How To Buy An Electric Guitar

How To Buy An Electric Guitar

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  1. So you would like to learn to play guitar?  But you can not start without a good instrument to back you up.  All of those television infomercials trying to sell you a guitar for $29.95, you know it is junk.  But what are the options?  How can you tell the difference between a good guitar and a bad one?  What do you ask when choosing a guitar? History has shown that you can not rely on brand name either.  So just how is one supposed to know, how to buy an electric guitar?

    Going to a music store and having a member of the sales staff and ask a few questions then ask for your credit card is not what you had in mind.  So you start your trek to pawn shops and local music stores for used guitars.  What do you look for?

    First Inspection

    First, do a complete inspection of the fit and finish of the guitar.  Are the knobs still there?  Are the cover plates and pick guards in place?  Are there missing screws?  Does the neck move at all?  Is the finger board separated from the neck?

    Typical signs of wear are cosmetic and unless you were looking for a prime or collector guitar, these paint chips and stickers should not bother you too much.  It doesn’t take much to refinish a guitar.  Besides, a worn, "played" guitar is all the rage.  People regularly take a brand new guitar and age it to make it look older than it is.

    Things to be looking out for are signs that the neck has been broken or the truss rod is out of adjustment.  To check, sight down the length of the guitar.  You should be able to see if the neck is twisted or bowed very easily.  This is a sign that the guitar should visit a qualified technician.  Something you might wish to do if you like this guitar, but typically it is a warning sign that the guitar has not been taken care of.

    Much like not changing the oil in your car; A guitar should be cleaned and inspected at least yearly if it is played very much at all.  Especially if the guitar sees the stage a lot.  This is very similar to a dragster engine being serviced after every pass.  Things wear out.

    Also while you are sighting down the neck of the guitar, take notice of the distance of the strings to the fret board.  Us seasoned guitar players call this "action."  The action of the guitar is important for several reasons, but what action you need depends on the style of music that you are going to play.

    Metal and speed playing require a very shallow action, whereas blues and any style that requires a lot of bending the strings would be better suited to a bit more distance.  But too much might also mean a weak neck joint.  Weak neck joints will make it impossible for you to keep the guitar in tune as well as eventually it will wear out or break.

    While we are talking about neck joints, now would be a good time to inspect the heel.  The area where the guitar neck connects to the body is not always a joint however.  There are actually three types of heel connections.  A set neck is usually referring to a Gibson, Epiphone or Gretsch hollow body in that they are glued in like an acoustic guitar.  Very seldom will you see many solid body guitars with a set neck.

    The vast majority of electric guitars are bolted necks.  Usually using four, but sometimes as many as seven screws to attach the neck to the body.

    There is a subset of fairly expensive guitars that are called through neck guitars.  These guitars are made in one piece from head to tail.  Resulting in a much clearer tone transfer to the pickups.  Such guitars are made by Steinberger, Ibanez and Jackson just to name a few. 

    But we are looking at the heel for something special.  Typically nearly every guitar design made has a sharp, thin piece of wood that cradles the neck joint on either side.  These spots are notorious for cracking.  Look for a hairline crack where the base of the joint and the thin support piece come together.  A crack does not mean a severe problem, but it does mean that this guitar is not as solid as it could be.

    Plugging The Guitar Into An Amp

    Now if you wish to continue looking at this guitar, it is time to jack it into an amplifier.  We are not looking for anything with a huge gain here, so do not upset the clerk or any other customers.  A nice quiet setting on the amp will suffice.  First, make sure the volume and tone knob(s) are free of static as they will either need to be cleaned or replaced.  Next wiggle the cord around on the jack.  If it has static or dead spots, you will need to repair or replace the jack.

    Next check to make sure that all of the switch settings are working and have no static.  This will also tell you if you have any dead pickups.  But, should one of the pickups act dead, make sure it is not an active pick up by looking for a battery box on the back of the guitar.  The pickup battery might just be dead.

    Now make sure that if it has a tremolo bridge, that you have full function of it.  Take note of how easily it knocks the strings out of tune.  The tuning may just be an issue of not being locked down well, or just not played much, but many times it points to a worn lock down nut.  Also listen for a ping in the strings while using the whammy bar, which could mean a loose screw at the bridge or the locking nut.

    Now give the guitar a good tuning.  Play it in your style for several minutes.  Tug on the strings, make sure it stays in tune.  A worn tuning machine or peg may slip causing the ax to go out of tune.  This is not a desirable condition.  Also while playing, listen for buzzes and rattles.  Don’t forget to do a simple intonation check as well.  If the intonation is wrong, the twelfth fret will not be the same note as the open string

    If you have gone through all of that and have had no problems, you have found a good guitar.  There may be other issues, but overall it is a good ax.  Many places allow layaway, so check into that or now you can lay down that credit card, knowing that you found a guitar you can live with at a price you can afford.

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