Guitar Shopping: The What, the Why, & the How with Music on The Move Studios’ Caitie Thompson
To put it short: I know VERY LITTLE about guitars. As a baby songwriter, I knew even less. So, I figured: what better way to make it easier for the next generation of songwriters, than to have all the questions I have answered by a professional! That professional is my amazing business partner — and guitar goddess — Caitie Thompson.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s get right down it!
EM: Caitie, Does size matter? (ha!)
CT: Absolutely! If you are a younger student, or a smaller-statured individual, you need to consider the length and body size of the guitar. In terms of acoustic guitars, a three-quarter sized acoustic is suitable for students between the ages of 6 to 10 years. A “folk style” acoustic is suitable for ages 10 and up, or smaller statured individuals. The body style is smaller than a dreadnought, and it is rounded, which is very comfortable for most players. Many teenagers and adults are capable of playing full-sized dreadnought acoustics, which tend to produce a louder, more full sound. I am a shorter female, so even though I can play a full-sized dreadnought, the folk styles are my favorite in terms of comfort. because they fit my short t-rex arms better!
When it comes to electric guitars, again, a three-quarter size for students 6-10 years will be the best idea. For adults, some neck and fret sizes may be more comfortable than others. There are “short scale” necks, which have fewer frets (around 22 frets), and “long scale” necks which have more frets (24 frets and up). You will want to play-test the guitar and see what feels comfortable in your hands. It is best to have an instructor with you, or a knowledgeable sales associate.
EM: Does the type of music you want to play affect what type of guitar you buy?
CT: I am so glad you asked this. One hundred percent, YES. Styles of music have been defined by the types of guitars that were used to record them. You want to play delta blues? Grab a folk style acoustic. You want to play 80’s metal? Then grab an Ibanez, or a Charvel with a Floyd Rose. That one has a specific type of bridge system that locks the strings in place, so that it doesn’t go out of tune. Do you want to play chicken-pickin’ country? Then grab yourself a telecaster and head to the nearest guitar pull, my friend. When purchasing a new guitar, always ask your sales associate to demonstrate the tone you can get. Or better yet, get on the good ol’ YouTube, and listen to different guitars being played by your favorite artists and bands.
EM: What’s a reasonable price for a new guitar if you’re just starting out?
CT: Okay, there is a lot of contention around this topic. I understand not wanting to invest a crap ton of money in a guitar for various reasons. What I can tell you is this: there are quality-made acoustic guitars out there for between $100-$200, and even some electrics! Just remember that if you’re going with an electric, you have to buy an amplifier, too! If you buy anything for less than this, expect it to give you problems. There is nothing wrong with buying used gear, as long as it is in good playing condition. If you find something in your budget, and you are not sure if it’s in good playing condition, ask your local guitar tech for advice.
EM: What kind of accessories should you think about buying?
CT: Ah, yes! Every guitar player needs their “case candy.” This includes picks, guitar strap, tuner, capo, polishing cloth, polish, extra strings, and truss rod key or allen key. If you’ve got an amp, you’ll also want an instrument cable. Also, don’t forget about the guitar case, a guitar stand, and even a music stand.
EM: If you’re a beginner, should you consider private lessons, or is YouTube really that helpful?
CT: Okay. There’s a lot to unpack here. YouTube is a great supplemental tool. I’m not saying you can’t learn from it, but the problem is that there is a very vast sea of information out there, and knowing where to begin can really be a struggle. Also, you can’t ask questions in real time. So, my best advice to you is invest in the lessons. You will learn faster with a guided process rather than trying to make sense of so much information, all at once. The guitar is not nearly as easy to learn as most people think. It requires dedication, time, and patience. While YouTube can teach you cool tricks here and there, an instructor can give you the foundation you need to be successful.
EM: When buying an electric guitar, how important is your choice of amplifier?
CT: In some circles, choosing the right amplifier is actually more important than choosing the right guitar. The right amplifier can make you sound incredible, or really, really bad, regardless of your choice in guitar. Again, this goes back to what kind of music you want to be able to play. If you aren’t sure, then choose something that has the capability of giving you multiple types of amp tones. This is called a “modeling” amplifier, because it can model many different popular amp sounds. They’re relatively inexpensive and versatile. You can experiment with the different tones, and then invest in the right amp for you later on.
EM: How important is buying a “brand name”?
CT: In short, it’s not. I have owned hundred dollar knock off brands that sounded way better than the real thing. I have play-tested a $4,000 guitar that sounded like a tin-can next to my $500 dollar Seagull. Do not invest in something just because it’s a brand name. The best guitar player you know can pick up a hundred dollar cheapie and still make it sound amazing. The worst guitar player might have a $5,000 Gibson, but if they don’t know how to play it, the price won’t matter to the listener.
EM: What is a “set-up”?
CT: One of the most important questions yet. A “set-up” is a service that includes adjusting the truss rod, which is the metal rod that runs through the neck of every electric and dreadnought acoustic, which allows the guitar tech to adjust how high the strings sit off of the fretboard. There’s also dressing the frets — making sure they are smooth and level — changing strings, and cleaning and polishing. Any guitar tech or luthier can provide this service. You should have your guitars set up typically twice a year, unless you play professionally.
So, there you have it! Obviously, Caitie could probably write a book about all this stuff (maybe one day, she will…?). As we said earlier, if you have any more questions about buying your first guitar, guitars in general, or if you want to ask Caitie about her private lessons (because YouTube can only go so far…), shoot us an email at email@example.com!