I recently got an email from one of my coworkers who wanted to know what she should be looking for in a good used guitar in the $100 range. I thought I’d share the answers with you, because people get asked this a lot and it’s one of the most common questions a new guitar player asks:
I’m going to start looking for a full-sized guitar, for myself.
In looking at used guitars, what brands do you think are better than others? Or, does it matter?
I’m going to try and find something that is around $100.
At the $100 price point, your best measure of the quality of a guitar is you. You can often get a little better quality if you get a used one rather than a new one, but here are things to look for:
After that it’s more like picking out a comfortable pair of shoes than anything else. Listen to the guitar’s voice, and find one that sounds like an old friend. That’s the guitar you’re going to get the most out of.
Brands to look for are Taylor, Martin, Ovation, Yamaha, Fender – but there are dozens more really excellent brands, and again, at this price point the well known name brands are as likely to be lemons as any other guitar.
If I get a nylon string guitar, will it have the same great twang as your guitar? Or, will it always be softer?
No, it will always be softer. Nylon is uncommon, most guitars are steel string. They have an inherently softer sound than metal does, and they tend not to break strings as often (but a guitar string usually costs a bit under $2 and can last years).
I just don’t want it to sound like a harp, like the little 1/2 size guitar that’s my daughter’s. And, if I buy a nylon string guitar, can I get it strung with steel strings, in the future? Or, is the guitar just made for one type of strings?
A guitar is made for one particular kind of string, and you can’t use nylon strings on a guitar made for steel strings, and vice versa.
That said, I used a Kawasaki nylon string guitar (with no truss rod in the neck) for about 25 years before it finally broke in half on its own standing against the wall one day, just from the string tension.
A last point to mention is that at the $100 price point, adding an extra $20 – $60 can make a huge difference in the quality of the guitars in your price range.
Guitars can range from a hundred or so into the thousands of dollars. The difference between a $100 guitar and a $150 guitar can be substantial – the difference between a $2000 guitar and a $3000 guitar may be one only a professional musician could appreciate.
Good luck in your search!
– Gene Turnbow