When buying music gear, it’s always worth investing in quality. If you buy a guitar that sounds bad no matter how you play, you’ll never learn to play well. You’re more likely to get discouraged and give up.
I started learning music when I was a student with a part time job. While I saved up for my first synth, I spent a lot of time visiting music shops and deciding which keyboard to buy. There is something very liberating about going into a shop when you can’t afford to buy anything. To begin with, I had no idea of the gap between home gear and pro gear, but I learned quickly.
The first time I went into a pro music store, a guy called Simon demonstrated Roland’s newest synth. He twiddled some knobs, and came up with the most amazing strings sound I had heard. The fact that it was plugged in to monstrous speakers that shook the room didn’t hurt either. Simon was a wise salesman. He gave me the business card of his mate Jed who sold Casio home keyboards down the road. Jed did his best to impress me, but there was no turning back. I’d learned the value of quality pro gear. When I saved the money, Simon made the sale.
I wasn’t so wise when I bought my first acoustic guitar a few years later. I splurged a whole AU$100 on the cheapest black guitar I could find, and afterwards struggled to enjoy it. It was always out of tune, and its terrible action hurt my virgin fingers. To be honest, I only bought it to muck around on, but I never really enjoyed playing it. When I got serious about guitar a few years later, I spent AU$2,000, and still love playing the guitar today, twenty years later.
I good rule of thumb is to spend as much on an instrument as you can afford, and consider it an investment. The extra money you spend will be repaid double in your enjoyment of playing the instrument, and the quality of sound you can get out of it.
I’ve become very fussy about acoustic guitars. There’s a lot of variation in the sound and feel of a guitar even within the same model, so it’s a good idea to play an acoustic guitar before you buy it. The day I bought my good guitar I spent close to an hour playing it and comparing it with the other quality guitars in the store. The guitar I bought was second hand, and I spent more money on it than some of the better quality new guitars in the shop. I have never regretted my decision.
Everyone has different taste, and a different idea of the sound they want to get from their guitar. My favorite brands are Ovation and Gibson, but I also love Maton, Taylor, Martin and Takamine. Other frequently recommend brands are Fender, Seagull, Tanglewood and Breedlove. It’s also fun to find a local luthier and try out some hand made guitars. They tend to be expensive, but have a unique sound and look you might be willing to pay extra for.
I am often not very impressed with the big brands’ cheaper offerings. If you’re after a middle-range guitar, also check out Yamaha, Acton, Ibanez, Washburn and Alveraz.
What’s your dream acoustic guitar - the one you own or the one you dream about? Let us know in the comments.
If you’re shopping for an acoustic guitar, here are some Audiotuts+ articles - and a couple from other sites - that may help:
- No Electricity Required: The Raw Beauty of the Acoustic Guitar
- Acoustic Guitar: Buying Guide (Sweetwater)
- How to Buy a Used Acoustic Guitar (Guitar Noise)
I haven’t regularly played electric guitar for years now, so when I pick them up they feel a bit foreign. So I could do with some assistance. I’d appreciate if you electric guitar guys can help me out with suggestions in the comments.
I’ve always felt that I can find an electric guitar I’m happy with for less than half the price of a good acoustic guitar. I used to love Ibanez guitars, and also love Fender (Strats and Teles) and Gibson (SGs more than Les Pauls). Other commonly recommended brands include Jackson, Gretsch, Squire and Epiphone.
If you’re shopping for an electric guitar, here are some Audiotuts+ articles - and a few from other sites - that may help:
- A Guide to the Electric Guitar
- Electric Guitar: Buying Guide (Sweetwater)
- The Electric Guitar - How to Buy the Right One (Doityourself)
- Buying Your First Electric Guitar (Hypernews Music Forum)
The two things you’re looking out for in a keyboard are a quality sound and good feel, though if you’re buying a master keyboard you only have to worry about the feel - you can find the sounds elsewhere. There are a huge variety of keyboards out there, so try to get an idea of what you’re looking for before you buy.
Are you after a piano, a synth, or a master keyboard to plug into your computer. Are you looking for weighted keys or unweighted, or something in between? And consider your playing style - are you after a giant 88-key keyboard, or just a couple of octaves? And do you need speakers built in (a keyboard to practice on), or will you be plugging into an amp or headphones? I’ve owned Roland, Yamaha, Korg and M-Audio keyboards, and have been pretty happy with them all.
If you’re shopping for a new keyboard, here are some AudioJungle articles that may help:
Speakers, Amps and Mics
You don’t want to spend a fortune on an instrument, but neglect what actually makes the sound - the speakers and amp. There are lots of options here, so be clear about whether you’re after an amp for your guitar, bass or keyboard, a PA for vocals or the whole band, or monitor speakers for a studio. And don’t forget the other end of the cable: the right microphone. Microphones can become very expensive, and there are different types of mics for different jobs in the studio and live.
Here as much as anywhere, serious quality costs serious money. Make sure you get good advice about the size of the speakers and power of the amp. Things to consider include whether its for practice or gigging, the size of the room you’ll be playing in, and the volume of the other instruments in the band. A common error, though, is buying a bigger amp than you actually need.
If you’re shopping for a new amp or microphone, here are some Audiotuts+ and AudioJungle articles that may help:
- 8 Guitar Amp Myths: How Many Do You Believe?
- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Impedance (But Were Afraid to Ask)
- 40 Sites that Help You Choose the Right Microphone
- 11 of the Best Studio Microphones Ever + How and When to Use Them
- 10 Best Affordable Microphones for the Home Studio
A basic recording studio starts with a computer, some software, and an audio interface to plug your instruments into. Never use the sound card that came with your computer if you care about quality.
If you’re not into computers, you might want to start with a dedicated digital recording device.
If you’re setting up a home studio, here are some Audiotuts+ and AudioJungle articles that may help:
- How to Create Your Own Home Studio
- 8 Budget Audio Interfaces for Your Home Studio
- Multitrack Recording Without a Computer
- Exploring Digital Audio Workstations
- Discover Pro Tools LE
- 11 Essential Pro Tools Tutorials
- Discover Logic Pro
- The Top 6 New Features of Cubase 5
- 11 Totally Free VST Synthesizers that Sound Great
- 8 Free, Cross-Platform Apps for Musicians
- 7 Free Digital Recording Apps for Windows
- Why Linux Could Be Your Next Digital Recording Studio
- 29 Music-making Apps for Linux
- Audacity: The Versatile Audio Tool for Everyone
- A Basic Guide to Acoustic Treatment
Look Out For a Bargain
We all love a bargain, and many of us have had the experience of walking into a second hand store somewhere, and seeing something amazing for next to nothing. When I was first married, we drove right across town to buy a good guitar at a ridiculous price even though we didn’t need it. We figured someone would appreciate the bargain, and sold it to a friend.
Another time I walked into a second hand store and saw a hand-made Canadian guitar for less than AU$500. It hadn’t been treated with respect by its previous owner, and was covered in scribble made by a black permanent marker. But it sounded amazing! I didn’t have the money for it at the time, but told lots of friends, including one who asked me for advice about buying a cheap guitar. I don’t think any bought it, and often wonder whether the person who bought it appreciated its quality.
I’m sure a lot of you have even better stories of a bargain you picked up for an unbelievable price. Don’t leave us in suspense - tell us the story! Any and all comments are welcome.