Starter acoustic guitar for use with the Chord Buddy, Android smartphone, and sound amplification

Ted Penner
Ted Penner used Ask the Experts™
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Starter acoustic guitar for use with the Chord Buddy, Android smartphone, and sound amplification

I purchased this thing called the Chord Buddy https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OABXOMG/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 and am considering this option for a starter acoustic guitar https://www.amazon.com/Fender-FA-115-Acoustic-Strings-Instructional/dp/B0092V7WJ0/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=guitar&qid=1571024587&sr=8-4.

I don't want to spend a fortune but I would like to give myself some long-term options in case I actually enjoy it.

Is it possible to have this guitar interface with my cell phone in some way?

I want to make sure I am going down a reasonably flexible path before dropping another $150-$200 on a guitar, etc first.

Your thoughts and some guidance here would be greatly appreciated.
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ste5anSenior Developer

Commented:
You should budget what you want to spent in the first year. This should include the instrument, tools, sheet music and probably some lessons.

The Fender starter kit comes already with a tuner, so that chord buddy has a redundant one. And the chord buddy seems more like a toy. I may help you in the beginning, but when you like guitar playing, you will sure drop using it very quickly. So in my opinion this is wasted money.
You should spent that money on a metronome instead.

I would recommend that buy your instrument(s) in a music store or by a music school. Cause especially the latter can give you good advice for starters.
Top Expert 2016

Commented:
or buy a cheap instrument from a pawn shop. you can't train your fingers using your iphone
Here you can see the best ones for a beginner and what to consider before buying a guitar and much more.
https://www.gearank.com/guides/beginner-acoustic-guitar
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Hello Ted.  Here's my advice to you as a guitar player.

The "chord buddy" is really just a gimmick.  It may be useful to somebody who has a minor disability that makes it much harder for them to physically hold down the strings, but looking longer term what it does is present an unnecessary intermediate step to the learning process that you then have to "unlearn".

In the UK back in the early 70s a bunch or brain donors came up with a concept for teaching spelling to school children.  They would at first write words phonetically and would later learn the dictionary spelling.  We all know that the English language is riddled with odd words that apparently break the rules, for example why cough is peonounced differently from rough, and I suppose the phonetic spelling step of allowing children to write coff and ruff was seen as a great idea, but it was severely flawed and led to a generation of children who had to unlearn what they had been taught.  It made the diagnosis of dyslexia much harder and some children ended up being very poor spellers in later life.

Introducing a system where you learn finger placement and fretting strings in the correct place from coloured buttons on a device is somewhat like the phonetic spelling mistake.  Somebody who is excellent at using the electronic "guitar" while playing the computer game "Guitar Hero" is not necessarily good at playing a real guitar.  I once tried playing Guitar Hero and was terrible, yet I play the guitar well.  They are different concepts and the skills do not translate from the game to the instrument or vice versa.  Learning chord shapes and finger placements on a guitar via a device with buttons is closer to the real thing than playing Guitar Hero, however it is still a crutch that you will need to set aside at some stage and walk without.

With any musical instrument that relies on finger dexterity the learner must build up "muscle memory" where the fingers can be properly placed without pausing to do so and without thinking.  The finger muscles get tired and sore.  The additional issue with learning the guitar is that the tips of the learner's fingers can become very sore from pressing down on thin metal strings until calluses build up.  To this end I see that somebody has come up with the idea of little rubber "finger condoms" like this:

https://www.amazon.com/MusicOne-Fingertip-Protector-Silicone-Against/dp/B01MQ21A7N/ref=sr_1_16?crid=1GOADG8JW8TN0&keywords=fingertip+protectors+for+guitar+players&qid=1571458252&sprefix=guitar+player+finger%2Caps%2C270&sr=8-16

Of course, the model's fingers aren't even playing a proper chord in the photo, but with that issue aside these have been tested and reviewed by guitarists who do not like them because they cannot feel the string and they snag against adjacent strings and make them buzz because of the increased finger diameter.  Interestingly though, Tony Iommi (guitarist from Black Sabbath) lost the tips of his middle fingers in a sheet metalwork accident and had to fashion fingertip extensions/protectors for two fingers:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TyktFhsM38
He was from the steel town of Birmingham, England and the sound of having to fret only selected strings while his fingers were healing and the steel town heritage is what led to the name "Heavy Metal" for that type of music.

