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Adventures in Guitar Shopping

by Ryan Guina

I started playing guitar as a teenager and through the years I’ve gone through many stages as a player. I started with an electric guitar, then bought a classical, then an acoustic-electric, a hollowbody jazz box, a bass, and an assortment of accessories and recording gear. I have bought and sold over a dozen guitars through the years. I would say I was a serious hobbyist, but never a professional or gigging guitar player. I primarily played and recorded by myself or with a couple friends. As happens with many people, I put away my guitars when other priorities took precedence: work, school, then family.

Martin Acoustic Guitar DC-16GTE

I bought this Martin, but it’s not playable… yet.

But after taking several years away from the instrument, I have gotten back into it in a big way. It was actually my youngest daughter who inspired me to pick up the instrument again. She saw me playing a few times and it got to the point that she would see me walk upstairs and she would point at me, toddle to the closet where we kept the guitar, and she would point to the closet. And from there, my passion to play has returned.

Now I need to buy a new guitar.

OK, there is a little more to the story. I have a guitar, and it’s decent. But I need an acoustic-electric guitar to play with our church praise band. I sold most of my previous guitars and I have an acoustic guitar, but not an acoustic-electric I can plug in and play on stage.

Over the past few months I’ve been searching for the right guitar. So far, I’ve driven a few hundred miles in search of the right guitar, visited six guitar shops, spent hours strumming dozens of different guitars, and spent countless hours researching guitar models and specs. (It’s been over 10 years since I’ve purchased a guitar, so there is a lot of catching up for me to do!). I’ve also bought and returned two guitars, and bought one that needs a ton of work to make it playable. I need to drop it off with our local luthier, but he is backed up at the moment.

I have tried to approach this methodically, by starting with what is important to me, then finding guitars that meet those specs. But it’s tough with the number of manufacturers and the hundreds of different models to look through. (I would love it if there were a database that you could use to filter your search!).

The Acoustic Guitar Forum has been a great resource for information on various makes, models, styles, and other information (you can find me on the AGF forums a Ryan_G). So far I have narrowed down a few must-have features, and a few nice to have features. The musts: all solid-wood, acoustic-electric with a cutaway, ability to play loudly without breaking up, even string balance, ability to handle alternate tunings (primarily lowered tunings like Open D and DADGAD).

The nice-to-haves: 1 3/4″ nut, dual source pickup, hard case (I can always buy one if it doesn’t come with a hard case). The budget: approximately $1,000, but I’m happy to spend less.

So far I’ve played multiple guitars by Martin, Taylor, Guild, Breedlove, Godin (Simon and Patrick, Seagull), Eastman, Yamaha, Takamine, and a few others. Right now, I think I’m more of a Martin guy when it comes to sound and feel. Taylor Guitars play wonderfully, but they sounds very bright to my ear. I think I’m most intrigued by the Breedlove and Eastman lines.

I haven’t found the right guitar yet, but the search has been fun. And as they say, the fun is in the journey!

Do you have any acoustic guitar recommendations? I’ll be sure to check them out next time I go to a guitar shop.


Published or updated March 20, 2014.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Thomas

Hey Ryan, I play the guitar and since you’re in the market for a new one, did you ever try playing a 12 string? They’re amazing and give off such a better, cleaner sound in my opinion. Thanks for the carnival mention too btw!

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2 Ryan Guina

Thomas, yes, I enjoy 12 string guitars, and I have plans to buy one of those in the near future. But I want to get an all purpose 6 string first. The plan is to get a nice 6-string, then save up for a nice 12-string. I already talked my wife into it, but only on the condition that I finish a few projects first. So the 12-string will kind of be a reward. I really enjoyed a couple Breedlove 12-string guitars that I played recently, so that may be where I start my search.

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3 Jennifer Lee

Hi Ryan! I prefer Martin guitars over Taylors as well, as I prefer the deeper/richer sound. Have you thought about buying used? I bought my Martin XC1T on Craigslist for $450 (originally $900). Good luck with the search! Let us know what you end up getting!

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4 Ryan Guina

Jennifer, I much prefer to buy used over new, since you can get so much more for your money. My search so far has primarily been used guitars. I bought a used Martin GPCPA5 from Guitar Center. It was very nice and had great tone, but I didn’t care for the HPL back and sides (high pressure laminate). It sounded like the tone broke up when strummed loudly. So I returned it (love the 30 day return policy at GC!). The other guitar I bought and returned was a Guild GAD D-140CE. I ordered this one new, but the strings were buzzing at every fret position and it had several blemishes, so I sent it back. The blemishes were the main reason I sent it back.

I’ve been scouring Craigslist and Ebay for the last couple months and have looked at a few guitars, but I’ve struck out more than I hit. This week I drove 2.5 hours roundtrip to look at a nice Martin. I was close to pulling the trigger, but the guitar had an intonation problem (I think the neck was slightly tweaked to the side). It’s fun searching for a good deal, but sometimes it’s tough to have patience!

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