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Cheap Guitars... do you really get what you pay for?
So you want to learn guitar, or want to buy a guitar for someone, and don't have much money to spend. The market is flooded with cheap guitars, but are they worth buying or will you just end up with junk?
In general, the budget/beginner guitars made today are far better that what I had when I started to play in the '70s. Almost any guitar can be made into a serviceable, good playing instrument, but most cheap guitars don't come that way. Think about it... if a company is going to sell a guitar for under $200 and make a profit they have to cut corners somewhere. That usually means slapping them together and out the door. So what you are likely to get out of the box is a guitar that hasn't been set up to play well, often with tuning problems, high action, sharp fret ends, buzzes and dead spots. And the dealer you buy it from isn't likely to want to spend much time on it either because there just isn't a whole lot of profit margin there.
So many people give up on learning guitar because their guitar is hard to play and has all sorts of problems, and most beginners don't know what a well set up guitar should play like. So when you set your budget for a guitar, you should include an amount for new strings and getting it properly set up. This is true even when buying more expensive instruments. In one of my other Guitar Tips I discuss what a good set up should include, and it's more than just slapping on a new set of strings and setting string action at the 12th fret.
If you are not an experienced player yourself, it is a good idea to bring someone who is along when you are shopping for a guitar. If you are going to be taking lessons, enlist your teacher's help in picking out a guitar. As I said before, almost any guitar can be made into a well playing, serviceable instrument, and they can be upgraded with better pickups, tuners, and other hardware as the budget allows. Even experienced players often find that they like their cheapies as much or better than their more expensive guitars. I sold my Gibson ES-335 after buying a similar style, but much less expensive imported Hamer Echotone because I found myself reaching for the Echotone more often, and the 335 stayed in its case.