Buyers Guide

Basic Acoustic Guitar Features

Nylon or steel string guitar? The first question you would need to decide is whether you want a nylon string (also called 'classical') or steel string (also called 'acoustic', 'folk' 'western') guitar. Classical and steel string guitars are built somewhat differently and you cannot put steel strings on a classical guitar or vice versa. Players of classical music use nylon string guitars almost exclusively. Nylon strings guitars have a softer sound whereas steel string guitars are used more often for folk, country, and rock music and have a more metallic sound. Because nylon strings are softer then steel strings they are easier to play and are softer on delicate hands and fingers. This is an important consideration if you are looking for a guitar for a young child. On the other hand, nylon strings are thicker than steel strings and some people may find steel strings a little more comfortable in shorter scale guitars (3/8 size and smaller) were the tension of steel strings is not as pronounced. The conventional wisdom, however, is that nylon strings guitars are generally easier to play for beginners. It is also true that electric guitars are easier to play on than both acoustic and classical guitars.

Nut width. Apart from the overall size of the guitar the nut width and scale length are the most important in their effect on the playability of the guitar, especially for small hands. The nut width is the width of the fretboard at the zero position. The nut width should fit the size of the hand and fingers of the player. Some guitars have a neck that would be too wide for small hands. On the other hand if your fingers are think and your hand big you will find it difficult to play on a narrow neck. For very young children of ages 3-6 the ideal nut width is probably between 1 1/2" and 1 10/16". For older kids it shouldn't be more than 1 and 3/4 inches.

Scale length. The scale length is the length of the active vibrating part of the strings, from the nut to the bridge. The scale length determine the length of the spacing between the frets, so the shorter it is, the easier it is for smaller hands. It also determines the tension the strings would have, so the shorter the scale the more loose, and therefore easier to play, the strings would be.

Solid top. Some guitar boast solid (usually spruce) top, which means that the top of the body (where the echo hole is) is made by a solid sheet of wood (rather than laminated plied wood) for better sound. Bear in mind though, that whereas the improvement in sound can be anywhere between subtle and obvious, a solid top is a lot more fragile and sensitive to climate changes, and can crack more readily.

Truss rod. Truss rod is an adjustable metal rod that runs through the neck of the guitar. This is a desirable feature in steel strings guitars because it allows for adjusting the neck of the guitar to improve playability and suit the preferences of the player. Most steel strings guitars are equipped with a truss rod, but some of the cheaper and smaller guitars may not.

Acoustic/electric guitars. Some steel string guitars have built in pickups so they could be played both acoustically and through an amplifier. This feature is usefull espacially for performances where you want to use an acoustic sound. Bear in mind however that the built in electronics adds to the weight of the guitar, not to mention the price. Acoustic electric guitars should not be confused with electric guitars, whose sound and feel is very different.

Cutaway body. Cutaway guitars have one side of their body cut near the neck to enable a better access to the higher notes (in a way similar to electric guitars). It is useful for more advanced soloing, and some prefer the way it looks. Because the body is cutaway and is not symmetrical anymore there might be a (very) small reduction in sound.


Basic Electric Guitar Features

Bridge. The bridge is the place where the strings are connected the body of the guitar. There are two main kinds of electric guitar bridges: 'fixed bridge' (also called 'hardtail') which is the standard, and a 'floating' bridge which has a tremolo bar attached to it that can loosen or stretch the strings during play to get the vibrato or 'whammi' effects. Of the floating bridge there are two main kinds: the classic one where strings could be loosened a step or two, but streched only a little bit, and the 'Floyd Rose' bridge which can go more significantly in either direction. Floating bridges are cool, and many people and children like them. The main drawback of floating bridges is that it is more difficult to tune a guitar with a floating bridge, and they are less stable in the sense that the guitar can get more easily out of tune when they are being used. A related drawback for more advanced players is that it is difficult to move quickly to alternate tuning, because de-tuning one string will move the bridge and effect the tuning of all other strings (which is not the case with the hardtail bridge). A similar problem can arise when you bend a string - it will have some effect on the pitch of all the other strings becuase it will shift the bridge slightly. However, a tremolo bridge could be relatively easily 'locked' so that it would feel like a fixed bridge.

Pickups. There are two main kinds of pickups: single coil, and humbucker. A humbucker pickup is essentially a pair of single coiled pickups wired together in a particular way. The single coil pickup usually has a sharper, more trebley, bell like sound. The humbucker sound is usually warmer and deeper 'jazz' like sound. The humbucker have generally more quiet operation - less problems with humming noise when the strings are not touched. The best choice of pickups depend on the player preferences and the style they like playing (hard rock, metal, and jazz, usually prefer humbuckers, whereas country, rock, and folk often prefer single coil). Some guitars have a combination of single coil and humbucker pickups, with the humbucker usually in the near-bridge position.

