What Instrument Should I Buy?

Choosing an instrument is not just a substantial financial investment, it also has a huge impact on the ease of playing and as a consequence, on the enjoyment of the experience. Unfortunately, many students purchase instruments before they begin lessons and we strongly recommend that you do not take this path and that you seek professional advice before purchasing an instrument.

There are considerable differences not only between different brands, but also between different models of the same brand of guitars, amplifiers, pianos and keyboards. These differences are not at all apparent to the untrained eye…or ear! We don’t recommend that you simply ask a salesperson at the local music shop. More often than not, music retailers have an interest in promoting certain brands above others. Some retailers have a wholesale arm and so their own imported brands offer a far greater profit margin for them. The prudent shopper needs to bear this in mind when asking the salesperson for his or her opinion. In addition, the salesperson is not going to be your teacher.

Price or known name brands are no guarantee that you are buying the best instrument for your own needs or for the money that you wish to spend. We have seen far too many students purchase totally inappropriate instruments on the basis of the brand. We only recommend brands and models that we believe are the best choices for our students.

Obviously people’s budgets are a consideration, but cost should not be the primary focus. We believe it is false economy to purchase a cheap, poor quality instrument that you will grow to hate and that you will ultimately upgrade once you have realised all the problems you will have with that instrument. At the same time, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on your first instrument purchase to buy an instrument that is of good quality. While the American and German instruments are still by far the best, with the recent rise of the Asian economies, particularly China and South Korea, the Western world is extremely fortunate in being able to buy very good instruments for not a lot of money…. if you know which brands and which models to choose. This is especially true with regards to guitars.



Choosing the right guitar is not easy, especially if you are a beginner.………….

Apart from there being many different makes and models of guitars, beginners (and sometimes even experienced players!) are often unaware of the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences between solid-body and semi-acoustic electric guitars, steel-string acoustic guitars and nylon-string acoustic guitars.

These differences have huge consequences for the beginner.

Misconceptions, unfounded biases and old wives’ tales abound. Not surprisingly, more often than not, students buy either totally inappropriate instruments, very poor quality instruments, or instruments that they have grossly overpaid for. Don has seen and heard it all before and he advises all students to ‘get informed’ before purchasing an instrument. He will happily explain in detail the differences between the various types of guitars and demonstrate what they are used for and why different guitars are used in different styles of music. He will also look at the age of the student, hand-size, strength etc. All these factors are important in determining the ‘right’ guitar for each individual student. He can also discuss the pros and cons of various amplifiers and musical equipment in general.


Piano / Keyboard

Although all lessons are conducted on an acoustic piano, many students like to begin their musical experience by learning to play on a keyboard, instead of a piano. They are cheaper, portable and you can play with headphones on…..so that you don’t disturb the neighbours! If you are unsure about what the differences are between keyboards, digital pianos and acoustic pianos, Jenny can discuss the various options with you.


It must be good quality

Whether it’s guitars, pianos, keyboards, amplifiers, metronomes, tuners, music stands, cases, or even guitar picks, we only recommend quality equipment and we do this for two very good reasons:

Firstly, we simply don’t believe in promoting poor quality instruments.

Secondly, although our students usually can’t judge the quality of their instruments when they start lessons….they soon will! If we’ve recommended poor quality instruments, students will understandably be unhappy with us at the point when they can tell chalk from cheese. We pride ourselves in having long-term relationships with our students.



Here are some testimonials from students who have bought instruments we have recommended:

William McMahon – Honours student of Psychology

When I first started lessons with Don, I had an acoustic guitar I had bought on the advice of a salesman. As I knew nothing about guitars, it seemed fine to me – but Don recommended several improvements, after which I certainly noted an increase in the ease of playing it. When I decided to upgrade to an electric guitar, Don was able to advise and help me purchase an affordable model that sounded great and was very easy for me to play. I would not have been able to tell the difference when I started out playing, but seven years later I certainly can, and I’m extremely grateful that Don’s advice meant that I got a guitar I would be happy with years down the track.

Since then, I’ve also purchased a case and an amplifier, both of which were affordable but also high quality. Don has an amazing knowledge about guitar models, cases, and amplifiers, and will always recommend a quality product within a reasonable budget. He was also able to explain to me everything I needed to know about my guitar and amplifier, from the features of both, to how to look after and maintain them. For these reasons, I would encourage anyone to follow Don’s advice when it comes to buying a new instrument or accessory, because even if (like me) you can’t tell the difference at first, you will notice and appreciate it later on.

