Top 11 Mistakes Beginners Make (And Regret) When Buying A Guitar
What to know before buying a guitar: Find out how you can avoid the common mistakes beginners make the most when buying their first guitar (No 10 is crucial)
Many beginner guitar players choose a guitar based only on how it looks, regardless of how it sounds. Others fail to set out a plan for how they're going to go about learning to play guitar at all. And the list goes on...
Read on to find out the top 11 common mistakes beginner guitar players make when buying their first ever guitar - so you can avoid making the same costly blunders.
Question is - have you already made any of the mistakes?
1. Choosing the wrong type (and size) of guitar
Hands down, the most common beginner mistakes many new guitar players make when buying their first guitar is choosing the wrong type for their needs. This mistake is number one in similar articles you’ll find for this reason.
So, just what is the wrong type of guitar anyway? First and foremost: don’t buy a guitar just based on its looks alone. Sure, it’s super important to love the look of your guitar, but don’t make this the primary reason you buy it.
The thing has to sound and play great first.
Secondly, there's the guitar body type to consider. What's the best type of guitar a beginner should buy first? You need to ask yourself do you want to go for an acoustic or electric guitar? Electro-acoustic, classical or a small travel size parlour guitar?
Our advice is that adult beginners start on a full-sized acoustic guitar. Even if you fancy playing electric guitar, you’ll hone your techniques, build finger strength and improve your overall playing skills better when starting off on an acoustic guitar.
Best guitar for kids
Depending on the size and build of your child, a general rule of thumb is a ½ size guitar is ideal for young children between the ages of 4-8. Whilst older kids between the ages of 9-13 should start on a ¾ length guitar. Older (or larger) kids and teens are good to go on a full-size guitar.
What are ½ and ¾ length guitars? These are smaller guitars that are suited to smaller bodies and hands. Don't try to save money palming off your old dreadnaught acoustic to your little one - they'll end up struggling to hold the thing, let alone play it, and their guitar learning journey will be over before it even began.
Best size guitar to buy a child? Depending on your kids' build and size, opt for a ½ or ¾ length smaller guitar. Not a full-sized guitar that'll be a struggle.
Many people will advise you buy a kid a classical guitar, but unless the child is solely learning classical guitar music, a smaller ¾ guitar (aka travel guitar or parlour guitar) is a better option.
This Is because the neck is quite a bit wider on the average nylon-stringed classical guitar as opposed to a steel-string ¾ length guitar. This makes them tricker to initially play, plus the sound of the nylon strings doesn’t exactly suit many contemporary pop styles the average kid would want to learn.
The Fix: Whether buying a guitar for yourself or for a child, get advice from a salesperson in a guitar store. Don't just take the word of one person either - try a few different shops as some sales reps may try to push stock they need to shift on you.
Youtube also has some great guitar reviews where you can hear the guitar being played if you can't get to a shop for you to give the once-over.
Pro Tip: Don't let anyone in a music shop pressure you into A) buying a guitar that's way out of your budget, or, B) believing that you just have to buy that feature-rich £500/$650 100 watt amp to compliment your new guitar.
2. Not playing or hearing the guitar before you buy
Sure, I get it. The thought of going into a music shop as a beginner guitar player and being handed a guitar by a smiling sales rep saying “Here, try it out!” fills you with dread and makes you want to curl up in a ball and hide.
The thing is though, mistake number one in this list (choosing the wrong type of guitar) can be avoided if you try before you buy. You’ll know the guitar is the right feel and size for you. You’ll know if you like how it sounds.
The Fix: Because you can often get amazing deals buying a guitar online or you may not have a decent music shop nearby to visit, here are some tips for testing out a guitar before you buy:
- If buying your first guitar in a music shop, ask to use one of the private sound rooms to try the guitar out on your own.
- Ask the sales guy or gal to play the guitar for you. They’re almost wishing you would ask so they can not only demo how the guitar sounds but show off some of their best chops.
- Youtube is your friend. Found an amazing price in an online shop for a highly recommended guitar? Head over to Youtube - you’re almost guaranteed some nice chap or chapess has a live demo of them playing the guitar for you to listen to before clicking that buy button as already mentioned.
Classified ad warning
If you’re buying a guitar from a classified ad or website like eBay and Craigslist, ALWAYS go and try the guitar out in person. This way you won't have any nasty surprises, like that big dent they managed to Photoshop out or the horribly high action of the strings they failed to mention.
Yes, you can always return if purchased off certain sites, but who wants the hassle and wasted time? Dodge this costly beginner first guitar mistakes.
3. Thinking an electro-acoustic guitar is the thing to go for
This mistake is also known as paying for expensive bells and whistle features you don’t need and won’t need for a few years. To start your guitar learning journey you just need a basic guitar to get you up and running.
To give you an idea, you don’t need a guitar loaded with high-end electronics unless you’re planning to perform live.
The Fix: Due to the fact that buying a guitar with more features puts more barriers in your way, consider getting a standard acoustic rather than an electro-acoustic or electric guitar. This will make learning less complicated, plus you’ll get more guitar for your money when you’re not paying for pickups etc you’ll likely not use.
