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Unread 11-08-2003, 08:59 PM   #1
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The WORST advice you could ever get/give in the entire world of guitar buying

This was something I was going to start a new thread on, and ended up touching on in another post where it was relevant. However, it really needs it's own thread.

I see a lot of posts on here about what kind of guitar should someone get and so on. To make that kind of informed decision, usually you need to know a lot about guitars, or have some clear idea of what to look for. A lot of guitars look identical, give or take a paint job, and if you don't know what to look for, they can all look the same.

And, if you are just starting out, you are not going to know a lot of this stuff. That's why education is so critical.

For instance, how do you tell the difference between a total crap guitar for $179 and a virtually identical (as far as looks go) guitar that plays well and is an excellent value for $209 (only $30 more)? A beginner, or his or her parents, often won't know this. Very often, the people who work in that music store won't know that either. Especially in stores that mix "band" instruments with "rock" instruments. More on that later.

Because of this, I consider the following, with as little melodrama and exaggeration as possible, to be the worst advice you could ever get/give in the entire world of guitar buying: "Go to your local store and try out every guitar in your price range, and go with the one that sounds/feels/plays/you-like/whatever the best".

As well meaning as this advice may be, I see some significant problems with this. And this is not an indictment of anyone here who has offered it. I have as well in the past.

First, what if all the guitars at your local store are crap? This happens so often it's pitiful. You go to your local music store, and they have one used Fender Strat for about $800, one Yamaha whatever for about $600, and the rest are all crap imports from Korea, trafficked by no-name-brands, all for under $200. If you have arbitrarily determined that your price range is $225 or whatever because that's all you have right now in your checking account, and/or you think that that's what a guitar should cost without any real-world understanding of quality musical instruments because you are new to all this, then the technical term for this is "you're screwed." There's no way that you will pay any attention or consider for a moment the only two decent guitars in the whole store. You are going to be picking from all the crap guitars. And, based on that above advice, you will, hopefully, be picking the least crappiest of all the crap guitars. You'll be getting crap, but it will be slightly better crap.

But here's the thing: it's still crap!! IOW, instead of getting this crappy Korean import for $179, you'll be getting that crappy Korean import for $189. Odds are, they could have been made right next to each other in the same sweat-shop by the same workers getting paid $10 a day.

I see this with startling regularity, and often these music stores don't even have the Fender or Yamaha in this example. Sometimes all they have is the crap and nothing else.

This scenario is especially rampant in music stores that mix "band" instruments (all the instruments for school band and orchestra) and "rock" instruments, or "electric music" instruments (electric guitars, basses, amps, drums, keyboards, so on. Guitar Center stuff) rather than a store that specializes in just "rock" instruments, like Guitar Center. The reason for this is that most people in the "band and orchestra" world have absolutely no experience and sensibility in the "rock" world. They don't know how to cater to the special needs of the electric (or acoustic) guitarist, and view guitars and basses as just another instrument to sell.

I know this from experience because in every single music store like that that I have been in, in many major metroplexes here in TX, GA, and so on, fit that exact same profile. Usually, they have one guy in the guitar section, and he was a roadie (and de facto "guitar tech") for Cheap Trick or Great White or someone back in the early '80's, had a garage band that gigged a bit at a local club, and that's about it (if even that much) and he's usually not even remotely knowledgeable about what's new in "rock" instruments. Now, if you're local guy is more knowledgeable than that, thank your lucky stars. But you can almost guarantee that everyone else in that store will be totally clueless, beyond what sku numbers they can order from the catalog.

A sharp, stark generalization, I know, but it squares with every single "general" music store I have been in over the last decade. The only "general" music store that was able to pull this off was MARS Music Superstore . . . . only, they didn't, because they are now bankrupt and out of business.

BTW, these comments are in no way intended to slam any "general music stores". A lot of them are good people, and if you can find a good deal there, then great! But, from my experience, it is not an ideal place to get an education in "Rock" instruments. That also goes for acoustic guitars as well.

