Buying your first guitar - Acoustic or Electric?


This to me is a no-brainer – but some folk want to dive straight into being the next Jimi Hendrix and insist I show them what a Fender Stratocaster can do, but wonder why when they try it - nothing much happens.

For a freshers or new start, I recommend a playable, second-hand acoustic.  This you can pick up anytime and fiddle with without wondering where you put the mains lead for the amp or the guitar fly-lead etc. etc.  Electric guitars need plugging in and also generally have to be played at some kind of volume to sound ‘rewarding’.  I personally can’t be doing with all that headphone stuff either – that’s not how the electric guitar was dreamt up by Les Paul.  He wanted to make some noise. 

An acoustic can be a nice piece of furniture litter to the lounge – Mom, Wife or Partner will love you more for it !  And you will be tempted to pick it up and play if it’s there...

But the Choice is Yours…

If you want to start learning straight way but don't have a guitar – no worries – I'll lend you one for the lesson time. Electric or acoustic…we can get you started without the guitar purchase expense if you simply want to see if you can apply yourself. However…it's best to have one to tinker with when you're on your own with no pressure, so what next?


Electric Guitars

If really can't resist the urge to go electric from the off there is an ocean of guitars that will suit any budget. There is definitely no need to be sophisticated at the beginner stage. Gizmos, knobs and switches only add to the confusion in early life as guitarist – in fact the world's greatest have never had complicated guitars. Eddie Van Halen spends most of his two hours on stage with one pick-up and a volume control. One of my heroes – Steve Marriott – of Small Faces and Humble Pie fame saw little point in anything past a Les Paul Junior for most of his rock and roll playing. For learning purposes you need no more.

However, Fender has introduced learning packages that are quite respectable with their Squier range of Stratocasters and Telecasters.  The Strat is more popular as it one of the most flexible designs of guitar ever built – the Tele – more iconic but straightforward and probably in the armoury of every famous player.  You need spend no more than £100 to acquire a workable Squier Stratocaster.  With an amplifier thrown in you only need to spend £150 – (but don’t expect to join a band with this type of amp – you’ll never rise above the drummer!).

It has to be said, generally the playing action on electric guitars can be more user friendly than many acoustics – but as stated early on – the convenience is lacking if you fancy a quick audible strum in a spare moment.

Acoustic Guitars

Most guitarists will agree that if you're buying acoustic guitars brand new, beware of instruments under the £100 price tag. Look for reliable names that you will see on main stages – such as Yamaha, Vintage and Falcon. Second-hand Takamines are rarely a bad buy but the professionals have sometimes spent £1000's on Takamines. Once you start coveting Martins, Martin Taylor, Guild and Gibson models – you are in for an expensive day out.

General Tips….

…if you're offered, or spot, a bargain. Remember, if it's too good to be true on Ebay – it usually is!!

You need to go and see an instrument and check some fundamentals. This is where going to a store is a good option. You also get the advice of professionals and if you spot something nasty point it out – they will usually fix it to secure a sale!

But if buying privately from an advert I recommend you consider the following….

1. How high are strings? If it hurts to press the strings and it's a long way to press them down to the fretboard, take a look down the length of the fretboard from the headstock and see if there is a marked 'bow' or 'bend' in the neck. There should be a very slight 'bow' but there shouldn't be a substantial bend - and, on cheap instruments, it's debateable whether this can be corrected. It involves tensioning truss rods – an art form and not for the uninitiated.

View the neck from here to check for bad ‘bowing’.

The old Aria is fairly flat.

The 'action' on my old Aria is looking very good for £50!

- the strings are close to the fretboard.



2. Look for cracks where the neck joins the body on acoustic guitars. Don't buy it if there are signs of the wood neck parting company with the main body.

3. Check the frets for indentations signifying intensive wear or uneven fret heights. This will cause certain notes to buzz – and you won't need any diversions like that when you are learning. There will be enough buzzes from your slip-ups without the guitar producing its own!

Cheap guitars are not worth a re-fret job. It will cost more than the price of the guitar!


If you want….for the price of an hour's lesson you can employ me to check over a guitar with you. I know what to look for.

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