4. Buying an expensive guitar
I'll cut to the chase - don't unnecessarily buy above your skill level. As a beginner, an expensive high-end guitar will be wasted on you as you have no reference point to compare it with.
The acoustic guitar I started out on by way of an example wasn't anything to write home about. It wasn't too fancy, but it wasn't bargain-basement either. This made me work hard at getting to a certain playing level before I felt I could reward myself with a more expensive guitar.
That was a good move! It made me appreciate the superior sound and playability of the second pricier guitar when I finally upgraded. I also realised how much I'd come on with my playing.
The Fix: Get a decent entry-level guitar whilst you’re finding your feet with the instrument as a beginner player and don't pay big bucks. That is not to say I totally disagree with the mindset of buying a more expensive first guitar - if you see it more as you're investing in yourself and making a commitment from day one, it could prove to be a canny move.
When all is said and done, always bear in mind buying an expensive guitar won't make you into a great player. Practice will. So If you’re opting for an electric guitar for instance, ask yourself - do you really need a Gibson Les Paul Custom when you can’t yet even play Smoke On The Water?
5. Not buying a decent guitar
What’s worse than a beginner guitarist buying an expensive branded guitar for their first guitar? A beginner guitarist buying a piece of cheap junk for their first guitar. Whilst we all love saving money, when it comes to buying your starter guitar, don’t be a penny pincher.
You see the deal is, it’s all well and good if you find an amazing bargain on a second-hand guitar where you paid 60% less than what it originally cost, but generally with guitars - buy cheap, buy twice.
A general guide on a new guitar price is anything retailing under £120/$150, you’re on risky ground. £200-£400/$250-$500 and you’ll find plenty of great entry-level guitars that’ll last you years.
" Price is forgotten long after quality is remembered "
Buying cheap means you'll end up buying again sooner, rather than later because cut-price guitars are usually the pits to play. They're made from inferior materials making them sound and feel substandard to play.
Cheap machine heads for instance mean you’ll be forever turning up your guitar, and cheap electronics on electric guitars don’t make for a great experience when you have to keep messing with the pickup volume switch to hear any sound.
The Fix: If you haven’t got enough money to put a decent amount into your first guitar, wait a little longer and save up. Looking to buy an acoustic and think you need an electro-acoustic? As discussed in mistake No 2, you can get much more guitar for your hard earned cash if you ditch the electronics and get a standard acoustic.
With that being said, remember to get the advice and guidance from either a music store sales rep, or trusted reviewer online who hasn’t got an ulterior motive to recommending a specific brand guitar.
6. Choosing the totally wrong type of amp for your needs
When it comes to your first amp, bigger most definitely is not better. Many beginner guitar players think squeezing a Marshall stack into the corner of their front room is a smart move... it’s not.
You might have read your favourite rock or metal guitarists love a Marshall JCM 800 Stack, do yourself (and your neighbours) a favour though - don’t copy them just yet? Getting a huge loud amp as a beginner is plain old unnecessary.
The fix: There are lots of amazing sounding small practice amps perfect for home use and even small gigs you should buy as your first guitar amp. Check out our review of the best guitar amps for home use here in fact.
And whilst many articles on the subject of best amps for beginners would recommend you go for an amp that suits the style of music you want to play - whilst I don’t entirely differ in opinion, you do have to remember regardless of style, the essential skills and techniques ALL guitar players need to first work on span all genres.
When all is said and done, think building finger strength, developing solid timing and learning how to play chord changes smoothly and cleanly for example. So in other words; don't sweat the small stuff when it comes to your first amp.
If you’re starting on an acoustic guitar but know pretty soon you’ll be adding an electric guitar to your lineup, consider buying a good modelling amp with an acoustic guitar setting along with the usual electric guitar ones.
Pro Tip: Don’t let anyone talk you into getting a pure acoustic guitar amp when buying your first electro-acoustic. You don’t need one until you want to perform live, which for a beginner is a lot of hard work and practice off.
Modelling guitar amp recommendations for beginners and beyond:
7. Not changing your strings
Yes, the strings your brand spanking new guitar came with won’t be brand spanking new for long. Your guitar strings need regular changing.
Some beginners don't know you have to make a habit of changing guitar strings because old strings break easier more than new strings. They also sound dull and feel tough on your fingers to play thanks to the build-up of muck and rust.
Wondering how often you need to change your guitar strings? Check out our in-depth when to change your guitar strings article here that goes into the facts to help answer that question for you.
3 month rule
As a rough general rule of thumb for now, you should change your guitar strings no less than 3 times a year. Other variables will change this recommendation, so be sure to pop over to that string changing article once you’re done reading here.
8. Not tuning your guitar regularly
An out of tune guitar stinks. You need to get into the habit of checking the tuning on your guitar every time you play the thing. As a beginner, you want to know if you’re playing the notes and chords correctly. If your guitar is always out of tune, you'll never know.
That is to say, keeping your guitar in tune is one of those things all guitar players must-know they need to do before they start playing.
