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My teacher keeps telling me that my guitar is really bad.

I am a pretty novice guitarist (started 3 months ago), and haven't played on any instrument other than mine, so it's impossible to decide whether he is right. In addition, my teacher is actually also a guitar maker, so his opinion is probably biased (both because he is used to good guitars and because he wants me to buy one).

So, how do I decide whether I should get a better guitar?

My goal is to have a guitar that is good enough not to hinder learning, at my level (to give an impression on my level: I don't do barre chords yet).

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Since your teacher is a guitar maker, it would make sense that he may be approaching your guitar from the way it was made - since he would naturally be inclined to notice that sort of thing. This is something that most new guitarists go through - myself included. You should get yourself another guitar when you know what you're looking for - what aspects of the guitar suit your playing style. You've only played for three months, so you haven't developed a playing style yet. –  jjmusicnotes Feb 17 '13 at 23:19
    
What is the make and model of your guitar? –  cadmium Feb 18 '13 at 14:34
    
It's a Yamaha C70 –  anatolyg Feb 19 '13 at 20:19
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I'm not personally familiar with that model, but from doing a little research it does not seem to be bad for a beginner guitar. It's not going to compete with more expensive guitars, but it should be good enough for where you are at. Of course every guitar is different and your guitar might have some specific issues, but unless you are having a problem playing it, I wouldn't worry. –  cadmium Feb 19 '13 at 22:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As user5758 says, your teacher should probably be telling you what's wrong with your instrument, rather than just describing it as "bad". Here's a list of questions you might ask when evaluating a guitar:

  • Is it easy to tune? Some guitars are a nightmare to tune, because due to poorly mounted components, tuning one string causes another string to change pitch.
  • One tuned, does it stay in tune? You want an instrument that won't slip out of tune during a session.
  • Is the intonation OK? Meaning, when you fret a note, is the pitch right? You can check this with a tuner. Check every fret on every string.
  • Is it easy enough to fret a note? If it takes too much strength to fret a note, playing is really difficult. Compare your guitar with other people's, and test on all parts of the neck. This is influenced by the string gauge, and the action (the distance from the string to the fretboard), which may be fixable by adjusting the instrument. This is particularly important when learning barre chords -- you might be able to overcome high action when fretting one string per finger, but barres will be too difficult.
  • Is the neck too wide or narrow? If the strings are too close together, you can't play clean chords. If the strings are too far apart, you can't reach them all. The right size for you depends on the size of your hands.
  • Is the neck too thick? The thicker the neck, the more of your hand is occupied with gripping the neck, rather than being free to reach frets. Very cheap guitars often have thicker necks because it's the cheapest way to make a strong neck.
  • Does it sound good? At the most basic level, do chords and single notes sound how you'd like them to sound? It might seem as if this is the most important consideration - after all, making good sounds is the aim of playing an instrument. But consider that you can learn the techniques on an instrument that feels good but doesn't sound great, then later spend more money on a nicer sounding instrument. Whereas, learning on an instrument that has great tone but feels awful, will really hold you back.
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It's good to have a list of things that could go wrong! In my case, it's only the action that may too large (5.5 mm); all the rest are OK. I have yet to compare with other guitars. –  anatolyg Feb 19 '13 at 21:22
    
I think "too wide or too narrow" is subjective to your uses, while bad intonation or ease of tuning are more objective. There are instruments that are lousy for all uses. –  VarLogRant Feb 19 '13 at 22:05
    
My neck is a bit curved: the action on the first fret is 2mm, on the 12th it is 6mm, it's an acoustic guitar. It may be really hard for you to judge from that, but do you thing that I should bring it to a guitar shop to get it checked? –  Learning is a mess Feb 28 '13 at 20:26

As your teacher is a luthier, you could ask him to set it up better during your lesson. That way you gain insight to do the job yourself. Most electric guitars can be set up to play QUITE well, and you have an 'expert' on hand to help you.It's something I offer as a service from a good teacher.

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Don't waste anymore time with a bad guitar. Find a better instrument and you will enjoy playing more and improve faster.

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Ask your teacher for more details about what makes your guitar 'bad'. Understanding his objections to it will help you to decide whether or not you need to change it for a new one, and what to look out for when choosing guitars in the future.

Also, go to a music shop and try some guitars, or ask your teacher and other players to let you try out their instruments so that you can feel the differences. A lot comes down to personal taste, but by trying a few different guitars you'll get a feel of what makes for a good playing experience for you. Ask yourself questions like whether the guitar is comfortable to play, does it balance well, does the neck feel comfortable in your hand, etc.

It may be that your guitar simply needs adjustment, rather than replacement. Electric guitars are highly adjustable; acoustics less so, but there are still things that can be done to make them easier to play easier and/or sound better. Mainly, these are adjusting:

  • action (the height of the bridge, and therefore the distance between the strings and fretboard)
  • intonation (position of the bridge pieces, and therefore length of string, so that the guitar stays in tune on the higher frets)
  • neck relief (whether the neck is dead straight, or has a slight bend in it)

With experience, these can be adjusted yourself, but for a beginner I'd recommend taking the guitar to a good guitar shop; or since your teacher makes guitars he may well be able to set-up your guitar himself. This is a service in addition to your lessons, so expect him to charge for it.

If you choose to buy a new guitar, you don't need to spend a lot a of money to get a highly playable instrument. I play bass professionally, so don't need an expensive 6-string guitar, but a I do have an Encore Strat copy that I bought second-hand for GBP£60 and set up carefully myself - one guitar player commented that it plays better than his £500 Fender Strat! The sound isn't as good as a more expensive guitar but, like you, I'm don't need killer tone right now, just an instrument that plays well.

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Hear, hear! Having an inexpensive instrument that plays in-tune and is easy to play is more important than having an expensive instrument with an expensive tone, especially for a beginner or amateur. If there is nothing blatantly wrong with your guitar, then spend money on having a professional guitar technician set things up properly on the guitar you already have. It will be money well-spent. –  Wheat Williams Feb 19 '13 at 16:50

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