Do You Need a New Guitar? How to Tell if It’s Time for a Upgrade

For beginners, nearly any old guitar will do. Just starting out, we may not need to buy a new guitar.

But at some point, we start to wonder if it’s time to upgrade. We browse online and look at all the shiny new options.

But do we really need a new guitar? Or is this just a distraction?….

The Benefits of Nice Instruments

There are definite benefits to working with top-quality instruments. The nicer the guitar, the better it will usually sound. And we’re able to do more with them.

Here are a few benefits of high-end instruments:

Ease of Playing

High-end instruments are often “set up” by a luthier or guitar technician. This means someone has given them special care to get them playing as well as possible.

Jargon Alert: A “luthier” is a guitar-builder.

They Stay in Tune

High-end instruments usually come with well-made tuning keys (tuners, or tuning machines). These tuning machines stay in tune better, and are a joy to twist and turn. (Especially Rodgers tuners!)

More Responsive

One of the greatest benefits of a luthier-built guitars is that they are more responsive. This means that as we play expressively, the guitar projects this to the listener.

For example, nice instruments more easily play dynamics. And we may have more control over tone quality.


And not to be underestimated, sounding good is motivating. When we sound good and feel good playing, we’re more more likely to practice.

How to Tell If You Need a Better or New Guitar

While a new or better instrument may be nice, do we actually need one? Here are a few questions to help tease out the answer.

Do you have a regular guitar practice?

If we don’t have a regular practice routine, looking at new guitars could be a distraction. Instead of a new guitar, we really just need to sit down and focus.

If we’re not practicing now, chances are a new instrument will not solve the issue.

One possible solution here is to set a date for one month on the calendar. Then practice five days or more per week, and revisit this article then. This will cancel the immediate gratification and impulse-thinking. When we revisit the idea, we can do so with a calm, clear mind.

Is anything annoying you about your current guitar?

If our current guitar annoys us, we’re less likely to want to play it. Does the guitar bring minor annoyances? Awareness of these can help us make better decisions about how to proceed.

If there is nothing annoying us, that’s great!

Does your guitar stay in tune?

All guitars do go out of tune. That said, some keep tune longer than others.

We want a guitar to hold in tune for at least a few minutes, and to only slip slightly. Some guitars will not stay in tune for long, and the tuning varies widely. If so, we can consider a new guitar, or doing something about it. (More on this below.)

Is your current guitar in good repair?

We want our guitar to be in generally good repair. This means that it serves our purposes, without injuring or frustrating us (too much).

Guitar may have small cracks, dents, back buzzes, scratches etc . These are normal, and most do not affect the sound or playability.

But if a guitar has gaping holes, or gives us splinters when we shift up the neck, it may be time to consider an upgrade.

Option: Upgrade Your Current Guitar

Many times, we don’t need a new guitar. We can repair or fix up our current guitar with great success.

This is a wonderful option if we have sentimental attachments to our guitar. And it’s also a great way to save money.

Clean and polish it

First things first, a good shine can bring new life into an instrument. This can help to motivate and inspire us.

This is also good activity on days we don’t feel like practicing.

We can also oil the tuning keys to improve their ability to turn. To do this, a very small about of oil (olive or coconut will do) rubbed onto them by hand will work.

The winter can also bring dry, cold air. A guitar humidifier can help keep your guitar in its best working order.

Change the strings

A new set of strings can make a guitar sound like a completely different instrument. Likewise, this often (and unexplainably) fixes buzzes or rattles we have heard before.

When anything seems wrong, but we don’t know exactly the cause, we can try this first. Then, if it doesn’t work, we can consider other options, such as a new guitar.

Note: When we change classical guitar strings, they take a few days to stretch out and hold tune.

When in doubt, D’Addario Pro-Arte Normal Tension strings are a good all-purpose string.

Change the tuning keys

Often on older or lower-model guitars, the guitar tuners are rusted, bent, or don’t stay in place. In this case, we can replace them.

Replacing the tuners can yield massive improvements to playability and practice satisfaction. And we can do this for a fraction of the cost of a new instrument.

New tuning keys can range in cost from around $10 (don’t do it), up to $1000 or more. If replacing tuners, try to spend at least $50 minimum. Otherwise the new tuners will likely not work well either. A local music store may carry them, and should be able to replace them.

Schaller and Gotoh are trustworthy brands of classical guitar tuners around the $100 mark.

Have a luthier (or guitar tech) “set it up”

People who work on guitars can do what we call a “set up”. This means they set the string height, and make sure the neck is at the right angle.

This can make the guitar play more easily. We can use less muscle to press each note with the left hand.

To find someone locally, you can do a web search for “[YOUR TOWN] luthier”, or [YOUR TOWN] guitar repair”.

So Do You Need a New Guitar?

A good guitar can bring hours and hours of joy and growth to life. The time we spend playing and practicing can add reward and fulfillment to our lives.

So having a decent tool on which to practice can be a worthwhile investment.

Whether we “spiff up” our current guitar, or graduate to a nicer one, the main thing remains our practice time.

A guitar is just a tool. It’s how we use it that makes more of the difference.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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