Tuning your guitar is easy once you practice doing it. Get yourself an electronic tuner and don’t initially rely on just your ears. It’s good practice to try tuning by ear alone, then double-check with your tuner how close you got.
The Fix: You don’t have to be Einstein to work this one out - yes, you’ve got it - make sure you tune your guitar every time you play. Your ear training will get better and better also as you’ll gradually learn to hear when your guitar is out of tune.
Because tuning isn’t the most exciting of chores, check out our guitar tuner recommendations below that make tuning lightwork:
Guitar tuner recommendations for beginners and beyond:
9. Not cleaning and maintaining your guitar properly (or at all)
A clean guitar is a happy guitar.
You can save yourself money and prolong the life of your strings for example by cleaning them and your guitar neck regularly. Get yourself a good guitar maintenance cleaning kit (which will last you for years) and never use household cleaners as on your guitar.
You’ll find many sorrowful stories from newbie guitar players who have paid the price for thinking it’s ok to smear their guitar with Windex in the hope of bringing out a shine. All that’ll do is damage the natural finish on the guitar.
So be mindful to clean your guitar with specific guitar cleaning products only.
The Fix: Follow these top five guitar maintenance tips:
- Clean your guitar body and fretboard to keep it fresh and prolong its life (see best guitar cleaner recommendations below).
- Always wash your hands before playing your guitar to prevent the oils and grime on your hands building up on the strings.
- Restring your guitar every 3 months minimum, making sure you wipe the fretboard down during the string change.
- Never leave your guitar in an environment that is excessively humid (either too dry or too wet). Consider getting a guitar humidity control accessory.
- Get your guitar set-up properly and serviced by a pro guitar luthier or guitar technician.
Guitar cleaning recommendations for beginners and beyond:
10. Having no plan to get lessons
Number 10 mistake on our list is one of the most damaging mistakes all beginner guitar players should avoid like the plague. It's pretty pointless buying your first guitar but then having no idea about the best way to learn to play it properly.
Don't end up being one of those people who think they can go it alone and not seek any type of guidance or tuition.
Did you know a massive 90% of guitar players give up playing within a year of buying their first guitar? This tragic throwing in the towel can be avoided if you invest in some guitar lesson. They will help keep you motivated, focused and progressing.
" Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. "
A good teacher will give you a clear action plan and help you learn the correct techniques and skills you need to start killing it at playing guitar.
Whilst in-person one-on-one lessons are always our first top choice for beginners and all level guitar players wanting to improve, if you live in an area where there aren't any great tutors or if you simply want to learn from the comfort of your own home, two of our recommended fellow online lesson resources are Truefire and Jamplay.
Both are bursting with great features that'll help your guitar playing progress faster than trying to learn on your own:
Jamplay | Discounts On Guitar Courses
JamPlay™ is the leader in online guitar lessons. Perfect for both the beginner guitarist to seasoned musician. 450+ guitar courses, 6,500+ lessons. Check out discounts & special offers...
Truefire | FREE 30 Day Trial
Truefire is one of the best places for online guitar lessons perfect for beginner to advanced players. Colossal 40,000+ guitar lessons, 30,000+ tabs, 20,000+ jam tracks and more...
11. Purchasing a guitar without essential accessories
As a newbie, it’s not your fault if you buy your first guitar and think that’s all you need. I’m here to tell you, there are some essential accessories every new guitar player needs to purchase at the time you buy your first guitar. This is on account of the fact that the right accessories make your practice sessions more enjoyable and productive.
The Fix: What guitar accessories do you need? The top 6 guitar accessories every guitar player needs are a guitar tuner, spare strings, guitar picks, guitar stand, footstool and a guitar case.
Because there's a confusing amount of choice out there, we’ve taken the headache out of your decision and found the best recommended accessories for your guitar listed below:
BONUS: Top beginner guitar player mistake to avoid going forwards
12. Shiny new object Syndrome
So, you’ve brought your new guitar, it’s 3 months into your learning journey and on your lunch break you stumbled across this video on Youtube showing you how amazing this certain brand guitar is.
Before you know it, hours of research later, armed with the knowledge of what a spruce top and rosewood fretboard can add to your life - you’re sheepishly buying guitar number 2.
New things are nice. Nobody will argue with you on this.
Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking amassing a huge collection of guitars (that’ll likely end up just gathering dust) is going to make you a better player. That is to say, learn to play your first guitar to a great level, then treat yourself down the line to a new guitar. This is the sensible (and less expensive) move. Ultimately, it’s your choice.
Summing it up
The top mistakes beginners should avoid when buying their first guitar covered in this article are:
- Choosing the wrong type (and size) of guitar
- Not playing or hearing the guitar before you buy
- Thinking an electro-acoustic guitar is the thing to go for
- Buying an expensive guitar
- Not buying a decent guitar
- Choosing the totally wrong type of amp for your needs
- Not changing your strings
- Not tuning your guitar regularly
- Not cleaning and maintaining your guitar properly (or at all)
- Having no plan to get lessons
- Purchasing a guitar without essential accessories
- BONUS: Shiny new object Syndrome
Now you know them, you can be smart and avoid the mistakes your guitar playing peers have made before you.
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