Guitar Lifestyle blog by Josh Evitt, what we have here is a great collection of guitar and gear review, combined with some pretty useful tips. Guitar Lifestyle also offers concise gear rundowns for a variety of major rock bands
Aloha! I know that I usually talk about ukuleles and ukulele instruction here, but I wanted to talk about guitars today. Specifically about what makes a good beginner guitar.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and came up with a list of what would make the PERFECT beginner guitar. See if you agree with me:
1) It needs to be affordable. This is pretty obvious, I suppose, but I’m not above writing it so you know nothing is implied here. If a guitar is too expensive, a beginner won’t buy it. They are hesitant and nervous about this whole venture they’re thinking about and don’t want to risk losing too much money if they end up not liking the guitar.
2) It needs to be acoustic. Now, I’ll admit that there are two camps of players out there: those that think you need to start on an acoustic because it’s harder and will build up your hand’s muscles, eventually making playing an electric guitar easier. Then there’s my camp that knows that this is easily one of the more ridiculous statements that could be thrown around and it’s REALLY all about player satisfaction. How a player feels is key to them continuing to learn. If you give them something that’s hard to play, sure, playing an electric will be easier down the road, but you also increase the probability of them quitting because it’s hard and learning guitar is already hard enough!
No, the reason I think it should be acoustic has more to do with purity and the short signal path between player and instrument. If you started them on an electric, you have to introduce them to an amp. Then you have to deal with the knobs and switches on the guitar and on the amp. If they don’t sound good, it’s only natural for them to start twisting knobs and they begin to focus more on getting a good tone from knobs and switches than just playing where good tone will eventually develop with time and practice. And don’t even get me started on pedals.
But it you play an acoustic – especially one without electronics – you don’t have to worry about it. It’s the player and instrument with nothing between them. And then there’s the portability of it all. With an acoustic you can go anywhere and be inspired to play. It’s liberating to be away from all the electronics and just make music and that purity should be encouraged with new players.
3) It needs to be easy to play. There are a few ways to make an acoustic easy to play: you can shorten the scale and make it a 12-fret. You can make the body smaller than normal and give it curves that are easy to negotiate. Dreadnoughts are unwieldy beasts of guitars that people have an odd attachment to, but they just don’t make good beginner guitars. They’re massive and tough to play when you’re a beginner.
4) It needs to look good. It all goes like this: a pretty guitar is a guitar that’s picked up more. And if you have it picked up, you might as well play it. And more playing means more progress and more progress means more playing because you’re stoked about your progress. That’s the musician’s cycle. An ugly guitar is ignored and your playing becomes stagnant or begins to regress since you’re not practicing.
5) It needs to sound good. Similar to looks, a guitar that sounds good (or at least has the potential to sound good) is a guitar that’s played and with practice comes skill and a stronger desire to play more. But what sounds good? Surely that’s objective, right?
It’s actually pretty simple: the frequencies need to be balanced without too much emphasis on the low or high end and it needs to be able to played gently with volume and roughly without buzzing. Accomplishing this feat is hard, but the boxes to tick aren’t hard to come up with.
6) It needs to grow with you. Think about any beginner guitar and you’re sure to think of the things that make it LOOK like a beginner guitar. Ibanez’s obvious “GIO” tag, Squier’s Fender-ey, but not Fender-ey ENOUGH logo, or Epiphone’s ridiculous headstock. The reason companies do things like this is obvious: they want you to be somewhat appalled by the guitars – or at least appalled enough that you won’t consider them and, instead, cough up more money for their more legitimate (read: pricier) offerings. They don’t want to cannibalize sales of more expensive guitars by offering quality beginner guitars that can handle a player that’s developing their craft.
7) It needs to be strong enough to withstand the knocks and dings the new player will absolutely give it while being light enough to be resonant.
And that’s basically it. You’re looking for an affordable, beautiful, great-sounding, easy to play, strong-but-light guitar that will accommodate a developing player without a company’s desire to push the next guitar at a higher cost to further their bottom line.
As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that this isn’t JUST what would make for a perfect beginner guitar, but a perfect guitar in general regardless of the player’s skill level or status.
Kala is known as an ukulele maker. They’ve got ukes that span a wide range price-wise, but almost all of them have a surprising amount of quality when you look at the price tag. My family has four in the house and the most expensive one that I have clocked in at around $360 but it rivals $1,000+ Hawaiian-made ukuleles. They’re just that good.
Well, they have a couple guitars, but one is a tenor guitar (four strings), two others are thin lines, and then there’s this parlor acoustic I’m reviewing.