Scale. The shorter the scale is, the easier and more payable the guitar is, and the more bendable the strings are. The reason is that on a shorter scale the strings need to be looser to get the same pitch. A longer scale would usually result in a 'tighter' sound (the same effect could be achieved by using thicker strings). The two most common scales lengths for standard size electric guitar is the Gibson scale of 24 & 3/4 inches, and the Fender scale of 25 & 1/2 inches. Smaller guitars would usually, though not necessarily, have shorter scales. Please bear in mind that electric guitars with scales shorter than 21'' usually would need to be tuned up in ordered to get stable pitch and intonation. This is because when the strings get too loose their pitch changes noticeably with the slightest change in tension (which happens everytime you press a fret). Tuning up a fourth (A-D-G-C-E-A instead of the standard E-A-D-G-B-E) is one option. An alternative solution would be so use heavier gauge strings (such as 0.11). Please refer also to the section below that deals with tuning issues.

Fretboard. The most commonly used wood for the fretboard is (unfinished) rosewood which has a dark brown color. Some people prefer a finished maple wood fretboard, which has a smoother feel to it.


Guitar Size Selection Guidelines

In general the optimal size is always a compromise between comfort and sound quality and stability. The smaller the guitar body is the more dificult it would be to get a good sounding low tones. The shorter the scale is the more tricky it is to get a stabel pitch and intonation. Please refer to the section below about tuning issues with small scale guitars for more details.

The following are general guidelines for guitar size selection:

Electric Guitars:

Lightweight Standard size - good for kids ages 11 and up, and adults with sensitive backs or long gigs
7/8 size - good for kids ages 11-12 and smaller adults.
3/4 size - good for travel, kids ages 9-10, and small size hands and bodies.
1/2 size - best for travel and kids ages 7-8
1/4 size & mini - the smallest guitars, best for travel and kids ages 3-6
(note: to get a stable sound and tuning in mini electric guitars we recommend either using higher gauge strings (0.11 would be a good choice), or alternatively, use a higher string tuning, such as A-D-G-C-E-A or an open G: G-D-G-B-D-G. Please refer also to the section below about how to tune a small guitar)
Travel - these guitar have a special shape that is designed to make them convenient for travel and transportation.

Electric Bass Guitars:

Lightweight Standard size - good for kids ages 14 and up, and adults with sensitive backs.
7/8 size & short scale - good for kids ages 13 and up, and adults who prefer a short scale bass
3/4 and medium size - good for kids ages 10-14, and small size hands and bodies.
1/2 size & mini - best for travel and kids ages 5-9.

Acoustic Guitars:

7/8 size - good for kids ages 12-14 and smaller bodies and hands.
3/4 size - good for kids ages 9-11 and small bodies and hands.
1/2 size - good for travel, and kids ages 7-8.
1/4 size and Mini - good for travel and kids ages 3-6.


Weight Considerations

Weight is a real issue only for electric guitars, since most acoustic guitars are light by nature. The Body of an electric guitar usually comprises about half of the guitar overall weight. The size of the body, as well as the wood it is made of and the amount of hollow space in it are therefore the main determinants of the overall guitar weight. For the sake of comparison, a standard Fender or Gibson guitar would usually weigh between 8 to 9.5 pounds. All the electric guitar models in this store weigh less 7 pounds and many of them less than 6 with some of the smallest ones weighing less then 5 pounds. This is a significant difference in weight. A guitar weighing 4 to 5.5 pound, for example, would be suitable for a kid age 3 to 7, whereas a 5 to 6 pounds guitar would feel comfortable on the shoulders of a 6 to 11 years old, and a 6 to a 7 pound guitar would feel comfortable on the shoulders of 10 years olds and up, including sensitive backs.

The problem is that even within the same exact model, different guitars would have different weights, and this difference could often be up to a pound and sometimes more. The reason for this is that, wood not being a uniform material, the particular piece of wood from which the guitar is made can vary in weight a great deal even though it is the same kind of wood.

In this web-site we provide you with the average weight of each model we offer for sale. This data is not available from guitar manufacturers. It was collected by us by weighing actual guitars.


Tuning Issues with Small Short Scale Guitars

When the guitar scale is shorter the strings require less tension in order to arrive to the required pitch and when there is less tension on the strings they respond more in terms of pitch change to any slight increase in tension. Whenever a string is fretted it is in effect being bent slightly with a corresponding slight increase in pitch. This is true for any guitar with any scale length, but the change in pitch that results is more negligable the longer the scale and the the tighter the strings tension is.

This may start cuasing problems with electric guitars with scale shorter than 23" and with acoustic guitars, and sometimes also classical guitars, with scale sjoret than 21". This effect is more pronounced in smaller scale electric guitars, rather than acoustic, becuase they usually use thinner strings, and more with steel strings rather than nylon strings acoutic guitar for a similar reason. It will also depend on the size of the frets and on how hard you fret the strings.

The problem may arise mainly in two contexts: 1. when fretting chords in the first open position. 2. when you tune a guitar using the common method of comparing the 6th (or 5th) position of strings with the open position fo the next string. I will explain each case.