I recently watched a YouTube video by a professional guitarist on the subject of why so many beginners give up the guitar fairly quickly.  It corresponded exactly with my own memories of learning the guitar.  The reasons cited were:
1. Painful fingers (from stretching) and fingertips (from fretting).
2. Frustration with trying to get the fretting fingers to move completely independently.
3. The "plateau" stage of now knowing the chords but difficulty with strumming and making a nice sounding song from them.

Starting from No. 3 we all know that you really need to reach a certain level of competence before something becomes enjoyable, whether it be tennis, snooker/billiards/pool, darts, computer games, or any other pursuit that requires dexterity and skill.  Until you reach that same level with the guitar things can be very frustrating because all you want to do is play songs.  I gave up competitive swimming in my late school years because I was bored with swimming endless lengths of the pool during training, but without that essential training I would have been quickly outranked in the years thereafter by those who did train.  On the guitar the emphasis is with learning the chords first while loosely strumming in no particular pattern to make them sound well without buzzing or dead strings.  The strumming comes afterwards, and many people find it hard to coordinate both hands and keep enough momentum and rhythm to make a song sound anything like a song.

I had a friend who cut his forearm badly on sheet glass which resulted in him losing the feeling of his little finger.  The little finger is mainly used to support the ring finger, but we never really think about how many other basic everyday tasks it is used for until such an event.  He found difficulty tying shoelaces and buttoning his shirts and the trailing numb finger became an obstructive nuisance.  When you are learning to fret chord shapes on the guitar you quickly realise that your fingers naturally do not move independently no matter how much you concentrate, and you frequently have to hold down one finger and use the other hand to move the other fingers into position and then hold them down firmly.  How many people can make Spok's Star Trek Vulcan Salute the first time they try it?  It takes perseverance before you can get to the stage where one finger no longer tries to follow the adjacent one.

The painful fingertip issue is something that you overcome fairly quickly, and common sense prevails when it comes to resting fingers that are stiff and sore from stretching to prevent tendinitis.

There are all kinds of guitar learing tools out there, from guitars with little coloured LEDs mounted into the fingerboard to show you where to fret a note to stickers with note letters that you stick onto the wooden fingerboard to help you locate the notes.  They are all crutches and cheats that probably do help to speed up the learning process, but after you ditch the "Chord Buddy" device you will still have the sore fingertips to contend with and overcome.  Their advertising blurb says this:

"As soon as the ChordBuddy is properly attached to your acoustic or electric guitar, you will be able to make music. Within a few weeks, you’ll begin removing some of the tabs and making the chords on your own. In two months, you’ll be able to play the guitar with no ChordBuddy at all!"

I would say that with 2 months of practice without it, and there is absolutely no shortage of beginner's tuition on YouTube to guide you through, you would have been at the same level anyway.  The ONLY thing about the Chord Buddy that might prove useful is that, with you having to concentrate slightly less on pressing down strings directly with your fingertips, you can begin to get the feel of consistent and natural strumming with the other hand.  Immediately you take off the device you will find that you have problems arching certain fingers enough to stop them touching other strings and muting them or making them buzz.  While you have a chunky device in the way there is less or zero chance of that happening.

A guitar tuner is essential.  Gone are the days of having to tune one string to a tuning fork and then tuning the other strings to that, or blowing one note at a time on a cheap plastic pich pipe.  Electronic clip-on tuners are now incredibly accurate and very cheap.  They are often included in "bundles" with a cheap guitar to provide a full beginner's package.  The Fender guitar you linked to comes as a package that includes " gig bag, guitar strap, guitar picks, extra set of strings, an instructional DVD, and a clip-on digital tuner".

The Gig bag is a basic and cheap nylon cover with a handle and zip pockets.  Are you going to be taking it places while you are learning or is it going to sit around the house?  If it's just going to be around the house, then it's going to be nothing more than a dust cover and if you are precticing each day the guitar isn't going to get very dusty anyway.  You could buy a better gig bag later on if you persevere and want to take it places.

You probably won't need to change the strings for 6 months or more, and you can then shop for strings, so this isn't something that you will be needing immediately.

Most of your time you will be practicing and playing sitting down, so a strap will be superfluous and probably only useful as a form of restraint in case the guitar slides off your knee and would otherwise fall on the floor and break.  This could be left until you decide whether to continue playing to times when you may wish to play it standing up.  When you play standing up your fretting hand is at a more acute angle and I would not advice starting out on the guitar while standing up with it on a strap.

Instructional DVDs can vary in quality and content.  The included one probably has an introduction to tell you about the instrument before starting the actual tuition, and there will probably be a supplement at the end showing how how to wipe the strings to keep them clean and how to change them when the time comes.  All of these are available for free on YouTube by some very good teachers like Justin Sandercoe and many others who will teach you chord shapes and real songs to learn:
https://www.youtube.com/user/JustinSandercoe/featured
I wish I had had such learning content when I first started playing the guitar.

