Having the right guitar for the music you’re going to perform is essential. Some guitarists play one type of music, and they want one tone, their sonic signature, to be at the forefront of their music. Other guitarists play several types of music, so they need to have more than one.
So how many guitars would a professional guitarist need anyway? A lot of it depends on the genre, whether or not they tour, and also if they intend on using multiple tunings. With that in mind, though, there is a basic guideline one could follow.
A guitarist only needs one guitar to be a guitarist; however, it would be prudent to own at least one acoustic, electric, and nylon string guitar that way you can perform in a variety of contexts, and you have access to what are the most common guitars to be included on a popular music recording.
The massive wall of guitars at a music store like Guitar Center, Long and McQuade, or Sam Ash is nothing short of impressive, if not slightly intimidating to the average beginner. There exists all types and styles, set up and tuned for our playing pleasure. We know they all have their own tone, and we are very familiar with our favorites, but do we really need to purchase all of them to be a guitarist?
An Electric, Acoustic, and Nylon String Guitar Cover Nearly All Bases
How many guitars a person chooses to get is ultimately up to them at the end of the day, however, I think that it would be wise to have at least three guitars if you want to cover all your bases. The electric, acoustic, and nylon string guitars are the most common by far, and if you have at least one of each, you’ll have most guitar sounds covered.
If you choose to follow this advice, which I think you should, there are three models that I think you won’t go wrong with. And they are the following:
Three guitars like the ones I just mentioned are more than enough for re-creating any kind of guitar sound that you’ll ever need. With that said, there are a lot of people out there, including myself, who likes to get guitars because that’s just what we like.
In some cases, it could be a little much in the sense that people use buying more gear as a tool of procrastination. Before going out to buy more than what you need, read on below to figure out what it is that you really want and need from buying more guitars.
How Many Guitars Do You Need – Questions to Ask Yourself
What Kind of Music Do You Play?
Probably the most important thing to do right away is to ask yourself what your needs are. If your music necessitates a guitar, it probably requires a special kind of guitar. Maybe it’s a pedal you need instead, or just a very rich acoustic with the perfect tone like the Martin 000-15M Streetmaster.
Tone is very important for communicating a particular message. For instance, just using something like a Wampler Sovereign Distortion Pedal can change your tone entirely.
We all know a guitarist by their tone. From Jimmy Page to Eric Johnson, they have a particular style of playing that is identifiable to their fans, especially a player like Eric who is known for his unique approach to chord voicing and intervals.
If you pay attention to these great guitarists, you’ll notice they mostly use one favorite guitar, a signature guitar, and rarely deviate from it except for a few situations. Jimmy Page and Eric Johnson, for example, used a Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster respectively.
If you have a favorite guitarist, chances are you know about the guitar they use the majority of the time. It’s worth noting that their pedals and cabinet play a significant role in tone as well, maybe a new amp/cab is in order, rather than a new guitar?
So ask yourself what kind of style and tone you need for your own music to pick out the best guitar for you.
What is Your Dream Guitar?
If you have more than one guitar, chances are you have several of them, and maybe some are just basic guitars that you don’t play much.
Perhaps you can trade in a couple of mid-range guitars for a nicer one. Getting closer to owning your dream guitar may give you more inspiration to play. Your dream guitar should be a great guitar that effectively transmits your musical voice, and it should also be comfortable to play.
Many companies have branched off with more subsidiary brands in the past 5-10 years to hit different markets.
For example, Gibson bought Epiphone and used the company to release less expensive Les Pauls, and Fender uses Squire for the same purpose. If you haven’t found your perfect match, you should go to a guitar shop and try some out.
Are You a Collector?
If you are a guitar collector, that’s great! Be a collector, but remember that collectors often trade, sell and auction their inventory.
Having over two dozen guitars because you love guitars does not necessarily make you a collector. A lot of people use the purchase of new gear as a way of procrastinating from practicing.
Additionally, having a ton of models to take care of brings on a whole host of new issues. We all know the feeling of walking into a music store and wanting to bring home a whole wall of guitars, but how much maintenance will it take to change strings, wipe off dust, and set intonation? In a music store, there are people specifically hired to do this.
If You Had to Evacuate, Could You Grab All Your Guitars?
Maybe you haven’t really thought of your house burning to the ground and your collection turning to hot coals, but maybe you should. If you needed to evacuate your house, I’m sure your precious collection will be at the top of your mind.
Would a large collection of guitars make it out the door with you? Would you hate yourself forever if you couldn’t grab your most prized possessions?
This is one of the reasons why I would say that getting guitar insurance is a great move. A solid insurance policy is great for not only your guitars but all of your other gear as well.
Are You Playing and Appreciating What You Already Have?
Trading in your unused guitars for ones that you will appreciate more and use more is the goal, so make sure you appreciate what you have or go for something you will play more.
If you can’t get that connection you want with your guitar, maybe it’s time to trade up. Maybe you should trade in the ones you don’t use as much and get that one you know you will play every day.
If you aren’t playing every day now and you aren’t getting any better, then why do you need to have more guitars? A guitar is supposed to be used and appreciated, not left in the corner to collect dust.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for guitarists to give collectors a hard time for this reason – a guitar is meant to be played not hung on the wall. Additionally, you could try a new type like the harp guitar which I’ve written about before.
Are You a Touring Musician?
If you are a touring musician it’s almost imperative you have a backup guitar that sounds exactly like your main ax. Many things can go wrong on stage and mechanical issues are at the top of the list. Newton’s law says “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Pots get knocked around and you can’t get a good connection, an electric performance becomes an acoustic because a speaker blew, etc.
All of these things happen in the blink of an eye and to keep your show on par, you have to be prepared. Keeping a backup guitar on standby is essential in the live show world.
Most likely you won’t be able to borrow another musician’s guitar and make it sound like your tone unless you have a great pedal board. But what happens when the pedal board goes out and you are left on stage with only a DI to save you. You’ll want your tone then.
Having a backup is not a bad idea, especially if you are on tour. Things go wrong all the time and you need to be prepared instantly for these things. Strings break in the middle of song (more on why strings break in my guide), so you should be good enough to play on the other strings or get a new one in your hands ASAP!
You May Want Different Tunings For More Variety in Your Songs
If you write with different tunings, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have separate instruments for different tunings. If you are playing a show, it must have a flow to it. Think of it this way, your audience would get awfully bored if you had to tune every other song.
Keeping guitars with their respective tunings on hand is a good idea because you rarely want to go back and forth between tunings.
Your neck will suffer from constant tension differences and could cause damage to your guitar. Put simply, you may be an artist that chooses to use a variety of tunings. In that case, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have guitars for each one.
The reason for this is that a guitar is set up for the tuning it uses most. It messes with intonation if you change it up too much, so you need to have one for each one.