Guitars - A Beginners Guide

Guitars - A Beginner`s Guide

So, you`ve decided to take up guitar? Great! But... Now what? Once you start exploring your options, you`re likely to feel overwhelmed by how many different guitars, styles, effects, and learning methods there are. Hence we thought it would be a good idea to set all budding guitarists` minds at ease with a step-by-step introduction to guitars.

1 - Influence

The first thing to consider when you decide to learn guitar is what has influenced you to choose to play the instrument in the first place, because this will help you select the right guitar and teacher for you. Some broad questions to answer would be:

- Which bands inspired you to pick up guitar?
- Which songs would you ideally like to learn?
- Which style of music speaks to you most?
- Which guitars (if any in particular) have you seen that you wish you could own?

These are all important questions to answer to give you a starting point and a preliminary direction to pursue. That`s not to say you can`t change direction, or incorporate any number at once later on, but at least this will give you a decent launch pad.
2 - Guitars

Which guitar you end up with will be dictated by a number of factors, which we will seek to outline here, and suggest a few options accordingly.
Age - If the beginner is less than twelve years old, they will most likely start on an acoustic nylon string/classical guitar such as those from Valencia`s TC range. These guitars come in a variety of sizes depending on the size of the player, and typically have a wider neck than steel string acoustics, which makes it easier for young beginners to find their way around the fretboard and more accurately play the right notes. Their nylon strings are also much softer on the fingers, so the player can practice for longer. Finally, they are the most affordable option.

However, if the player is twelve years old or older, they should have the physical size and strength to handle a full-size guitar, making a wide variety of steel string and nylon strings available to try. The older a student gets, the more likely they are to begin wanting a steel string guitar, simply because of the distinctive and hugely popular sound they make. Many beginners above a certain age will skip nylon string guitars all together and opt to start their education on a steel string model. This is certainly an option, as long as the player understands that steel strings are much harder on the fingers in the beginning. Ashton are currently producing some of the best value-for-money entry level steel string guitars on the market, and we highly recommend them to anyone starting out on the instrument.

There is also nothing stopping a student learning on an electric guitar. However, unless the student is willing to really work hard to learn correct technique, they can develop bad habits from learning on an electric guitar due to their thin necks and bodies, low string action, and amplification, all of which can lead to ``sloppy`` playing, because these attributes make it easier to get away with.
Budget - If you are shopping for a guitar on a budget, your best option will undoubtedly be to choose a nylon string guitar. You can pick up a quality full-size nylon string guitar for under $100, and an intermediate model (for those looking to learn the classical method and technique) for less than $350. These, of course, continue to increase in price virtually endlessly, but they have a very low entry level price.

If you are looking at a steel string guitar, it will most likely fall in the $300 - $600 range, such as those produced Japanese guitar powerhouse Ibanez. These will mostly include an electric preamp and input as standard; it`s difficult to find a straight acoustic steel string guitar these days. This sets the player up for when it comes time to perform onstage, as they won`t have to upgrade to a new model, and most guitars in this price range will have high quality electric components that will see the player through hundreds of performances without fault.

For those looking for an electric guitar, around $220 is the least you would ever want to spend if you were expecting a quality product. Aria have been one of the leading brands in this price range for decades, and continue their reign to this day. And for good reason! Their ultra-affordable electric range provide the player with playability, quality, and recognisably good-looking instruments. However, the more money you spend, the better the instrument (usually) sounds, and the next level of tonal quality can be found in the $300 - $700 range, which is dominated once again by the likes of Ibanez and Epiphone. Under the watchful eye of scrutinising quality control agents, these guitars are tweaked and tuned to an exacting standard, and it shows once you play them.

Goals - Your guitar choice will be dictated greatly by what you hope to eventually play and sound like. If your hero is James Taylor, you probably shouldn`t buy an Ibanez shred machine. Conversely, if you want to play AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, you should steer clear of nylon string classicals. Of course, if you`re a young beginner, you`d be much better off starting out with exactly that, but older beginners will have the dexterity and musical preferences to better equip them to choose from a wider range of instruments.
Essentially, these are some very general guidelines for beginners to follow, based on how you want to sound:
- Classical/Spanish/Flamenco/Gypsy = Nylon string guitars
- Fingerpicking/Folk/Bluegrass/Soft rock = Steel string acoustic guitars
- Jazz/Rock`n`Roll/Rockabilly = Semi-hollow body electric guitars
- Classic rock/Hard Rock/Heavy metal = Electric guitars (mostly with humbucker pickups)
- Blues/Funk/Funk rock = Electric guitars (mostly with single-coil pickups)
- Country and Western = Electric guitars (mostly Telecaster or Stratocaster style guitars)

3 - Teachers

Choosing the `right` teacher is also more easily accomplished if you have a solid idea of what you wish to get out of the lessons and what your final goal is. If, for example, you want to learn a handful of chords to join in at your next local open mic night, you could probably get away with a more relaxed approach to learning. A lot of basic information and lessons can now be found online (e.g. YouTube) or in tuition books written specifically for unaided learning, such as The Beginner Songbook and the Progressive Guitar Method series. These one-off purchases will certainly be cheaper than weekly lessons, but you will be able to reach a much higher level by attending lessons.

If you want to gain more information on correct technique, music theory, and progress to a higher level as fast as possible, you would be better to seek tuition from a professional tutor. Each tutor will have his or her own favourite styles and genres, but most teachers of a certain level will have the knowledge and experience to help any student pursue their chosen musical goals. Here at Dural Music we have a number of guitar teachers working throughout the week, each with many students of different ages, levels, and chosen styles, and are all capable of helping new beginners find their voice on the instrument. Learning with a teacher is certainly our recommended method, and although learning through a music school will generally insure you get the best results, there are many skilled private teachers if you prefer that approach. Depending on their skill level and teaching experience, their rates will vary greatly, but you can expect to pay between $25-$40 per half hour for an experienced high-level teacher. But remember, 95% of your development is done outside the weekly lesson, and just because you're seeing a tutor doesn't mean you can expect to progress without lots of home practice.

4 - Other considerations

Finally, keep in mind that all the great guitarists who have ever lived all started at the exact same point that you are at now. There is only so far natural talent can take anyone, and practice will always get you further than predisposition. Remember this as you begin your journey on guitar, because you will have to dedicate time to daily practice and exploration if you wish to improve. Also remember that it takes years of such practice to get to "professional" level of competence, so don't get disheartened if you feel it's taking you a long time to master a song or a technique. Practice makes perfect.

Also, it must be acknowledged that most of the sounds you hear coming from your favourite guitarists` instruments will most likely have various effects on them, and will have at least been treated in the studio to get the best possible sound. You can't expect to pick up an electric guitar and sound even remotely like Van Halen without the right kinds of distortion, reverb, delay, chorus, and compression (among others), so don't let that throw you off. Your heroes have probably been honing their signature tone for decades, experimenting with dozens, if not hundreds of effects to find ``their sound``, and you simply won't be able to match it without investing some extra money in effects pedals. Most electric guitarists will eventually end up with at least one or two effects pedals to help them get the sound they want, so that is an extra cost that must be considered, if not immediately then later down the track.

Hopefully this has gone some way to help you make some of those tricky decisions a little easier. If you have any questions regarding your musical journey, please feel free to contact us here at Dural Music Centre on (02) 9651 7333, or via the email box below.