Apple Valley Guitar and Piano Academy
New Student Guitar Advisory and Buying Guide
Note: We do not teach electric or any other form of amplified guitar at the Apple Valley location. If you need lessons in this type of instrument, we have alternative teachers.
1. Why is a Student Guitar Advisory Necessary?
We've successfully trained children from an early age to winning university scholarships and professional recording contracts. In part, this is due to the high standards we apply in every aspect of guitar instruction.
The instrument used in lessons is no exception, which should allow them to reach their full potential technically and musically.
Above all, we want the first lesson to go smoothly, and for the student to learn and have fun. This is not possible if they arrive with a guitar:
A. with worn-out or corroded strings
B. with a warped neck and strings too high above the fingerboard
C. that won't play in tune (possibly due to "A" or
D. buzzes and rattles on certain notes (possibly due to "B")
E. that is too big (e.g. a large dreadnought or jumbo steel-string for a young child)
(B-D can occur in the case of low-cost guitars that are relatively new.)
In this case, we have rental guitars a student can use for the first lesson. Going forward, we encourage guitar owners to follow the advisory below, so they can play their home-practice instrument in lessons.
An Example of the Importance of a Reasonable Quality Instrument for Students
In a community education class I once taught, after the first few weeks, nearly everyone with a plywood-topped or old, worn-out, buzzing guitar had quit.
2. Recommendations If You Already Have a Guitar
A. If the guitar's strings have not been changed within the last six months, please have new ones installed by a music store before the first lesson. (See "3. Guitar Inspection and Setup" below.)
Why? Because older/heavily played strings lose their beauty and quality of tone, volume power, and often don't tune up properly. This is true even if the guitar has not been played for quite some time, as solid metal or metal-wound strings eventually darken/corrode on their own.
B. After restringing (if needed), the student's guitar should play in tune, be free of buzzes and rattles, have reasonable quality of tone*, and enough volume* to be heard clearly. Also, the strings should not be too high or too low above the frets.
Why? Because our goal is helping students learn to play the guitar accurately, beautifully and expressively. None of these are possible with an instrument that isn't in proper working order. In addition, it will not motivate enough practice for steady advancement, and the student won't be rewarded for their efforts with musical enjoyment.
* These problems may occur with guitars that have a plywood or laminated top/soundboard, those that are very old, or were stored in hot, damp or dry conditions for long periods of time (attic, basement, garage, etc.).
3. Guitar Inspection and Setup
We can do a preliminary inspection at the Academy, which should be scheduled prior to the first lesson.
If there are any concerns about the instrument, you are welcome to call Schmitt Music in Burnsville at 952-435-2454, and set up a free appointment to meet with Gregg W., the head guitar specialist. He's available Monday through Friday 10 AM to 5 PM.
Without cost, he will inspect your guitar and determine what it needs to match our recommendations above. Gregg also installs new strings without charging for the labor.
In some cases, your guitar may need a setup, which would be performed at Schmitt Music in Brooklyn Center, or a professional guitar repairperson of your choosing.
For a detailed description of possible setup work, see the webpage below:
4. If You Need a New Guitar (Teen and Adult Beginners)
For any beginner, we believe a SOLID-TOP nylon-string classical is the best choice. This is largely due to experience teaching beginners who already own steel-string guitars, and immediately become frustrated with this type of instrument.
Given the low cost of solid-top guitars of any type, there's no logical reason to buy a plywood/laminated top guitar with inferior tone and volume production. If so, this makes it harder for the student to make enjoyable music with their instrument, weakens motivation to practice, and leads to premature canceling of lessons.
A few reasons for choosing a classical guitar are listed below:
A. The lower tension nylon strings of a classical are softer, and thus easier for untrained left-hand fingers to press down. This factor helps eliminate the frustration of buzzing and muting sounds common among steel-string beginners.
B. The fingerboard of a classical guitar is wider, which helps avoid the left-hand fingers deadening the sound of adjacent strings. On a narrower steel-string fingerboard, this is inevitably a frequent problem for beginners.
C. For students who want to learn fingerstyle (plucking the strings with the right-hand fingers), lower-tension nylon strings are ideal. In the case of steel strings, with their much greater stiffness, beginner fingers may not be strong enough to produce adequate volume.
In addition, natural/artificial fingernails or finger picks need to be used on a steel-string, as fingertip skin alone does not produce a proper brilliant "steel-string" tone. The former adds considerably to the technical challenges the beginner is facing. In the case of the classical guitar, fingertips can be used to pluck the string for a few months until the student gets used to fingerpicking. Once the teacher deems it appropriate, right-hand fingernails can be grown out and used.
5. If You Need a Guitar and Prefer a Steel-String (Teens and Small Adults)
For teens/small adults who want to strum chords or play melodies with a pick, we strongly recommend a smaller-body steel-string guitar such as an "OM" or "000".
