Beginner guitar mistakes happen, especially since guitar has never been more popular. Today we are going to go over some common mistakes to avoid when buying your guitar, and some valuable advice.
5 Beginner Guitar Mistakes To Avoid
Beginner Mistakes To Avoid: We’ve All Been There!
If you ask any professional guitarist, they will tell you all about the mistakes they have made over the years when buying a “beginner guitar”. Most of us have purchased guitars that we regret, due to inexperience with the features (Floyd Rose, anyone?). Today, we are going to look at the 5 things you should avoid when buying a guitar.
Everyone that plays guitar was at one point, a beginner. We all had to pick out a first guitar, and before the internet it was much easier to make big mistakes! However, even today with all of the knowledge of guitars that we have at our disposal, mistakes can still be made, despite your personal research.
Buying your first guitar, and getting into guitar in general can be confusing with all of the options out there today. Guitars have never been so varied and affordable. Perhaps you have seen one of your favorite guitar players on stage with a specific model, and that is a good place to start… usually.
But just because a guitar fits your favorite guitarist’s needs, doesn’t mean that it will fit your needs. There are plenty of things to take into consideration, like scale length and pickup types. It has never been easier to find a guitar in your budget that is packed with features that are useful. But these features need to be beginner friendly, and many guitars are not “beginner friendly”.
Still, there are a few guidelines that can save any beginner some time, frustration, and money. Today we are going to go over the features, specs, and choices you should probably avoid as a beginner guitarist.
Why Is This So Important?
The most valid reason is your first guitar should inspire you to play, not hinder you in any way. If a guitar has a feature that you struggle with, it can cause you to quit playing. I have seen many people buy a problematic guitar and it stays in the case it came with, untouched for years.
As a beginner, you want to get as much play time out of your guitar as possible. This means your first guitar should be comfortable, with basic features that are easy to understand. Otherwise, you may get frustrated with the guitar, and give up on playing.
The second thing to consider is money. I have seen many players try and start out with a complicated guitar, only to sell it at a loss and buy something easier to play and maintain. This happens often, if what we see on reddit forums is to be believed!
Either way, you certainly don’t want to end up with a guitar that you struggle to play, restring, or maintain. Most guitar maintenance can be done at home with a few simple tools, and it shouldn’t be a chore or frustrating.
So let’s dive into the top 5 beginner guitar mistakes to avoid, and take a look at some things to consider when it comes to buying a new guitar, or your very first guitar. These are all easy to avoid, and you can always move on to these features later, as you progress as a player.
#5 Extreme Body Shapes
Believe me, I am a huge fan of “Metal” guitars like the Explorer and Flying V. I remember seeing James Hetfield from Metallica playing both of these guitar shapes, and I wanted one myself as a young guitarist. However, I am glad that I started with a more simple design, a Les Paul.
As a beginner guitarist, it’s essential to make informed choices when selecting your instrument. While it may be tempting to opt for flashy and unique guitar shapes, like the Explorer or Flying V, it’s crucial to consider the ergonomic implications of such designs. These extreme guitar shapes may be iconic and visually striking, but they can pose challenges for beginners that could hinder their learning progress and overall playing experience.
Firstly, the body shape of the Explorer and Flying V can be uncomfortable for some beginners, especially those with smaller frames or shorter arms. The unconventional shapes can make it challenging to find a comfortable playing position, resulting in awkward wrist and arm positions that can lead to strain and discomfort.
Additionally, the weight distribution of these guitars can be less balanced than more traditional shapes, such as the Stratocaster or Les Paul. This can lead to neck-heavy guitars that may cause strain on the player’s shoulder and back over extended periods of playing.
As a beginner, your main priority should be focusing on developing your playing skills and physical technique. Opting for a guitar with a more ergonomic design will help you maintain a comfortable playing position and minimize the risk of strain or discomfort.
So while these guitars may look really cool, they may not be a very good fit for a beginner. Both are difficult to play while sitting down, and neck-dive is a real problem even for the pros! While a more traditional shape might not be as “fun” in the beginning, it will be easier to play.
Pro Tip: Buy a guitar that is a more “traditional” shape. The Stratocaster and Les Paul are so popular because they are easier to play sitting down and standing up.
#4 Floyd Rose/Tremolo Systems
I am a big fan of the Floyd Rose System, and I have used it for years. However, it takes a modicum of experience to set up a Floyd Rose equipped guitar. As fun as the Floyd Rose bridge can be, it definitely comes with some caveats. here are some things to consider:
- Complexity and Setup: For a Floyd Rose tremolo system to function optimally, it must be precisely balanced and set up correctly. Changing string gauges or tuning requires adjustments to the tension of the springs in the guitar’s cavity, which can be a daunting task for a novice player. Improper setup can lead to tuning issues, string buzz, or even a complete loss of tuning stability, leaving the beginner frustrated and disheartened.
