Let’s face it, acoustic guitar shopping for the first time can be intimidating, especially for ladies. When I first announced I wanted to buy an acoustic guitar I had a number of guitar playing friends offer to “help” me shop. Since I have been playing ukulele the past few years, I thought a narrow, shorter neck would be more comfortable. But what would I sacrifice in terms of range and sound? In the end, I decided to turn to a small, local shop, Beat Street Music Company.
“Shop for a guitar like you are a blind person,” Beat Street owner Terry Vickery advises. “It’s feel first and then sound. Believe it or not, sound is subordinate to feel. If a guitar sounds spectacular, but is cumbersome to play, you’ll never be able to optimize that sound. The third thing is your budget. You don’t need your eyes for any of this.” Here are some other tips he offered:
Because women are built differently, certain guitars will feel better. Try different types and sizes. Look for different body shapes. Try some curvier models and deeper cutaways. Try different neck lengths. Does it feel good in your arms, or is it too bulky? Are you stretching too far up the neck?
Beyond shape, examine it for playability. For example, how easy is it to press the strings down, how far apart are the frets?
Types of wood on the front, sides, and back have a very definite effect on the sound of the guitar. The single most important piece of wood is on the top, the soundboard. It’s what is going to resonate and vibrate and make the sound. The sides and the back are tone woods, reflective woods. You hit a note, the frequency is created, and it bounces off the sides of the guitar to determine if the guitar has an edgy cutting tone, or a round warm tone, or somewhere in between.
Quite often a plain looking acoustic guitar will have a much better sound than an ornate looking guitar. Anytime you see a guitar that has a really fancy looking top, 99% of the time it’s a veneered or plywood guitar. The same is true of a painted acoustic guitar.
Bigger bodies result in a little more volume of air and produce a bit more sound.
Don’t opt for the built-in pickup if you will likely never use it. Most of the time, if it’s got electronics on it, it’s going to have a cutaway so you can play up on the second octave. This will have a detrimental effect on the sound of your lower frequencies because it decreases the size of the soundboard and volume of air in the “box.”
You don’t always have to spend as much money as you might think to get something that’s going to really work nice for you. When you are thinking about price keep in mind that, especially for beginners, there will be a much bigger difference between the $100 guitar and the $300 guitar, than the $300 guitar and the $3,000 guitar.