4 September 2008

Guitar Buying Guide Part 3 - 5 Important Features

The previous post in this series showed you a simple system to select a guitar in a reputable shop. But how do you choose between the many different models of guitar on offer? Read on to learn about 5 features important in the choice of the ideal guitar.

1) Top Wood

The material used to make the guitar's top (the flat piece of wood with the soundhole in it) has the most influence on the guitar's sound. A top made from solid wood generally sounds better and creates more volume than a table made of laminated wood.

A solid top is made from a single layer of wood, most often spruce or cedar. Laminated tops are made from layers of cheaper wood stuck together with glue. They may have a very thin layer of nicer wood on top so they look good.

A good solid wood top guitar will generally sound better and produce more volume. Further, the sound of a solid wood guitar improves with age. This is not true of laminated tops.

For this reason try to get a guitar with a solid wood top if you can afford it. Higher budget guitars use solid woods for the back and sides, too, but this makes less difference to the sound than the solid top.

The easiest way to tell if a guitar has a solid top is to ask the sales staff. You can also check the model specifications on the manufacturers web site.

To check for yourself look at the edge of the soundhole. The grain pattern visible on the table continues through the thickness of the wood if it's solid. If the grain pattern doesn't continue then the top is laminate. However, it's not always easy to see, so ask or check the model's specs on the web if you are unsure.

2) Body Shape and Size

Like people, guitars come in various shapes and sizes. Choose a model that suits your dimensions. Problems may not be apparent immediately, so try the guitars long enough for any discomfort to manifest.

3) Neck Shape and Width

Note, too, that guitar necks come in a variety of shapes such as D, C, or V (examples - scroll down a little to view). Pay attention to the comfort of the neck to discover which shape you are most comfortable with.

4) String Height

The height of the strings above the frets affects ease of playing. The strings should not be set too high, which makes playing harder, and not too low, which causes buzzing noises as the strings touch the frets when plucked.

5) Frets and String Spacing

Pay attention to the spacing between the strings, too. Wider string spacing is generally favoured by finger picking guitarists, but your primary guide here should be the comfort for your hands. If you have small fingers you will be more comfortable with a narrower neck.

Finally, feel the frets as you move your hand over the neck. Are they too small or too big? Are there any sharp edges that could injure your fingers?


Take your time to select a guitar that matches these criteria and, importantly feels good to you. The above points will help you to find a guitar with good sound and playability. But don't forget to choose a guitar that feels right to you. It might be the colour or the shape, but you should aim for a guitar that makes you want to pick it up and play.

In the next, final, part of this guitar buying series you'll learn how to make a quality check on the guitar you're thinking of buying to ensure it has no faults. Sign up for free notification by email or to your RSS reader so you don't miss it.

More on buying a guitar...

Guide to Buying Your Guitar Part 1
Guitar Buying Guide Part 2 - At the Guitar Shop
Guitar Buying

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