10 Reasons Why Cheap Guitars Sound Bad


acoustic guitar | Sandy Music Lab

Maybe you’ve been playing for years, or perhaps you’re a complete beginner to guitar playing. Whatever your experience level, if we all know one thing, it’s that cheap guitars sound terrible! But why do they sound so bad?

Here are the 10 reasons why cheap guitars sound bad:

  1. Cheap acoustic guitars have thick top wood.
  2. The fretboard is warped.
  3. Cheap acoustic guitars are often out of tune.
  4. Cheap acoustic guitars come with poor and thin strings.
  5. Cheap electric guitars come with back pickups.
  6. Cheap electric guitars also have a warped fretboard.
  7. Cheap electric guitars may have poor quality amps. 
  8. You have a poor playing technique.
  9. The recording device may be the problem.
  10. You have dirty guitar strings. 

If you want to learn the reasons why cheap guitars sound bad, read on!

Why Cheap Acoustic Guitars Sound Bad

There’s a massive difference between electric and acoustic guitars, so their reasons for sounding bad will be different.

Here are the few main reasons why your cheap acoustic guitar will sound bad:

1. Cheap Acoustic Guitars Have Thick Top Wood

When it comes to guitars, the thinner the wood, the better; the top wood of a guitar is where the sound is projected. It’s where the initial vibrations take place. The top wood also influences the sound’s quality and nature, so you definitely want a high-quality top wood.

Generally, cheap guitars come with really thick top woods. It means that much of the sound is absorbed in the wood, reducing sound volume or color when you play. It can lead to a poor and uninspiring sound.

Unfortunately, you can’t fix this problem because you can’t change your guitar’s body. In addition, the top wood is one of the main parts of the guitar, so if you want a better sound, you’ll have to invest in a whole new guitar.

More expensive and higher-quality guitars will have a thinner top wood, adding to the volume and overall vibrance of your music.

In addition to thickness, the material also heavily influences the generated sound. For example, guitars with spruce tops have a higher dynamic range and produce more vibrant sounds. On the other hand, softer woods, such as cedar and redwood offer more warmth. 

Watch this video to learn more about how the guitar’s top, back, and sides affect its sound. 

2. The Fretboard Is Warped

If you want your guitar to sound fantastic, you’ll need your fretboard to be perfectly straight. Unfortunately, cheap guitars rarely have a straight fretboard. Instead, they’re often warped due to bad handling during shipping or a poor manufacturing process.

When a fretboard is warped, it distorts the action of the guitar.

If the action is too high, you’ll find it hard to create chords correctly by pressing the strings down. It will often result in chords sounding dull rather than melodic.

On the other hand, if the action is too low, you’ll find that the strings hit the frets when you play. As a result, you’ll get constant buzzing noises, and it may even distract your rhythm while you play.

A warped fretboard is extremely hard to get over. You can’t bend it back or replace it. So, if you’re having these issues, you may need to invest in a new guitar.

3. Cheap Acoustic Guitars Are Often Out of Tune

No matter if your guitar is worth $100 or £10,000, unless it’s properly in tune, it’s going to sound terrible. Cheaper guitars are often out of tune even when brand new and go out of tune faster than more expensive ones.

Luckily, tuning a guitar couldn’t be easier, thanks to several mobile apps and videos on YouTube. Here’s a straightforward guide to get you started:

4. Cheap Acoustic Guitars Come With Poor and Thin Strings

If the strings on your guitar are cheap or of poor quality, don’t expect any good sounds to come out of it!

Frequently, cheaper guitars come with really poor and thin strings. Not only are these more prone to snapping, but they’ll also worsen the quality of the guitar sound. Fortunately, this issue is easily fixable by changing your guitar strings. 

Why Cheap Electric Guitars Sound Bad

A cheap electric guitar usually sounds poor because of lousy internals within the body of the guitar.

Here are the main reasons why your electric guitar sounds terrible:

1. Cheap Electric Guitars Come With Bad Pickups

On your electric guitar, a pickup senses the vibrations from the strings and converts it to an electric signal, which is then put through an amplifier to make a sound. If you’ve got a cheap guitar, chances are, you’ve got cheap pickups.

This can be problematic for many reasons. Firstly, the structure of your pickups may be faulty, at best. Pickups involve the making of a solenoid or wrapped wire around a pole. If the wire is wrapped incorrectly, you may experience crackling while you play.

When you compromise on price, you’ll trade it off with quality. If you can’t stand the noises that come with poor pickups, your best bet is to invest in a more expensive electric guitar.

2. Cheap Electric Guitars Also Have a Warped Fretboard

Just like an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar can also suffer from warped pickups.

Generally, the action will be much lower than needed, creating lots of problems. 

Firstly, you’ll hear an annoying buzz whenever you play a note. You also may hear some other audio issues, depending on the volume at which you play.

Again, there’s not a whole lot you can do about a warped fretboard. Investing in a better guitar just might be your best option.

3. Cheap Electric Guitars May Have Poor Quality Amps

The only way you can even hear the sound from an electric guitar is through the amplifiers. So it stands to reason that if your amps are poor, then the sound quality will also be poor.

The best way to deal with this is simply to get some new, high-quality amps. In addition, it should reduce the buzzing that you may be hearing.

If you’ve got a good set of amps but are still hearing buzzing or other random noises as you play, it may be your amp’s settings.

Generally, it’ll come down to your EQ setting, which is the main culprit for unwanted buzzing noises. But the more you familiarize yourself with your amp settings, the more versed you’ll become in diagnosing and treating audio issues.

Other Reasons Why Your Cheap Guitar Sounds Bad

Here are some other reasons why your cheap guitar may sound bad:

1. You Have a Poor Playing Technique

It may be that the way you’re playing is causing your guitar to sound poor. If you’re a beginner, this is entirely understandable. You’ll become better with time and practice, and your guitar will start to sound like a professional. Some quick tips are to use your fingertips to play chords, don’t press down too lightly as this will cause buzzing, and don’t press too hard, or you’ll distort the strings.

2. The Recording Device May Be the Problem

It may be that if you’re recording your guitar, the device you’re using to record is the problem. Many cheaper laptops and even really expensive ones are extremely poor at converting sound properly. This issue can lead to your guitar sounding bad when in reality, it’s just your recording devices.

3. You Have Dirty Guitar Strings

We know that guitar strings differ in quality, but did you know that they can actually get dirty? As you play, oil from your hands is transferred to the strings. It can wear them down over time, eventually leading to a change in tone. You can fix this quickly by wiping new strings after every session and replacing your old, dirty ones.

How To Fix Poor Guitar Sound Quality 

Here are a few tricks to fix the sound quality of your guitar:

  • Use the correct pick. If you use the right pick for the job, your guitar will sound a whole lot better. Generally, you’ll want a lighter pick for strumming work and a heavy pick if you’re going to play single notes.
  • Visit a luthier. A luthier is a carpenter specializing in string instruments. If you feel that there’s a problem with your guitar, consider visiting your local luthier. They may be able to diagnose and fix the problem or offer helpful advice.
  • Practice. The more you practice, the better you’re going to get. And the better you get, the better your guitar will sound. Persevere and practice, and you’ll be sounding like Slash in no time!
  • Experiment with strings. Different strings will produce different tones, so make sure to experiment and find the perfect strings for you. Perhaps you’ll love strings with a jazz undertone or maybe a more rock-based sound. Find what works for you, and your sound will improve drastically.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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