First, their smaller size makes them more comfortable to hold and play. Also, these guitars are more versatile, as they sound good when played with a pick (pickstyle) or when the strings are plucked by the right-hand fingers (fingerstyle).
The alternative dreadnought size is bulky, and essentially designed to be played with a pick while standing. When played in a sitting position, realistically, this type of instrument is only appropriate for taller teens and adults of medium height and above.
Dreadnoughts can be played fingerstyle, but not as successfully as a smaller-body steel-string or classical. One reason is that higher tension (medium gauge) strings (and a pick) are typically needed to bring out the full tone potential of a dreadnought, and are difficult to pluck with the fingers with the same amount of power.
In contrast, lower-tension (light gauge strings) have more flex, and are the standard for steel-string fingerstyle guitarists. Thus, if you're set on getting a dreadnought, installing this type of string is recommended.
6. Guitars for Child and Smaller Teen Beginners
For these students, we universally recommend nylon-string classical guitars, for reasons explained above.
Schmitt Music in Burnsville has two sizes of "short" classicals currently in stock:
3/4 Cordoba Cadete
7/8 Cordoba Dolce
There is also the possibility of ordering a 1/2 size for very young children.
These Cordobas are high-quality, solid-top instruments that produce a clear, beautiful tone despite their smaller size. Also, note that Cordoba is the world's leader in producing affordable student classical guitars, and you will not find a better instrument for the same price anywhere.
In contrast, cheap "budget" guitars with laminated or plywood tops should be avoided at all costs, as the sound quality and volume production are inferior.
7. Basics of Guitar Sizing for Children
We, or Gregg W. at Schmitt Music in Burnsville, can determine the proper size classical guitar for your child.
As a general rule, when reaching with the left hand for the first metal fret bar on the fingerboard (nearest the tuning pegs) on string 1 (the one nearest the floor), the angle formed by the child's upper and lower arm at the elbow should be about 90°. If it is considerably greater, the guitar neck is too long. In particular, the child's arm will be stretched out too far, placing excess tension on the muscles that move the fingers.
In addition, the body of the guitar must be small enough so the child's right arm can reach comfortably around it and the fingers can touch the strings directly over the sound hole.
A related factor is the guitar easily remaining in a stable position when played. This is difficult to do if the guitar is too large for the child.
The best example of this problem is the acoustic/steel-string dreadnought guitar, the size most commonly seen in the entry-level/student price range. The lower bouts (hips) of these guitars are massive, and as we jokingly say, for children, it's like trying to hold onto a hippopotamus sitting in your lap.
Note: Some manufacturers are now building "baby" or "junior" steel-string dreadnoughts, but for other reasons previously stated, we do not recommend them.
8. Child Beginners Who Want to Play Steel-String Guitar
Due to the physical problems children have playing these instruments, and the poor tone quality and volume production of entry-level models most parents are willing to purchase, we do not teach child beginners on steel string guitars.
However, we have affiliate teachers that may wish to do so.
9. Right vs. Left-Handed Guitars
The consensus among expert guitar instructors is that all students should learn on a right-handed guitar, regardless of which hand is dominant. There are several reasons for this.
1. Most instruction books and other educational materials assume a right-handed player. Overall, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. However, it does add difficulties that are not welcome to beginners struggling with guitar basics in other respects.
2. The supply of left-handed guitars is very limited, and most stores don't have any in stock. This usually means special ordering an instrument, often without right of refusal. Thus, you may be compelled to buy a guitar sight unseen and unheard.
3. Many guitars in the most affordable price range (under $1000) are not available in left-handed versions.
4. Compared to right-handed models, left-handed guitars are sometimes more expensive.
5. "Lefty" guitarists can't play guitars owned by their right-handed friends. Also, they can't enjoy visiting guitar stores and trying out new and different instruments.
Moving forward throughout a student's guitar playing career, all of these factors will cause considerable frustration and disappointment.
10. Right to Left-Hand Guitar Conversions
"Righty" guitars can be converted to "lefties". However, this adds considerably to the cost of the instrument, and involves troublesome structural factors.
One of these is removing a steel-string's pickguard and leaving a "shadow" behind.
Also, most guitars need to have the saddle slot in the bridge re-cut, or a new bridge added. At best, this involves skillfully inflicting damage to the guitar, and only the most highly qualified guitar service people should be trusted to do so. Ideally, the instrument should be sent to the manufacturing company or builder for such a conversion. This assumes they do not build a left-handed version of the same guitar in the first place.
Acoustically, guitar tops (soundboards) are designed to respond ideally to thicker strings on one side and thinner ones on the other. When you reverse the stringing, the outcome in terms of tone quality and volume production may not be to your liking.
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