Buying a Strat Style Guitar – SUMMARY

Welcome back to the web site of Colin Berrido, an independent guitar teacher based in Surrey, England.

So, on my previous articles I took you through the basic things to look for in selecting your Strat Style Guitar. To tie off all the loose ends let’s try to summarise and give you a check list to work from:

  1. Budget – set yourself a budget and try to stick it! Your shiny new “way over budget” guitar may look fantastic but you still have to eat until your next pay day (or you Dad has to feed the family). Hunger whilst seldom fatal in the first twenty four hours is still not good! If you really want that dream guitar it may be better to hold on to the cash and wait until you have saved up for it.
  2. Where to buy – my personal preference is to go to your local friendly music store. In my experience no two guitars are quite the same and you need to try them out and let them “speak to you” – be careful of those expensive ones, they can keep whispering “buy me!”. Also, take a friend who can play (or your guitar teacher – we are here to help, honestly!).There are some great bargains on the internet but the down side is that reading a specification does not tell you how a guitar feels.
  3. Key points to look for: colour (doesn’t make it play any better – except red ones so I’m told) but it’s important to you (and can affect re-sale value). Weight – I personally like light weight guitars (getting old I suspect). Feel of the neck: skinny, wide, fat, large radius or flat radius fingerboard, small or tall frets? No one type is best – it’s what it feels like to you.
  4. Check out the hardware: make sure everything works – machine heads, tremolo, no loose strap buttons etc.
  5. Check out the electrics: try to play it through a “quality” amp AND a small practice amp (which is what your budget will probably direct you towards). Why try both: well if it sounds good through a quality amp then it’s basically a good guitar. If it still sounds good through a small low budget amp then it’s still a good guitar plus you know the budget amp is also good piece of kit (not always the case sadly). Couple the two together and you’re like to be a “happy camper” and still on track re the money. Listen for any crackles and pops from the volume & tones controls and the pickup selector switch. You may get told that they just need a squirt of switch cleaner – yes it can work but in my experience it is only a temporary fix (the parts really need to be replaced with quality units – which is not cheap if you include getting a guitar tech to fit them for you).
  6. Sound: how does it sound to you? There are what may be considered classic Strat tones – does the guitar you’re checking out capture these to a lesser or greater extend? Again, I’ve been surprised at how good some budget guitars sound. In the final analysis – use your ears and personal judgment. Pickups can be upgraded – but they are not cheap!
  7. Playability: what is the action like? I’m not a huge fan of ultra low actions, measured at the 12th fret – 3/64’s top E and 4/64’s bottom E (usually only easily achievable of a flat radius neck). I prefer the original 7.25 inch fingerboard radius and an medium low action – of 4/64’s top E and 5/56’th bottom E – I like to be able to get hold of the strings and “feel” them when string bending. The down side of many budget guitars that I see my students bring along to lessons is that they are basically good guitars but that they’ve been set up properly. Again fixable but is an extra cost. If you buy from your local music store (who perhaps know you and your buddies – or your teacher), they may set it up for you prior to selling it (which I believe they should do any way – but margins are tight for retailers in these tough economic times and time is money). Always worth smiling and asking though! If they are nice to you, you will go back – two-way loyalty is always worth building up: you never know when you might need help (to change that pesky top E string that’s just snapped for example).
  8. Finally: try to include in your budget a gig bag. You don’t want your shinny new guitar getting “relic-ed” on the way home (or perhaps you do!).

Well I hope I’ve been of help pointing you the right direction – enjoy your new guitar and your playing.  A guitar is not just for Christmas – it’s for life!