Essential things to look for when choosing a guitar

Are you going guitar shopping? Lucky you! Personally, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than buy a new axe. If you’re new to guitar playing, though, figuring out what to get may seem like a daunting task. With this in mind, here are some things to look out for when choosing a guitar.

Body style

Body style affects the sound of your guitar — compare the difference between a semi-hollow-body Epiphone dot 335 and a Gibson Les Paul. However, perhaps, the primary consideration when choosing a guitar body style is the comfort, which largely depends on the size of your hands and body. For example, Beatle John Lennon apparently had small arms and hands and preferred smaller guitars. ‘Rock chick’ Joan Jett plays a Gibson Melody Maker because it suits her female frame.

Ask yourself:

  • Does your fretting hand fit comfortably around the neck?
  • How does the guitar’s body feel between your strumming arm and your chest?


When holding a guitar, you can tell how comfortable it feels and how the wood resonates against your chest. However, what does it sound like from a distance—from an audience’s perspective? You can find out by getting someone  (maybe the salesperson) to play the guitar while you stand back and listen.

Ask yourself:

  • How does the guitar sound when played softly
  • How does it sound when played loudly?
  • Do you like the balance between bass and treble tones?
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Intonation and action

On a guitar, correct intonation is when it is in tune all along the fretboard—an A on the seventh fret should be the same as an A on the 12th.

Here’s how you can check a guitar’s intonation:

  • Play an open chord, and then play the same chord (not barred) on the 14th Do they sound the same? If they do, the intonation is good.
  • Pluck an open string, and compare it with a harmonic on the 12th Both notes should be the same.

How to check a guitar’s action:

View the guitar at eye level. Between the 12th and fifth frets, there shouldn’t be any noticeable difference in distance between the strings and fretboard.

Final check

Once you’ve done everything else mentioned, check for the following:

  • Cracks: even something small can lead to a serious problem.
  • A sinking top: This is bad news. Run for the hills.
  • A gap between neck and body: This indicates a poor joint connection.

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Andrew Healey


Andrew is an Auckland-based writer and musician.

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