Shopping tips for the guitar-minded

By Jeff Linville - [email protected]

Jeff Linville News Editor

Today is Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, but the turkey will barely have gotten cool before people’s thoughts turn to Christmas.

The ridiculous trend of pushing Black Friday up further and further means that the Friday sales (you know, the day you have off work and have nothing better to do) will be long over by Friday morning. Instead, businesses are starting sales around dinner time today.

I can’t offer you any tips on shopping for electronics or toys, but I will mention an area near and dear to my heart. I hope some of you give the gift of music. Or more specifically, I hope you help a young person get involved in learning some type of instrument. I don’t care if it’s the piano, harmonica, spoons or moonshine jug, music is a gift that gives back over a lifetime.

As a 27-year guitar player, I’ll share a few tips in case any of you are thinking of going that route.

There are two basic kinds of guitars: the kind that plug into the wall and the kind that don’t. Electric guitars hardly produce any sound at all unless they run a cable into an amplifier to boost the signal. Acoustic guitars don’t need anything; they make their own boost.

When considering which basic category to start looking through, think about what kind of music the intended recipient enjoys hearing.

If your kid likes Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran or some other singer/songwriter, then go acoustic. If your kid is rocking an AC/DC shirt, best to go electric.

The reasons is simple: they want to play their favorite songs, so the more the instrument can sound like what’s on the radio, the more excited they will be.

Getting beginners excited and keeping them excited is crucial in the first couple of months or else that Christmas gift will wind up in a closet forgotten.

If you go the acoustic route, remember that this is it. You don’t have to buy anything else. No amp, no cables, no effect pedals. You are done. Therefore, now is not the time to be cheap.

Things marketed at beginner guitars or student guitars are usually just cheap crap. Stay away from it. Buy a nicer instrument that sounds wonderful in the store — even if it means kicking out a little more now.

But hey, I’m not talking about a lot. Yamaha makes a nice guitar for $200. Just stay away from the $99 no-name brands.

If you don’t know the first thing about playing guitar yourself, guess what? Most of the folks who work in a guitar shop are there because they love guitars. Trust me, if one of the guys at Guitar Center says, “May I help you?” and you ask him to play samples for you, he will be thrilled. Then you can hear how they sound for yourself. You don’t have to know how to play to recognize yucky tone.

Electric guitars are a little trickier.

One website suggests that you pick a guitar similar to what the person’s favorite guitarist uses. If he or she likes Hendrix or Stevie Ray, then buy a Stratocaster. If they like Slash, go Les Paul. And if there really was an AC/DC T-shirt, try an SG.

The problem with that is you probably don’t know which guitarists are their favorites, much less what the heck those guys were playing in the studio.

Instead, let’s focus on what’s useful.

My first electric was a Stratocaster-style guitar. Bad idea.

I know, I know. It’s what I saw on MTV and what I saw guys playing in local cover bands. It’s a great guitar.

But it’s not right for a newbie.

Why? First off, the tremolo system (the whole mechanism the whammy bar is attached to) on cheaper guitars is usually terrible. You give the bar a shake, and the strings go all out of tune. Then you have to retune. The better models don’t do that.

And it’s not like you can tell a beginner not to use the whammy bar. I’ve had guests at my house who don’t even play guitar walk over and grab one up so they can get their hands on the whammy bar. Nope, not any more — I took the bar off my guitars.

Second, the tremolo is carefully balanced between the tension of the strings on the front and the use of hidden springs up inside the body of the guitar. When you tighten the strings, the tension pulls on the springs. In simple terms, trying to tune one string can cause the other five to go wonky. It’s like herding cats. It can be infuriating for a beginner.

Regular Les Pauls are great guitars, but they aren’t cheap, costing $400 and up. And they are quite heavy. I have one that weighs about 9 pounds while some other guitars weigh about 7.

The cheap Les Paul Specials hardly resemble their big brothers, but the Les Paul Special and the SG Special offer some decent playing ability in the price range of $150 to $180. And there’s no whammy.

The oldie but goodie is the Telecaster, which has been around 65 years and is still preferred by many guitarists. Unlike the not-so-attractive Specials, even the cheapest Teles on the market look nice.

The guitar has only two pickups, two knobs and three positions for the switch. Simple, yet versatile.

This would be my suggestion for a beginner.

Fender’s budget import line is called Squier. In order of cheaper to nice, the Squier line goes Bullet, Affinity, Standard, Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe.

During these holiday sales, a person might find a brand new Bullet for as little as $150, or you might find a used Affinity trade-in for $120 and have a slightly better guitar for less.

As some YouTube videos have demonstrated, a less-expensive guitar can sound great through a good amp. One challenge had a shopper spending $500 on a guitar and amp. The best results came with buying the cheaper guitar and saving the money for a nicer amp.

But we’re out of space for amp talk. Happy shopping!

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

[email protected]

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

comments powered by Disqus