5 September 2008

Buying A Guitar Part 4 - Quality Check

In part 3 of this series you learned 5 important features to consider when you choose your guitar. This post, the last in the series, shows you how to ensure your chosen guitar doesn't have quality problems. After all, you're planning on playing it day in, day out, for a long time, right?

While there are many modern guitars offering excellent sound, comfort and build quality there are some duds out there. Sometimes the problem may just be due to a poor set up. This can be corrected by a guitar shop, or by trying a different guitar of the same model. Use this simple checklist to avoid the most frequent problems. None of them are too hard to check, so spend a few extra minutes to verify them.

Check Tuning Machines

Check that the tuning mechanisms are robust and well constructed. The picture shows sealed tuning mechanisms which are commonly found on acoustic guitars.

Detune the guitar and retune it to check the tuning heads work smoothly and don't grip. Ask for an electronic tuner if you need it.

Build Quality

Check the overall build quality. Look at the wood joints both outside and inside the guitar. Are they clean and solid looking?

Lastly, hold the guitar firmly and give it a shake to ensure that there are no loose parts that rattle.


A guitar's intonation determines how accurate the notes played all over the fretboard sound. While intonation can be corrected, it could be the sign of a more serious problem. A well set-up guitar in the shop should not exhibit such problems, so you should probably reject a guitar with incorrect intonation.

You check intonation by comparing the fretted note at the 12th fret with the natural harmonic at the same place. The two notes should have identical pitch for all six strings.

If the notes played at the 12th fret are noticeably sharp or flat then the guitar has an intonation problem. At the very least, have the guitar adjusted by shop staff and then try it again.

Dead Notes and Fret Buzzes

Dead notes or fret buzzes can occur at certain places on the fretboard. To check for them play every fret of each string from the open string all the way up the neck.

If notes anywhere sound dead or make buzzing noises the guitar needs a set up or has design or build flaws. Again, you should probably reject the instrument.


With this simple list of problems to check for you can avoid most serious problems and purchase with confidence. Whatever the price of your guitar you should not settle for obvious design or build defects. If you are in any doubt then don't hesitate to move on to another guitar; there are plenty of excellent guitars out there at reasonable prices, so don't settle for less.

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More on buying a guitar...

Guide to Buying Your Guitar Part 1
Guitar Buying Guide Part 2 - At the Guitar Shop
Guitar Buying Guide Part 3 - 5 Important Features
Guitar Buying

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