Second, let's take one of the above scenarios a step further.
Quote:
For instance, how do you tell the difference between a total crap guitar for $179 and a virtually identical (as far as looks go) guitar that plays well and is an excellent value for $209 (only $30 more)?
Let's say that you set the cap on your "price-range" at $190, and you just can't see your way clear to pay more, plus, both these guitars look identical to you. You can't tell the difference between the two. Well, hey, you just saved $30, right? Congratulations! You came in under your price-range and got quite a deal! Or did you? The imported Squiers (carried by Fender, but not made by Fender) are notorious around here for being problematic, while the aforementioned Fender Made-in-Mexico Strats are quite handy, and are a good value for the money.

If you knew this distinction, you could have held out for $30 more for the better guitar.

But a newbie wouldn't know this. And guitar companies and dealers who carry identical looking cheapo lines are counting on this. It often means the difference between selling a guitar and not selling one at all when someone just doesn't have the money, or awareness, to pony up for quality.

That's another key point.

Quote:
"Go to your local store and try out every guitar in your price range, and go with the one that sounds/feels/plays/you-like/whatever the best".
I see this advice given to so many people here who say up front that they are just getting started and are just learning, and, based on their other posts and threads from the Logistics forum, are often struggling with even the basic chords (well, hey, we all have to start somewhere, right? ).

So, how is this newbie going to have the maturity, hand-coordination, knowledge, experience, feel, and basic musicality, to be able to pick-up a guitar and give it a "test-drive" ("test-play"?) and know what to feel for, listen for, look for, look at, and so on? That would be a lot like having a 15 year-old kid with about a week's worth of driving experience, and just got his learner's permit, go test-drive a bunch of new cars and write a review for Car and Driver Magazine. "So, Junior, which car is the better value?" Not likely.

Coupled with the other example, send that same kid to Biff's Used Car Lot (there's one of these in every town), and have him test drive a bunch of clunkers, all going for about $2K to $4K, and ask him which car is the better value. Are you kidding? That's utterly ridiculous! But isn't that exactly what we propose when we send a kid "to your local store and try out every guitar in your price range, and go with the one that sounds/feels/plays/you-like/whatever the best".

Not only that, it takes about 6 months to know if we truly like the sound of a new guitar! It takes that long for our ears and brain connection to attenuate to the new listening experience.

Now, granted, if you play a bunch of crap guitars, then get a good one, thru a good amp, then, yeah, you'll immediately notice an improvement. That will be a dramatic revelation. But to fully appreciate the tonality and timbre at the level most people talk about around here, with "slightly chunky" this and "slightly darker" that and so on, it takes about 6 months.

Case in point: DiMarzio pickups in Parker Guitars.

Ken Parker revolutionized guitars with his Fly. It's only 3.5 lbs, yet has the sustain of a guitar made of granite! It has to do with the construction of the guitar, and sound transference and resonance. He has about 8 to 16 patents on it. He even figured in the resonance transferrence into and from the guitarist's body itself! The guitar literally (or almost literally) comes alive in your hands. So, when you play it for the first time, as you can imagine, it has an amazing tone. That is, for about the first 6 months.

See, the pickups suck. Basically, Ken was in NY when he was working on the prototype Fly, and it needed a custom sized pickup. Well, Larry DiMarzio was in NY, and Seymour is out in Cali. So, instead of custom Duncans, Ken went with custom DiMarzio, probably because Larry and the boys made it real easy for Ken to drop by anytime, being figuratively down the street. Unfortunately, the pickups don't cut it. But you can't hear that at first because your ear is still adjusting to the radically new way of hearing a guitar, given it's greater resonance and responsiveness.

Then, usually about after 6 months, people start to notice that the pickups sound kind of "rizzy". It's been described as "A fly buzzing around in your head" which was probably not the Fly motif or connotation that Ken had in mind when he named his guitar the Parker Fly.

Well, thru an interesting turn of events, Parkers now come with Duncans on some models, and it is a custom option, tho I imagine eventually, the DiMarzios will be completely discontinued.

Now, usually only experienced, mature guitarists buy Parkers. IOW, people who have maturity, hand-coordination, knowledge, experience, feel, and basic musicality. And if they can't spot (or, rather, hear) the rizziness of a DiMarzio pickup in a Parker after 6 solid months of playing and gigging, how is an inexperienced, not-yet-musically-mature, uncoordinated, naive, not-yet-musical newbie going to know a good guitar when he sees/hears/plays one after a 5 minute test-drive at the local Guitar Center?

