There are lots of folks out there who are interested in learning to play the classical guitar, but are not really too sure what to look for when picking out an instrument. For a newbie this is completely understandable as there are so many different choices available these days, many for some very alluring prices too. Today’s post is really aimed at the beginner or those looking for the market entry point student guitar.
A guitar’s a guitar right?
Not quite. At the entry level side of the market we see guitars with cheap, roughly made plywood tops, often painted or dyed a bright orange or yellow. They tend to look cheap and nasty and they tend to play cheap and nasty too – no better than the orange boxes they’re made from really. These guitars, whilst seriously, cheap could potentially put you off playing! They are often poorly built, roughly finished, difficult to play (which you may not realise if you’ve just started out) and sound terrible.
Look out for a guitar with a solid top (the part of the guitar facing away from you when you’re holding it to play it), as this is the part of the instrument (aside from the strings) that most significantly influences the nature of the sound coming out. Solid top guitars will either be spruce (usually a lighter coloured wood, producing a bright sound) or cedar (usually a darker wood, producing a warmer sound than the spruce).
The “action” on a guitar is the height of the strings from the fretboard. Oftentimes the higher the action, the more difficult a guitar can be to play, particularly for the beginner as you’ve got to use more pressure to press the strings down. So check this out when you’re testing out an instrument (always test out if you can) and play the instrument for a while. You may be able to cope with a reasonably high action for 5 minutes or so, but you don’t want to feel like you’re running a marathon when playing your new instrument for 10 minutes or longer.
Watch out, or rather listen out, for any buzzes, hums, rattles or any other unusual noises. Even at the cheaper end of the scale you shouldn’t really be getting any of these annoying noises that will be detracting from your playing and enjoyment of the instrument. Sometimes it may just be a case of a loose machine head, which can be easily tightened up, or the end of a string vibrating against the instrument (solved by just trimming the string down). If the source of a buzz or rattle is harder to find I’d say that’s a big warning sign not to buy.
Not all guitars are made the same size – whilst all “standard” instruments are of a similar size there are subtle variations which can make a big difference over time whilst playing. Try out a few guitars and how they “feel” whilst you’re seated and playing them. How is the body depth? Do you feel you have to reach your arm a little too far? How is the width and the depth of the neck? Can you move your hand comfortably up and down then neck? Can you reach and play chords and barre chords with relative ease? If you’re smaller of stature, buying for a younger child or you have hands and fingers on the smaller size you may even want to check out a 3/4 size guitar or similar.
So, which brand or make of guitar should I buy?
Well, for a dirt cheap beginner’s instrument, for minimal investment of your cool hard cash (just in case you don’t like it after all), the Yamaha student guitars are not a bad bet. Don’t get me wrong – these guitars in the overall scheme of things are not the most beautiful sounding, but they are solid as a rock. For around AUD$140 they represent better value for money than other guitars at a similar price point. These entry-level student instruments have a solid top rather than plywood too.
I would then recommend taking a look at the entry-level student range from Alhambra. The Alhmabra 1C is actually a pretty bloody good instrument for the cash (around $500) and you can take your pick between a cedar or a spruce top. The playability of these guitars is very nice indeed, the finish is of very high quality and they are capable of making a pretty decent sound. Definitely a better pick of instrument than any of the others I’ve tried at this price point.
Most importantly of all – if you can try a few guitars out before you buy, I highly recommend doing so. Then you’re not just taking my word for it! Happy guitar hunting!