And that’s it for guitars. That means that they can offer the best guitar that they possibly can and not worry about its quality eating into some prettier, more expensive guitar that’s higher on their food chain. They’re just focusing on giving you the best instrument they can.
I was intrigued and asked for a review unit which they sent my way and I’ve been living with it for a while now.
And overall I’m super impressed.
Let’s start with looks since that’s the first thing you’re going to see. The guitar is attractive in a way that has enough nice details to appeal to any level of musician, but not so much that it could ever be considered gaudy. The headstock logo and design are all genuinely inlaid (which even guitars that cost upwards of $2k sometimes don’t have) and the dot inlays play against these designs well and balance the aesthetics out.
It also has a split headstock which adds an airiness to the design and is just cooler. They’re harder to manufacture which is why you don’t generally see them on guitars that are affordable.
The small body of the parlor guitar means its easy to tuck into your arm and play. There’s no limit to what you can play, though, with the guitar being just as willing to be hit (hard) with punk riffs as it was gently plucked with finger style jazz licks. It has a bottom end that I would honestly expect from a guitar that features a 12-fret construction, but the balanced highs were unexpected. I expected this to be a warm guitar that could be perfect for jazz, but was pleasantly shocked to find a guitar that was good for just about anything because it was so perfectly balanced.
The neck is comfortable and easy to move around on, though I would prefer to set it up a bit more to my own preferences with lighter strings and lower action, but I’ll be the first to admit that this would compromise the guitar’s all-around capabilities and is a direct reflection of my own playing preferences and a result of a wrist injury. It’s not that I can’t play the guitar, but I know I can have a better time playing it if these mods were done.
The guitar is made of laminated mahogany back and sides, but a solid cedar top (cedar is also known for its warmth) and the top lends to that balance I mentioned earlier.
The guitar as a whole would fit in just as well at an open mic as it would on your couch alone or in a studio. It’s an intimate instrument with a surprising amount of volume on tap. It plays well with other instruments, but sounds full and balanced enough to be played alone without making you sound biased to one end of the sonic range.
In short, it’s a solid guitar that any guitarist should want.
And it doesn’t scream “beginner,” mostly because it ISN’T a beginner guitar. Kala didn’t design a beginner guitar, they just designed a great guitar.
So why mention beginners at all?
It’s the price. If you built a Taylor with these specs, you’d pay dearly for it. But this guitar? It only costs $279.99.
Price-wise, it does rank higher than your hundred-dollar, bargain-bin junk acoustics found on the shelves of Target or Walmart, but less than $300 for all this guitar is nothing short of a steal. Add to the price its ability to do just about anything and you’re talking the perfect beginner guitar, but also the perfect backup guitar, studio guitar, couch guitar, or songwriting tool. At this price, it’s not a guitar that you’ll worry about being stolen or damaged, but at the same time it isn’t disposable. Joe Pass used to tour with laminated arch tops and he’d chuck them into the trunks of cars. One time a buddy of mine picked up Pass for a gig and Pass threw the guitar in, unconcerned. My friend asked him about it and he said all the solid arch tops were at home, but the joy of laminated ones was that he could relax with them.
That’s this guitar. Yes, it sounds good, but the affordable price tag means you can RELAX with it.
And when you can relax with your instrument, you play better. You sound better. And you want to play more.
Am I in love with this guitar? Man, I’m SMITTEN with this guitar! I think it offers something truly unique to a section of the market that had previously been unable to even dream about and it does so at an affordable price WHILE sounding and playing great. What’s NOT to love about it?
I recommend everyone check it out regardless of playing skill, experience, what you already have or don’t have in your collection, or how much your budget is. This is a rare guitar that can please players across so many ranges be it genres, skills, needs, or budgets and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by dismissing it out of turn.
This is a roundup of a few things I’ve been enjoying this month:
1. Pete Thorn II – The new album from Pete Thorn. In addition to being a popular YouTube demo guy, Thorn is a world-traveling side-man, having played with everyone from Melissa Etheridge to Chris Cornell to Don Henley. This is his second collection of solo material, and it’s an enjoyable listen for guitar fans.
2. Andrew York Home and Equations of Beauty – Two really beautiful collections of songs from one of my favorite guitar composers around. If you enjoy solo acoustic guitar music, I recommend checking these out.
3. Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Turntable – I still find it amazing that for $9.99/mo you can access almost the entire history of recorded music. From our phones. However, sometimes it’s nice to listen to a vinyl record. The tactile feel of the record and liner notes is something that digital music can’t really provide. Plus, when you put a vinyl record on the turntable, you’re more likely to listen to the whole record. The AT-LP120 isn’t the best turntable out there and won’t win you any coolness points, but it’s a good turntable at a reasonable price.
4. Martin 00-15M – I’ve tried a bunch of different acoustic guitars, and the Martin 00-15M is the one that sticks around. I don’t play acoustic very often, but I think the size, build, and price of the 00-15M are just about perfect. It doesn’t have the fullness of a dreadnought or the brightness of a spruce-topped guitar, but I love the punchy tones that this guitar can generate.
5. Earthquaker Devices Hoof Fuzz – I’ve gone through a lot of fuzz pedals over the years. I’ve recently rediscovered the Hoof Fuzz, and it’s my favorite take on the Russian Muff that I’ve tried. It’s hard to go wrong with any Earthquaker Devices stuff.
Aloha, everyone! Let’s talk books! Specifically, let’s talk biographies: One of the best (if not the best) biographies I’ve ever read is called Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaels. It’s a long one, I’ll warn you, but Michaels did a fantastic job giving the good, bad, and interesting of Schulz’s life instead of skewing toward any one direction and the result is a book that shows Schulz in a human (albeit still strange) light.
See, at one point Schulz was famous for his Peanuts comic strip (or “Charlie Brown,” or “Snoopy” if you’re not into comic strips), but he was also a crazy-good artist who critiqued artists taking a correspondence course similar to that commercial we’ve all seen for decades where the guy says he’ll send you a free drawing test to get you started on your path to being an artist.
But he was also a soldier in the Army. And he was strung-along by the love of his life so hard that it could be argued that he sabotaged just about every relationship afterward. And he was agoraphobic, often signing up to speak at classes or events only to dread it more and more as the days went on until he would be so physically ill that he had to cancel. He was gruff at points. He referred to his Peanuts characters as his kids (in front of his REAL kids).
And he hated jazz.
Well, that’s a bit misleading. At one point, he hated jazz. Couldn’t stand it. He focused almost all of his musical appreciation on classical music and talked down about jazz constantly. But over time, he started to appreciate it until, when it was about time for the first Peanuts special to be made, he wasn’t totally against it.
And that’s how Vince Guaraldi got the job as composer for the now-famous Peanuts music.
Schulz warmed to jazz, and I eventually warmed to Guaraldi because I didn’t like it at first. I actually didn’t like it for a long time. But then I started hearing it without the usual vocal accompaniment and the beauty of it hit me hard.
I know that Peanuts isn’t strictly a musical, but the music has crept into our lives to the point where today we would have an easier time catching the songs and recognizing them, but not really associating them with Peanuts. The famous “Christmas Time is Here” might as well be its own song and not been featured in a special.
But that’s how you know the music is worth it. When music transcends the original format it was presented in and shirks the accoutrement to shine on its own – that’s a true sign of quality.
So I was stoked to see that Hal Leonard had an ukulele song book called The Charlie Brown Collection with 17 Peanuts songs from various movies and specials. Some are obviously more memorable than others. There was no shortage of Peanuts specials and, as such, no shortage of songs to pull, but this just opens up the possibilities of showcasing new music to people who might not have heard it.
The book features TAB, standard notation, and chord boxes so it’s got all of your bases covered when it comes to learning songs and the general speed of a lot of them gives you time to really appreciate the melodies and where the song goes. There are few that are rushed and most feel more… meditative.
And it’s only 14.99 from Hal Leonard!
Overall, this is one of my favorites to recommend because it’s the kind of music that will make people’s eyebrows lift up as they struggle to remember why this music sounds so familiar.
“Hold on… hold on, don’t tell me…l know this…” kind of stuff. And that’s always fun. But it’s also a blast to travel down music paths that honestly aren’t traversed a lot. None of the music from this book feels standard or predictable. It’s all very unique-feeling and that’s the biggest reason I like it so much.
NAZARETH, Pa. (Summer NAMM | Booth 801) – June 18, 2018 – C.F. Martin & Co.® (Martin Guitar) will offer five new models at the 2018 Summer NAMM Show held in Nashville, Tenn., from June 28-30. The company will debut their third Arts & Crafts inspired guitar, a D-28 Bigsby guitar, a Jimmy Buffett Custom Signature Artist Edition guitar, and a D-16EPD (Poker Dogs) guitar. The company will also debut a Konter Ukulele replica, which celebrates the most valuable ukulele in the world.