Not only all this, but we haven't even considered whether the guitars have been properly set up and are in good playing condition! What if the best guitar in the store, the one of the greatest value for the new student and would be perfect wasn't set up correctly? Trust me, most music store clerks will have no idea what you are talking about if you ask if the guitar is properly set up. They will probably strum it and say, "yeah, sounds in tune".

Any thoughts?

Chesh


Last edited by CheshireCat; 06-02-2005 at 10:17 PM.
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Unread 11-08-2003, 09:24 PM   #2
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Yes, I agree that it's bad advice for a newbie.
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Unread 11-09-2003, 01:07 AM   #3
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Well, for one thing I agree that may be bad advice for a newbie. Most of us know what we want and are capable of making the choice based on what WE NEED rather than what music stores and ads say we need! BUT you have not suggested WHAT SHOULD be done for his/her case!(a newbie) All I have read is what you think the problem IS, not what can be done about it! So do you have any ideas? As far as telling someone that fender imports are crap, I DON'T agree! Now don't get me wrong, I don't think they hold a candle to the fender american series, but I don't think that they are crap either! NO guitar for $99.00 like this one will have top quality! http://www.musiciansfriend.com/srs7/.../base_id/58546
That is just the way it is! But that does not make it a crap guitar and no good to learn on! And MOST people when they start out want the cheapest they can get, in case they decide later on they really don't want to play anymore....... Can you blame them?

The only solution I know of, is to send them to a music store where they live and have them rely on the salesmans knowledge of guitars, which varies unfortunately! But if they don't have the knowledge to know themselves which is good or bad, they have to have some advice! Aside from that, if they DO go the internet or musicians friend route, then they need to know what they are purchasing BEFORE they buy! Mabye they can get advice from a friend that plays or their instructor.


I have been playing for 24 years and it IS hard to relate to newer people sometimes, I forget that they are not as experienced when making a purchase, BUT, I started out playing a knockoff of a fender strat. (An Arrow guitar) It did not KILL me to have to learn to play on something that was a little harder to play! Actually, it gave my fingers strength and when I was able to make a good decision on an american made guitar, I appreciated it more! But that was me! Todays "cheapo" guitars are FAR BETTER than what I started out on, even the ones made in indonesia have SOME quality. (very LOW quality though) I can't decide what somebody else wants, neither can you or anyone else. The only thing you can do, is make suggestions. The best I can think of for a newbie, is to find someone who they know is near them that can show them what is out there and the choices they have.
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Unread 11-09-2003, 01:28 AM   #4
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I'm kinda new at the whole guitar scene. Well, I've been dinking around with it for a few years, but when I started looking to buy a good guitar this year (I had a really old one that is super hard to play) I sought out the advice of the closest guitar expert I knew...my brother He found me a sweet deal on ebay (yeah, ebay is not a good spot for guitars, I know, but occasionally you'll find a good deal...which I did) and I got a great guitar. Ideally, every "newbie" to playing the guitar would have someone they knew personally to help make the decision...because while guitar salesmen are very nice, they sometimes try to make you buy something that isn't really what's best for you. Like Ok, I'm never going to be playing on a stage...so for me to buy a Taylor 714 series would be foolish...but a guitar salesman tried to sell me one even after he knew i didn't really play and definitely didn't have the money. so, yeah finding someone you know and trust is the best if you want the most for your money.
And I agree...starting on a guitar that is a little harder to play strengthens your fingers. I just found out that with my new guitar, I can play bar chords whereas I was always under the impression that my hands were too small.

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Unread 11-09-2003, 01:43 AM   #5
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webe123 - Suggestions on what to do are forthcoming, but I wanted to tackle this mis-advice first and foremost.

TAL - I hate that about salespeople. I think it was Zig who put it best. The key to sales is easy: "Ask people what they want, and then give it to them". As simple and obvious as it sounds, it astounds me that so few salesmen, whose livelyhood depends on understanding and getting this, fail to grasp this.

Chesh
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Unread 11-09-2003, 08:31 AM   #6
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My advice for a newbie is to enlist the help of a more experienced guitarist and buy a cheap electric on ebay.