I would always advise a steel string acoustic guitar for beginners as opposed to a nylon string classical guitar.  Although the strings have less tension and are much easier on the fingertips, the fretboard is wider and flatter and is actually harder for a beginner to fret chords than the narrower curved fretboard of a steel string guitar.  It also has more natural ring to it and can give more satisfying sounds at beginner level than a nylon string classical guitar.  Classical nylon string guitars usually have slots in the head containing rollers that the strings wind around and the tuners face backwards, whereas a steel string (except perhaps a true "folk" guitar) have tuners that stick out the sides with posts that come through from the back that the strings wind around, so you should be able to discount classical guitars visually when looking at websites.

In general I would never advise somebody who was just starting out to buy a "beginner" guitar, however things have changed significantly over the years and Chinese, Korean, Indonesian companies are churning out very affordable guitars of fairly consistent good quality that are actually playable out of the box after tuning.  It's all down to the choice of woods (or synthetic wood replacements now being used) and the time they take to concentrate on the fine finishing, but where automation is in full swing and labour is cheap, foreign companies can take more time with final preparation than domestic companies can.   In the past (maybe 20 years ago) "beginner" guitars were so hard to play without being professionally adjusted and tinkered with, and had issues like sharp fret ends that hadn't been polished off, that they were hardly worthwhile buying.  Those issue may be present in guitars of less than a particular price, but it's quite hard to know that breakpoint price before you get a "starter" guitar that would still be playable by an intermediate or advanced player who didn't want to spend a bundle on a top of the range guitar.

I recently gave my brother some advice on guitars for his 13 year old daughter.  I was most impressed by the Yamaha and Fender acostic guitars, but only above a breakpoing price that I established and that was a bit more than he had planned on.  Similarly, he had looked at a "bundle" comprising a cheaper guitar and similar accessories.  I bought a good gig bag and tuner for her so that he could spend that bit more on the guitar and get a playable one.

He bought the Fender CC-60C.  The CC refers to the slightly smaller body ("Concert") than the CD-60S which is the "Dreadnought" size and shape that we are probably more accustomed to seeing in acoustic guitars.  Looking at Amazon US under "acoustic guitars" and filtering to "Fender" with ascending price (here), I see a Fender CC-60S at $199.  It's the sunburst finish but you also get the plain wood finish with clear lacquer.

https://www.amazon.com/Fender-Concert-3-Color-Sunburst-Acoustic/dp/B07TVF2FGS/ref=sr_1_12?fst=as%3Aoff&qid=1571462993&refinements=p_89%3AFender&rnid=2528832011&s=musical-instruments&sr=1-12

Usually the CC and CD-60S models are of comparitive price.

I also see plain wood version of the CD-60S as part of a starter bundle at $239:

https://www.amazon.com/Fender-CD-60S-Dreadnought-Acoustic-Guitar/dp/B00BMJ3M44/ref=sr_1_15?fst=as%3Aoff&qid=1571462993&refinements=p_89%3AFender&rnid=2528832011&s=musical-instruments&sr=1-15

Assuming the CC and CD models are both $199, are the accessories worth $40?  I don't think so, especially given the points I mentioned earlier about the quality and when you may be needing them in the future.

I am NOT saying that you will not find a good acoustic guitar below that price, but the aspects about that particular guitar that attracted me were that it has "rolled fingerboard edges" and a "solid spruce top".  When they refer to "rolled", this means that the edges of the fingerboard/fretboard are much less squared off and have been finished to feel rounded off and worn like a well seasoned guitar, and this feels a lot more comfortable on the hand.  The fact that the top is solid spruce rather than laminated wood or synthetic with a spruce veneer means that it will tend to have more resonance and ring out better.

In that Fender range (as with other manufacturers) you will find cutaway bodies that help you reach the upper frets (not needed while at the beginner and often not even at intermediate stages), and ones with transducers built into the bridge and electonic preamps that allow you to plug into amplifiers (Suffixed "E" in the Fender range, for example ??-??SE).  At your budget I wouldn't consider an electro-acoustic guitar because you then have the amplifier cost to factor in and they are quite expensive.

