November 25, 2017

Holiday Gift Giving: So you want to buy a guitar

Music is a great hobby for kids. Parents love it because it keeps the kids active while also being inside. It allows them to learn discipline while having fun playing music. They can learn to play songs they hear on the radio. It builds character, self esteem, and self expression. The arts are getting lost more and more all the time. Music is still an art form that everyone can identify with. The kids probably don’t want a flute, but a sweet guitar, then they might actually do it. It’s hard to know where to start, what to get, and how much money to spend – so let me help.

First of all, my roommate works at a guitar shop. His name is Flynn, he’s a good dude. He recommended that parents actually bring their kid in to try the instrument. So don’t actually BUY it for Christmas, but bring them in after Christmas. He said to come in and play with the same guitar multiple times before you commit to buying it. They have no issue with you coming in and playing an instrument. It’s a big decision and you should feel comfortable with the guitar. There is that famous scene (ok, maybe not that famous) in Wayne’s World where Wayne goes in and plays the same white Stratocaster so many times, the staff is tired of him. This doesn’t happen in real life, or at least it shouldn’t. As he said, “a good local shop has no issue with you coming back and looking at the same guitar for six months. If you feel rushed, that’s a problem.”

That brings us to the first point of BUY LOCAL. The people working the shop have hands on experience with EVERY instrument in the shop. They have run it through their shop and set it up for the best possible way. The guitars do not come set up from the factory. It would cost you $40 to have a guitar set up that you bought online. And you can’t see, hear, or most importantly FEEL the guitar online. Also, returns are much much easier locally. They understand if you just don’t like the guitar or something is wrong.

They will also fit the guitar to you. The age and size of your child is very important. The smaller the kid, the smaller the hands. That means you need to get them a guitar with a smaller neck. As stated before, FEEL is very important. As Flynn says, “If it doesn’t feel good in your hands, you aren’t going to play it.” If you are dropping that much money on something, it should feel right.

That brings us to the money portion of the deal. For the little guys, you should expect to pay $130 for an acoustic guitar. You don’t need an amp and it’s a better way to learn guitar. It’s easier to learn acoustic than play electric, rather than the other way around. For teenagers, expect to pay around $200. If you want to go electric, start at $130 for the guitar and $60 for the amp. You’ll also need a cable. Also, don’t be afraid of used guitars. You’ll pay 1/3 of the price you would for a new one. It’s not like a car with a ton of miles on it, in fact a guitar that has been played a lot is better than a guitar that has rarely been touched. Think of it like a baseball glove, you want it broken in. You can get some incredible deals with used equipment. Also, get an amp with a headphone jack. It will save your sanity as your kid rocks out after breakfast.

Go with the name brands. Fender is popular and has the cheaper, Squire option. Likewise, Gibson has the Epiphone option. It’s still a solid, well built guitar, it’s just not as fancy. Think of it as a Toyota vs. a Lexus. Yes, a Lexus is sweet, but a Toyota is just as good. There are many other popular name brands, but Fender and Gibson are popular and well established in the industry. You can always opt for the more expensive guitars at a later time. By then, you’ll know what you really want in a guitar. The difference in sound in acoustic guitars is gigantic. You’ll know the right one when you find it.

Once your kid has a guitar, get them lessons.  Yes there are a ton of self-taught guitarist that have become rock stars, but that’s a rarity. They are naturally talented. Your kid is probably not Jimmy Hendricks. Trying to learn guitar by yourself can be frustrating. If your kid is frustrated, they aren’t going to stay with it. Lessons are usually around $20 and last half an hour to an hour. The teachers are patient and will get your kid playing a wide variety of music. The same chords and scales are used in rock, blues, and country. The only difference is the settings on the amp and guitar pedals they are run through. Your child will be able to play a ton of songs when they learn the G, C, and D chords. Once they learn the proper technique, they can start getting the tab to their favorite songs and learn them on their own. A huge part of playing guitar is just playing and experimenting with it, but you have to have groundwork to start with.

A guitar is a wonderful thing for a child to learn. They learn patience, technique, hand-eye coordination, and also get involved in the arts. Music is something we all love. It’s great to be able to take part in it. Making your own music is a blast. You don’t need a huge audience to get a rush out of it. Music is a great way for your kid to express themselves. Even if they don’t do it in front of other people, it can be therapeutic for some. It’s an outlet for the things inside that they don’t know how to express. It’s not rocket surgery, but you should take your time when letting your kid get their first guitar. It’s a great hobby that will still be in style when they have their own children.

My experience

When I was in high school I bought a Hammer Slammer. It was a kit and it was cheap – boy was it cheap. It was uncomfortable to play and never stayed in tune. I got another Hammer guitar because it was pretty candy apple red – it sucked too. I then saved up my money and bought a guitar I had seen in a Fender Magazine, and they had at the shop. I knew what my budget was and started to look in Fender magazines. I loved Fender and it’s what my favorite band (Radiohead) played. The shop (Last Chance Guitars) had a honey blonde unit, I wanted Sunburst. They ordered it for me. I still have it today. It is a Fender Super Strat. I always wanted a Tele too (Fender Telecaster), and ran into a guy at the shop that needed to sell his guitars for money. He brought it in and I actually teared up when I first saw it. (See below)

I also got an acoustic as well. I was always critical of Alvarez acoustics, mostly because they were cheap, but the Alvarez-Yairi model was good enough for Thom Yorke, Bjork, and other music stars at the time. I strummed it once, and took it to the counter to buy. I was also lucky enough to get a vintage amp on the cheap too. It’s a Fender Twin Reverb. Same used by the boys of Radiohead, among others (when they still played guitar and not computers).  The market was down when I bought them. Sometimes you get lucky with buying used music gear, but if you do your homework you can get absolute STEALS. All of my pedals have come used and online, mostly eBay. I would never EVER buy a guitar online, but pedals, are a different story. But, that can get addicting.

J.T. Nutt 18 Articles

Staff Writer

JT “the” Nutt graduated from UNI in 2006 and worked at WHO-TV for a few years including Soundoff. JT then spent the past five years covering UNI most recently for On Press Row. He works as a cameraman for the Iowa Wild, Iowa Energy, and Iowa Barnstormers. JT loves the Cubs, UNI, Avalanche, Chargers, beer, hockey, the WWE, and cat memes.

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