Important First Steps for Guitarists

Guitar Neck

Congratulations, you’ve decided to enter the wonderful world of guitars and begin your adventure.  This page is intended to set you off on the right path, give you guidance on your options and ask you some questions that you might not even know to ask yourself.

First things first, ask yourself what kind of music you enjoy listening to.  Most people that decide to learn to play guitar are inspired by the music they already love.  And for most people, this aligns with what type of music they intend to play on the guitar.  For example, if you love the blues, then you’re likely to want to learn how to play blues guitar, at least for starters.  Of course, if you’re really into heavy-metal and you’re only learning guitar so you can serenade your sweetheart with a love ballad, that’s OK too!

The reason why reflecting on which type of music you love, and which type of music you would like to make on the guitar is so important, is that it has a tremendous impact on the type of guitar gear you will end up purchasing with your hard-earned dollars.

The first and most important decision you will make is whether to buy an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar.  Both instruments are wonderful and will provide you with endless joy and challenge, but there are some significant differences.  Let’s dive right in so you can start your guitar journey in the best way possible.


Acoustic Guitars

Playing an acoustic guitar creates a deep connection between the player and the instrument.  There are no outside influences on the sound you make other than your own two hands and the guitars ability to amplify string vibrations by passing the sound waves through its hollow chamber.  The best example I can think of when a musician has demonstrated a meaningful and deep-rooted connection to their acoustic guitar is country legend Willie Nelson.  He has been playing the exact same Martin N-20 model acoustic guitar (named Trigger) since 1969 despite the fact that he has worn a sizable hole right in the soundboard.  Of course, Willie has plenty of money to buy a new guitar, but nothing could separate him from his trusted companion.  “When Trigger goes, I’ll quit”, Willie once said.

Willie Nelson Trigger 1969 Martin N20 Guitar

Another great thing about the simplicity of an acoustic guitar is its portability.  Because nothing needs to be plugged in, you can easily take it to a park, a beach, a campground or anywhere your musical inspiration might strike.  You can also simply lay on your couch and strum chords or practice your scales while you’re watching the game on TV.

One of the challenges of learning to play an acoustic guitar, especially when compared to an electric guitar, is the relatively high tension in the strings.  This is a result of the strings on an acoustic guitar generally being of a larger diameter to accentuate the vibrations and thus the beautiful acoustic sound you hear when played.  What this all means is that when you press thicker and higher tensioned strings down against the fretboard to play a note or a chord, it will require more finger strength.  It will also cause more friction against the finger tips, causing them to be a little sore at first.  An extreme version of this phenomenon was famously written by Bryan Adams:

Bryan Adams Playing Acoustic Guitar

Fortunately, for the overwhelming majority of new guitar players, you’re not going to play for several hours every single day, so really this is no big deal and you can put the band-aids away.

Lastly, acoustic guitars can be played to make a tremendous variety of great music.  Whether you’re a fan of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran, an acoustic guitar can make beautiful music across many genres, including pop, country, blues, and folk.

Check out my recommended acoustic guitars for new players at any budget.


Electric Guitars

Are you ready to rock?  Or head bang?  Or do the electric slide?  Or play your blues away?  Because there is nothing better to get your mojo workin’ than an electric guitar plugged into a guitar amplifier.  This classic combination provides any up-and-coming guitar hero with an incredible assortment of sounds to choose from.  From clean, bright tones characteristic of country music, to lightly overdriven sounds of the blues, to fully overdriven sounds of rock, to distortion sounds of metal, an electric guitar can often cover all of these musical styles with just a turn of a dial or the flip of a switch.

Electric Guitar

One advantage to starting out playing an electric guitar is the relative ease of fretting the strings when playing notes and chords.  It’s basically the opposite story described above how acoustic guitar strings are a bit more difficult to play for beginners.  Electric guitar strings are thinner than acoustic guitar strings, and therefore they do not need to be tensioned to the same degree when tuned.  Bottom line…. it’s relatively easy for your fingers to press the thinner and looser strings down to the fretboard when playing notes and chords.

And unlike acoustic guitars, whose sound chambers amplify the sounds of vibrating strings themselves, electric guitars don’t really make much noise when you pluck the strings alone.  They require a guitar amplifier to make them come to life.  Brand new guitar enthusiasts might be a little nervous about having to buy not only a guitar, but also an amplifier and guitar cable just to get started and see if they like it.

Fortunately, there are a number of moderately priced electric guitars and amplifiers on the market that will allow a new player to begin their guitar journey without breaking the bank.

Check out my recommended electric guitars and amplifiers for new players at any budget.