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The Comprehensive Guide to Buying a Guitar as a Christmas Present.

You’re the absolute best friend/parent/partner in the world and you’ve decided to buy someone a guitar as a present. Presumably you’re reading this because you’ve quickly realised that buying the right guitar is an absolute minefield. Not only are there so many more types of guitar than you thought, but everyone has an opinion on which one is ‘best’ and which one you should start learning on. The safest option is obviously just to take the lucky recipient to a guitar store and let them pick one out for themselves, but a lot of people prefer the element of surprise. So if you’re set on buying one in secret, here’s a few things to bear in mind when you’re looking.


1.  Research your player.

You’re going to want to do a little digging to see what your friend likes. You probably have a decent idea of their music tastes already, so spend some time watching videos of the musicians they like. The first question to ask yourself is “Are they most commonly seen holding an electric or an acoustic guitar?” This will give you your first step towards breaking down your options a little.                                                                                                                                                     

A lot of people will tell you that you ‘should’ start learning on an acoustic because it toughens you up for when you graduate to electric guitars. And a lot of people will tell you you should start on an electric because they’re typically easier, and you’ll feel like you’re progressing more. Both arguments are flawed, the instrument you should get is the one that’s going to inspire you to keep playing even when it gets difficult, and that often means the one that your favourite musicians play.




2.   Acoustic Options.

If your friend is more likely to want an electric guitar you can skip ahead to the next section. If you’re going with an acoustic you have two main options to consider. Nylon or steel string. The difference here is mainly musical, steel string guitars are the ones you’ll usually see being used for pop and folk music, whereas nylons are more typical of classical and Spanish styles. Again you’ll want to go back to the videos you watched and see if the musicians your friend likes were playing steel or nylon stringed guitars. Here's a couple of visual clues you can use to figure it out if you're unsure.



A common piece of advice I’ve seen given is that nylon guitars are better beginner guitars because the strings are softer. Whilst that is true, they also have much wider necks, making reaching tricky chords a lot harder for a beginner, so there’s a trade off. Nylon string guitars tend to have a much softer sound, so someone who is looking to strum along to their favourite rock and pop songs, rather than play classical tunes, may quickly become disappointed and find themselves looking for a new guitar. Again, the guitar that is best is the one that keeps you wanting to play. There are a couple of common issues to look out for on acoustic guitars, skip ahead to section 4 to see how to deal with those.


3.   Electric Options.

If your friend is more likely to want an electric guitar you have a few things to consider. The main sound-altering differences between electric guitars are in the pickups. Pickups are essentially magnets wound with wire that “pick up” (clever eh?) on the vibrations of the strings.  There are two main types, and they sound quite different.               


Single coils. These are usually characterised by a brighter, slightly twangier sound, are common in pop, rock and funk music.

Humbuckers. These pickups have a much stronger signal, and are most commonly heard in heavier rock music, and also jazz. They come in a couple of different forms. You'll find examples of what single coils and humbuckers look like in the image below.


As before, you’re going to want to refer back to the musicians your friend listens to. You should be able to see what kind of pickups their guitar has. Some guitars even come with a mixture of single coils and humbuckers. Both can be used for any genre of music, but getting what your friend wants will ensure they get a sound they love from their guitar.