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View Diary: Buying an American-made guitar (286 comments)

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  •  NEVER BUY A NOOB A NEW GUITAR! (12+ / 0-)

    There is no point in buying a child a brand new instrument when you have no idea if they have either the aptitude for, or a genuine interest in playing.

    Unless you have money to throw away, new guitars are for players who have already proven that they have a commitment to playing, and know what style(s) they are pursuing.

    A new guitar should be considered a specialty instrument, and noobs don't specialize. Do the pickups matter if you can't play a song yet? If you're learning to finger chords and memorizing a major scale shape, does it matter if you use humbuckers or active pickups or single coils or which flavor of single coil or... yadda yadda? No.

    A noob needs good action & intonation, not good tone.

    The only things that matters in a guitar for a kid is that it has good action & intonation and that it looks just "cool" enough in their eyes to act as a motivator to practice with it.

    But not too cool. A kid should be a little bit dissatisfied with the guitar they start on. When they complain, you tell them, "Once you get the basics out of the way, we'll try and find you the cool guitar you'll really like." Instant motivation and goal setting.

    The amp should be very basic, with no effects. Effects are toys to a noob, and distract from actually practicing. If a small cheap amp has no distortion, and junior wants to play rock 'n' roll, a distortion pedal is all they should get, and not right away. Distortion masks errors in full chords like G Maj, C Maj, A min, etc. It's only good for power chords and scales for a beginner (and, once again, to act as a lure to keep practicing just because it sounds "cool").

    I suggest starting on an electric, not acoustic, if junior likes any flavor of rock 'n' roll (and if they don't, clearly you're not a good parent). Once again, it's the specialty thing. You are not going to get distortion (thus power chords, etc) out of an acoustic, but you can learn various finger styles on an electric. For a beginner, I believe an electric is more versatile, with the added bonus that it can be played with headphones (caution! volume!).

    (Just think of all the parents who decided their precious snowflake should play the violin, and had to listen to the sound of feral cats being stomped on for five or six years before anything resembling music occurred. Think they ever wished their kid could practice with headphones?)

    Use pawn shops and/or Craig's List, but not eBay. You have to check out the used guitar yourself (or with an accomplished guitarist who knows what a good neck looks like), and you can't do that on the internet.

    The key is not where it's made, or what brand, or how cheap it is, the key is how good is the neck? Is the neck straight (and by that I mean, bowed correctly, and adjustable)? If the neck is good, the intonation and action can be set, then the guitar will be easy to play and will sound in tune and tend to stay in tune.

    After you buy it, you must have the action & intonation set by a professional (or yourself, if you are one). DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.

    A guitar with bad intonation cannot be tuned. Junior will sound crappy enough on his or her own, without hamstringing them with a junk guitar, or a poorly set up guitar, one that an experienced player would go all Pete Townsend on after trying unsuccessfully to tune it for 10 minutes.

    Further, if you use a tuner and you think you've tuned your guitar with bad intonation, the moment you play a chord, the chord is out of tune.

    If I catch you giving a child a guitar with bad intonation, I will call social services on your ass.

    Jack White can play a crap guitar with terrible intonation and make something good come out of it. Your precious angel is not Jack White.


    Get a fixed bridge. Do not buy a noob a guitar with a Floyd Rose, or other tremolo. There's no way a new player can tune a Floyd Rose guitar. It's hard enough for a noob to tune a fixed bridge guitar, without the confusion of the neck tension changing every time you tweak one string even slightly.

    Ignore the pickups. For a noob, they just don't matter. One. Two. Three. Single coil. Humbuckers. Some of each. It just doesn't matter right now. If the electronics are busted, good. Demand a cheaper price, take the extra money, buy a soldering iron, download the correct schematics off the internet, and fix it yourself. Or have the guy who sets up the action fix it.

    Or even better, teach your kid to solder and have him or her fix it. Nothing like a little sweat equity to create an emotional investment in the instrument, and thus more motivation to practice. Guitarists tend to become gearheads, so starting early is not a bad idea, just don't encourage the gear side to take away from... wait for it... practice.