If you don't know any guitarists, buy a cheap ($200 or less) name brand like Squier, Epiphone, Yamaha, or Washburn. Once you've been playing a while, you'll be in a better position to know what you want in a more expensive guitar.
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Unread 11-09-2003, 10:09 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BluesJunkie
If you don't know any guitarists, buy a cheap ($200 or less) name brand like Squier, Epiphone, Yamaha, or Washburn. Once you've been playing a while, you'll be in a better position to know what you want in a more expensive guitar.
Yeah, I started out on an incredibly cheap Squier. After 6 months I started looking for a new guitar. Not the strat that I originally thought I wanted, but my LP. So, really trying everything in your price range never really applied to me. I went to my music store, never touchinf anything that had a $500 + price tag on it, realized what crap intstruments were made in the sub-$200 level, then went for a $400 LP that I had learned to be the guitar I wanted, and had gotten a very good deal on it. So I guess I figured out what I wanted, then looked for the best deal I could find. A new $1000 LP was way out of my price range, but I looked for the best deal I could find and then I found one.

I think one of the worst things a newbie can do is to go out and look for a guitar by themselves or without any previous help from other guitarists.
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Unread 11-09-2003, 03:52 PM   #8
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My best advice for newbies is: Take me along with you when you want to go shopping for a new (or used) guitar. That doesn't work so well on the internet, though. So I generally say, "Take a friend who plays well and who you can trust along." But not everybody has friends like that.
So I say, "head out and play the really expensive stuff in as many music stores as you can get to on a regular basis for a couple of months, and then take your budget out there and see if you can get close to something that compares well when judged by your ear." But not everybody has a bevy of music stores available.

So basically, on the internet, what you're left with is, "Don't take 2 hours to find a guitar. Take 2 months of lots of playing. Visit several stores if you can, and don't limit your playing options to only those guitars you might possibly be able to afford. When one speaks to you after 2 months and it's in your price range, grab it and you'll more than likely be happy with it."

Anything beyond that, I believe, starts to borderline on a waste.

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Unread 11-09-2003, 07:52 PM   #9
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even if you are an experienced guitarist, its good to take another musician with you. another set of ears or two can drop in opinions on the tone of the guitars you play.

i think the point of the general statement "get the one that you like best in your price range" is just saying "don't buy a guitar because of the letters on the headstock"
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Unread 11-09-2003, 09:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
i think the point of the general statement "get the one that you like best in your price range" is just saying "don't buy a guitar because of the letters on the headstock"
georgeo - Well, I agree with that 100%, and that is a good insight, tho, unfortunately, if that is the case, many very well meaning souls may have inadvertantly taken their advisees out of the proverbial "Name-Brand-Loyalty Frying Pan" and landed them into the "Ship-Without-a-Rudder,-No-Smart-Consumer-Tool-Set Fire".

I think we need a strong and fool-proof methodology for smart guitar shopping, and we are the guys to do it. After all, we get asked this enough; 'bout time we had a good answer.

Chesh
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Unread 11-10-2003, 10:06 AM   #11
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So you pretty much want to collaborate a newbie-proof guide to buying a guitar. Sounds great.
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Unread 11-10-2003, 12:09 PM   #12
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Well, essentially, but it isn't necessarily just for a newbie. I mean, what is a newbie? I've seen people playing for 2 years who still hardly know a thing about guitars in terms of quality or construction, apart from the fact that they just strum it at church meetings, or around a campfire or something. What happens when they want to step up? Or get an electric?

Then there's all the lawyer and doctor types who blindly do/buy whatever the kid making $6 an hour at GC tells them to do/buy (especially around Christmas), and/or they've been playing their Epi that they had as a kid for the last 20 years, and perhaps they are thinking about stepping up as well. You know the scenario, they walk in, ask for the best guitar in the whole store (this is GC, so that's not saying a lot), and the kid walks them over to the PRS wall, with it's little shrine, league of vestial virgins dressed in white, holding candles, singing the praises of the Patron Saint of Guitar, His Holiness Paul Reed Smith. The wind blows, a ray of light shines down from Heaven, while the violins swell, angels sing, and Morman Tabernacle Choir breaks out into a chorus of the Battle Hymn of the Old Republic. And, the best bet is, they can get "The Greatest Guitar on the Planet" for only $3K!!

Nevermind the fact that they could have gotten twice the amount of guitar for half the money.

