Ask a guitarist how to choose a guitar, or what the best guitars on the market are. They’ll often list off an American made Telecaster, a traditional Les Paul, or choose another of the most expensive axes off the wall in Guitar Center. My challenge to you is not to judge a guitar by its appearance or price.

Learn How to Choose a Guitar, not an On-Stage Accessory

Most guitars have an iconic look, and are reminiscent of a feeling. If you want to feel like you’re doing your metal band justice, you may be tempted to pick up a Flying V decked out with spikes. While guitars often fall into genre categories for reasons OTHER than their tonal characteristics, you shouldn’t solely pick a guitar out like you’re buying a piece of your wardrobe. How good a guitar looks doesn’t affect how good of a guitar it is. While it may be one thing to judge looks when finding a girl/boyfriend, judging a guitar by its cover is a way to find yourself a bad sound. You play the guitar for the music coming out of it, not the fashion statement it makes. You see this most often when it comes to selecting brands. Everyone wants a Gibson or American made Fender, as opposed to their cheaper alternatives (Epiphone or Mexican made Fenders, for example). The cheaper brands of guitars often sound as good as the expensive names, though they may not be as pretty or prestigious.

Are the Best Guitars the Most Expensive?

We often get caught up in the idea that the most expensive guitars are going to be the best guitars, but some of the most iconic songs and albums have been recorded on guitars so cheap that you wouldn’t have even heard of the model. Elliott Smith played all his songs on a Yamaha FG-180 acoustic worth about only $350. The most important things about a guitar are how they feel in YOUR hands and how they sound in YOUR hands.

Jammin' on the Shecter

Jammin’ on the Shecter

I was at Guitar Czar (great shop to check out for any of you in Salt Lake) with one of my friends from the band Disforia, Chad. I picked up a Firebird, strummed a few chords, and played parts of Metallica solos. It sounded soulless, and every note I picked on the guitar was boring. The fret board was a little too wide for my fingers and the strings pressed down just a little too easily for the strumming to really ring out. The guitar sounded like crap, and I was sold on that idea until I passed the guitar to Chad, who with sweaty hands brought life to the fret board. Chad has an entirely different playing style than I do and so when he played that guitar it was wonderful. So when you are trying to figure out how to choose a guitar, don’t go for what sounds good in your friends’ and favorite players’ hands; pick it for how it feels in your own.

Blind Testing

When you’re checking out new instruments, do it blind. Bring a friend to the store and have them pass you guitars while your eyes are closed. This way, the price tag or the appearance of the guitar don’t impact your decision. Once you’ve found a guitar you like the sound of and that feels good in your hands, open your eyes and see if you can afford it. In my experience, the best guitars are rarely the most expensive. While you may have to drop some money on a good sounding instrument, guitars just have different total characteristics above $800 or so. At that point you’re paying for a name and the look of the guitar. This is how I’ve bought all of the instruments I play, so have a go at it. Maybe you’ll pick up a Dave Mustaine signature guitar for your alternative project, maybe you won’t…
but you won’t if you learn how to choose a guitar the RIGHT way.