- Time-Consuming String Changes: String changes on a Floyd Rose-equipped guitar can be time-consuming and complicated, especially for those unfamiliar with the system. Unlike traditional fixed bridges, changing strings on a Floyd Rose requires additional steps, such as adjusting the tremolo tension and fine-tuning each string individually. For a beginner guitarist still getting accustomed to basic maintenance tasks, this process can be overwhelming and discouraging.
- Limited Alternate Tunings: Experimenting with alternate tunings is a common practice among guitarists, as it opens up new musical possibilities. However, with a Floyd Rose tremolo system, changing to alternate tunings becomes more challenging and time-consuming due to the complex setup. This limitation can hinder a beginner’s exploration of different tunings, which are essential for various playing styles and musical genres.
One of the biggest beginner guitar mistakes I see often is someone buys a Floyd Rose for their first guitar. I see so many posts online from frustrated beginners that cannot figure out how a Floyd Rose works. You should definitely avoid one as a beginner player, unless you are very handy with tools.
Don’t get me wrong, when a Floyd is properly setup and you stick to one tuning, it is stable and rarely needs to be tuned. I can leave a Floyd guitar sitting on the rack for weeks, and when I pick it up? It is usually in tune and ready to play.
Unfortunately, this stability is also the downfall of the Floyd Rose system. If a song is in a different tuning like Drop D, then you have to set up the guitar all over again, and balance the bridge. This can take some time, so alternate tunings are out of the question.
The same can be said of all trem systems, even one like the Stratocaster’s vintage tremolo system. However, the vintage systems can be made into a “fixed” bridge by just tightening the screws that hold the springs on the back of the guitar. You cannot do this with a Floyd.
Pro Tip: When choosing a beginner guitar, look for a “fixed” bridge. Many guitar companies offer some kind of bridge that doesn’t move, and is easy to set up.
#3 Headless Guitars
Headless guitars like Strandberg have been around for decades, but they have recently became popular again. You see many virtuoso players using headless guitars, and these players often praise headless guitars for their ergonomics and playability.
While these guitars do offer a compact design, as well as an ergonomic body, they can be confusing to maintain. Each company uses a different bridge and locking system for the strings so it can be difficult to criticize just one model. Some even have trem systems that are very sophisticated.
Headless guitars can be difficult to re-string, and even more difficult to get in tune. The tuning machines are at the bottom of the guitar behind the bridge, and they often take a good bit of torque to turn. Some of these guitars come with the correct tools, while others you have to just figure out for yourself.
Learning to re-string your guitar with new strings is usually the first thing that you learn as far as basic guitar maintenance goes, and it shouldn’t be a difficult process for a beginner. Headless guitars definitely have their place in the guitar zeitgeist, but they can be a hassle for beginners to change strings and maintain.
To change the strings, you need to sometimes have “Double Ball-End” strings, and these can be tough to find depending on where you live. Other designs use a locking system reminiscent of the Floyd Rose locking nut, which can also be confusing for a beginner.
Are there advantages to playing a headless guitar? Absolutely!
Headless guitars are very ergonomic for playing in “Classical Position” when sitting down, and offer a smaller body shape for traveling. the tuning is stable once you have it setup properly. But it takes an experienced guitarist when it comes to maintenance on these headless designs.
Pro Tip: Again, buying a tried-and-true classic guitar shape is going to be much easier for you in the long run. Traditional guitars will be much easier to learn basic maintenance like re-stringing your guitar.
#2 Multi Scale/ Extended Range Models
Bands like Periphery have made the low tunings part of the mainstream in Metal music these days. You also see a lot of bands using 7 and 8 string guitars to achieve below-baritone notes and riffs. This gets equated to heaviness, and while that isn’t exactly true, that is… a conversation for another time.
But those low strings definitely sound cool. Even in “Standard Tuning” for a 7 string guitar, you have a low B string that sounds unlike anything a regular guitar can reach. This added string can be used to form different chords and chord inversions not possible on a 6 string guitar.
Multi scale guitars are found as 6,7, and 8 string guitars and you have probably seen one before (In the pic above!). The frets are slanted, which allows the bass side of the guitar to have a longer scale length than the treble side. This allows you to tune down, while retaining proper tension of all strings.
It can be very tempting to try these guitars out, but they should probably be avoided by beginners. We have quite a few reasons why these would be a bad idea for a beginner guitarist:
- Larger Necks: Most 7 and 8 string guitars have much wider necks than a traditional 6 string guitar, and they can be hard to get used to, even for professionals. The necks on these guitars are usually an acquired taste, and they usually feature a wider nut as well.