Then there are the seasoned players who have been a Gibson man or a Fender man for decades, but have now decided that the quality isn't there like it use to be (i.e., in the case of Gibson, handmade in Kalamazoo then, vs. mass produced now).

I have a good friend like that. He's toured with Van Halen and knows a lot of top notch rockers, and is tip-top himself. He's an incredible player, only he's been a Gibson man for all this time, and is now stepping up to a Quicksilver, having always taken quality for granted. He could outplay almost anyone I know, and he still barely knows anything about pickups, or wiring, or guitar construction (even tho he is an excellent carpenter). IOW, he doesn't sit around and analyze his guitars (as fun as that is), he just goes out and plays them, and has for 30 years.

Now, given his maturity and talent, he can just plug a guitar in and play it and know if it is a good value in the sound and playability area. And he has enough money that cost isn't too big of an issue (and he knows how to bargain). But if he wanted to improve or upgrade a guitar, or plan those things out, he would be a bit lost. Also, a lot of the new technology is pretty new to him, even some of the old.

I would like to come up with a method that could help everybody. A method where newbies (whatever that really means) could get clear guidance, and pros and vets could improve and refine their gear acquisition.

Chesh

Last edited by CheshireCat; 11-10-2003 at 12:25 PM.
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Unread 11-10-2003, 04:33 PM   #13
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I think that the best idea for a newbie is to ask them how much they are willing to spend or how they to begin with. Some guitar/music stores will give you good sound advice,while others that I know of will try to sell you a $3,000 Martin or Taylor,true,they are great instruments,but how many people you know ran out and bought a Taylor their first time out? There are hundreds of brands out there that are good,decent guitars,some a lot of folks never heard of.I have been playing for over twenty years,and when I go and choose a new instument,I first spend time handling the guitar,feeling out the neck and see if it's comfortable enough to play for a couple hours.Then I check out the sound of the guitar. It's not bad advice to let a newbie pick out a guitar for the feel and sound.
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Unread 11-10-2003, 05:21 PM   #14
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Quote:
I think that the best idea for a newbie is to ask them how much they are willing to spend or how they to begin with. . . [insightful middle part omitted] . . It's not bad advice to let a newbie pick out a guitar for the feel and sound.
gchord - with all due respect, this advice is the very advice that I was talking about as being the worst advice that you could give a newbie. The end points are squarely bad advice. The middle points you make were very insightful, ergo, I did not quote them because I didn't want them confused as being off-mark.

First . . .

Quote:
I think that the best idea for a newbie is to ask them how much they are willing to spend or how they to begin with
Look at what I wrote:

Quote:
First, what if all the guitars at your local store are crap? This happens so often it's pitiful. You go to your local music store, and they have one used Fender Strat for about $800, one Yamaha whatever for about $600, and the rest are all crap imports from Korea, trafficked by no-name-brands, all for under $200. If you have arbitrarily determined that your price range is $225 or whatever because that's all you have right now in your checking account, and/or you think that that's what a guitar should cost without any real-world understanding of quality musical instruments because you are new to all this, then the technical term for this is "you're screwed." There's no way that you will pay any attention or consider for a moment the only two decent guitars in the whole store. You are going to be picking from all the crap guitars. And, based on that above advice, you will, hopefully, be picking the least crappiest of all the crap guitars. You'll be getting crap, but it will be slightly better crap.

But here's the thing: it's still crap!! IOW, instead of getting this crappy Korean import for $179, you'll be getting that crappy Korean import for $189. Odds are, they could have been made right next to each other in the same sweat-shop by the same workers getting paid $10 a day.

I see this with startling regularity, and often these music stores don't even have the Fender or Yamaha in this example. Sometimes all they have is the crap and nothing else
See, what someone is willing to spend, or thinks that they can spend, is purely subjective and is based on a value assessment made with often incomplete, or sometimes wantonly inaccurate, information.

If some newbie makes it up (assumes, theorizes, imagines, guesses) that a guitar is only supposed to cost so much, then he won't be able to see his/her way clear to spend more. This threshold often falls just short of the next price point. For instance . . .

Quote:
. . . how do you tell the difference between a total crap guitar for $179 and a virtually identical (as far as looks go) guitar that plays well and is an excellent value for $209 (only $30 more)? A beginner, or his or her parents, often won't know this. Very often, the people who work in that music store won't know that either. Especially in stores that mix "band" instruments with "rock" instruments. More on that later.