When you fret a bar chord you fret all the strings that are being played more or less equally hard, and even though they will all shift slightly higher in pitch it will still sound OK becuase they will all still harmoinise well. However, whith an 'open' chord you play some fretted strings and some open strings together. The fretted strings will play with a slightly higher pitch shift but the open strings will not have a corespponding slight increase in pitch shift, so you may end up with a 'badly' sounding chord becuase of the dissonances that result. The cure for that is to fret more gently. If that doesn't help you should try using thicker (higher guage) strings.

When you tune a short scale guitar using the common method of comparing 5th position what happens is that the 5th position you fret is shifted slightly higher in pitch, so you tune the next string correspondingly slightly higher. Now when you fret the 6th position of that string to compare it to the open position of the next, you again shift its pitch slightly higher, and so on. By the time you reached the last strings you have accunulated 5 slight shifts in tone, which could easily sum up to a full half step or more. So you end up with a tunning that sounds bad. The cure for that is to tune either using the harmonicas method, or to use an electric tuner. You can get very decent ones for around $20, and for beginners I very highly reccomend that they get one and use it for tuning.

Very small quarter size mini electric guitars with scale shorter than 21" are possible to play in standard tuning, but it requires skill and very gentle fretting. In most cases you would need to tune those up to get stable tuning and pitch, or use thicker strings. The most common way of tunning up very short scale guitars is up a fourth, that is, the E string goes up to A and you tune the rest accordingly (you end up with ADGCEG). For small kids who are not going to fret the guitar for a while, but are just going to strum on it, a good alternative would be to tune the guitar up to a G chord (GDGBDG), which would sound pretty good with such open strumming.


Action and Buzzing

Most guitars come out of the box these days in a reasonably playable setup. However every guitar can benefit from a professional setup to adjust the guitar for optimal performance. For children it is important to get the 'action' (the height of the strings over the fretboard) as low as possible without buzzing, since this will make the guitar easier to play. If any of the strings of the guitar is buzzing on certain frets this does not mean there is anything wrong with the guitar. It only mean that the guitar needs to be set up and adjusted. Guitar setup is best done after it arrives to you, since changes in temprature etc. during shipping may require it to be readjusted. A full guitar setup should typically cost around $50 and could be done in any guitar shop.


What accessories you might need with your guitar?

1. For electric guitar or bass - an amp: without an amplifier you will not be able to hear your electric guitar or bass playing. An amplifier for an electric guitar or bass does not merely amplify the sound that is already there, - it actually produces it. The electric guitar pickups do not pick up sound waves but rather the electro-magnetic waves that are created by the vibrations of the steel strings against the magnetic pickups. In the case of electric guitars, the amplifier is really part of the creation of the sound rather than just an amplification of it. Electric guitar amplifiers are designed differently from amplifiers meant for vocals and bass guitars amplifiers are designed slightly differently from electric guitar amplifiers, though you can probably get away with using an electric guitar amp for a bass guaitar and vice versa. For practice and small gigs a 10 to 20 watts amp is enough.
2. Cable: a cable is needed to connect the electric guitar. Many electric guitars come today with a basic cable included.
3. Strap: a strap is needed if you want to play the guitar in a standing position. Virtually all electric guitars and basses come with straps mounts built in, but this is not the case with all acoustic and most classical guitars. If the guitar you purchase does not have strap mounts these could quite easily be installed.
4. A bag: guitar bags come in three forms. The very basic unpadded gig bag, which is good for carrying a guitar but does not provide much protection for it. The padded gig bag which provide protection for the guitar but is not designed to withstand weight stacked on it. And the hard shell case which provides the ultimate protection, but is usually heavy and expensive. For most purposes a padded gig bag is the best option. Small size gig bags to match small guitars are hard to find. We sell small padded gig bags for most guitars sizes.
5. Picks: most people use a pick to play electric guitars.
6. Tuner: an electric tuner is a useful tool, especially for the beginner player, since tuning a guitar well could be a difficult task. We highly recommend getting one with you guitar if you do not already have one.
7. Strings: guitar strings, especially steel strings, would need to be replaces every once in a while, when they become rusty and discolored. To check if it is time to replaces your steel strings pass them their length through your fingers. If they feel bumpy and rough rather than smooth, it is time to replace them.


Lefty or Righty?

Should you be looking for a left-handed guitar if you are a lefty?

There is no consensus on this subject. If you are a total beginner and need to decide if you are going to go lefty or righty, consider the following:

1. You should be able to play perfectly well in the righty position. Many people have done this very successfully. Though your initial natural inclination may be to play the guitar in lefty position, ultimately both hands have equal responsibility (though different roles) in guitar playing. (The same is true for many other instruments (e.g. violins, pianos etc.) which do not usually come in lefty versions).

2. The choice of guitars in left handed version are always going to be much more limited than standard righty versions. Small size 'lefty' guitars are especially hard to come by.

3. In most cases it is possible and quite easy to convert a standard righty guitar that is symmetric enough to a lefty version. This is true also for almost all classical nylon string guitars. Acoustic steel strings guitars will required a differently oriented bridge.

4. If you learn to play lefty you will not be able to play righty. That means that you will not be able to play 95% of the guitars out there. So if, for example, you are with friends and someone has a guitar, you will not be able to play it although yu may be a great guitar player. This can be quite frustrating.