Buying first guitar at shop, what to keep in mind/look for in terms of avoiding a lemon

Hey all,

Been doing the courses for a bit now and looking to slight upgrade my guitar. The guitar (Squier Affinity Telecaster) i bought used on Facebook and just sort of lucked out that its been a fine guitar to learn on and really felt good in my hands, etc.

Anyhow, what I’m looking for advice on here is when looking at guitars in shops, other than how it sounds and feels in my hands, what sort of things should I be looking at in terms of quality? What are major signs of poor quality or a lemon even from a generally good brand? Do all guitars need a set up or are some new guitars good to go out of the store/box? Stuff like that. Any articles, advice, videos, etc. is helpful. I need to search on here to see if Justin has a video as well. Thanks all!

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Hi Adam. You’ll get as many opinions here as there
are members. Yes do a search on the Community and you will find loads of advice as your question is one that’s often asked.

There are also dozens of videos online offering advice about buying a guitar.

What I will say is, there is no point in slightly upgrading your guitar. The difference will be negligible. Save up and buy one that’s considerably better. That way you’ll see/feel/hear the difference and may not ever have to upgrade again. And if you spend more your chances of buying a lemon will be greatly reduced.


Yes, an expensive well made guitar can be badly setup or setup for someone elses preferences

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Fully agree with this. A modern Squier Affinity is quite a good guitar, even though cheap.

On OPs question. I think it depends what you’re looking for. Each brand has their quirks and buying acoustic is different than electric.

I rate feel and sound quite highly. How the neck feels in my hands and the tone coming from it.

Most guitars can do with a setup. Really varies though. My acoustic was set up well from the factory but not all the ones I played were. My cheap Squier was decent but improved a bit with a DIY home setup, my Fender had a real high nut and became a dream to play after visiting a luthier. YMMV

First thing would be how it looks. Give it a quick check for anything visually obvious. Check the strings are reasonably central on the fretboard when views straight on. Check for any damage. Check for anything that has been missed on QC (things like binding not done right, nuts not seated/cut well, just anything that is obviously not right)
Then I’d give it a quick play to see how it feels.

If I was still really interested in it after that, I’d then look at it in more detail.
Have a run down the fretboard checking each string rings out clearly at every fret. Check it can be tuned smoothly (aka the strings aren’t jamming in the nut). Check all switches/knobs do what they should. And have an even closer look for any defects.

I wouldn’t say all guitars need a setup.
Any decent shop will give all guitars a basic check over, but setups can be quite a personal thing.

Things like acoustics will often come with quite a high action, as it’s easier for a luthier to cut down a saddle than to raise one.
Electrics will often come with a pretty average action, as they are usually easier to adjust to suit any given player.

I should really get a set-up done on my acoustic, as the action is quite high, but it’s still playable.
My purchased electrics, I think the only thing I’ve ever done was raise a couple saddles on my Strat.

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Buying 2nd hand can save you a good 50% of the purchase price and still get you a guitar in very good condition. As with any purchase, let the buyer beware.

Hi Adam,

I suspect this will be a long answer. :slight_smile:
I bought my “first” guitar from a major guitar store. It was sold to me as new, but being very new at this, when I got it home, I found it was actually modified. It went back and traded for a new one that was in the box. Here is the story on that plus some possibly useful reading for your question here.

What I have learned so far:

  1. most things are repairable. you will need to decide if you are willing to do so for the price.
  2. Inspect any guitar that is out on display - even a “new” one.
  3. check the neck and headstock for cracks and twisting. This may be a major repair if you miss it.
  4. check the hardware for poor handling: are the tuners dinged or bent. Did someone slip with a screwdriver turning any of the screws. are the strap buttons secure. are the tuner nuts without rounded edges from improper tightening.
  5. Do the volume and tone knobs work without a lot of noise (plug it into an amp and listen!)
  6. Does the pickup selector do what you expect
  7. are the fret edges satisfactory for you (i had a purchase, unseen, with edges that tore my hands up - it went back)
  8. fret each position on at least strings 1, 4 , and 6. Does anything buzz severely?

That’s pretty much all I can think of. If you are buying used, then remember it may be modified. If you like the sound and feel, then you are really looking for the disastrous to annoying problems that need more attention than the price accounts for.

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Thanks, this is the type of info I was looking for