trust.  Yes, Walmart sells guitars right next to bicycles, computers, and laundry detergent.  They are low priced, but what happens if you get a guitar with a warped neck or high fret? Is someone at the big box customer service counter going to re-seat the fret? Adjust the truss rod? Adjust the bridge saddle height? Will they even show you how to tune it?  Guitars are a musical instrument and you want someone who knows and plays guitar to help you choose. 


2.   Guitars need “set up” or adjusted. At AM Guitar Works, we set up all the instruments  we sell. Guitars are made primarily of wood and metal under tension from the strings. Wood and metal expand and contract in different amounts with temperature and humidity changes. Let’s say a guitar is assembled and adjusted in the summer in a humid climate, shipped overseas, warehoused in Mississippi, then shipped to Iowa in the winter. The guitar has gone through many temperature and humidity ranges and is going to need set up to play properly.  A guitar that is not optimally set up will cause unnecessary challenges to someone trying to learn to play. The strings may be too high off the fretboard and hard to push down.  The fret ends may be sticking out the side of the neck if they weren’t properly dressed at the factory or if the fingerboard has slightly contracted due to humidity changes. If it is difficult or too painful to play, it may lead to not wanting to practice and the aspiring guitarist may give up. 

If you buy a guitar online or from a “big box” store, you will receive a guitar with an improper setup.  This is true even of the big guitar store chains with local locations.  They are more concerned with sales numbers and moving inventory and don’t have time to set up all those guitars.  Your best bet is to purchase a guitar from a locally owned guitar shop and ask them to set up the guitar before you purchase it.  If you do buy a guitar that is not set up, be prepared to pay an additional $50 - $100 at a repair shop to have it done correctly. 



3.   Quality and Price – A guitar is an investment.  Do you have to spend a lot of money to get a nice guitar to learn on? The answer is “no”.  The guitars we sell start at around $129 and go up. I have access to lower priced guitars, but will not sell them because the quality just isn’t there below that price range and I don’t want anyone wasting their hard-earned money. We do setups on even the lower priced guitars we sell.  A properly set up low priced guitar will play better than a $1000 instrument that is out of adjustment.  

As a rule, the more you are able to spend, the better guitar you will get. Things that effect the price include  the type of woods used, solid top versus laminated top, quality of craftsmanship, features, finish, decoration, US vs. overseas manufacturing,  and the brand name on the headstock.  Yes, in some cases you are paying extra for the brand name. 

If the person getting the guitar as a gift is enthused about playing, I recommend a nicer guitar if you can afford it.  Many people still have their first guitar.  The ones who don’t usually wish they did.  Guitars are very personal sentimental items. 


4.   Acoustic, Electric, or Acoustic/Electric? – One of the questions I hear a lot is “Should I start on an electric or acoustic guitar?”  Well, it depends on what type of music they want to play.  If your daughter wants to be the next Taylor Swift, she probably would like an acoustic guitar.  If she’s more into Green Day, then an electric guitar is in order. Many people assume acoustic, because it’s basic and no amplifier is needed. 

If given a choice, I usually recommend electric for a couple reasons.  The main one is that they are easier to play.  Electric guitars use lighter strings and have thinner bodies that work better for younger people.  Another reason is they’re “more fun”, depending on what kind of music they like.  Yes, you will need an amplifier, but they can be purchased at reasonable prices.

Acoustic electric guitars are acoustic guitars with built in electronics.  This means they can be played without an amplifier, but when it’s time for playing at school, church or for a gig, these guitars can be plugged into an amp or sound system.  If you think that is in your future, get a guitar with the electronics built-in. Electronics can be installed in guitars later, but that’s more expensive than getting it from the factory that way.  Some guitars even come with built-in electronic tuners which saves you the $30+ of buying one.

For smaller children, there are ¾ size guitars available.  These guitars have smaller bodies and shorter necks, so it’s not such a long reach for shorter arms.  ¾ size guitars are available in electric and acoustic models as well.


5.   Final Overall Inspection – Look over the entire guitar to look at the general craftsmanship and quality of finish. Make sure there are no cracks in the wood. Feel the sides of the fingerboard to make sure that the fret ends are not protruding out beyond the fingerboard. The strings should press down with little effort.  Ask questions and advice from store personnel.  Ask them to explain the differences and features of the guitars that are in your price range.  If you are working with someone knowledgeable, it will make the job of purchasing a guitar much easier for you.




In Summary

You never know how giving a guitar to someone may change their life.  Guitars are one of the few instruments that can be played alone or in a group of musicians.  Choosing the right instrument for the aspiring guitarist can make a huge difference on whether they enjoy playing or not. 

At AM Guitar works, we’re here to answer any questions and help you find the right guitar to give as a gift.  All our guitars are set up for ease of playing and best tone.  We can also help after the sale with lessons, accessories and ongoing maintenance and support. 

We encourage you to shop local small businesses that you trust.  If you live in an area that does not have a local guitar shop, we are happy to ship to you.

Stop in, call 563-370-6810, or email us at  We’re happy to help.


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