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Questions to ask in guitar shops

I’m not in the market for a new guitar but I’ve got a friend who is wanting to buy one as a gift. The recipient plays a number of instruments, including ukulele, but the other ones are things like keyboard and trumpet and so guitar purchasing is a bit of a mystery to them. Unfortunately, they are too far away for me to easily pop along in person so I’ve been helping over Facebook. We’ve narrowed it down to an electro-acoustic guitar, probably with a cutaway design, being the ideal choice but now they need to visit some guitar stores and I’ve offered to come up with some questions to ask.

Cosmetic details are not unimportant. People have different tastes and I think there is value in selecting something you can see yourself playing. Beyond that though, there are practical matters to consider. I did actually try some of these in a guitar shop in Lincoln last weekend, so I’ve done some “research” but I’d be interested in anything I’ve missed:

  • Does it play in tune up and down the neck (intonation)?
  • How does it sound compared to cheaper and more expensive models (tone)? What else does it offer compared to cheaper guitars or miss out on compared to (realistically) more expensive ones?
  • Is the hardware going to last under reasonable usage? What support do you offer if something malfunctions?
  • What do the electronics do and can I hear it plugged in? (nb. a lot of electro-acoustic instruments now have built in tuners. Otherwise, a clip on tuner is useful although a mobile phone app will do)
  • How high is the action (distance of the strings from the fretboard) and can that be adjusted?
  • What kind of strings come on it (make and gauge – lighter strings are easier on the fingers but are more prone to breaking and slipping out of tune)? Is it worth replacing them at the start?
  • Do you provide a set up service or where would you recommend? How much would that cost?
  • What else comes with the instrument (I’d suggest that at least case / gig bag, strap, stand and plectrums are pretty important for looking after and making the most of the instrument although they don’t have to be top notch examples of each)? What could you offer to provide a good bundle within my budget?

Oh – and don’t forget to suggest a budget a bit less than you’re actually willing to spend. It is amazing how often the store assistants (even the ones who give you no reason to distrust them) find something ideal that is just a bit more than you said you had to spend!

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