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Electric Guitar Buying Checklist

Updated on April 20, 2014

When you are buying a guitar there are certain things that you should check on the instrument. Many of these are very similar to the quality control checks that should be passed in the factory, by double checking these you are reducing the chance of you getting a "dud" guitar. There are also other steps you should take to make sure you are getting something that you are happy with.

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Don't Buy Unseen

Don't buy guitars (especially second hand) unseen unless you have the opportunity to send them back if they have a fault or an issue that you are not happy with.

Whilst Ebay can bring you brilliant bargains you will have agreed to buy it no matter what. The bid description of "Great Condition" may not correlate to your opinion of great condition, photos can also look misleading and make the guitar look different colours than what you will see in person.

The best option is to buy the guitar in a situation (Whether private or in a shop) where you can have a complete look over and play of the guitar with no obligation to purchase.

Quality Control

Before the guitar leaves the factory it will have passed quality control, if issues were found at this point the instrument was either fixed, scrapped or sold as B-Stock. Occasionally however problems get past quality control, especially with cheaper brands. So when you are buying a guitar you need to be your own quality control. The main things to visually check are:

  • Do all frets look level, if these are not level you will never get rid of fret buzz unless you spend money to get the frets leveled professionally.
  • Is the nut cut correctly. The strings should not be sitting in deep grooves but instead should be resting on top of indentations, enough that the string does not jump out the groove, however not so much that it will affect string height and restrict the strings movement across during tuning.
  • Are the ends of the frets up and down the neck smooth. If not these can cause abrasion on your hand.
  • Any blemishes in the finish of the guitar. Sometimes you can get a discount if you point these out to salesperson in a shop and are prepared to accept the damage.
  • On a used guitar check the fret wear. Look at the frets around the G and B strings on the 3rd and 7th fret pentatonic scale, these are areas that get the highest wear from bends and solos.

Play the Guitar

Playing the instrument is what you are buying it for, so it would be silly not to before you buy it. With an electric guitar to do this you will need to use an amplifier, play the guitar on a similar amp to the one you normally use otherwise any changes you hear may not be due to the guitar which is what you are "test driving".

When you are in the shop try to blank out anyone around you. Often people get nervous when playing in a shop if they are not experienced guitarists. Try to remember however that you are there to buy a guitar, the people in the shop are doing that same, they are not trying to judge you.

Don't just concentrate on the sound of the guitar, also concentrate on how it feels in your hands.

  • is the neck the right size and radius for you?
  • are the frets nice and smooth?
  • is the guitar the right weight for you?
  • Pluck all the strings and feel the body of the guitar and the headstock, are they resonating the same? if so then this is a good sign that the guitar overall resonance of the guitar is good.
  • Play every single fret of every single string, make sure there are no "dead frets" where the sound is muffled.

Have you ever regretted buying a certain guitar?

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Is it What You Really Want?

When you go to a guitar shop they will have lots and lots of other guitars around. Don't just zone in on the one that you may have been looking at before. Look around the racks and if you have any questions ask the staff. They may introduce you to options that you didn't consider before that you may end up preferring.

The inability to do this with online shopping is one of its key disadvantages.

If You Are Not Happy Don't Buy

This may seem like obvious advice however often people buy something they are not 100% happy with simply because they don't want to leave empty handed, they then get buyers remorse and regret the decision.

If you are buying a guitar and are serious about playing it is likely you will spent a lot of time with it, any imperfections might start to really bug you.

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