Let's say that you set the cap on your "price-range" at $190, and you just can't see your way clear to pay more, plus, both these guitars look identical to you. You can't tell the difference between the two. Well, hey, you just saved $30, right? Congratulations! You came in under your price-range and got quite a deal! Or did you? The imported Squiers (carried by Fender, but not made by Fender) are notorious around here for being problematic, while the aforementioned Fender Made-in-Mexico Strats are quite handy, and are a good value for the money.

If you knew this distinction, you could have held out for $30 more for the better guitar.

But a newbie wouldn't know this. And guitar companies and dealers who carry identical looking cheapo lines are counting on this. It often means the difference between selling a guitar and not selling one at all when someone just doesn't have the money, or awareness, to pony up for quality.
I believe 100% that if the price differential between a majorly problematic, el cheapo guitar, and a good value for your dollar, highly functional guitar, is $30, most newbies, and even many cheap-skates, tight-wads, and so on, can wrap their brain around that one. They could see themselves waiting for that, or finding some creative ways to source that money, knowing what the return on investment will be.

But without that guidance, or insight, or real world reality check, they may miss it completely, get the Squier vs. the MIM Strat (for example) and buy a whole lot of trouble and lackluster performance for a measly $30.

The irony is that they will probably pay well more than $30 to repair or maintain the lessor instrument, not to mention the high premium on opportunity costs.

Second . . .

Quote:
It's not bad advice to let a newbie pick out a guitar for the feel and sound.
Actually, and with all due respect, I think it's very bad advice.

Look at what I wrote:

Quote:
I see this advice given to so many people here who say up front that they are just getting started and are just learning, and, based on their other posts and threads from the Logistics forum, are often struggling with even the basic chords (well, hey, we all have to start somewhere, right? ).

So, how is this newbie going to have the maturity, hand-coordination, knowledge, experience, feel, and basic musicality, to be able to pick-up a guitar and give it a "test-drive" ("test-play"?) and know what to feel for, listen for, look for, look at, and so on? That would be a lot like having a 15 year-old kid with about a week's worth of driving experience, and just got his learner's permit, go test-drive a bunch of new cars and write a review for Car and Driver Magazine. "So, Junior, which car is the better value?" Not likely.

Coupled with the other example, send that same kid to Biff's Used Car Lot (there's one of these in every town), and have him test drive a bunch of clunkers, all going for about $2K to $4K, and ask him which car is the better value. Are you kidding? That's utterly ridiculous! But isn't that exactly what we propose when we send a kid "to your local store and try out every guitar in your price range, and go with the one that sounds/feels/plays/you-like/whatever the best"?
See, you've been playing for 20 years, so you have the maturity, hand-coordination, knowledge, experience, feel, and basic musicality to be able to make those distinctions, but a newbie doesn't. He or she will be totally lost.

For instance, a guitar with an impossibly bulky, thick neck, might feel like their favorite baseball or softball bat when they were playing in little league or something, and that to them is comfortable, nevermind the fact that it will be virtually impossible to play it.

Like I said, this is well meaning advice, but it ultimately can be very misguided because a newbie isn't going to have these facilities, by definition.

Remember, they're a newbie, by definition they are new to all this, and therefore have no real world experience or appreciation making these decisions. But most store clerks at GC or most other places won't know this, nor particularly care. They just want to sell you a guitar, collect their commission, and get on to the next customer.

Chesh

Last edited by CheshireCat; 01-02-2004 at 12:26 AM.
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Unread 11-10-2003, 09:30 PM   #15
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My fault,Chesh. I probably mis-read or misinterped your post,forgive me. And your right,having played for over twenty years I forgoten what it's like to be a newbie. My feel for guitars is HOW I buy my guitars,but this comes from exeperence. I agree with what most have said,like avoid names on headstocks etc. I paid $200 apeice for both of my electrics,both because of how I liked the way they felt,one of them a mim Fender Strat and the other is a 312 Yamaha Pacifica,which is going to have surgery to upgrade the pups.The mim Strat is a great guitar,solid sound,in fact it plays better than a '78 american strat I once had. But I know what you're saying. My wife says I spend more time on buying a guitar than on a car!
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