- Scale Length: Most 7 and 8 string guitars that are not multi scale, are almost always baritone scale. This means the neck is longer than a standard guitar. 7 strings are usually 26.5/27 inch scale, and 8 string guitars can go all the way up to 30 inches.
- More Notes: The extra string adds more intervals, and more notes for you to learn as a beginner. There is a lack of information and instructional material for extended range guitars. So you will not find many tutorials about 7 and 8 strings, online or otherwise.
I am a 7 string enthusiast, and I love to utilize the lower strings when writing music. But I didn’t pick up a 7 string until I had already learned the notes and intervals on a regular 6 string guitar. It took a bit of an adjustment to get used to a 7 string, and really appreciate it as a tool.
Multi scale guitars are a very cool concept, which allows you to tune down while keeping optimal tuning. However, they have a learning curve even for experienced guitarists. The “fan” of the frets can be slight, or dramatic, and this can make guitar much harder to learn as a beginner.
Maybe your favorite band uses extended range guitars, and you want to play a 7 string. That’s a great goal to have, but you should definitely master the fretboard on a “regular” 6 string guitar first. I personally feel like a 7 string is more than just “a guitar with an added string”. In fact, I think it is almost an entirely different instrument.
Pro Tip: Stick to standard 6 string guitars as a beginner. Almost all of your tutorials will be in standard tuning, on a 6 string guitar. So it is much easier to learn guitar with a standard 6 string in the beginning. You can always move on to a 7 string once you have some experience under your belt.
#1 A Bad Setup: The Most Important Feature
Many beginner guitar mistakes can be avoided, and getting your guitar set up is probably the most important. If you think that a guitar is “ready to play” right out of the box, then I have a harsh reality check for you: they usually aren’t.
A guitar setup is a series of maintenance operations performed on a guitar to ensure it is in optimal playing condition. It involves adjusting various components of the instrument to achieve proper playability, intonation, and overall performance.
A well-executed guitar setup can significantly improve the instrument’s comfort, tone, and responsiveness, enhancing the player’s overall experience. Let’s explore the key maintenance operations involved in a guitar setup:
- Truss Rod Adjustment: The truss rod is a metal rod embedded in the guitar neck, which allows for adjusting its curvature. A properly adjusted truss rod ensures the neck’s relief, which is the slight concave bow present in the neck. This adjustment prevents the strings from buzzing against the frets and ensures comfortable playing across the fretboard.
- Action and String Height: The action refers to the distance between the strings and the frets. An optimal action provides a balance between ease of playability and avoiding fret buzz. The action can be adjusted at the bridge or saddles to achieve the desired string height.
- Intonation Adjustment: Intonation is the guitar’s ability to play in tune along the entire length of the fretboard. It involves adjusting the string lengths at the bridge to match the fretted notes with their corresponding open string pitches. Proper intonation ensures accurate and in-tune playing up and down the neck. (This is one of the biggest issues with new guitars.)
- Nut Height and Slot Filing: The nut is a small piece located at the end of the guitar’s neck, responsible for holding the strings at the correct spacing and height. Ensuring the nut slots are properly filed allows the strings to rest at the correct height and prevents string binding or buzz.
- Pickup Height Adjustment: For electric guitars, the height of the pickups relative to the strings can significantly impact the instrument’s tone and output. Adjusting the pickup height ensures a balanced sound and optimal signal response.
- Bridge and Tremolo Adjustment: For guitars with floating bridges or tremolo systems, proper setup involves balancing the tension of the springs and strings to maintain stable tuning while using the tremolo arm. It’s essential to achieve equilibrium to prevent tuning issues during tremolo use.
- Cleaning and Lubrication: Regular cleaning and lubrication of the guitar’s hardware and moving parts, such as the tuners and bridge, help maintain smooth operation and prevent corrosion or wear over time.
- String Replacement: Frequent string changes are essential for maintaining a fresh and bright tone. New strings also help ensure better intonation and playability.
- Neck and Fretboard Cleaning: Cleaning the neck and fretboard removes dirt, sweat, and grime that can accumulate with regular playing. It also helps maintain the wood’s integrity and prevents unnecessary wear.
- Check Electronics and Wiring: For electric guitars, it’s crucial to inspect the electronics and wiring for any loose connections or faulty components. A proper check ensures a reliable signal and functionality of the instrument’s electronics.
If that sounds like a lot to deal with when it comes to a brand new guitar, you’re right! That is a lot of stuff to take into consideration with a guitar right out of the box. If you check out our reviews, we often do “out of the box” reviews.
