I probably spent the better part of three years trying to find the right guitar for me.
I owned a classical guitar, so that’s what I started taking lessons on. As it turns out, it was the perfect guitar for me to learn on.
But it wasn’t long before I started getting into classic rock and hard rock. That meant that I needed an electric guitar.
As with many beginners, I started learning on a Squier Stratocaster and before long had upgraded to a Mexican made Fender Stratocaster, which I still own to this day.
But that wasn’t my “perfect” guitar and the search continued until I found the Ernie Ball Music Man Axis.
The search stopped there. I’ve been playing guitar for 18 years now and haven’t felt the need to find a substitute.
But it’s fair to say the process was painful at times because I didn’t think I’d ever find the Holy Grail.
Looking for your perfect guitar? Feeling discouraged in the process? Don’t worry – I can help.
Classical, Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
There are a lot of guitar products out there and it can be challenging to wade through all the brands and models.
The first thing we should consider is whether to invest in a classical, acoustic or electric guitar.
I say “invest” because a guitar makes a huge difference in how motivated you feel to play, and as we all know, the more you practice, the better you get.
So, here’s a basic breakdown of the different types of guitars and what they’re good for.
Should I Get a Classical Guitar?
A classical guitar generally comes equipped with nylon strings, which are easier on the fingers. That’s what makes it ideal for beginners.
It’s great for classical, flamenco and Spanish style guitar as you might expect.
But it can also be used for jazz, guitar solos in practically every genre, and for those beautiful fingerpicked interludes.
Though you certainly can use it in other genres, the fact that you can’t effectively bend notes makes it less appealing for blues, rock and metal players.
A beautiful instrument all around and great for the genres and purposes already mentioned, classical guitars are perfect for fingerstyle.
Is Acoustic Guitar Right for Me?
Acoustic guitars usually come with steel strings. That can make it tougher on your fingers (if you don’t have your calluses yet), but an instrument that’s been properly set up can still be a joy to play.
Acoustic guitars are used in many genres, even in metal. But you’re probably not going to hammer out those bloodcurdling heavy riffs on an acoustic. You’d used it for strumming, picking and maybe the occasional solo in that context.
And, let’s face it – there is a time and a place for an acoustic guitar solo, but these sections of music are usually reserved for electric guitar.
Acoustic guitar is ideal for folk, country, bluegrass, blues, singer-songwriter and the like, and bands like Heart and Extreme proved they can be great for rock too.
Another advantage of acoustic guitars in general is that you can basically take them wherever you go so long as you’ve got space in the car.
Today, many acoustic guitars come equipped with microphones and/or pickups, which means you can plug them into amps and PA systems, and even run them through effects (even with custom pedalboards for guitar or bass) if you so desire.
I don’t want to drone on too long here, but one more thing. Percussive style guitar has become quite the niche market thanks to innovators like Michael Hedges, Don Ross, Andy Mckee and others like them.
You can see what I mean in this video:
So, if you want to play percussive style, you’ll probably want to pick up an acoustic guitar.
Is Electric Guitar the Best Choice?
Electric guitar can be heard in practically every modern rock band’s music. Like acoustic guitar, they come with steel strings, but they are generally lighter gauge.
Electric guitars can be heard in all types of rock, including hard rock, punk rock and metal, and of course, blues, country, reggae, funk, R&B and others.
They are less common in classical, flamenco, bluegrass or folk, but they still show up there from time to time too.
And, there is an incredible amount of outboard gear for electric guitar, whether it’s amplifiers, effects pedals, rackmount units or otherwise. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any other instrument with as many peripherals.
In simple terms, that means you can produce a lot of different sounds on electric guitar.
When I was searching for my perfect guitar, I was looking for an electric, because I was inspired by players like Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen.
What Comes Next?
Hopefully you have a better idea whether to get a classical, acoustic or electric guitar now.
Of course, this isn’t the only consideration. There are plenty of other criteria to think about.
I’m going to go rapid fire from here but knowing what type of guitar you want (classical, acoustic or electric) can help you narrow things down considerably. It only gets easier from here.
Here are a few more questions worth asking:
Does it Meet Your Needs?
When I was on the hunt, I was looking specifically for a guitar that had humbucking pickups, a whammy bar and kept proper tune.
That’s quite broad when you think about it. But it gave me a good sense of what I did not want.
I played a few Ibanez guitars that met these criteria, but they didn’t feel right (see next section) and didn’t keep tune the way I needed them to.
One day, I went down to a guitar store with my bandmate and he went around grabbing different guitars going, “try this”.
I don’t remember how many guitars I tried but I played quite a few, including Fenders, Parkers and GIbsons.
Finally, he came back with an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis and said it felt natural to him, even though he only knew how to play a few chords.
It felt perfect to me too. I tried the whammy bar a few times and the guitar seemed to keep tune. And, it sounded great.
So, that guitar more than met my needs. Finding the right amp to suit the guitar took a lot longer, but that’s another story for another time.
Does it Feel Right To You?
It may be too obvious to say, but how a guitar feels has a lot to do with the materials it’s made of as well as how it’s shaped.
The Axis felt right to me because the neck wasn’t too bulky, and it wasn’t too thin. By comparison, Ibanez tended to have thin or “fast” necks. Some people prefer that.
The neck also plays a significant role in the instrument’s playability. Guitar necks basically come in three different profiles – C, V and U. Knowing this can help you find a neck that feels great to you.
As for the body, the question is how does it feel against your body? Does it sit nicely against your abdomen? And, if you’re sitting down, does it feel comfortable on your lap? Also, what does it feel like when you touch the body with your hands?
The Axis is kind of a small guitar. Technically, it’s about the same size as a Strat, but the body is rounder, making it quite comfortable.
You may not be able to find 100% comfort. That’s generally only possible if you get your own signature series guitar made to your specifications.
But you can easily get 80 to 90% there.
Feel is especially important. And, the only way to determine if something is right for you is by experimentation and trial and error.
Does it Sound Awesome?
Different guitars tend to be good for different genres and playing styles.
The Axis is awesome for rock and metal. But if I’m wanting to play funk, country or blues I tend to lean on my Strat.
I experimented a bunch with acoustic guitars too. One of my first purchases was an Ibanez acoustic and it served me well for a long time.
Because it was an intermediate guitar, it didn’t last me forever, and though I still own it, I use it less and less.
My current acoustic guitar is a Gibson, which has a full, warm tone, but it also cuts and just generally sounds great, even plugged in.
I once rented an Epiphone acoustic once too, and kind of wanted to hold onto it. But since I have a Gibson it would be redundant now.
Keep in mind what sounds awesome to you won’t necessarily be the same for anyone else. It’s your own journey, so be prepared to try a lot of guitars.
And, listen to others play too. Go to concerts and open mics. Watch YouTube videos – live shows, reviews, demos and the like.
If you’re looking for the perfect guitar for you, then be prepared to shell out a good amount of money (i.e. $1,500 – $3,000 or more). Screw budget. You’re not going to find an instrument you’ll be happy with a decade from now if you skimp on it.
If you’re looking for an instrument that’s right for you right now, then go to the guitar store and try out a bunch of axes. The front counter staff are generally quite helpful and knowledgeable, so ask plenty of questions.
There’s plenty more that could be said on this subject, but I think this is a good starting point.
If I missed anything, please leave a comment below.