Buying a guitar: Beginner's guide to buying a Spanish guitar.
I had always wanted to play Spanish Classical guitar. I had fallen in love with Spanish Classical on listening to “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquín Rodrigo and many others. I had found the right academy. I paid my money up-front for the classes. I had my timetable. Now there was only one thing left to do before the first lesson on Tuesday.
I had to find the guitar! I didn’t know where to begin.
Which one to choose?
I had been given as a gift for my 15th birthday. This was the guitar that I had played around with for about three weeks. I had bought a beginners’ method for learning the guitar from a local bookstore and drove everybody mad in my home before admitting defeat and rendering it lifeless, laying it to rest under my bed. Several months later, it was ceremoniously moved into the attic. I told myself this was just a temporary measure. I whispered to it, as I closed the trapdoor to the attic, that I wouldn’t forget it. I promised that I wouldn’t leave it to rot up there forever. I lied.
45 years ago...
As you might imagine, this was all quite a long while ago. My personal situation is naturally very different to when I was 15, (some 45 years later!). Now I have time to attend Spanish Classical guitar classes with a great teacher. I can dedicate time to practising scales and to preparing for the next lessons. I even participate in performances organised by the local education department of my small Spanish village in Andalucía.
But not before I went through the daunting process of choosing the guitar which was going to get me to where I am today.
Five useful tips on buying a Spanish Classical Guitar
As a complete beginner I had no idea where to start. Here is what I learned through my personal experience.
* 1 - Decide which style of music you want to play
Basically, you will have the choice of three basic instruments: Spanish guitar, Acoustic (for use with plectrum) and a Solid Electric Guitar.
Many beginners enjoy starting off their guitar playing on an acoustic guitar. This is suitable for country, western, folk music, ballads and accompanying singing. This considered a good guitar for beginners.
The solid electric is for use with amplifiers and speakers. This is suitable for pop, rock, rock and roll, heavy rock heavy metal etc.
If you have decided your passion is for Spanish classical music then logically you will choose the Spanish guitar.
Ana Vidovic performing Isaac Albeniz's Asturias at the New York Guitar Festival
* 2 - Stick to your budget
A decent Spanish classical guitar for beginners can be picked up for between 100-150 euros.
The basic idea you must have is to invest in a half-decent instrument at the moment. If you decide to take your music further, you will be able to purchase a better guitar. If this were the case, then you will be able to sell your first guitar second-hand…(Think about looking after it well in order to be able to sell it well in the future if necessary)
* 3 - Find a guitar-playing friend / or a store recommended by a friend who plays
There comes a point when you really can’t do this alone. You will need help. If you are already a guitar player then you need to read no further. If you are complete beginner as I was, the best advice I can give is to take along a friend who already plays the guitar to help you buy your guitar. Do not go into a store ‘cold’ and ask for a guitar, unless it is a store that has been recommended. An unethical owner or assistant will see you coming and perhaps try to sell you what you don’t need. The basic idea you must have is to invest in a half-decent instrument at the moment. If you decide to take your music further, then you can always buy a better quality guitar.
Tuning a twelve-string guitar
You must have a tuner.
* 4 - Check the tuning and the tone
Even if you can't play the guitar yet, you should try the feel of the guitar in the shop. This is where your guitar-playing friend will be of great use. Guitars need to be tuned constantly, so a guitar in a shop will almost certainly be out of tune. Get your friend to tune the guitar, (easy when you know how!) or if there is no friend, ask the assistant to tune the guitar for you so you can hear the 'tone'. If the sound or the 'tone' falls flat quickly then you need to find another guitar. You would want the tone to linger and sing, not fall flat or be 'woody'.
Take a look at the 'action'
* 5 - Check the action
When playing the guitar, one hand plucks or strums the strings near the sound hole, while the other hand presses the string on the fingerboard, behind the fret. This process is called "action". 'High action' or 'low action' then refers to how high or how low the strings are above the fingerbaord. If too high then the giutar will be very painful and difficult to play. If too low the strings will be almost touching the fingerbaord, which is not suitable either. According to Dan Morgan in "Guitar" (Corgi Books, 1978) the optimum height of the strings should be 1/4 inch above the fingerboard.
Constancy and Consistency
You have done the easy part. Now comes the hard work of organising your practice; timetabling your practice and sticking to your timetable. There is nothing like consistency and balance in all things in life. The same goes for guitar playing.
In my experience, I have learned over the few years I have been learning, that even when I feel I have very little time for practice, I need to find only half and hour per day. At the very least, I aim at practising basic scales, which although can seem very boring, really to help when moving on to more complex pieces.
If you can find enjoyment in practising, then you may last the course and find a true vocation in your guitar playing. Enjoy your lovely instrument and delight your friends and family with your new skills!
My favourite! The perfect gift for a music lover
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