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Used Guitar Buying Guide (for beginners)

I went shopping for my first electric guitar this year. I wanted something affordable but nice enough that I won't feel like I have to replace it if, or when, I actually learn to play well. I already have an acoustic guitar, the basic music theory and techniques to play chords and strum. I had fingerstyle skills once, but after a few months of playing, I have not yet completely achieved the same level.


1. Purchase in person, if possible. I found it to be true, that the same year, make, and model was different between individual guitars. I went into the stores expecting to buy something super cheap ($150) that did not look great but stayed in tune and had decent tone. Trying guitars out changed many of my opinions on guitars I had read about online.

2. Take another person with you on the final trip, especially if you expect to blow your budget. I took my father, who hears well but has never taken up playing a musical instrument. I was much more content with my purchase because my father could easily distinguish the differences between the last two guitars I was looking at, (Fender Strat American vs. the regular Standard).

3. Try Guitar Center, if you have one local. They are very accommodating and patient. Also, they had my guitar on sale two days after I bought it. I asked if I could have the sale price and the manager quickly agreed and I saved 10%.

Sam Ash and Guitar Center are both a block apart in my town, so I visited both. Guitar Center has a weird feel to it, especially the first time went there. However, they have amazing customer service at our local store. Sam Ash, on the other hand, could be a little more friendly and customer focused.

Trying Guitars Out

1. Use the same amp model and amp settings between guitars, but go through all of the guitar settings. I wasted a few hours where I failed to keep the same amp settings between guitars. I was not sure which guitars were better or worse, because each setting was different. I chose the Vox AD30VT amp and stuck with a couple of model presets.

2. Work with one guitar at a time at first. Once you have the decision narrowed down to a couple, set them close by and go back and forth. The closer together you try them, the more obvious are the differences.

3. If you are just learning and have no idea how to play, bring someone who can play to try guitars out for you. If that is not an option, then you'll need to lean on the salesperson's suggestions a little more. Another plus for Guitar Center, is that each time I visited their suggestions turn out to be pretty good for what I was looking for and consistent with online reviews.

Sources For Info

My Opinions
  • I asked for the amp as a gift based on online research and only tried out a couple in the store.
  • There is an enormous difference between the American Standard and the Standard Strat, which is made in Mexico. The materials, pickups are not the same. I found the American Standard Strat to have real depth in the tone, where the Standard Strat sounded okay but much more empty.

My Gear
Guitars: Takamine EG-10C acoustic electric, Fender American Standard Strat
Amp: Vox AD30VT

Image(s) from public domain - thanks to

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More Stories By Jason Alexander

Unix Administrator for seven years. Software Developer for four years. Java, Groovy, Scala and more. Fan of the Pragmatic Bookshelf and continuous improvement.