This is not an exhaustive list of where you can find a guitar. But it a list of where a beginning guitarist should look. Unless you are very knowledgeable about guitars or have a friend who is, I suggest you buy a new guitar from an established dealer through one of these three routes. They are listed in order from least to most desirable.
The Big Box Store
Do NOT go to one. These stores view guitars as just another piece of merchandise, and they are manufactured as such.
The other issue is customer service. These instruments are almost always kept in their packaging, unable to be tried out. A beginner needs to “test drive” different guitars and talk with knowledgeable staff. That will not be found at Walmart or Best Buy.
Here’s another downside: there is no way to get a deal. There is no salesperson you can haggle with, unlike online or at a guitar store. And once you work a deal through one of these options, your price can rival those of big box stores for a much better product.
Going online will give you the greatest variety of merchandise. The problem is that as a new guitarist, you don’t really know what you are looking for. And generally, guitars are very difficult to ship back in exchange, as they are large and fragile objects. If you buy it, you’re mostly stuck with it.
One possible way around this issue is by checking out a friend’s guitars first and then buying it online. This could be a substitute for buying a guitar in person. But in general, going to a store is a better option for new buyers.
It is difficult to haggle online. But try calling the store’s 800 number. Reps on commission are likely to have the authority to give you a deal.
Also check for coupon codes for the store on sites like RetailMeNot. Especially on long weekends, many music stores offer some kind of deal.
This next strategy is a gamble but often works. If you are a first-time buyer to a site, the store will often send you some kind of deal as a welcome. This can be a 5-10% off coupon, and usually there is not a limit to the purchase.
I took huge advantage of this, redeeming a 10% off coupon that I had received from a $10 music book toward an expensive classical guitar. This doesn’t always work, but it is worth a try.
Do not showroom, the practice of trying out something at a local store with the intention of buying it online for less. It is unethical to take the store proprietor’s time when you know you will not buy from him. If you need experience different kinds of guitars, just go to the local store. You can usually get just as good a deal here as you can online. (Thank you to Dennis Prager for the argument against showrooming.)
The Guitar Store
This is where you should go, especially as a beginner.
Search online or ask your musician friends or teacher. Local music stores are small, intimate settings where you can really play around with the instrument without distraction. Plus, you will find the most knowledgeable and caring staff at an independent music store.
Unfortunately, local music shops can be hard to find, so you may need to go to a larger, nationwide music store. The huge number of guitars and guitarists can be intimidating. The staff is hit or miss – some are quite knowledgeable and willing to help, others not so much.
Wherever you go, try out several of each style of instrument. You never know what will click. Let’s say you thought electric was your choice, but picking up a classical and feeling the nylon on your fingers was magical.
My top advice is don’t be shy! And don’t be afraid to try guitars outside your budget, too. You want to get the sense of what makes a good guitar and what you want in a guitar.
As a teacher once told me, all guitars sound the same when they are silent. So you really need to experiment with them and see which sound you like.
The best part of going to the music shop, though, is the other guitarists. These guys are often even more knowledgeable than the staff. And they love to help a beginner. Remember, at some point, they were just like you.
Getting the Best Deal at the Guitar Store
Not only do you get the most attention at the guitar store, but you can often get the best price.
Most guitar store associates work on commission, so they want to sell you the highest-price guitar possible. However, a low-dollar sale is better than no sale at all. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
The best way to do work a deal is to go online find the same guitar at lower prices. Take this research to the associate with an offer. He may offer to match the price, lower the price, or hold his ground.
If you can’t get the price you want, then start negotiating for add-ons, such as a case. My rule is to not pay extra for a case. A good solid-shell case is easily $50. If that is still not enough to meet competitor prices, ask for things like a display stand, strings, extra cables or a bigger amp.
Good luck, and be friendly. A good music store is a wonderful thing in your life.