Finding the guitar that "speaks to you" & risk in ordering online


Obvious amateur questions but want to ask anyway. I'm in the market for a new guitar, and have been reading up a lot on strats and similar guitars. I see where it looks like fender makes some pretty inconsistent guitars - and all of the advice is to play as many as you can until you find the "one."

I certainly get the concept - but am also wondering how much of that is just based on the setup of the guitar being played? so in essence you're looking for "the" guitar that just feels right...essentially looking for a guitar that is already set up perfectly. is that really what's happening? could a number of the guitars that don't feel right just need some adjustments?

That, vs buying a guitar from an online dealer like sweetwater, and having the guitar set up after the fact. big risk there? i'm leaning toward doing that honestly but don't want something to show up that doesn't play worth a [email protected] after being adjusted. Looking at American made so would expect decent quality but have read where some of the MIM's play better than Americans - just depends on the guitar.



Some of its set up. It depends on how picky you are and your playing style.

For example, I play all over the fretboard and depend on long, sustained notes/bends/etc. for lead playing. So I'm very picky about wanting guitars that sustain evenly across the whole board. I can go through five of the exact same guitar and only like one (or none). But other folks think I'm nuts.


Senior Member
I've had good luck ordering new guitars online, various price ranges ($200 - $5K) from various dealers, sight-unseen except pics on the web, never played. I do my own basic setup / intonation... as long as that's all it needs and the fit/finish/quality/condition is what I expect for the price I paid for a new guitar, I'm happy.

I dig electric guitars/basses, it's my GAS weakness though I still look at them as tools for what want to do, from my pointy shredders, to my Steinbergers, to my Fender Jags and my Rics...for the most part, I'm not into "improving" or modifying guitars except my very low cost ones, that is usually limited to new hardware such as pickups, or if I just want to try a different pickup.


edit: If I'm spending more than $1K on a guitar, I make damn sure it's what I want...if I have to make mods to it, then it's not the right guitar for me. IMO

I have around 18 guitars and 3 basses now, and in the last 10+ years I've only sold one guitar and one bass.
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For simple functionality, for one, it depends how you like your setups.

I have been doing setups on guitars for many years, and for common name brands there have been maybe 20% I couldnt get to factory specs without doing some fret or nut filing. A smaller percentage with necks that just werent gonna get even there due to warp. There have even been a few where the intonation was unfixable without a bridge change! But back to the 'picky,' my own guitars usually have action lower than the company specifies. So a neck that is warped will not work. So there is that.

But then there are the more subjective things.

Fret size. Neck shape. Fretboard width. Scale length.

And sound. Being made of wood, they can be inconsistent. For example, I have a Fender Jaguar that is oddly heavy and percussive. Ive played others of the same model that are not like that at all. Not talking anything dramatic, most of your electric guitar sound is from the pickups, which are more consistent as far as mass produced pickups. But for some, that guitar's sound would be a negative. If it were my only guitar, I wouldnt even want it. But its cooly unique to me.

And ergonomics. Another example, one store had two Reverend Double Agents, same model. One neck was heavier than the other, making it feel unbalanced to me. It wasnt actually diving, I am just that picky.


Platinum Supporting Member
It's the sum of the parts. Good wood, the right pickups and hardware for the instrument, a great set up. You can play two or three of the same model and they will feel and sound different to you.
It's all about how it feels to you no matter what others may say about that particular instrument. A great guitar doesn't have to be the most expensive one - just the most well built one!
As for buying online, I rely on certain shops and certain individuals who I've come to know and who know what I am looking for. So playing it in person is good but if not possible you have a much better chance of getting what you are looking for by having someone on the other end , not just ordering blindly.


