So, you’ve done some guitar-browsing, you should have found a couple of guitars you’d be willing to buy. But before you buy your guitar, you’ll want to try it out.
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Before Buying Your Guitar, Put it Through the Guitar Test
- Appearance — Give the guitar a close inspection from top to bottom. Look for dings, nicks, and scratches. Inspect the hardware, do you notice any tarnishing or discoloration? Is the guitar’s color and design something you can see yourself with five or 10 years from now?
- Neck Attachment — If your guitar has a bolt-on neck, like a Telecaster or a Stratocaster, make sure it’s tight and secure. If the guitar has a set neck like most acoustics and Gibson-style guitars, inspect the joint area. Look for cracks or gaps in the seams. If the guitar has bindings, inspect all along the binding and check for gaps.
- Neck Angle — Make sure the neck is straight. Prop the guitar upright on the floor and sight down along the neck. Focus on the area between the fretboard and the strings. The lines of the strings should be even. The frets and the edges of the fretboard should be straight and even. If the neck looks like a roller coaster track, put that guitar back.
- Tuners — Check to make sure the tuning pegs are attached securely to the headstock. Loosen each string to make it sound flat. Then tune it back up to pitch.
Try Your Guitar Before You Buy Your Guitar
- Intonation — Good intonation means that the guitar is in tune all the way up the neck. You can test this with harmonics.Watch “How To Check Your Guitar’s Intonation with Harmonics” to learn how to play harmonics.
- Start at the high E string and play a harmonic at the 12th fret. Then fret the high E string at the 12th fret and play the note again. The two notes should sound exactly the same. Repeat this for each string. You can also check intonation with an electronic tuner. If the intonation is slightly off on an electric guitar, it can be corrected at the adjustable bridge. If intonation is off on an acoustic guitar, it could likely require a neck adjustment. Either way, do not buy the guitar until the guitar shop fixes the intonation.
- Electronics — Plug in an electric guitar and test the volume and tone controls. Test the pickup selector switch in each position. Check for consistent volume for each string in all the pickup configurations. Pluck each string with the same force (or attack), the volume of each string should be close for all six strings. Some pickups have adjustable poles which give you some control over volume. If in doubt ask a salesperson.
If your chosen guitar has any problems that cannot be fixed at the shop, don’t buy it.