    Look for parts at Carvin, or maybe Musician's Friend, Guitar Center, or a local shop. And of course Radio Shack for basic wiring stuff.

    Your personal infatuation with only the most awesome and prestigious gear, from either a collector or status perspective, must neither overshadow, nor taint your child's fascination with the vibe of the music itself.

    In other words, your child's musical development is not about you.

    It's about them, their ear, their motivation to make cool sounds. Every decision you make about gear and instructors must be centered around fostering the noob's motivation.

    If your child likes Metallica, and the guitar instructor is teaching them Greensleeves, fire the instructor and find someone to teach him or her Seek and Destroy.

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    Finally, a story:

    I was wandering about for no apparent reason in a local pawn shop. I spotted a piece of crap looking Ibanez hanging on the wall, and noticed it was a seven string. I've been wanting to fool around with a seven string, but the good ones are way too expensive for... wait for it... a specialty guitar to experiment with.

    It was black. I hate strongly dislike black guitars. And it was beat to shit. Some fool had put a decal on the front, and scraped it off with a dull razor blade or something. Not to mention all the nicks and dings and scratches on the body.

    Now, Ibanez makes some nice seven strings, but this was a cheapo Chinese one, before it was used as an oar or a door stop or a fly swatter or whatever the idiot that trashed it did with it. It had a junk tremolo, and the back plate was gone. No knob on the pickup selector. The nut on the jack was loose so when you plugged the cord in, it wiggled around and popped and cracked in the amp.

    In short, an ugly piece of shit.

    BUT, the neck was flawless. Straight, with zero dings on the back. Smooth as silk.

    The thing looked like a total turd, and so the guy at the register sold it to me for under $100. New strings, set up the intonation and action, and it plays freakin' great.

    If I ever want to use it to perform, I'll junk the electronics and get new, awesome pickups, sand off the body and have some local car artist do a custom paint job on it, insulate it with foil tape, and my $100 learner guitar will become special, just for me.

    In fact, I think I'll go play it right now...

    •  Good deal! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      3rdOption, SherwoodB, Dirtandiron

      .....even if you ditch the body and electronics; having a good replacement neck for $100 is a steal!!

      This space for rent -- Cheap!

      by jds1978 on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 06:53:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Great find...and great advice! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Another piece of advice--one-on-one lessons are great, but it's amazing what my husband and I have learned on YouTube, free of charge!

      I totally agree on buying used.  I also suggest going to an independent music store, if you have one nearby.  They will provide you good advice on a beginner instrument and they will want your return business when you or your child become more proficient.  

    •  Tremolo can be set up so it's not floating (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Get a fixed bridge. Do not buy a noob a guitar with a Floyd Rose, or other tremolo. There's no way a new player can tune a Floyd Rose guitar. It's hard enough for a noob to tune a fixed bridge guitar, without the confusion of the neck tension changing every time you tweak one string even slightly.
      I have four guitars with tremolos, two of them Floyd Rose, and two standard Fender Strat tremolos. If any tremolo is set up to "float", that is, you can pull the bar up as well as down, tuning will be difficult!  But all mine are set up so you can only push the bar down. So if one string breaks, all the others don't go out.  This is simple to do with regular trems, and even with Floyds like mine that are not recessed into the body.  Even the ones that are recessed into the body, any guitar tech who has worked on a tremolo should be able to set it up that way for you.

      Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

      by Dirtandiron on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:35:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The KISS Principle. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        No, not:

        Fireworks + Makeup > Talent

        But all mine are set up so you can only push the bar down... This is simple to do with regular trems...
        It is, and because, to me, most non-Floyd tremolos suck (won't stay in tune once you touch them), I've tightened the springs to lock the tremolo to the body on both that cheap Ibanez 7 string I mentioned, and on my Strat. The Strat's bar never even leaves the case, and I don't even remember if the Ibanez had a bar with it, I'll never use that tremolo anyway.

