Cheap is such an ugly word. But everyone uses it, so… Let’s talk about cheap guitars, because most beginners usually start here.
First of all, what is considered a cheap guitar? Well, that’s obviously a matter of opinion, since a $500 guitar might be cheap for some, yet a fortune for others. But generally, new cheap guitars for sale at retail and online stores run between $100 and $200. This is the range that most young players or budget-minded beginners tend to look at. Anywhere under $100, umm, please don’t even go there. I’m pleased to say there are plenty of decent choices to be had in the $100-$200 price range for electric, bass and acoustic guitars. However, I’m going to spill the beans right away: If you want to save, it’s a much better option to buy used instead of buying a cheap new one. Why? Read this article about used guitars to learn why. Trust me, it’s an eye opener for those who always prefer to buy the new stuff.
Let’s start with the kids
A simple Squier Bullet Stratocaster in black costs around $119.99. This guitar is marketed at the young players hence the fact that it’s the same model as the Rock Band 3 Squier Stratocaster from the popular video game. It’s the same color and all. However, it’s still a big guitar and only suitable for kids older than 10, obviously depending on the size of their hands. When it comes to small guitars that are actually meant for the smaller hands of a 6 year old for example, there are only a few options. These include the Squier Affinity Mini Stratocaster and the Ibanez Gio Mikro GRGM21 among a handful of others. The Squier Affinity is what my son plays, but truthfully, even though I’m a Fender fan, I think the Ibanez is a better buy overall. I only got him the Squier, 1. Because I didn’t know any better at the time and 2. Because the shop didn’t have the Ibanez available anyway. I needed to buy in a hurry to be in time for his birthday. However, the guitar is all right. I just changed the tuning pegs and now it stays in tune at least! Keep in mind the Ibanez is about $40, but it is $40 more guitar!
Now to the regular sized guys…
Since the major manufacturers like Ibanez, Fender, ESP, Epiphone and Dean all try to aim at the same target price for the budget beginner, you will find plenty of options in the “cheap” price range. Some of these inexpensive instruments are actually quite good, but please don’t expect them to perform like a proper professional guitar. These guitars are mass-produced with low-end materials. They deliver what they are supposed to, but oftentimes their sound is very much less than stellar, the feel of the instrument is not so great and many cannot even stay in tune properly. However, a properly set up inexpensive guitar can actually be good. Since these guitars’ quality control is not as thorough as on more expensive models they often arrive in the hands of the consumer with the action set too high and the neck relief improperly set. For this very reason, if you want to enjoy your guitar as much as possible and actually be able to learn stuff on it, use some of the money you saved to have a professional set it up for you. This will ensure you get a guitar that has adequate string action, intonation and can properly stay in tune. While the shop that will sell you the guitar will be happy to offer you a set up for small fee, I’d much rather take the guitar to an independent tech instead. At least I know that if the guitar has problems, he’ll be honest with me and let me know. That being the case, I would proceed to take it back to the shop I bought it at, get another one and repeat the process all over again.
Google up a couple of the major guitar online stores. You should easily find 4, or 10.
I’m not going to go into detail as to which brand of budget guitars is the best, or which cheap guitar amps you should choose from, or how many cups of coffee you should drink before practicing, or none of that sort of stuff. Why? Because this is what I recommend you do:
- Google up a couple of the major guitar online stores. You should easily find 4, or 10. Look up the guitars available in the price range you are looking to spend. Then read the reviews from previous customers. That is the best research you can do right there. You’ll definitely find a couple of standouts by doing that.
- Once you have picked some standouts, either go ahead and order one and hope for the best (you can always send it back if you don’t like it) or take the research one step further: Go to a local guitar shop and test out the standout models in your research list. Even if you don’t know how to play guitar yet, you can learn a lot about a guitar by looking at it closely and holding it in your hands. Run your hands up and down the guitar neck and get a good feel for it. A good guitar should feel natural and fit nicely in your hands and under your arm. If you can, bring your guitar teacher with you. He can likely easily point out if the guitar you are choosing is good for you or not.
A final option is to buy a shop brand guitar. You have to be careful with this option because you really have to know how to tell if it’s a good one or not. The nice thing about the shop guitars, or some unknown brand guitars, is that oftentimes they are built by the same factories that make the brand name ones. In fact, sometimes you can get a better instrument for the money because the overhead expenses of these small brands is less. They can often spend more on making a slightly higher quality instrument than the big brands, but sell it to you at the same price, if not lower. But beware! Unless you know what you are doing it’s very hard to choose between the crappy ones and the good ones.