Beware the cheap Christmas guitar 

Some decades back, I worked in a music store — Jay’s Music Center in Augusta, Ga. It wasn’t a store full of pianos, songbooks and records, but a store loaded to the rafters with guitars, amplifiers, drums, horns and pianos. For a brief spell, the store was home to Augusta’s first Moog synthesizer. I sold that thing as fast as I could, because if I heard one more geeky teenager fire up the bomb and laser sounds, I was going to have to throw the Moog — and the geeky teenager — through the storefront window.

When the Christmas buying season started up, I sold guitars by the truckload. Customers rushed into the store looking for cheap guitars. the routine went something like this: A customer would walk into the store and say to me, “I need a beginner guitar for my son. nothing expensive, just something he can learn on. if he learns how to play, I’ll get him something better later on.”

“How much do you want to spend?” I responded.

“What’s the cheapest guitar you’ve got?” my customer replied.

Well, this is where the conversation got uncomfortable.

“I’ve got a stockroom full of 30-dollar no-name guitars,” I said. “You want one of those?”

And the customer’s eyes lit up. “I’ll take one.”

Before I tell the rest of this story, let me explain: For some reason — maybe the radioactive fallout from the nearby plutonium factory — I’ve always found it devilishly hard to tell a lie, even when I could benefit.

“Sir,” I said, “I’ve got to tell you that I’m a living breathing professional guitar player. when I’m not playing a guitar, I’m working on one. but I can’t play that 30-dollar piece of crap, and your son won’t be able to play it either. It would be more useful as a planter.”

“So what should I do?” my customer asked.

“Buy the hundred-dollar Alvarez,” I answered. “It plays like a dream. I know. I own one.”

“A hundred dollars!” yelped my customer.

“Think of it this way,” I explained. “You can buy your kid a 30-dollar planter, which he’ll never play. That’ll cost you 30 bucks. the hundred-dollar Alvarez is a decent, playable guitar. your kid might just learn to play it. but if he hates it, you can trade it in, or you can sell it for 50 bucks or thereabouts. that leaves you with 50 bucks out of your pocket and the 30 bucks you were going to piss away in your pocket. At worst, you’ll be just 20 bucks lighter. but if you buy the Alvarez, you might just raise a guitar-playing son.”

So, you people who are looking for beginner guitars for your friends and family this holiday season, listen to me: Do not buy the cheap guitar. your kid will never play it.

It’s not just the cheap guitars that you need to avoid. You need to stay away from secondhand shops and pawn shops. most likely, those guitars in those establishments are deeply flawed. if they were good players, they would’ve found a home by now. Say it with me, children: You will not find one of Jimi Hendrix’s lefty Stratocasters in a pawn shop.

Put the stray and damaged guitars out of your mind. while there may be some crazy exceptions, it’s common guitar-player knowledge that any playable guitar, beginner model or otherwise, will cost you at least three or four hundred bucks. by the time you’ve bought the accessories — a gig bag, a strap, some picks and a tuner — you could be up to six or seven hundred bucks.

So far, I’ve been referring to acoustic guitars, the certain destroyers of would-be guitarists’ hopes and dreams. but you have another option. if you want a good, playable electric guitar, an instrument that will draw beautiful girls to the edge of the stage when you pretend to play the guitar with your teeth, here’s what you do: Get on the Nashville Craigslist, click on “musical instruments,” then search for “PRS SE.” this will lead you to the Korean-made Paul Reed Smith electric guitars. They’re good guitars — not nearly as good as the PRS guitars that sell for thousands of dollars — but plenty good enough to play in your bedroom, or even in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I’ve seen $900 PRS SE guitars sell for $300 on the Nashville Craigslist. I’ve owned a couple. They’re good guitars.

Remember though, you’ll need an amp. There goes another 300 bucks.


Beware the cheap Christmas guitar 

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One Response to “Beware the cheap Christmas guitar ”

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