Chances are, if you are reading this, you don't know much about guitars. Yet.
If that is so, then you are now as I was a month or so ago. But I write this as a veteran purchaser of dozens of guitars since then and I am Here To Help.
First, as with nearly everything else on eBay, RESEARCH before you buy. Many sellers offer several listings of the same or similar items at different price points. Always check "see seller's other items" Use the Advanced Search to see what this item usually sells for. And, of course, check the shipping cost before you buy. Some sellers will ship you a guitar at no additional cost, which is a nice savings. Others add a handling fee on top of the actual shipping cost. You need to be aware.
And the reason you need to be aware is that guitars are selling every hour on eBay for well under $10. Well, plus shipping.
OK, now that we have that amazing fact on the table, let's go back and decide. Briefs or Boxers. Sorry, I mean Acoustic or Electric.
Or maybe Acoustic-Electric.
Clearly, there are people who only want one or they only want the other, and then there are people who aren't so sure. And there are several guitar choices available for each.
As you probably know, guitars make sound when you pluck a string. How much sound depends on the size of the sound box, or, if it is amplified, on the amount of amplification you have. An electric guitar doesn't use any electricity itself. The amplifier is what is actually electrified. And, through the magic of science and a specialized microphone called a pickup, it takes the quiet sound of the string being plucked and sends it through the amplifier and out the speaker at a volume that can be high enough to bother the neighbor's dogs a mile away.
Shall we back up? The sound box is the "body" of your acoustic guitar- that hollow place behind the strings. And that is what makes the sound of the plucked string carry across a room- that and / or amplification.
Now let's get organized. We have electric guitars, both hollow bodied and solid bodied (and semi- hollow) and we have true acoustic guitars, which must have some kind of hollow chamber to make them work, and acoustic-electrics, which usually have a microphone hidden in that hollow chamber. An acoustic electric can be played without amplification, but can be played through an amplifier to make it louder. We also have bass guitars, which are a different subject.
The fat part of a guitar is called the body and the stick that sticks out is called the neck. The little bars along the neck are called frets and you make different notes by pressing the string along those frets as you pluck it with your other hand. What you are doing is making the string shorter or longer, which is why the same string can make higher or lower notes. Most guitars have 6 strings, though some have 6 pairs of double strings (a 12 string guitar) and then there are those basses, with 4 usually, or maybe 5. And, yes, there is such a thing as a 7 string guitar.
The most important things about a guitar are how it sounds and how easy it is to play. The heavy lifting of sound is done electrically on an electric guitar, so the strings do not have to be as taut, which means it may be easier to play. The tough part is always pressing those strings onto the frets. If the strings are closer to the frets, this is easier, but if they are too close, they may vibrate against the frets and create what is sometimes called "fret buzz" or "fret hum". Ideally, the strings are set as close to the frets as possible without any buzz. This setting height or distance is called the action, as in high or low action. Most people prefer a low action for ease of playing. Adjusting the action is called "setting up" the guitar and is either done at the factory or by someone who knows how. I can't teach you in this space.
Let's go ahead and admit that there are a million ways to alter the sound of an electric guitar. The quality of your amplifier, particularly the speaker, will affect the quality of sound as much as anything else. Some guitars on eBay are sold with amplifiers included. You will need to have one if you have an electric guitar, but generally speaking, you can play almost any guitar through almost any amp. You can always upgrade later.
One of the best pieces of news I have read in a long time is that cheap guitars in the 21st century are way better than cheap guitars were in the 1960s and 1970s. This is true for both acoustics and electrics. If cheap is what you are looking for, you have come to the right place. And if you want decent quality at a low price, you can get that, too. A quick note: don't worry about new or used. Buying a used one of a good brand is never a bad idea, if it is intact, but you will probably find it less expensive to buy a new one from one of the many volume dealers. There is also something called "B Stock" which is instrument-speak for irregular or seconds. If the flaw is superficial, why not go for it?
But we were talking about quality of sound and ease of playing. You will not be able to judge either of these things simply by reading a listing. And, if you are as ignorant as I was, you wouldn't necessarily be able to do it with the guitar in your hands. There are many webpages devoted to guitar reviews and, if you are thinking of buying a name-brand guitar, it is certainly worthwhile to google that brand and model name, preferably along with the word review in your search terms. Or you can check out the many helpful eBay reviews. But you will probably not find much on the low-end private label (store brand) guitars that make up such a large part of what is available.
To understand those guitars you need to learn a few key features and then make a few educated guesses: what is the body made of? What about the neck? What about the tuners (the "pegs" that tighten and loosen the strings)? How many pickups? What kind? Are there other features described? Compare these features to more expensive guitars. Talk to people who have guitars. GO to a store and check them out. Become obsessive, for a few days at least.
Or just do as I did and jump in. Commit $75 to the project and see what you can buy. Pay attention to what is offered, watch and wait a day or two, and just buy something. You will learn more in a week of trying to play than you can any other way. Go ahead and buy a chromatic tuner. It will cost around $25 and save you a fortune in headache medicine. I have found that "how to" dvds are also a good investment. And when you are ready to upgrade, list it and sell it all to the next beginner.
You may also want to see my other helpful guides on a million and one (almost) subjects
Guide created: 01/02/07 (updated 08/02/10)