Tom's Guitars Manila

Tom's Guitars Manila
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Guitar Buying Guide

This is the day! You are going to buy that guitar, take it home, and jam all night. Armed with nothing, you will go to the store or meeting place, take a quick look at that beautiful guitar, excitedly pay for it, and take it home. Only to find faults the next day.

It is easy to be blinded by the beauty of a guitar. Here are a few guides to overcome your emotion and be logical about the purchase.
Do not be late
Make sure that you are early to give yourself time to check the guitar. A guitar is a major purchase; you probably took several months to save for the cash. When you arrive late, you have the tendency to do a quick check on the guitar to make up for the wasted time of the seller. When buying at the store, the salesperson may be giving hints to hurry up because the store is closing.  
It is not good to buy a guitar when you are in a hurry. This does not mean that you can take an hour to decide. If in a store, you can look at the display as long as you want, but do not take long when testing the guitar.
Bring cash, but not too much cash
Bring cash. It is unethical to check the guitar if you do not intend to buy, unless the buyer is aware that you only want to look and he agrees.
How much cash should you bring? Bring cash that do not exceed the amount you are willing to pay for the guitar. If you want to pay for an amount lower than the offer of the seller, tell him upfront that you only have such amount and will buy the guitar now if the seller agrees. If the seller does agree, buy the guitar and do not haggle for more discounts. If the seller refuses, leave. Do this after checking the guitar to show that the amount you are offering to pay is based on your evaluation of the guitar.

Bring a portable guitar amp
A battery-powered amp would be nice so you can check the electronics. If you do not have one, buy a used guitar headphone amp for testing, and then sell it after. It will not give you a great tone, but this will save you from buying guitars with scratchy pots, loose wires, or a dead pickup. This is very important if the seller is unknown.
If you have a car, and will be buying at the seller’s house or store, it is best to bring your own amp for testing. Their tube amp may bring out the sweetest tone from the guitar you want to buy, but you will still plug that to your old amp when you get home. The tone will be different.
Do not leave the guitar tuner at home
Bring your guitar tuner to check the intonation. This can save you some cash if you do not know how to do it yourself.
Tag a friend along
It is best to bring someone who knows guitars if you are a beginner, especially if you are rich enough to buy an expensive guitar as your first instrument.

Physical check
Do not plug the guitar yet. Check the guitar body for possible cracks. Inspect if the neck is bowed. Try the string action. Can you still adjust the screws to fit your desired action? Rotate the knobs and feel if they are smooth. Check the wood. Is the hardware condition acceptable to you? Check the fret wires. Try the tuners. Does the guitar feel right when you hold it?
You can try asking the seller if you can look at the joints and cavities, but I personally would not advise that for older guitars. Removing and replacing screws repeatedly can damage the wood's screw holes if done carelessly and that is un-doable. If you have to do that, do not force the screws.
Plug the guitar and set the amp to clean channel. Adjust the volume and tone controls and listen for scratches. Does the tone and volume change when you turn the knobs? Toggle the switches. Are all pickups working? If they do not have the same volume, can you adjust the pickup height? If the electronics are all working, then it is time to check the tone. 
Keep the tone in your head 
You should listen to good recordings of the guitar model you want to buy, a few days before the purchase. The tone you want should be in your head when you walk into that store or meet the seller. A good tone is one that you heard and like to have.
Unfortunately, tone is subjective so I cannot advise the tone that is good for you. Only you can do that, based on the tone in your head. Fortunately, a guitar's pickup has the greatest effect on the tone of a guitar. This means that you can easily improve the tone by upgrading the pickups, if you really like the guitar.
Spend time on the physical check, but not on the tone check. The sound will not change even if you spend one hour as compared to ten minutes. If the tone is good for you, you will like it at the first few notes. When you play the guitar longer, you are forcing yourself that you like the tone you hear. If you do not like the tone and you have no plans of upgrading the pickup then just let go. Do not waste the seller’s time. 

The Place Matters
The store’s environment can affect the tone you will hear, if playing on a guitar amp. A big showroom will weaken the sound from the amp. A noisy showroom will influence the tone you hear. Even the poor or yellow lighting can hide a crack or change your impression of the finish. Take note of these limitations when testing the guitar. It may sound and look better in your bedroom.
* Images are from Tom's Guitar Manila


  1. Really useful. Thanks Roy for sharing. I really like your informative posts about guitars

    1. You are welcome sir! I am giving back what I learned from the community.

      I recently created a facebook page with the same purpose. Many readers use FB's free data and reading an external link will cost them. Creating articles on FB means it can be easily read and shared. I am unable to update the page at the moment, but will surely do once my schedule allows me. I have many articles in mind, but you can drop a comment on the page if you a suggestion.

      Here is the link: