9 Steps to Try Out A New Guitar

How do you shop for a new guitar?   What do you look for?

Getting a new instrument can be fun and inspiring.  It can up your motivation and enthusiasm.

And getting to know the difference between guitars can help you improve your own playing.

Here’s how to test out new guitars, so you can know you’re getting a good one.


Take Your Time, Be Thorough, and Have Fun

Below you’ll find nine steps you can take to try out a new guitar.

You can go in any order. There is no magic to this specific routine. Touch on all the points, and you’ll get to know the guitar in record time.

When testing a new guitar, it’s best to have a quiet place to play and listen. Many music stores have lesson rooms or an office they will let you use if you ask.

As you go through the process below, take your time. Relax. Have fun.

Make guitar-shopping into learning opportunity

Finding your new instrument can be an educational experience. As you test different guitars, you’ll discover common traits and differences. You may find you have preferences you didn’t know about.

And if you test many guitars (say, over 20), you’ll come to know a baseline of quality. You’ll recognize the typical range and breadth of volume, tone, and playability.

Then, when you find a guitar that surpasses these, you know you’ve found a winner.

How to Shop for a New Guitar

Here are the steps to test a new guitar.  You can go in any order.  Each will be explained below.

  1. Play the open strings
  2. Look over every inch for damage
  3. Turn the tuning keys
  4. Tune the guitar
  5. Play every note on every string
  6. Compare the high and low voices
  7. Play some music
  8. Listen to a better guitarist play the guitar
  9. Research the builder/brand

Step One: Play the Open Strings

The first step is to touch the guitar. Hold it. Feel the wood and strings.

Play the open strings. Let the sound resonate. This is a first impression.

You can play each string separately, in succession. Like a slow strum.

This allows you to hear the resonance of the guitar. Is it loud or quiet? Does it sound open and rich, or closed and tight?

If it was a human voice, how is it using the throat muscles? Is it free and confident or constricted?

And are all strings the same? Or does one stand out as better or worse than the others?

Note: The age of the strings will affect the sound. So you can notice the condition of the strings and take that into consideration.

Step Two: Look over every inch for damage

Before buying a guitar, it’s best to know exactly what you are getting. So look over every square inch.

Notice the scrapes, dings, and dents. You may find the polish is worn in places.

Most damage is due to normal wear and tear. But also be on the lookout for any manufacturer defect, flawed workmanship, or poor design.

Simple scratches are generally cosmetic only. But cracks in an acoustic instrument can affect the sound and resonance. Natural amplification may suffer.

Damage doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. But tally any repair costs into your guitar budget.

Step Three: Turn all the tuning keys in both directions

Turn each tuning key in both directions. Feel for smoothness and consistency.

Are they easy to turn? Do they turn well from the start, or does it feel stuck at first?

You can also look for rust or wear. The teeth (gears) in tuners can wear down with time. And they can become misaligned.

One way manufacturers cut costs on entry-level guitars is in the tuning keys. Cheap instruments are notorious for bad tuners.

A serviceable set of replacement tuners can be had for $75–150. So you still have options if you love the guitar but the tuners need replacing.

Tuners affect your daily experience

Playing guitar, we usually want to spend as little time tuning as possible. The point is to play, not tune.

And problematic tuners make it more work to get and stay in tune. We tune more often, with less-desirable results.

If a guitar has rough-feeling tuning keys, or they are hard to turn or very loose, strongly consider taking a pass on the instrument.

Or immediately replace the tuners upon purchase. (In a store, you may be able to negotiate a deal if they do the work.)

Step Four: Tune the Guitar

Next, tune the guitar. Use a variety of tuning methods if you like.

Use a tuner app or tune the guitar by ear. Whatever is easiest for you.

  • How easy was it to tune?
  • Could you hear the pitches well?
  • Was it easy to fine-tune with the tuning keys?
  • What was different from string to string?

As you continue the steps below, take note of how well the guitar stays in tune.

Step Five: Play every note on every string

Many guitarists miss this step. But it will give you valuable information.

Starting on one string, play each fret up the string, from the lowest to the highest. Listen for any buzzing notes, dead notes, wolf tones, or anything unusual.

Listen to the volume and general sound of each note.

Then go through every other string the same way.

For what it’s worth, doing this makes you look like you know what you’re doing. Anyone watching will assume you have solid guitar knowledge.

This is true even if you don’t know what you’re listening for or to.

Step Six: Compare the volume and tone balances between high and low notes

This is especially important for classical guitars.

Play the low notes and high notes back to back. Listen to the body and fullness of each.

Does the bass overpower the high notes? Or vice versa?

Is the top end strong enough in comparision?

How do they sound together?

Right-hand guitar technique comes into play here. But even without good guitar technique you can compare the sound between low and high notes.

Step Seven: Play a piece of music

At last, feel free to play something. The goal here is not to show off or perform. It is not about other people or sharing your passion.

Playing the guitar, we want to feel it resonate against our body. Feel the strings. Hear the sound. Listen deeply.

We can explore different dynamic ranges of loud and soft playing.

We can change the tone by playing close to the bridge (end of the strings) or up over the hole near the neck.

If you have time and the repertoire, you can play pieces or snippets of pieces in different styles. You can play fast and slow. Use a variety of techniques if you can.

Note the singing melody voice. Is it beautiful?

Compared to other guitars, does playing fast feel easier or harder?

Step Eight: Listen to a skilled player play the guitar

Next, have someone else play the guitar. Sit in front of it so you can hear what a listener will hear.

In a perfect world, you can find a guitarist a few levels above your current ability to play it for you. Their comments and feedback can be very informative.

Ask what they think of the volume, tone, playability, balance between high and low voices, and anything else they are willing to offer.

If you do not have immediate access to a good guitarist, you can forego this step. Or you can arrange a time for a guitarist to meet you and play the guitar.

If the instrument is a sizable investment for you, it could be worth it to pay a local professional to come evaluate the guitar with you.

This would be great fun and an education. You would learn what they look for in a guitar. You can ask as many questions as you like and soak up their experience.

Step Nine: Read reviews of the brand or builder online. Get the story.

If you find a guitar you like, it can be fun to research the builder. There may be an interesting backstory.

You can look at guitar reviews online and in guitar forums. Explore the company website.

You can also see what price range the builder specializes in.

For example, does the builder only make expensive custom instruments? Or do they mainly serve an entry-level market?

Do they specialize in classical guitars? Or are classical guitars just a sideline? Ask the seller or Google it.

(We here at CGS recommend going with a company that focuses primarily on classical guitars, not steel-string acoustic or electric guitars.)

If you are in the market for a high-end instrument, you may even be able to find someone who owns one from the same builder and talk to them. Guitars are personal, but you can still get their opinion.

Embrace the Process

You can put as much or as little work as you like into finding a new guitar.

When you are ready to test them out, the steps above can help you get to know the guitar quickly.

Testing out guitars can bring loads of learning and enjoyment. So take your time and relish the experience.

Unless you’re a collector, you probably won’t be testing many guitars after you buy one. So now is the time to dig in.

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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