When you’re just starting with a new instrument, it can be tempting to buy a cheap one first before you invest too much time into the hobby. This is especially true for budding guitar players, many of whom abandon the instrument as beginners. But are cheaper guitars harder to play?
Cheap acoustic guitars can be harder to play because of issues in manufacturing. Common problems include high action (larger distance between the string and fretboard), sharp frets (making it difficult to hold strings down), and warped bodies. These can make playing painful for beginners.
Playing a cheap instrument can make learning how to play the guitar much more difficult. Taking the extra step to make sure your instrument is in playing condition will go a long way on your guitar-playing journey! Continue reading to learn more.
Why Are Cheap Acoustics Harder To Play?
There are several reasons why a cheaper acoustic guitar is more difficult to play than a higher-quality one.
The main reason cheap acoustic guitars are typically so difficult to play is that they have something called high action. Action is the distance between the string and the fretboard. The higher the action on a guitar is, the harder you have to press down on the strings to get a clear sound. High action will wreak havoc on your fingertips, cause calluses, and even make you sound out of tune.
There are several reasons that an acoustic’s action might be too high:
- Warped neck: The neck of the guitar may have bent in either direction.
- Deep grooves in the nut: The tiny grooves for strings at the nut may be cut too deeply.
- Saddle: The saddle, or bridge, could be cut incorrectly.
To check the action’s height, tune the guitar, and then look at how many millimeters the strings are away from the fretboard at the twelfth fret. Standard action height is somewhere around 2.5mm (.1 in), but you may have a preference for higher or lower.
If the action is much higher than that and you’re having difficulty playing, it’s safe to say that your action is too high.
If the strings of your instrument are not difficult to press down, but you still find playing painful, the frets of your cheap acoustic may be too sharp. Not only is this terrible to play, but you’ll find that strings break more easily.
There are other potential reasons your guitar’s frets may be too sharp on your fretboard, but if you own a low-quality acoustic guitar, poor manufacturing is likely the answer.
You may also see that the body of the guitar itself has warped. You can tell if the body is warped if the guitar has bumps on its surface. It may even be cracked around the sides or near the fretboard. Not only will this make the guitar harder to play, but the sound will also be much worse.
Cheap acoustic guitars are not packaged particularly well and are often manufactured abroad. This leads to a lot of opportunities for the guitar to warp due to:
- Rough handling
- Exposure to heat
Unfortunately, there’s little you can do about a warped body. If the body of your guitar is significantly warped, you should consider purchasing a new one.
Finally, most cheap guitars are outfitted with—you guessed it—cheap strings. Cheap strings will leave unseemly gray marks on the fretboard, feel terrible on your fingers, and break easily.
Fortunately, this is the easiest thing to fix for owners of cheap guitars! Simply purchase better strings and replace the ones your acoustic came with. Many acoustic players favor these Elixir Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings. While they aren’t the cheapest, they still come in at under $20, and they’ll last much longer than whatever came on your cheap acoustic.
How To Make Cheap Guitars Easier To Play
Perhaps you received a cheap acoustic guitar from a loved one for free and are now stuck with an impossible-to-play instrument. The good news is that despite the many issues that come with buying acoustic guitars cheap, there are ways to mend them to play much easier.
Visit a Luthier
Before making any repairs yourself, consider whether or not you would be better off seeing your local luthier. A luthier is someone who repairs stringed instruments like guitars and violins.
This is almost certainly the most expensive option, but if you’re a beginner guitarist, you may find the idea of guitar repairs intimidating. Ask your guitar teacher if they know of a luthier nearby or if they can make the repairs themselves. It’s also a great way to get involved with the music scene in your area!
Adjust the Action
If you feel like taking on the repairs yourself, there are a few things you can do to make your instrument play better.
If you have a warped neck, you can adjust its angle by twisting the truss rod. Only make tiny adjustments at a time to avoid putting too much stress on the neck.
You can also file down the grooves in the nut at the top of the fretboard. You could even file the saddle of the guitar so that the strings sit lower. Be careful not to file either of these down too much.
This video outlines how to make all these repairs yourself:
Fix Sharp Frets
If your frets are too sharp, this is a more difficult fix. You’ll need to file each fret down. Make sure you don’t file them down too much! That will make it much more difficult to fix if you file more than you should, which is another reason you may simply want to bring the guitar to a luthier.
Buying a Better Beginner’s Guitar
If this all sounds like a huge expense and hassle, you may be better off choosing a different route altogether. After all, many guitars will play beautifully straight off the assembly line!
Mid-Range Acoustic Guitars
Most mid-range acoustic guitars are reliably manufactured and will not require any repairs. The Fender Squier Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar is cheaper than a regular Fender guitar but still comes with the brand’s superior packaging and manufacturing techniques.
The advantage of electric guitars is that they are much easier to play than acoustic guitars, as a rule. That’s because electrics have a much lower action than acoustics. Electrics are also much more durable than acoustics, and there is less need to worry about warping in transit.
If you’re a beginner guitarist and think that you need to start with an acoustic and then “graduate” to an electric, it may be better to pick up a low- to mid-range electric (Related: can you play guitar with long nails). This LyxPro Electric Guitar comes with an amp, a tuner, and a cable, all for under $200, and will be much easier to learn with than an acoustic.
Cheap acoustic guitars are often harder to play than expensive ones, thanks to careless manufacturing techniques, shipping issues, and poor-quality materials such as strings. Since acoustics are much harder to play in general than electrics, the obstacles raised by playing cheaply-made guitars can be discouraging. Consider getting an acoustic that costs a little bit more money, even if you’re just starting.
If, however, you already have a cheap acoustic guitar that you want to make playable, you can solve the problem by taking it to a luthier or making the repairs yourself.