        The Floyd problem, for the purposes of buying a guitar for a noob, or giving advice to someone who is, is just too complicated. Which is why I advised to just not get one for a beginner.

        ...Floyds like mine that are not recessed into the body.
        IMO, there is no point to a Floyd Rose if the body's not routed out so it floats.

        And noobs don't need any of this.

        Even the ones that are recessed into the body, any guitar tech who has worked on a tremolo should be able to set it up that way for you.
        This is actually a bigger problem than it seems. Unlike other, regular tremolos, the fulcrum point on a Floyd is much further forward of the place where the string bends on the bridge, the point where, for the purposes of vibration, the string ends. So when you tighten the springs on the Floyd to lock it back against the body, that drops the action way low at the bridge, and significantly alters the intonation. It may also hide the ends of the bolts that are used to tighten the blocks that clamp each string to the bridge, to a place where the Allen wrench can't get to them.

        Now you have introduced a bunch of unnecessary technical problems. Is there enough adjustment left so that the intonation and action can be correctly set?

        The work-around to that problem is to put a small wooden block in the recess under the butt of the Floyd Rose, but if you don't screw or glue that block down, you can't depress the Floyd because it will release the block and now the guitar is unplayable until you put it back.

        Now, lets suppose you or your guitar tech resolves those issues, a noob still has to cope with stringing a Floyd Rose, and tuning it, and using the clamping nut (or leaving the clamps off, which completely eliminates the advantage of the Floyd staying in tune after you dive bomb with it, which noobs don't need to be doing anyway...), yadda yadda.

        So back to my point:

        Don't buy a noob a guitar with a Floyd Rose on it. It's a can of worms best left unopened, and it violates my "specialty" rule.

        HOWEVER, please don't misinterpret my anti-Floyd rant as being anti-Floyd. I'm anti-noob+Floyd, not anti-Floyd. I ordered my primary guitar, the one I've played live with the most, with a Floyd. I've used it so much I've had to replace worn pieces and parts on it.

        First, once a new set of strings are broken in, that guitar almost CANNOT go out of tune. I've tuned it at home, put it in its soft case, drove hours to a club, pulled it out and let is set on a stand, and it was perfectly in tune. Play it set after set, still in tune.

        Now I let that guitar sit on a stand for months and it will not go out of tune. The only exception is when the season changes and I either start or stop using the swamp cooler. The humidity will change the tension on the neck, and all my guitars have to be significantly retuned (if I was being anal about it, I'd adjust the necks every Spring and Fall...).

        Further, that Floyd saved tons of money on strings when I was playing out. On my Strat I used a new set of strings every night that I played. For this reason, I don't buy strings in packs, I buy them in bulk. On the guitar with the Floyd, I leave the ball ends on the strings and feed them down through the tuners and then to the clamps on the Floyd. I don't cut off the extra, I just tie it up so it doesn't flop around so much. I leave the ball ends on so I don't poke myself or someone else in the eye with them.

        Each day, before I played that night, I'd just loosen the nut clamps, and one by one, cut the first 1/2 to 1 inch off of each string and re-clamp it to the Floyd. On a Floyd, that's where the wear occurs that breaks the string. Strings don't break at the nut, and they don't break in the middle, they break where they bend over the saddle on the bridge. So I just feed more string through the tuners and cut off the 1/2 inch or so of worn string, and I could perform with one set of strings on that guitar for four to six weeks. (I use Finger Ease, which keeps the strings clean and slippery.)

        That saved me around ten bucks a weekend, plus saving me some during practices, and for a bar band musician, that adds up.

        And that guitar with the Floyd still stays in tune better than any guitar I've ever played.

        Ironically, since I ordered that guitar with the Floyd Rose specifically for the radical tricks it can do, I found that I almost never use the Floyd for that. I use it primarily for chord vibrato, which it does beautifully.

        Note that all of this is too freakin' complicated for a noob who's overwhelmed by a barre chord.

        In conclusion, for noobs, the KISS principle:


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