Filtering to Yamaha on Amazon US the range isn't very inspiring.  Either something is wrong with the filters or there simply aren't many guitars by Yamaha being sold through Amazon, but it may well be the fact that I am in the UK using Amazon US nstead of UK:

https://www.amazon.com/s?i=mi&bbn=11971261&rh=n%3A11091801%2Cn%3A11965861%2Cn%3A11971241%2Cn%3A11971251%2Cn%3A11971261%2Cp_89%3AYAMAHA%7CYamaha&s=price-asc-rank&dc&fst=as%3Aoff&qid=1571465013&rnid=2528832011&ref=sr_nr_p_89_4

Let me draw your attention to something though.  If you look at the one listed as "Yamaha F310 6 Strings Acoustic Guitar" for $125, take a look at the description:

https://www.amazon.com/Yamaha-F310-Strings-Acoustic-Guitar/dp/B000RVYW7E/ref=sr_1_3?fst=as%3Aoff&qid=1571465150&refinements=p_89%3AYAMAHA%7CYamaha&rnid=2528832011&s=musical-instruments&sr=1-3

"Slightly shortened scale-length for ease of playing".  They say this without specifying the scale length, which is the length of the string between where it breaks over the saddle on the bridge on the body and the nut up at the head.  Most steel string acoustic guitars have a very standard scale of 25.5" and short scale ones are over 24" and up to 25.5".  3/4 sized guitars and travel guitars may have a scale length as short as 23".  It makes a difference to feel.  A guitar with a shorter scale length will have less tension on the strings than a guitar with a longer scale length strung with the same gauge of strings and may resonate the guitar top less.

I can probably give some better suggestions by going to a US guitar store's website.  I picked Sam Ash (https://www.samash.com/) because I saw one when I was over there a few weeks ago and they have stores in most states, but the site errors out on me, so I have chosen Guitar Center even though it is often maligned by pro guitarists who believe that they aim more for profit and commission by the advisers than on customer satisfaction.

https://www.guitarcenter.com/

Filter it to Departments > Guitars > Acoustic Guitars > 6 string acoustic guitars > New > Show price low to high > show 60 per page.

If you compare the $149.99 Fender FA-125 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Natural to the $199 Fender CD-60S Concert Acoustic Guitar  Natural, you will see that the cheaper one has a laminated wooden top whereas the more expensive one has a solid spruce top and (probably) laminated wooden top.  The cheaper one probably won't have the same amount of acoustic resonance and projection as the more expensive one, but will be tough as old boots in terms of build.  Most guitars below about $180 will have laminated wooden tops, for example the Fender FA-125 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar that will probably be perfectly playable but perhaps won't have as comfortable a neck as the CD-60S.

I would say that the breakpoint between a "beginner" Fender acoustic and the better quality guitar that will last beyond the beginner stage and be easily playable is about $179.  There are so many other brands that it becomes very difficult to gauge quality and playability.  Some brand names are fabricated to sound comfortable as though they are US names that have been around when in fact they are just churned out as absolute beginner Christnmas presents that will end up in a thrift store before next Christmas, whereas some off-brands can actually be quite good quality.

Expect also to pay extra for how ornate the guitar is.  The amount of plastic binding applied to the body and up the neck and other things like fancy fingerboard inlays all cost more time to apply.  The more work that goes into the overall appearance is passed on as extra cost to the customer because it takes extra labour.  Don't be fooled by "hand made" in the description.  A large proportion of the sawing and shaping of the woods are now machine automated, but final assembly is always by hand.

If you look at Yamaha acoustic guitars on the Guitar Center website, the rough equivalent of the Fender one that I was impressed by is the $199 FG800:

https://www.guitarcenter.com/Yamaha/FG800-Folk-Acoustic-Guitar-Natural-1500000001823.gc

and the slightly smaller bodied "concert" shaped FS800:

https://www.guitarcenter.com/Yamaha/FS800-Folk-Acoustic-Guitar-Sand-Burst-1500000007801.gc

Dropping in price to the $149 Yamaha F325D Dreadnought Acoustic gets you what will probably be a quite playable guitar of laminate construction, and the $130 Yamaha F335 Acoustic Guitar is probably as playable but uses cheaper woods in its construction.

Wood isn't everything.  Gone are the days when good quality rosewood, mahogany and ebony were standard even in moderately priced acoustic guitars.  These woods are now limited and only used in expensive guitars when available.  Mahogany is replaced by Nato, Meranti, Sapele, and other cheaper and more freely available woods and synthetic substances that look uniform like ebony are common for fretboards.  Unless you really know wood and what effects it has on top-line instruments, it isn't worth worrying about.  Solid wood vs laminate is more important because solid woods (for the tops) resonate better.

