If you’re interested in learning about what makes a good guitar, you’ve come to the right post!
I’m no guitar expert, but I have played since 2003, and I know a thing or two about this instrument.
Over the years, I’ve come to understand some of the things that contribute to the quality of a guitar.
And I thought I’d share them here on the blog!
First Thing’s First: What Are You Looking For?
Not every guitar player is the same. We’re all looking for different things. Before you go searching for your dream guitar, you need to know what you want.
It seems simple but it’s often the hardest part. For instance, it’s helpful to know what genres you want to play. Some guitars can cover more genres. However, they’re not always as good as those that specialize in a specific scope of genres. Most commonly, these diverse guitars are popular among fusion jazz and progressive metal players.
But a good guitar for, let’s say, blues won’t be good for everything. This is why it’s helpful to figure out what you want before you proceed.
Regardless of what you want, there are some universal rules for checking all guitars. This goes for both acoustic and electric ones. And it also goes for styles too.
Build Quality and Structural Damages
Since almost all guitars are made out of wood, they’re susceptible to damage. Wood reacts to humidity and temperature as well.
Although we can’t look into the wood, we can inspect it from the outside. You’ll first want to look for any potential cracks in the finish. Look to see whether there are any parts where lacquer is falling off.
If you’re buying a used guitar, this isn’t always a red flag. These things can happen and aren’t necessarily a sign of poor build quality. However, if it’s a brand new instrument from a store, then it is a red flag.
You should especially look into spots where the neck meets the body. Or essentially any part where two pieces of wood meet.
On the neck and the fretboard, we can usually see the wood quality. If there are noticeable wood knots, then I’d advise that you avoid this instrument. It’s a trait of cheaper instruments.
Additionally, cracks in the fretboard are a big issue. If it’s a new instrument, then it’s a sign of poor build quality. If it’s a used guitar, then it can be a sign of humidity damage or poor maintenance.
As for hardware, there should be no rust or cracks involved. If it’s an old used vintage guitar, then it’s understandable. It’s part of the game. If you really want a particular instrument with damaged hardware, then you can always replace tuners, bridge, saddles, and most other parts too.
Price and Quality Relation
Although not directly related to quality, you should think of the price. There are plenty of big-name brands that charge more than they should.
I won’t name any names, but always consider quality over the brand unless you really love to have a trademarked logo slapped over the headstock.
But there’s no strict set of rules here. Sometimes, a mid-priced version of a guitar really outperforms a high-end original. In fact, Orangewood Guitars capitalizes on this idea with a direct-to-consumer business model and a no-frills but high build-quality instrument manufacturing process.
(Check out our Orangewood Guitars post to learn more about them!)
Top and Sides Wood
As far as acoustic guitars go, the wood is everything. The main thing to consider here is whether the guitar has laminated or solid wood.
In case you didn’t know, solid wood is better. There’s more resonance and the tone is deeper with solid wood. Laminated wood can be okay, but it’s typically a trait of cheaper guitars.
Most often, you have solid wood tops and laminated sides. Better and more expensive instruments have all-solid-wood construction.
Of course, there are also different types of wood in both forms. Sides are usually mahogany, Sapele, rosewood, maple, koa, or walnut. Tops are typically made out of spruce, mahogany, cedar, and maple. Tonewoods have different effects, and usually none of them are necessarily better or worse, just different.
So again, it’s helpful to know what sound you’re looking for so you can back into the type of tonewood that could be best for that sound.
Bridges on acoustic guitars are wooden. The only thing you have to pay attention to are any cracks and how well its glued to the body.
As for tuners, it’s the same story as with electric guitars. No-name stock tuners are usually not that good. In fact, many tend to replace them if the instrument in question turns out to be great overall.
If it’s a used acoustic guitar, just make sure that they’re working properly and that there’s no rust. Additionally, make sure that they’re not screwed in too hard. This can damage the wood.
Body and Neck Formation
We have three body and neck builds on electric guitars. These are bolt-on, set-in, and neck-through. And there are many opinions on which one is the best.
Bolt-on is the most common one. It’s present on almost all cheaper guitars. However, some high-end guitars feature it as well. However, it’s way more comfortable on expensive instruments.
Cheaper bolt-on guitars usually have an uncomfortable square-shaped heel. On more expensive ones, you’ll have more comfortable access up there.
Set-in necks are what you mostly see on Gibsons and Gibson-style guitars. The neck and body have a specially designed joined and are glued together. This one is usually more comfortable to play.
Neck-through guitars have a neck and the base of the body made from one piece of wood. This is, by far, the most advanced body and neck construction. And it’s often favored by professional musicians.
Set-in and especially neck-through variants are considered to enhance sustain. However, experiences differ greatly. It’s a bit of a controversial issue best left for another article.
As far as hardware goes, it’s a similar story as with acoustic guitars. Branded bridges and tuners are usually far more reliable. The most important thing is that all parts fit well and that there’s no rust.
Things can get complicated with electric guitar bridges. For instance, don’t always get impressed with Floyd Rose bridges. On cheaper instruments, these are always licensed copies. They’re fine, but not as nearly as good as the real deal.
Classic hardtail and tune-o-matic bridges are usually fine. The same goes for regular Fender-style tremolo bridges. Just make sure that the springs on the back are in order. You can always replace them and this shouldn’t be that expensive.
Electronics and Pickups
There are two main things to look for with electronics. Firstly, if possible, check all the wiring. All the solder joints should be tidy and cables shouldn’t be too flimsy.
Secondly, the guitar should have proper shielding. The only way to check this is to plug it in and crank the amp on high gain. If you notice buzzing around electronic appliances, then the shielding is the issue. Another sign of bad shielding is that buzzing increases when you touch any metal part.
The grounding is also very important. Without it, your instrument would buzz all the time. The main symptom of bad grounding is that the guitar buzzes less when you touch the metal parts.
But then we have pickups. And these are a story of their own. Contrary to popular belief, most pickups these days are well-made. Even the cheapest ones can be pretty decent. So you usually won’t have to worry about this much.
However, really good pickups have their important traits. Most commonly, they can help you sound fuller, thicker, and achieve more dynamic control. You should check this guitar on a tube amp or an advance digital amp modeler. Listen to how the pickups respond to
Pots and capacitors are often overlooked. The first thing to check is whether there are any unwanted noises when you move the pots. As far as capacitors go, evaluating them can get a bit tricky and the results subjective. However, even the best guitar capacitors aren’t expensive. And they’re easy to replace yourself or with a luthier.
There are plenty of other features that we could mention like visual traits. However, these are entirely subjective. The same goes for the guitar’s tone.
If you’re working with limited resources but want a good guitar, there are plenty of brands to choose from like Squier, Epiphone, some Ibanez lines, Harley Benton, and ESP LTD, just to name a few. But, as I already mentioned, you still need to know what you’re looking for.
What Makes a Good Guitar: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you understand some of what makes a good guitar.
And if you want to read about some instruments I recommend, check out my acoustic guitar buyer’s guide!
Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have further questions about this or another guitar topic!