This is a question I’m sure plenty of guitar students ask, in some form, when considering purchasing or upgrading their existing instrument. It was certainly a question I toyed with and asked of my then teacher a few years ago. Can a decent or even half-decent guitar really make you a better player?
Well, yes and no.
No, in that it’s not going to turn you into a superstar of the classical guitar overnight. Only serious dedicated practice over time can do that.
But conversely yes, in that it can make learning and playing the guitar a lot easier for you. A good guitar makes it easier for you to work on becoming a better player.
This ultimately comes down to better quality of materials for the soundboard, better quality of material for other elements of the guitar, the guitar’s design and build quality. Improved quality across these factors can lead to a greater ease of playing. It sounds daft but a better built guitar will last certainly feel easier to play (in most instances, but there are always exceptions to a rule), you won’t feel like you have to squeeze the life out of it to produce different tones, different volumes or different tones at different volumes
Trust me on this one. When I first moved from a factory, or part factory built guitar, to a hand-built guitar (Allan Bull) it was nothing short of a revelation. The tone quality was stunning – deeper, richer, brighter, more clarity. I no longer had to milk the fretboard and strings for all they were worth like a stubborn old nanny goat to try to get sweet dolce tones from it. It also felt immediately easier to play in terms of moving around the fretboard. It didn’t feel like I had to fight the instrument anymore to play the music as I felt it.
I know of other guitarists transitioning over for the first time to instrument of greater quality who have had similar, epiphanic experiences.
I’m not saying that everyone should rush out and buy a luthier-built guitar. There are a number of considerations here, not least of all budget (you’re looking at a starting price of around AUD$5 to $6k for a hand-built guitar in Australia). Significant variations also exist within that rather enormous bracket of “good guitar” of types and styles of guitar, sizing, materials, quality and so on. What feels like a dream to play to one person, with melodious gossamer tones, may be another’s idea of trying to get sound from a tree branch. Different types of guitars sound can sound quite different, and the same guitar can sound quite different when played by different players. You always need to road test a number of them to find one that really speaks to you. And you’ll just know when you’ve found it.
If you’re looking to take your playing up a notch, however, you’re preparing for a higher level exam (7th/8th grade and upwards) or you’re getting into performing, you might want to give some thought to treating yourself to a quality instrument.