If I'm spending more that $1K on a guitar, I make damn sure it's what I want...if I have to make mods to it, then it's not the right guitar for me. IMO

That's a good policy. I don't mind buying a cheap guitar or digging around for used bargains that need repair because I can easily do the work myself. But if I were to drop $1k on a new guitar again (unlikely outside of a lottery win) I'd want it to be right from the start.
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I've owned many guitars over the years - currently I have about a dozen. I've never bought borrowed or planned to buy any guitar that I didn't set-up to my personal liking, or plan to re-build, re-wire, re-fret whatever. As long as the truss rod works - or as long as the top hasn't sunk on an acoustic - I'll make it play. One exception is that my brother bought a brand new Jeff Beck Strat - and the neck went south and there's no room on the truss rod to adjust. That included clamping the neck for 3 days to try and get it to straighten out a bit. I'm now tasked to try and pull the flute and see if I can get some sort of spacer to get headroom in the truss rod. If that doesn't work then I'm pulling the frets and giving it a proper heat treatment and re-planing the fret board - re-fretting etc. Just a bad piece of wood and that happens sometimes.


The setup isn't really a factor for me, I go guitar shopping expecting to do a setup, and maybe some fret work, on whatever I bring home. It really depends on how picky you are. I have certain expectations, as far as how resonant a guitar is and how much sustain it has (obviously, those expectations are different for a Strat and a Les Paul, for example). Also, the neck has to be comfortable, I have problems with my left wrist and hand, so neck shape, thickness, nut width, even scale length can make a huge difference in comfort and playability for me. There are a few Fender models (like the Baja Tele, for one), that I've played enough examples of to feel comfortable ordering one online, because I haven't played a bad one yet, and know what to expect. IME, Fenders aren't near as inconsistent as some brands (like Gibson, I'll never buy a Gibson without trying every example at every store within driving distance...when I bought my Epiphone LP it impressed me more than any Gibson in that store, not including Custom Shop), the majority of Fenders I've played were perfectly fine, I just have a hard time finding Fenders, especially Strats, that are comfortable for me to play for more than 5 minutes.


Silver Supporting Member
I've done both. The guitar that speaks to me far beyond what any other has and was the most perfect "out of the box" experience was my music man that I bought from the music zoo.


Silver Supporting Member
For a long time, I thought as long as I was playing a good quality guitar, I'd be fine. I'd never played a guitar that just jumped out at me. Then I went on a hunt for a Les Paul and was determined to find THAT guitar. I probably played 100 Les Pauls and they were all nice to varying degrees, but none were specifically incredible playing or sounding. So I made the decision to just go back to the guitar shop and buy my favorite looking Les Paul that was also well made. I pulled down my favorite looking Les Paul and it was pure magic. I hit one chord unplugged and just had to plug it in. Plugged it in, one chord and I took it to the sales counter. I've now had that guitar for more than a decade.

Pretty much the same story happened with both the Strat and the Tele I currently own. So I thought, ok, I guess I just have to search long enough and I'll eventually find THAT guitar.

Then, last year, I joined a band again for the first time in a few years so I decided to buy a backup Les Paul. I figured since it was just a backup, I could just find something online and not bother wandering around guitar stores for months. I jumped online, I know I like heavy Les Pauls, so I found one listed in the 10lb range (10lbs exactly on this particular guitar) and ordered it. When it arrived, I was immediately in love and it has been my #1 ever since.

I've bought other guitars online before and every one of them has been good and took significantly less time to find than the ones I've picked in person. If I were looking a new #1 guitar, I'd still probably want to go play a bunch of guitars and pick one. For anything else, I'd have no hesitation ordering online.


I have owned over 200 guitars, the most ever at one time probably 45 or so. Those purchased 'off the rack', or otherwise in-person, number perhaps 15. And I'd really deduct three or four of those, as they were custom-orders from stores where I would have been pretty much stuck anyway, even if I didn't like them.

I only have one instrument at the moment that was purchased 'face-to-face', a craigslist deal. All the other came online. There's simply no comparison in terms of selection; even a place like Nashville or LA or NYC can't compare to the web for choice. And if you're buying from a 'reputable' shop, you really only risk shipping costs. Finding 'the one' might take time and a little investment at the benefit of UPS or FedEx, but it'll happen a lot faster online.


