Guitar Shopping Made Easy, I Hope
December 13, 2012 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a killer acoustic guitar for my 27 year old son.

Today my adult son informed me that what he'd really like for an end-of-year present is an acoustic guitar. He loves music and already plays in several other instrument groups, so this is a great idea. But I know nothing about guitars. Ideally, I'd like something decent, new, between $200 and $400, that I can buy on-line and have delivered to Dallas, TX by Dec 24. If necessary, I could go to a physical store on Dec 22 or 23, but just to pick it up. I don't want to have to actually try out guitars as part of this process because I wouldn't know what I'm doing, and subjective stuff like that will be different for him anyway.

I have already looked at a previous AskMe on this topic, but it's almost 7 years old, and heavy on the notion of trying it out. If trying it out is an absolute necessity, I will probably just give him the money and let him do it himself, but I'd rather not do that.
posted by ubiquity to Shopping (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Seagull S6 - love mine.
posted by iamabot at 8:07 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your local Music Go Round doesn't seem to have one, but you might ask them to keep an eye out for an Alvarez RD-8. Back when I had my first cheap-o guitar, a $100 Johnson from MusiciansFriend, I quickly found that while it was adequate, I could have done a lot better.

The RD-8 is not manufactured any more but it was the best reviewed starter/cheap guitar (around $250 at the time) I found, and even came with a hard shell case (which Music-Go-Round should also provide, as long as it was turned in with the used instrument.) You should be able to get it somewhat cheaper used now. Good luck!

(No electronics -- do you want him to be able to plug it in?)

I played them in music stores and they were very nicely put together. I see them in used shops from time to time. Hard to go wrong...good luck!
posted by Infinity_8 at 8:11 AM on December 13, 2012

There is a Guitar Center in Dallas TX - personally, I'd get him a gift certificate and let him walk in and talk to them. Their prices are close enough to online that the ability to walk in, touch and feel, and talk to the staff would be worth it.

To more directly answer your question, Yamaha makes some good guitars in that price range, and the Epiphone (Gipson's less expensive line) would be there as well.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:25 AM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: Is it possible to take him to guitar center before/after christmas?
Guitars are a lot more personal preference than many other instruments and there isn't really a 'best'; there are plenty of good options in that price range.

I think going with his dad and picking out a guitar he likes the best would be a great memory.
posted by gatsby died at 8:29 AM on December 13, 2012

Seconding the Seagull S6. Excellent quality, solid wood top, and should be perfectly playable right out of the box.
posted by BurntHombre at 8:48 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

While the S6 is "playable" make sure you take it and get it setup, basically any new guitar should visit the luthier for a setup.
posted by iamabot at 9:01 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of you and your son going into the music store together.

That price range:

Norman (Canadian copiers of the Martin design) makes a fine guitar.
Art Luthier and Seagull are two other Canadian makers who have good instruments in that price range.
I second the Yamaha suggestion, also. I've had an SG335 for years.
I got a nice Martin for around $550.00.

These five types of guitars (above) don't resemble one another in the slightest, except for the hole in the middle and number of strings. Quality isn't the issue in this price range. Tone and action are the big differences. Other makers exist of course, but I've owned these models, or have played them a lot, and I am familiar with them.

Thing is, guitars actually have such subtle characteristics about them that choosing one is a lot like choosing a friend. You don't really make the choice, you just sort of become enamored. Even two instruments of the same make and model are not identical.

If your son is an accomplished musician, he may appreciate your introduction to a group of instruments, but prefer to fall in love (with an individual one) for himself.

I can't help but smile at the prospect of sitting in the music store and handling several guitars with the intention of taking one home with me. (Actually, I do that every time I go down for a set of strings, but I don't dare bring another guitar home with me.)

When it comes time to wheel and deal, try to get them to throw in a good guitar case, too. Or a decent gig-bag.
posted by mule98J at 9:09 AM on December 13, 2012

Seconding going to the guitar center with him. I received a lovely expensive acoustic guitar many years ago, but it doesn't fit my body correctly, and is uncomfortable to play. Don't make the same mistake.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:30 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

3rd'ing Yamaha. They are a great value. I have an APX-5B (which was replaced by the APX500).

You'll also want to keep in mind that any new guitar (and probably most used ones) are going to need a good setup from a skilled luthier.

I'd still recommend trying it out before buying if at all possible (even if he can't play it yet). Even if the sound isn't all that important, making sure the neck feels comfortable in his hands and the body isn't too big/small to play comfortably is pretty important. This might actually be a good application for a gift card to Guitar Center (or other local music store).
posted by VTX at 9:45 AM on December 13, 2012

I came in here to quickly suggest the Seagull S6, and it looks like I was already beaten to the punch.