Most guitars these days come in “playing condition”. This means that the list above has already been done to the guitar before it left the factory. But then again, many budget guitars do not get the same amount of attention as expensive guitars.
So it is literally a toss-up if you get a “good” guitar or not, which is why we always recommend trying a guitar in person before buying. However, this is not always possible if you are buying guitars online.
Most guitar shops offer this setup service for $30-$80, and stores usually have a setup tech on-hand. I always think that beginners should get their guitar “setup” by a tech before you even start playing. This will ensure that your guitar will play the best it can, and it will be easier for you to play.
Over time, you will learn how to do guitar maintenance at home. Now, you may not learn how to do everything on the list above, but things like intonation, truss rod adjustment, and string height are all things you can do at home with basic tools.
Your guitar will need this maintenance often, although it varies due to climate and use frequency. But at some point, you will definitely have to “setup” your guitar. You should learn how to work on your guitar at home early, to avoid paying a tech for basic adjustments.
No “pro tip” on this one, sorry. Get your guitar setup before you even think about playing, and add a setup to your budget for your first guitar. Once you start playing, learn how to work on your guitar. Most guitars come with the tools you need, like hex wrenches.
OK, So Which Guitar Should I Buy?
Great question, and I am glad that you asked! If all of these things listed above are bad, then which guitars should you look for, and what models are “safe” for beginners?
There are quite a few features that you need to avoid, but that does not really restrict your choices when it comes to guitars for beginners. We already made a huge list for you to check out, but we can also do a quick recap here:
- Telecaster Styles: The Telecaster style guitar is as simple as it gets. The tele was the first solid body electric guitar, and it has not changed much over the years. There are many options from trusted companies to choose from.
- Les Paul Styles: The single-cult Les Paul has gone down in history as being one of the most iconic guitars of all time. Gibson versions may be very expensive, but there are many brands that offer this same design, and they are affordable.
- Stratocaster Styles: While most Stratocaster guitars come with a trem system, they are easy to “deck” by screwing the springs all the way down in the back. that being said, there are many guitar brands that offer a fixed bridge Strat.
Basically, you are looking for a fixed bridge guitar, with 6 strings. The classic designs still sell so well because they are easy to maintain, even by a novice. Any of these choices are a great idea for your first guitar. Harley Benton offers a ton of models like this, based on classic designs for a fair price.
Beginner guitar mistakes happen to all of us, but if you follow this guide you can mitigate some of that frustration. There are a lot of guitar designs out there, and while it may seem boring, there is a reason why most people start out with a Strat or Les Paul…they are easy.
Sure, a Flying V guitar looks awesome on stage. But it can be discouraging to a beginner, especially when sitting down. At the same time, 7 string guitars and multi scale is also very appealing when you see the pros using them. Unfortunately, they can hamper your initial learning process.
Floyd Rose bridges have been cool since Eddie Van Halen started using them 40 years ago, and they will always be a part of my personal playing style. But they can be a nightmare for a beginner, and hard to get right when setting them up.
Speaking of setups… this is the most important of all beginner guitar mistakes. A guitar setup is absolutely paramount for beginners. You want to play in tune right and sound good right? A bad setup can cause you to quit playing, thinking something is wrong with the guitar.
A guitar setup is a comprehensive maintenance process that ensures the instrument is in optimal playing condition. By adjusting various components, such as the truss rod, action, intonation, and pickups, a well-executed setup improves playability, intonation, and overall performance.
Regular maintenance, cleaning, and string replacement not only keep the guitar in top shape but also extends its lifespan and enhance the player’s musical experience. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, investing in a professional guitar setup can make a world of difference in your playing journey.
Everything on this list can be things that you can look forward to as you become a better player. You have to “walk before you run” with guitar, and starting out simple may seem boring. But everything on this list is something you can eventually learn, and as you grow as a guitarist, your options will grow with you!
- Value for Money: The TE-52 Vintage Series offers an incredible bang for your buck. It delivers a solid construction and good sound at a very affordable price.
- Quality Materials: The use of American ash for the body and Canadian maple for the neck and fretboard contribute to the guitar's great tone and durability.
- Versatile Tone: The TE-Style passive single-coil pickups provide a wide range of tonal possibilities, suitable for genres ranging from country and blues to rock and jazz.
- Vintage Aesthetic: With its natural finish, single-cutaway body shape, and TE-style bridge, the TE-52 truly captures the vintage look.
- Reliable Hardware: The Wilkinson Deluxe tuners and the TE-style bridge with brass saddles ensure excellent tuning stability and sustain.
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects at home in Georgia. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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