How to buy an acoustic guitar
So my brother in law (Jim) wants to start playing acoustic guitar! Awesome! He emailed me asking for advice, and I was more than happy to oblige. This is what I emailed him. I think it has a lot of good info I've collected through the years. Hopefully my opinions jive with what is truth, and I'm not misleading anyone. Hope you like it:
Look at the inside of the guitar:
1. Is there excessive glue seepage around the joints? (i.e.
around the back to the sides, and the top to the sides, is there glue
"squishing" out of those 90 degree joints?) Just like anything else, bad
joints in guitars will eventually wear down from heat and cold, and the
stress of having over 100 pounds of string tension 24 / 7. Plus, it dampens
the acoustic properties of the guitar. Glue doesn't resonate nearly as
nicely as wood and steel!
2. Are all of the wood pieces nicely sanded down? If it looks
like someone took a quick file to the braces, then there's a good chance they
didn't do a great job with the rest of the guitar.
Look at the outside of the guitar:
1. Are there any cracks in the wood anywhere? If so, put it
down. Eventually those cracks will get bigger unless you have it repaired.
These things need to be solid, especially from the beginning!
2. Run your hand up and down the neck. There shouldn't be ANY
sharp edges from the frets sticking out over the edge of the neck. If you
feel one like this, and they have a repair shop, you may want to ask them to
file them down so their smooth. This happens because of humidity and
temperature changes in the wood. Wood will adjust to the climate, but steel
stays the same, so in winter, wood shrinks, and sometimes you're left with
sharp edges sticking out of the sides of the neck. But nicely set up
guitars have a bare minimum of this. Bottom line-if it scrapes your
fingers, get the frets filed on the sides. There's no reason to have to
play with that.
3. Are there two strap buttons? Not a big deal if you always
practice sitting down, but you need two if you want to stand up and play. And
after an hour hunched over a guitar, you might want to stretch your back a
little. These don't usually come with the guitar, so you might have to pay
a nominal fee to get them attached.
4. Are the frets nice and shiny? Has this guitar been on the
music shop wall for 18 years and is showing signs of rust?
5. How new are the strings? If they look nasty and rusty, don't
risk the tetanus. As the music store to put on a new set of strings so you
can hear the true sound of the guitar. If they balk, then wow, they are
some real cheap dudes, because a cheap set of strings can cost them about
3 bucks. If you really like the guitar, you may have to buy a set of
strings and ask them to put them on. If they say no, then wow, not only are
they cheap dudes, but they've been upgraded to total jerks. Walk away. Find another store.
6. How's the finish on the guitar? Is it really thickly applied?
This can really degrade a guitar's tone, although it will be very durable.
Look for a finish that's barely there, yet durable. It's okay to be able to
see the wood grain in the light reflecting off the surface of the guitar.
7. How are the tuners? Do they turn easily? Are they sticky,
gummy, or too loose? Tuning the guitar's hard enough without bad tuners.
8. Twist the tuners. Did you hear that "chink" sound? That's
the sound of a guitar string being stuck, then released in the nut (the
usually white piece of material with six slots that the strings sit in).
You may have to have the string slots slightly widened, or you can use a
very small amount of petroleum jelly or graphite (pencil lead) in the slots. Or you can
buy this stuff called nut sauce. I'm not kidding!
9. Overall, are there any marks, scuffs, dents, or dings in the
guitar? If so, and you like the guitar, then you can negotiate a lower
price. Hey! It's not brand new! Discount time! Make sure to look
on the back side of the guitar.
People with belt buckles should be very careful when they play
guitars because they scratch the heck out of the backs. And those little
rivets on jeans do an nice job of scratching up a guitar as well.
10. Take a guitar playing friend to the store and have them play it.
Stand back. Do you like the sound? Now trade. Do they like the sound?
11. Are you ABSOLUTELY SURE you like the color? That faded fuchsia
lasagna color may look great in the music store, but will it match your tux?
Things to consider...oh yes.
12. Does it come with a case? Negotiate the total price of a guitar with case.
That way, they won't be able to sell you the top price
for a cheap gig bag or case after you worked them down on the guitar
price. And is it the right case for your guitar? I bought a guitar once
and they gave me a case that "sort of" fits. If I had known to look for
that...things could have been better. It should fit easily but snugly.
Cases shouldn't force guitars to their will.
13. ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IS THIS... IS THE STRING
ACTION CAUSING YOU MORE THAN A "NORMAL" AMOUNT OF FINGER/WRIST/ARM PRESSURE
TO KEEP THE NOTES SOUNDING?
This is from the Kinman pickup guitar website. This is
referenced to an electric guitar, but I believe this works for acoustics as
Checking the truss rod adjustment.
1. The neck should be almost straight when the guitar is in tune. You can
check this in two ways. With the guitar in a playing position (important),
first eyeball along the edge of the fretboard, this will give you an
indication of any massive discrepancies, such as a banana bend or a kink.
Next, hold (in turn) each of the two E strings down at the 2nd fret and the
16th fret and note the gap between the string and the crown of the frets
(see fig 2). A gap of about .06mm or .003" (the thickness of a piece of
paper) is ideal but it can be a little more. If this measurement is
excessive then adjust the truss rod until at least one side is straight (due
to twists it is permissible for one side to be a little more bent). Don't
over straighten either side and remember to readjust the truss rod if you
change string gauges or switch between different brands, such as D'Addario
and DR which have different tensions.
I believe this is the major reason so many guitar players quit.
It's because it can be extremely difficult to play a guitar with high
action. Since most beginners don't know any different, they usually think
"Jeez-I just can't get this-it hurts to much. Maybe I'll try a cowbell." A
properly set up guitar shouldn't cause any pain to play, ideally.
I'm not talking about the initial time spent developing calluses on the fingers-I'm talking about the pain in joints, muscles and ligaments in a person's hands. Later, a
player with developed strength may want to use heavier strings to get more
output and tone, but this comes later.
14. How is the fret buzz? If your playing chords and really "whack"
it, is there a lot of zzzzzzzz from the frets rattling? It should be clean
and full. Also, take each string individually, and play each fret on that
string hard. Can you hear all the notes? Or do some do a "clink" sound?
If you can't hear all the notes, then this guitar definitely needs a
fret leveling done to it. Depending on where you live, it can cost about $75 and up for this.
15. If the guitar is hard to play, but sounds great, then it may
have to have it's bridge saddle lowered (or truss rod adjusted-see 13 above)
Both are best left to a professional repairman.