OM-Arts & Crafts 2018 – This is the third instrument from Martin that pays homage to the Arts & Crafts design movement that dates back to the late 1800s and often presents in the form of romantic, folk, or medieval style decoration. The movement was thought to be anti-industrial and advocated for economic and social reform. This ornate orchestra model features Arts & Crafts inspired pearl inlay designs throughout, paired with German white oak back and sides and Adirondack spruce top with a Guatemalan rosewood headplate, fingerboard, and bridge. The tonewoods for this guitar were selected for their significance in the movement because they were used by craftspersons and designers as alternatives to traditional industrial materials and excel tonally in the voice of the guitar. The OM-Arts & Crafts includes a comfortable high-performance neck, a Vintage Tone System (VTS) top, and vintage copper open gear tuners. This model is limited to 100 instruments and includes an engraved plate label signed by Chris Martin IV. $13,999
D-28 Bigsby – Martin partnered with Gretsch to debut a second Merle Travis inspired model that pays tribute to the artist and the guitar he made famous in the late 1940s. Merle Travis is one of the most important guitar players of all time and is known for his unique playing style that is still known by guitarists as “Travis Picking.” The D-28 Bigsby is built on the foundation of a newly reimagined D-28 (2017) and is crafted with East Indian rosewood and features a maple high-performance taper neck fitted with the Bigsby headstock. The maple neck offers a unique tonal quality that adds sustain and brightness and pairs nicely with the warmth and depth of rosewood. The interior label is numbered and signed by Chris Martin IV and Fred Gretsch. $3,999
Jimmy Buffett Custom – Legendary artist and chief Parrot Head, Jimmy Buffett, has used Martin guitars throughout his career, with multiple Martin signature models in his collection. Always looking for new and exciting instruments, Jimmy was inspired when he discovered Chris Martin’s CEO-6 Black model from 2013. Along with his guitar tech Dan Cook, Jimmy worked with the Martin Custom Shop to create a version of this guitar all his own. The result is a striking, sloped shoulder dreadnought finished completely with black lacquer and Jimmy’s signature mother of pearl palm tree swaying in the breeze on the headstock. The Jimmy Buffett Custom features a comfortable high-performance neck, a Fishman pick up, and a customized interior label bearing Jimmy Buffett’s signature. The model is released as Jimmy debuts his theatrical production “Escape to Margaritaville” which is currently running on Broadway before setting off on a national tour. As one might imagine, the show includes a slew of Martin guitars and ukuleles. $5,999
D-16EPD Poker Dogs – Inspired by classic Americana art from artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, this playful guitar features a 1903 painting called A Friend in Need, which is printed on a Sitka spruce top. The artwork is part of a series of 16 oil paintings that were commissioned by Brown & Bigelow in the 1900s to advertise cigars. The Style 16 Dreadnought guitar includes sycamore tonewoods, a high-performance taper neck, and comes equipped with Matrix VT Enhance™ electronics. $2,799
Konter Ukulele – The Konter Ukulele may be the most valuable ukulele in the world. It was owned by Richard Konter, “Ukulele Dick,” who joined Admiral Richard Byrd’s famed expedition to the North Pole in 1926. During the expedition, he obtained signatures at every opportunity, including those of all 45 crew members of the Admiral Byrd expedition and the Admiral himself. It’s the only artifact that traveled to the North Pole because it was smuggled under the seat of the airplane. The ukulele also made a trip to the White House and was signed by President Calvin Coolidge, along with the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison, and many, many more. The soprano ukulele contains more than 210 signatures. The replica includes all signatures, which have been carefully laser-etched into the beautiful koa wood. The soprano ukulele also features vintage style violin peg tuners and a replica of the original interior label. $2,499
Speaking of podcasts, last November Bob Taylor was the featured guest on the Fretboard Journal podcast. Taylor seems to be focusing his efforts on wood conservation and responsible harvesting these days, and it’s interesting to hear about guitar making from that perspective. Few people know as much as Taylor does about these topics, so I enjoyed hearing him talk about them on the podcast.
It’s a wide-ranging interview, with perhaps the most interesting part being where Matt talks about the struggles of a foreign-born musician playing in the U.S. There are apparently a lot of hoops foreign musicians have to go through to play here. It just shows the dedication required to reach U.S. audiences.
I enjoyed the podcast and would recommend checking it out.
Hello, friends! I’m working on some t-shirt designs, and I could use your help. I’m trying to figure out some details before I get the shirts printed. If you could spare ~3 minutes to fill out a survey to help me determine common sizes to get printed print, colors, etc, I would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance!