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Terry Mills, Guitar Lessons: Sebastopol and Santa Rosa: Blog

Purchasing an instrument

Posted on May 4, 2013 with 1 comment
I am often asked by students to aid in the purchase of a newer, "better" guitar. My first question is, " Do you think that you are interested enough at this point in your studies that you will be likely to continue playing the guitar for the foreseeable
future?" If they answer in the affirmative, I then ask them, "How much money are you willing to spend"? I then encourage them to spend as much money as they possibly can (or more!) so that they will appreciate enough of a difference between the
new instrument and their current one.
A common fallacy practiced by the novice student is to get trapped in the process of buying a slightly more expensive guitar and achieving tiny a improvement in sound. Additionally, they are now caught in a loop of trying to sell the old instrument to defray the cost of the new one.
A common misconception is that if a guitar costs, for instance, $200, it will sound twice as good as one that sells for $100. Unfortunately, this is not the case and one would need to at least triple the equation in order to see a marked improvement in tone and quality. This is a result of the "law of diminishing returns:" it requires a great deal of expertise and time (and therefore, money) for a maker to bring out the best from the materials he is working with.
As a rough guide, I would say that the following costs would be reasonable "leaps" to make when moving up the financial
ladder when purchasing a guitar: $200/$400/$800/$1600/$4000, etc. As you can see, one moves up quickly in expenditure to realize a substantive improvement.
My thinking is this: why not try to make the leap from, say, $400 to $1600 and avoid the trouble of dealing with selling an $800 instrument to reach the $1600 level? By the way, for most students, unless they are seriously considering performing as a career, I'd say that $1600 will buy a perfectly fine guitar which they will not "outplay" for a long time. There are even many fine examples of $800-$1200 instruments available that may carry you for a long time.
Of course, if you have the means, and whether you wish to perform professionally or not, a fine, hand-crafted guitar will be one of the greatest joys to you as you discover just how much easier it is to create beautiful music on an instrument that responds almost magically to whatever demands you make of it.

Adam Karim

August 5, 2013

Very useful information. Thank you for the insightful write up!