Do I need to buy an expensive guitar?
I get variations on this question a lot, especially around this time of year (and at Christmas). Right now, a lot of people start taking lessons for the first time or they get back into taking them. When that happens, thoughts usually turn to the quality of the instrument that they are learning on. Will a cheaper guitar hinder their progress? Will an expensive guitar make you sound better? Yes and no. Here’s what I mean.
First off, no they won’t. You do not need an expensive instrument to get started. My first guitar was literally falling apart. It was a strat-style electric guitar that wouldn’t even be worth $30 if I tried to sell it. Whoever had it before me tried to sand the paint off and stopped before they were finished, so it was covered in scratches. It was hideous. The screws were loose in the screw holes and the pick guard was falling off, only to be held on by the strings. The hardware was rusted too. But here’s the thing. None of that mattered to me because I loved playing it. The crazy thing was the guitar actually played fairly well. It was easy to play.
However not everyone is like that and all guitars are not created equally. My first guitar was pre-owned and whoever had it before me must have had it set up professionally (before they tried to ruin it). In lessons I’ve played a lot of guitars that are “for beginners” and helped people tune those same guitars and I have to be honest, they’re not fun to play. One common issue is that the strings might be very high off the fretboard. This can sometimes make it near impossible for a beginner to make any real progress. There’s a bunch of people who think that this “builds up finger strength” and maybe that’s true, but why would you want to give a beginner an instrument that an experienced player would struggle with?
People pick up music because it’s fun, so the important thing is to have an instrument that is fun to play. If having the most beautiful guitar you can afford will make you want to pick it up and spend time on your instrument, then that’s what you should start with. If you don’t care about looks and you just need something that feels good under your fingers, then that’s what you should start with. If you can, why not get both? Now I’m not saying you should start with a $6,000 guitar. Just remember that there is a difference between cheap and inexpensive. Then get you a guitar that you want to pick up day after day after day.
-Michael Hilbun is a New Orleans based guitarist and educator. In addition to performing and recording with numerous acts, he maintains an active online Skype lesson studio and teaches students around the world. He has a Bachelor of Music from the University of Louisiana. You can find out more about him at his website www.michaelhilbun.com.