That being said, I own a Seagull Entourage Rustic CW. It is/was one step but from the S6, priced only a tad higher, but sounds and feels like a hundred steps up from the S6.

And, yes, as someone already said, every guitar needs to be "set-up," even if they just tweak the truss rod a bit.
posted by TinWhistle at 9:48 AM on December 13, 2012

When you think about the setup, remember the case and all that. Even if he has an existing case which might work for any number of guitars, you should consider the case part of your expenditures.

Specifically, you'll probably be looking at laminated (some with solid tops) vs. solid wood guitar models, whether you're going used or not.

There are typically two kinds of hard cases. The ones you usually see that are basically guitar-shaped are made out of glorified cardboard. That's not terrible, if you're just looking at something to keep junk from smashing the instrument. However, if you end up with a solid or mostly-solid instrument, you will need something more substantial: a case made out of plywood, with padding. These are the kind that are a bit thicker and typically have metal edging along the opening.

You NEED a better case because solid wood is super temperamental. The quality case will prevent the wood from cracking and warping due to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. That will also help the guitar to stay in tune and easy to fiddle with. (I'm a former cellist and know from humidity problems.)

On the other hand -- and perhaps most important -- think about how your son might use a guitar. A laminated model might be much better suited for his needs.

For example, my husband is a former touring musician who loves to pick up a guitar and noodle; he has a living room guitar and an office guitar :P But he's primarily a drummer, so as much as he appreciates the quality of a good instrument, he actually has a $35 Goodwill special in one room. And because he likes to leave the guitar out in the open so it's easy to pick up, a laminated model was actually better suited for him. One of the guitars has a stand, but the other usually just gets leaned against the wall, so having a sturdier model is better.

I went to my local guitar shop, the one recommended by all of the guitar geeks, and he sold me a Rogue. I think it was this one or something similar; I paid $150ish. I liked the variability of having an acoustic-electric, and it's decent enough that he can take it to drumming gigs and pick it up (or have a friend pick it up) if the opportunity arises. His performing friends seem to think it's pretty solid when they've played it. I think my other option was a $300 Ibanez.
posted by Madamina at 10:23 AM on December 13, 2012

Response by poster: think about how your son might use a guitar

He says he wants it because he's tired of not having anything to say except "working" when people ask him what he's been up to, but I suspect he also wants it for that age-old primal reason for playing an instrument — impressing and picking up women. (He can already do that with a piano, but there's not always one around). I am guessing it will be a pretty casual interest; he's certainly not thinking of exchanging his law career for a music gig. And I don't see him spending more than a few hours a week on it. If that has any bearing on the best kind of guitar, please let me know.

One more factor: I think part of the appeal to him of getting one as a gift is not having to go look for one himself. I'm a little fearful that if he has to do that, he'll wind up living without.
posted by ubiquity at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2012

I know this isn't what you want to hear but picking out his guitar for him is like choosing his girlfriend for him.

Sit him down and say, "Son, we're going to the guitar shop and you have up to 400 dollars to pick a guitar and any gear you need." You can and should encourage him to check out certain things recommended in this thread (Yamaha SG series are particularly known for being of a high quality to price ratio) but it'll mean more for him to pick it out himself.

Trust me, there's nothing unappealing about the idea of spending a couple hours testing out and buying something awesome on your dad's dime.
posted by saul wright at 4:40 PM on December 13, 2012

Nthing what everyone else is saying about trying the guitars out.

When I was looking for my guitar, people told me to try Takamines and Yamahas. I hated the way both sounded. I ended up with a low-end Breedlove, because I thought it was the second best sounding guitar in the store (the best one was a Martin).

Even if he doesn't know how to play the guitar yet, get him to just sit down and strum a bunch of guitars. No one will make fun, I promise.
posted by topoisomerase at 7:47 PM on December 13, 2012

I can't remember the exact model, but my guitar is ridiculously similar to this one.
posted by topoisomerase at 7:49 PM on December 13, 2012

If he likes blues music, consider the Epiphone EL-00.
posted by stp123 at 8:05 PM on December 13, 2012

I also recommend Seagull S6. Cherry sides and back with a cedar top make it unlike the typical rosewood/spruce combination. I recommend paying extra for built in tuner/electronics. Amazon has a return policy if he doesn't like it. You're a good Dad.
posted by surfgator at 8:56 PM on December 13, 2012

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