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September 2014
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5 Questions to Answer Before Buying Your Next Guitar

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Let’s hop into the wayback machine this month and recall the experience of buying your first guitar. My story starts KISS, and Ace Frehley in particular. For several years I looked at every picture in Circus, Creem, and Hit Parader, scanned endlessly over the Alive and Alive II album covers and pored over the Sears catalog (this was during the Marlboro-era of Gibson Les Paul copies). As a kid who hadn’t even gotten his first paper route, it was tough to come up with real money. A Gibson was out of the question, but that Sears catalog was offering up some seriously close-looking Les Paul copies for around $100.

Fast forward to the trips to the local and slightly out of the way music stores, and there they were: rows and rows of real Gibson Les Pauls. Of course, these were still totally out of my price range so I moved onto the row with Memphis and Seville LP copies. With my newly acquired paper route gig it looked like the wine red Seville with crap pickups, bolt-on neck, and no case was going to be the ticket. For the next 4-5 months I delivered newspapers, cut lawns, asked my folks to give me chores for extra cash and slowly piled up my wad of guitar money. The time came and I plunked down the coin for my LP copy and was about to leave when I realized I didn’t have an amp…

We’ll leave the rest of the story for another article. The reason I’m writing about buying that guitar this month is that there was a serious energy around that purchase. It meant everything to me. Fast forward to 2011—does it still feel that way for you? Assuming that you’re on the cusp of another guitar purchase (because really, when aren’t we?) I give you the 5 questions you should ask yourself before pulling the trigger. Are you ready? Let’s go.

1. Can I afford it?
Great question! We live in a “gotta have it now” society. Credit cards, gear trades, selling off other stuff to buy it… these methods can all work but you need to ask yourself if it is prudent to be spending your hard earned money on this guitar right now. Can you afford it? Be honest.

2. Is there a purpose for the purchase, or is it gear lust?
Is this a trophy guitar or a tool? It doesn’t necessarily matter if you love to collect guitars for art or if you play them for work or fun. The question is important because without having a defined purpose, you may just be doing it because you’ve got GAS or you’ve been visiting the forums too much lately. We’ve all been victims of gear lust before, but it’s dangerous—you might quickly find yourself with more guitars than you can handle.

3. Is this redundant, and if so, is redundant necessary?
Redundancy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to call off the purchase—for some people redundancy is necessary. Much like computer servers at a company, sometimes you need a backup. If you’re in a band you probably don’t want to do the entire gig on one guitar. What if you break a string? In my case, redundancy is good in the studio because it saves time. It all depends on your needs, but again you need to be honest. How many Les Pauls or Teles do you need before you’ve gone overboard?

4. How long will you keep this? Is this an impulse?
I have a rule that I live by. If something hasn’t been played in six months, it’s out the door. Make room for what you will play and let that instrument that’s collecting dust go to somebody who will love it like I loved that first Seville Les Paul. Try to look ahead beforehand to determine if this is going to be a long-term relationship before you end up losing money or, at the very least, going through the hassle of selling. This does not apply to collectibles. See, I’m practical!

5. How am I going to tell my spouse?
Make no mistake. For most married people this is the king daddy of all questions, which is why I left it for last. Unless you are married to the coolest person in the world (lucky me) this is tricky. An entire column could be devoted to how to carefully word the opening line of how you’ll explain that beautiful git box that arrived today that he or she signed for. In this case more than any other it’s best to just be honest—and if your honest answer doesn’t cut it, perhaps it’s time to pass on the purchase.

If you’ve gone through the first four questions, the last question shouldn’t be hard to answer at all. Why? Because you’re about to buy a guitar you can afford (1) that will be used to enhance your life (2), has a completely justified set of tones and features (3), and will be around for a long time (4). Happy guitar hunting and I’ll see you next month.


Steve Ouimette is a lifelong guitarist, gearhead and studio fanatic. He runs Steve Ouimette Studios and writes music for video games, film and television. You can find him online at steveouimette.com and facebook.com/steveouimette. BTW, he rarely Tweets…
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