May 032011

You’ve probably heard it said that you can buy something good, and you can buy something cheap, but they’ll rarely be the same thing.  In other words, quality and price move together, and it’s no different when you’re buying a guitar.

There are lots of reasons to buy a cheap guitar.

If you’re a performing musician, it’s likely you don’t travel with your prized musical possession.  You probably leave it stored safely away at home to avoid the dings and dents that are an inevitable part of schlepping your gear to and from the gig.  Likewise, if you’re just learning how to teach yourself guitar, you would be foolish to spend an arm and a leg on a work of art disguised as a guitar.  It remains to be seen whether you’ll even stick with it – best not to mortgage your house to buy the perfect guitar before you’ve got at least a few hundred practice hours under your belt.

Cheap guitars can still be good guitars.

You can definitely learn to play on a cheap guitar.  I learned for years on a dirt-cheap Korean Strat knock-off.  It didn’t win any guitar beauty contests, and it also developed a few irksome quirks as the years went by.  But it was a great instrument for my needs – high enough quality to keep me playing, low enough price to keep me from freaking out every time I dinged it up.

So how do you find good quality guitars for cheap?  You have to go to the music store or pawn shop and play them.  Don’t just pick them up and start playing your Freebird rendition – play them with the aim of discovering exactly what they’re about.  How does the guitar feel in your hands?  Is the neck straight?  Is the action height at a comfortable setting?  Is the weight distribution comfortable for you?

Once you’ve played your personal Little Wing rendition (come on, we all have one, don’t we?), it’s time to play every single string at every single fret position.  You’re looking to make sure you buy a cheap electric guitar with no buzz, which are otherwise known as dead spots.  No matter how beautiful the guitar may be, there’s no way you can justify walking out with a “buzzer” of a cheap guitar under your arm unless the dead spot is so far away from where you normally play that you’ll never notice.  Otherwise, it won’t take long before you want to take that “beautiful” looking guitar and smash it into a thousand pieces.

If you’re a rock or blues guitar player, there’s one final test to run before you plug that guitar into an amp to see how it sounds. You want to bend the strings like a madman a few times, and see if the guitar maintains tune.  If your prospective cheap guitar has a tremolo (or whammy bar), you need to make sure that a deep trem dive doesn’t crush your tuning.  Trust me, there’s nothing worse than nailing a solo only to have the rest of the song sound off because you’re now tuned down a half step!

And the last item on the list…drum roll…HOW DOES IT SOUND??  Good quality cheap guitars MUST sound good to warrant your time and attention.  If the sound is off, walk away (unless you like to tinker with pickup replacement).

Follow those guidelines, and you’ll be able to find good quality guitars for cheap with just a bit of looking.

No time to hop in the car and drive around searching for a good cheap guitar? Most online vendors have a liberal return policy, so you can buy a good quality but inexpensive guitar online, try it out, and send it back if it doesn’t quite meet your needs.

Other musical resources:

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