98% of the guitars I have bought I have had to set up myself to my preference. I never really expect the set up of a guitar to be what I like. Some people like low action, some people like high action it all depends on your playing style and preference.

If you are buying new online, you can always return it if you don't like it, so no risk.

I like to save cash, so I always buy USED and then possibly flip it if I don't like it.


Silver Supporting Member
I have purchased most of my guitars online, but also purchased quite a few in person. I would say it depends on the guitar. I have purchased a number of strats from 800 to a custom shop at 3k online with no problems . I do all my own setups so I don't worry about that . As long as I get along with the neck and there aren't any defects it's all good. The one exception is 335s. No two are the same. They feel , play and sound quite a bit different . When you find a good one it's a game changer. I would never buy one online.


For me.

I will never purchase another Name Brand Strat/Tele/Bolt together guitar ever again, vs a partscaster.

But, you have to know exactly what you want.

Id play as many guitars as I could, and take a Caliper with me to the shops, and measure the neck dimensions of guitars I like. There is also a type of putty you can buy, and make a small cast of the neck at the Nut/Heel.

Tommy/Usa Custom Guitars, can basically make anything you want vs a bolt together guitar.

But again... You have to know exactly what you want.

I myself would gather together what I feel are the best parts, and send all of it to Glaser Instruments in Nashville, for complete Assembly/Set Up/Plek.

My partscaster plays and sounds as good as a Strat can. IMHO. I also used original 65-66 Strat pups.


Gold Supporting Member
First off, I do my own setups so let's get that out of the way. I have had really good luck buying from the web sight unseen. Do they come in perfect. No way. But, usually close enough. I always buy from someone with a fairly liberal return policy, ie. AMS, zZounds, MF, Sweetwater. I've had to return two guitars that weren't to the specs as advertised and were swapped out easily enough. Do your research and due diligence and fire away. If you're leery, I would stick to the lesser expensive brand names and start there until your comfort level is satisfied.


I've bought most of my guitars online, used. Some I have sold fairly quickly, others I have kept for a decade and then replaced with something even better. If all you're looking for is a good Strat and live near good guitar stores then I would just try their selection, including non-Fender models and see what works for you. I have used a G&L Legacy for years as it just happens to be a really good Strat.


Silver Supporting Member
Being based in the UK and a big fan of older guitars, it occasionally comes down to taking chances and ordering from the US if I want to get my hands on something specific. I try to buy carefully, do my research and have a good idea of the UK value of what I buy so that I'm not going to lose too badly if I don't end up loving the guitar. I also know how to set up guitars to my liking and have a decent grasp of what bigger issues can cause a vintage guitar to not perform as well as it might. I've bought a few that were underwhelming at first, but most have ended up being pretty decent examples.

I think one big thing that works in my favour buying sight unseen is that I like guitars that have their own personality and I don't especially mind if a guitar doesn't lend itself to being played exactly as I would my regular go to instruments - so if the neck profile is different to anything else I own, or it sustains differently, or it has low frets that aren't as easy to bend on as I'd like it's not really a problem. I generally gravitate towards guitars that are a bit different, then get to know them and figure out where they fit into what i already own so I'm not constantly chasing a perceived outcome - it's just fun to try different things.


Silver Supporting Member
Wood is inherently, if possible, your best chance of finding "the one" is by running the racks. Yup, you might get lucky buying on line...but the best in my harem were found by running the racks. Judge each individual guitar on its own merits and believe in what your own ears & hands tell you...keeping in mind there are dogs & gems at all price points.


Silver Supporting Member
I bought 2 Fender CS heavy relic guitars last year. I only saw pics of them but based on the specs, they were exactly what I was looking for. Radius and neck shape were what I was looking for. One has a maple neck with 21 frets and the other rosewood and 22 frets. These guitars a absolutely amazing in every way. My Gibson, I bought after seeing it in the store and trying it out. It's an amazing guitar as well. Really happy with what I have thus far.

OP...good luck with your choice and enjoy!

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