Sam Iredale – Senior Analyst with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu

As a beginner player, it is completely dazzling when confronted by the wide variety of guitars for sale at the local music store, or second hand market. When the time came for me to purchase an electric guitar, Don provided fantastic advice. I decided that buying second hand would provide the best quality instrument for my budget. With my limited knowledge, however, buying second hand would have been a very risky proposition without Don’s knowledge and experience. Don kindly offered to keep an eye out to see if any of his students were keen to sell their guitars (apparently accumulating guitars is an occupational hazard for guitar enthusiasts!). Fortunately, a couple of guitars came along that I could try out. Throughout the process, Don made it clear that choosing an instrument is a personal choice and not to choose something that I wasn’t completely happy with. After weighing up a few different options, I was able to secure a high quality instrument, and 12 months on, remain very satisfied with my purchase. A huge thanks to you Don for ensuring I got started on the right foot. I now know I won’t need to buy another instrument any time soon (unless I catch the guitar accumulation bug mentioned!).

Simon Ng – Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Melbourne University

I started piano with Jenny back in 2010, not having studied music theory and nervous about a whole range of issues, including what instrument I should buy. I didn't want to spend thousands on an acoustic piano but I had no idea whether keyboards or digital pianos would suit and which ones to avoid. At our first meeting, Jenny not only set me at ease but also guided me to the right instrument, even sourcing it from a trusted instrument shop for me. The Yamaha P85 digital piano Jenny started me on was perfect: affordable, unlike even the cheapest of acoustics, and designed to provide the feel and touch of a piano through properly weighted keys. I shudder to think how much time and money I would have wasted otherwise. This first digital piano saw me through 3 years of development. Jenny knew when it was time to move on, and encouraged me to do so, but her guidance towards that first instrument was just what I needed.

Hui Mei Ong – Vet

When I first started taking guitar lessons with Don, I didn’t know one guitar from the next. I turned up for lessons with a classical guitar that had been gifted to me. Don has since taught me a thing or two about guitars, what makes one more appropriate and more suitable compared to another. What I wanted to learn to play was modern guitar. The classical guitar that I had wasn’t helpful for my learning – the action was too high and the width of the fret board too large for my little hands. That’s how I ended up acquiring my (dare I say this!) beautiful Les Paul-styled sunburst Electa. I’m by no means an expert on guitars and my Electa’s the first electric guitar that I’ve ever owned so I’m probably just sentimental about it. But it produces a great sound, is a quality instrument and best of all, it didn’t hurt my pocket to buy it. It’s a great entry-level electric guitar if I may say so!

Warren Dixon - Electrician

‘I have been receiving guitar lessons from Melbourne School Of Music for approximately 12 months. At the beginning of my lessons, I spoke to Don about the purchase of a guitar as I was playing on a borrowed one. Don spoke to me at length about the different types and brands of guitars and recommended the Jackson. The guitar was very affordable compared to most other name brands. Having tried other guitars I found the Jackson easier to play without any noticeable difference in sound quality compared to a lot of the more expensive guitars. The guitar looks great as well.

Don also recommended that I buy a Jackson hard case to protect the guitar. I’m so glad I took his advice and bought the manufacturer’s case, as it fits the guitar perfectly, rather than the third party cases that many of the shops recommended, where one size fits all. Overall, I am extremely happy with the purchase.’

Zeynep Oyman - Doctor

‘I picked up the classical guitar again at the age of 22, having been a dismal pupil at the age of 7 when my dad tried to teach me classical guitar. I asked Don to recommend a guitar that was a reasonable price for a beginner and easy to play, while still producing a decent sound. Don recommended an Admira Seville. This was to be my birthday present from my parents. Unfortunately, they could not find the model in any shops in Sydney where they live, so they bought the next model up – a Rosario. My dad has been playing classical guitar for 40 years and was very impressed with the sound and still comments on what a great sound the guitar produces given the relatively budget price. I have been very happy with this guitar. It is easy to play and on days when it doesn’t sound so fantastic I am usually at fault!’

Josie Tata - Superannuation Officer

‘I’m very grateful to Don for his assistance in purchasing my amp. His vast knowledge and expertise was of great value and benefit to me. Don made every effort to ensure that he found the right amp for me. He took into consideration both my current and future needs and ensured I would receive the best price possible. He made certain the amp was of a high standard and took the time to explain the various features to me. The end result was a quality amp at a great price and one happy customer.’

Bill Best - Chemical Engineer with Mobil

‘Hi, my name is Bill and I am an Chemical Engineer who has taken up Classical Guitar Lessons with the ‘Melbourne School of Music’ after playing rock/popular styles for many years. Apart from being taught by a great musician, I have also been impressed with the equipment recommendations I have received. I purchased an entry level ‘Admira Irene’ which stays in tune, has good intonation and overall has suited my needs without breaking my bank account. Before buying my next guitar I would certainly contact Don for his advice.’