My advice would be to visit a physical guitar store with somebody who knows about guitars and peruse the range.  You can then get a good overview of what is available and it could be tried out by the person who knows about them.  If you have to go alone and rely on the advice of a sales representative to show you guitars within your budget range, then FEEL the guitar to check for how well they are finished.  This is especially important when it comes to the fret finishing at the edges of the fingerboard.  If they protrude and feel unfinished and sharp when you run your hand up the neck, put it back and tell the advisor why.  If the strings look very high off the fingerboard around the body join, then it will need some adjustment that may involve sanding down the plastic string saddle that fits into the bridge on the body, and that's something you should not have to do.  Generic factory specs are usually about 3/32" to 7/64" between the underside of the thickest string to the top of the 12th fret (usually 2 frets from the body join towards the head) and 2/32" to 5/64" for the thinnest string.  Find a coin or other object that is around this thickness that you can slide under the string to see if the strings are way too high off the neck.

Don't discount guitars advertised as being "ex-demo" or "B Category".  As long as the flaws are pointed out to you and you are content to put up with some minor scratches on the body or a small paint chip for a good discount in the knowledge that nothing else is wrong, then you can get some good buys.  Buying acoustic guitars second hand over the Internet is more hazardous than buying an electric guitar because there are some adjustments that can fix issues on electric guitars that simply cannot be done on an acoustic guitar without resorting to files or saws.

I hope this advice helps you towards making a decision rather than confuses me.  I am not deriding acoustic guitars that may be available for less than the ones I have spoken about because you might easily get a good guitar that will last you through learning into playing for your own entertainment and for others for less than I have mentioned, but my experience steers me towards a certain breakpoint in budget.  Do also bear in mind that I am converting dollar value to British pound value in my head.  That breakpoint price could well be a bit lower than my instinct tells me.
Ted PennerSoftware Engineer

Author

Commented:
I'm excited.

I ended up going with this one https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002GXZK4?tag=gr-acoustic-guitar-beginner-20.

Thank you for all the help!
I wish you luck and enjoyment with your new pastime.

I think you have bought one of the best value guitars for that particular price bracket.  Jasmine is the brand name of the affordable range of guitars made by Takamine guitars that tend to be in a much higher price bracket.  Both brands are owned by the massive KMC Music Inc. who own a lot of very well known brands, most of which are very well regarded (https://kmcmusic.com/shop-by-brand/).  Being part of the Takamine "budget" line means that it is from a good pedigree and the savings made to bring the price down are most likely the use of less expensive types of wood, the use of laminated wood for the top, and simplication of the fancier decorative details found in the more expensive Takamine guitars.  I think you have chosen well and you should have a guitar that sounds great and that hasn't broken the bank.    The savings you have made should allow you to buy a nice gig bag, electronic tuner, and a bag of plectrums.

Your guitar is finished in "satin" varnish.  I like the satin feel on the back of the neck as opposed to thick gloss varnish that often feels sticky on the thumb and palm of the fretting hand.  Small scuffs do show more readily on satin varnish on the dark areas of the body, and I would resist using wax-based polish on it to remove sweaty and greasy marks and simply use a very slightly dampened soft cloth or it can spoil the satin appearance.  The advertising blurb suggests that satin varnish makes the guitar more resonant than one in gloss finish, but it's negligible.  An accumulated build up of wax polish could affect resonance much more readily than the differences between types of varnish finish.

I would suggest just using a lint free cloth to wipe your strings after use to cut down on the amount of salt and grease from your sweaty fingers.  I always used a product named GHS Fast Fret to wipe my strings and to leave a slightly slippery (probably silicone) residue on the strings and the fingerboard.  It comes as a wooden handle with a tight fabric compound pad impregnated with the stuff, and you just wipe it up and down your strings.  I would never use it on an expensive guitar or old guitar that might be re-fretted some time down the line because the slippery residue could interfere with that process, but on budget to mid-range guitars it is a great product.

One other inexpensive thing that you might want to buy after a couple of months is a Capo.  This is a clamp that is applied to the neck across the fingerboard and which can be moved up and down.  You will at first learn "cowboy chords" down at the head end that incorporate unfretted (open) strings.  If you hear a piece of easy to play music on CD it is sometimes in an in-between key that doesn't use these cowboy chords.  By placing the capo on the neck across the 1st, 2nd or 3rd fret you can usually then play those basic "open" chords and be in the correct key as the song on the CD.  Learn the chords first and you can then consider whether a capo might help you to play along with your favourite songs using easy chords.

I hope you have fun.

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