Buying an Acoustic Guitar – Ideas for Presents for the Holiday Season

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

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The Christmas Holiday Season is fast approaching – some folks looking forward with anticipation, others with concern of “what to buy?”. A great present is an acoustic guitar – a very portable, very versatile , “go anywhere” instrument. Every guitarist should have one!

So what’s on offer? Acoustic guitars fall into three basic categories – the traditional Classical guitar with nylon strings, the flat top steel strung guitar and the electro acoustic guitar. What’s the difference between each type?

The Classical guitar – they tend be smaller in the body which makes them more comfortable for younger students. They have nylon “finger friendly” strings – again good for younger students. As a generalisation Classical guitars tend to have wider necks – typically 52 mm although some are narrower at around 48mm. The wider neck is easier for access for your fingers when playing chords but can feel too big for smaller hands (which is where the 48mm width is better) viagra naturel acheter. The “normal” way to play a Classical guitar is by using the fingers of your right hand and this is the approach required for playing formal Classical guitar. That said as a teacher I take the approach that if it helps get a student “up & running”  by using a plectrum on a nylon string guitar then use one – you can always loop back and learn finger picking once you have developed some muscle memory with the left hand.

The flat top steel strung guitar – this is the most popular and versatile of the acoustic guitars in my humble opinion. Good for playing chords to accompany singing,  good for playing lead lines or jigs & reels on. They come in various body sizes – The Martin Guitar Company’s grading system is helpful: their smallest guitars were given the number “0”, then “00” and then “000” being the biggest. They are commonly called “Folk” guitars (since they were used extensively by folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, Martin Carthy & Richard Thompson and, many others). Being smaller they are claimed by many to be more comfortable and manageable to play in addition to not being so loud making them easy to sing over. The largest in the Martin range is the Dreadnought. They are not only physically bigger but tend to give a bigger, louder sound: they were originally designed by Martin to be loud enough to be heard alongside a banjo in Bluegrass music. The Jumbo sized body is in between Folk size guitars and the Dreadnought size with the sound being somewhere in between as well – louder than Folk size instruments but not as big as the Dreadnought. The default neck width for a steel string acoustic is around 42mm – some find this width easier to play others feel it’s a bit cramped when finger picking chords. Slightly wider necks are around – 43 or 44mm – as always the best advice is to try them and see what’s best for you. The biggest issue with steel string acoustic guitars is that they make your left hand finger’s sore at first. It doesn’t take long to build up calluses but unfortunately all steel string players have to go through the “pain barrier” . Flat tops can be played with both a plectrum or finger picked.

Electro acoustic guitars – these can be either nylon or steel strung. The primary difference being that they have a built in pick up system so that they can be easily amplified. As mentioned above they can come in a variety of body sizes and neck widths and can be either played finger style or picked.

One point I would mention is that if the intended user is not planning to gig the guitar then the extra money for an electro acoustic guitar in my view is best put towards a slightly “better” non acoustic model (you can always post fit a sound hole pick up at a later date for a modest sum – under £50).

Now as per my previous article buying an electric guitar the things to look out for are:

– make sure the neck is straight (a properly adjusted neck should have a very slight under bow of around 0.010 to 0.015″).

– Check the frets feel smooth (including the fret ends – often an issue on budget guitars).

– Check the action (the height of the strings above the 12th fret) is not too high – as a guide, a good low action would be around 4/64″ on the treble side and around 6/64″ on the bass side.

– Check the machine heads work smoothly.

– Colour: a little more limited with acoustics versus electrics – the “traditional” colour schemes are for natural wood and sunburst but you can find black and some very bright colours if you look hard. I tend to like “plain & simple” with no “bling” but it is after all “different strokes for different folks”.

The other pieces of advice I’d share are:

– If possible buy from your local friendly Music Shop primarily on the basis that if it goes wrong or needs a “tweak” then it’s easy to get it fixed. Most shops will price match which narrows the gap between a local purchase versus internet shopping.

– Set a budget and try to stick to it. The quality of budget guitars these days is very good so there’s less of a risk of getting a really bad guitar (as was the case when I was starting out) but in general – a slightly higher budget (say around £120 – £150) will get a guitar that is just that little bit better in all departments (you get what you pay for). That said you can get a really good budget bargain – you just have to go a hunting.

– I always recommend (if possible) that the student plays their proposed instrument – they are often only small differences in feel and sound but they are important in the decision process.

– If the instrument is bought as a “surprise” then I’d suggest you keep the receipt and negotiate with the store if it would be possible to exchange it if the student finds it not quite right for them.

-Take someone who already plays (even your Music Teacher – could be the best one hour lesson fee you ever spent) along with you when you buy.

– Buy a pack of spare strings – Murphy’s Law says, for sure one will break on Christmas morning! Also, buy a dozen picks – they always end up down the back of the sofa.

Happy shopping and enjoy the festive season!