Ottawa's guitar repair shop



Choosing your very first guitar

Making the right choice when it comes to choosing your first guitar will help you enjoy learning how to play the instrument. Even though all new instruments need a setup, there are things to look out for in the first instrument you will ever play.


How to choose your first acoustic guitar:

The thing that makes a high end guitar sound great is the wood selection, bracing pattern and body size. But, as a beginner, your ear is probably quite far away from being able to really appreciate the difference.

Solid wood acoustic guitars a re fragile instruments. You need to monitor the environment in your home, because it can crack if it gets to dry, or come unglued if it's to hot and to humid. Solid wood acoustic guitars normally need seasonal setups, because the tops swell up in the summer (humidity) and raise the action and sink in the winter (lack of humidity because of heating) bringing the action to far down.

So, what should you pick for a first acoustic guitar? Most guitarists will hate me for saying this, but a laminate guitar is your best bet. The laminates used in guitars are typically made of three layers of wood. The total thickness of these laminates are the same, or close to the same thickness as solid wood acoustic guitar backs, sides and tops. Laminates don't sound as good as solid wood, and they never will. But, the great thing about laminated is that they aren't as "moody" as solid wood. Once a laminate acoustic guitar is setup, it's almost as stable as an electric guitar. Therefore, you can spend more time enjoying your learning experience and less time waiting for me to adjust your ever moving guitar.

The second thing you want to look out for is the straightness of the neck and it's adjustability. Typically, you can ask your music store for a 24 hour period during which you can return the guitar after purchasing it if it has a serious defect. I would suggest that you have your new guitar inspected by someone like me. 95% of the time, they're in great shape and very pleasant to play once setup. But there is always that odd 5% that can make you hate playing the guitar.

Does the price matter? I have to say, that in the case of beginners guitars, not always. I own a 150$ laminate acoustic guitar, and it's awesome. The foundation was right and, after a fret levelling and setup, it's a joy to play. I have also had clients return brand new 600$-700$ guitars because they had a horrible defect. So, you need to have your guitar checked


How to choose your first electric guitar:

Of course, the before last paragraph on acoustic guitars still applies to your first electric guitar: Have it checked by a luthier within 24 hours of purchasing it. And you will want to have it setup. If you don't want to, I can have you try a 150$ guitar that I ticked out, you'll get the point.

The first thing is to avoid any type of tremolo system. In beginner budget guitars, these types of bridges will only make you cry, believe me, I learned that the hard way when I was a beginner.

Ask the store salesman if the hardware is compatible with higher end parts. Not because you want to replace them, but because if a component breaks or gets lost, you can easily have it replaced. You want to know if the the bridge and pickups can be swapped for aftermarket parts. In the case of the bridge, Tune-o-matic style bridges are the easiest to find "drop in" replacements for. Tuning keys can always be swapped easily, even if a drill is needed to help. But if ever a pickup dies on you, you don't want to have to re-rout the pickup cavity to fit a standard one and paying for a re-wind on a budget pickup would be annoying.

What type of pickup should you get? As with acoustic guitars, when you start playing, your ears won't really understand the difference between a pickup and another. This being said, I would suggest you get a guitar with Humbuckers. These pickups give off less background noise then single coil pickups and can help you enjoy your learning experience. Also, most electric guitar beginners want to play rock and metal (I did say most, not all), and these music styles require distortion. Distortion through a single coil pickup is extremely noisy, there will be a loud humm at all times in the background. Humbucking pickups reduce this background noise and sound more aggressive! For those about to rock, we salute you!


Choosing your amp:

Electric guitars need an amp, I don't think I need to point out why... Your first amp should be:

- Reliable
- Affordable
- Versatile
- And has to sound great

There are many amps on the market today, but I actually do have a favourite when it comes to beginner amps (it even makes a great practice amp for professionals). The Rolland Cube. Bang for the buck, you can't get anything better. They almost never need cleaning, they are already filled with effects so you can experiment, they sound really good to. They come in various sizes and powers, but the Cube 30 is really an awesome machine.

Also, you need a cable to connect your guitar to your amp. You can get cables for 5$ and you can get some for 200$. A word of advise: "Don't buy a 5$ cable!" A good cable is the equivalent of having good tires on your car. Not everyone needs the 500$/tire setup, but 20$ tires can make you hate your car, especially in winter. The same applies to an electric guitar setup. A 5$ cable can make a GNR's Slash sound like crap. As a beginner, you should get a cable in the 20$ to 30$ range. Believe me, you'll appreciate it.