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NOTICE: The Charter Vision project is dormant as of January 2008. This website is provided for archival purposes only.

Five Things in Buying a Guitar

Tim (Grade 10 / Community of Peace) Originally published May 2004

Buying a guitar isn’t easy at all. You need to know what to look for in a guitar, like how it sounds or how it feels. Here are five things you should look for in a guitar:

  1. What kind of sound board does the guitar have? Nothing is more important, and nothing affects the sound of the guitar more than the soundboard. The two most important qualities of the soundboard to consider are solid or laminated-top and type of wood. “Solid-Top” means the guitar is made from two solid pieces of wood, one for each half of the soundboard. Laminated soundboards have layers of multiple pieces of wood on either side of the soundboard, which are laminated together on top of each other. A solid-top soundboard offers a much better vibration, and a more pure, acoustic tone. Solid-top soundboards also produce a better sound for a longer time, since the lamination loosens over time.
  2. What kind of wood is the guitar made of? That will determine sound, durability, and appearance. The top of the guitar is where 90% of the tone quality and sound comes from. Cedar and spruce are typically used for the soundboard in higher quality acoustic guitars. Both are durable, and produce high quality sound. The side of the guitar and the back aren’t as important as long as they are made out of real wood.
  3. How high are the strings from the frets? The height at which the strings rest above the frets is also referred to as the “action” of the guitar. Guitars with low action are easier on the fingers, and overall easier to play. However, you do not want the strings too close to the frets, which will produce an undesirable buzzing or rattling while playing. Since it can be a fine balance between having the strings too high or too low, you definitely want to make sure that you choose a guitar that offers a way to adjust the “action.” Acoustic guitars with an adjustable truss rod will allow you to modify the “action” to your liking. A comfortable “action” will result in fewer blisters, less frustration, and enjoyment.
  4. Is the fret-board easy to play? A fretboard made from rosewood will be strong, while giving extra comfort to the fingers. A cutaway body style will make it possible to easily play the fret-board all the way down to the sound hole.
  5. And finally, the price. Well-made acoustic guitars are notorious for surprisingly steep prices. The most important factors that determine the price are the type and quality of wood used on the guitar, and the brand name.

If you think the guitar has something wrong with it, then ask for help from the store. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or bargain. Enjoy guitar shopping!

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