Holiday Gear Part 2: Quality Matters

Beginning to learn a new instrument takes time, patience, determination and, oh yeah, money. Quality music lessons aren’t cheap, and for you to get your money’s worth, it’s important to have the right equipment.

Many times new musicians start learning on a hand-me-down instrument or one with the lowest price tag at a pawn shop. More often than not, these instruments are old and in rough shape, making them difficult or impossible to play well.

The thinking behind starting on exceedingly cheap equipment tends to go as follows: “I’m just now starting lessons and am not sure if I’m cut out to be a musician, so I don’t want to buy a new instrument until I know more,” or “my child says he wants to learn the guitar, but how can I be sure until he actually gives it a try?”

These certainly are worthwhile concerns, but oftentimes (especially with children), starting on a poorly made or maintained instrument spells doom from the start. This is because no matter how hard you practice, how determined you are to improve, a shoddy instrument will always sound like a shoddy instrument no matter who plays it.

Furthermore, such instruments tend to be more difficult than necessary to play in the first place. For example, an old hand-me-down acoustic guitar likely has a warped neck, meaning that it physically cannot sound in tune, and action that is either too high or too low, making it very difficult to press the strings down or impossible to get a chord or note to sound without lots of buzzing.

All of this can make learning an instrument more painful and infuriating than it should be (and trust me, it’s tough enough even on the best equipment). We find motivation to continue practicing when we hear ourselves improving, and to do so, we must have equipment that will reflect all the hard work we put in!

Indeed, many beginners who give up learning a new instrument do so because they do not hear themselves improving, and many times this is because the instrument they are learning on is in poor condition. Learning music is driven by results, and all too often students doom themselves before they even begin because they start learning on gear that is more artifact than instrument. Do yourself or your child a favor and start off on an instrument that is in good condition—it’s worth the investment.

Part 3 of this series will examine a few options for getting a high quality first instrument on a wide range of budgets.