Confession: I have never played a guitar that felt or sounded perfect on the first try
I bought a Fender Stratocaster recently. Was the purchase of the guitar one of those magical moments in the guitar store where the instrument felt perfect when I played it and I just "had to have it"? Nope. In fact, the guitar played and sounded like absolute crap in the store. The strings were old, slightly rusted and scratchy, the cord I used to plug into the amp was almost broken beyond repair, and the amp I used was a crappy little Marshall that sounded plastic and terrible. So why did I buy it? I'll explain that in a moment.
I've played quite a few guitars over the years. Fender, Gibson, Squier, Epiphone, Jackson, Dean, B.C. Rich, etc. I've played new guitars, somewhat-used guitars, beat-up guitars, vintage guitars, guitars that were well worn-in, guitars that were old but not worn-in at all, pristine clean guitars, dirty full-of-gunk guitars and so on. While I haven't played them all (who could?), I've put my hands on a good number of them, and the result is always the same with me. No guitar I've ever played felt or sounded perfect on the first try.
With any guitar I acquire, I won't know if I actually like it until it's broken in. For example, my 2010 Squier Bullet Strat is now well-worn-in and has a neck to die for. It plays amazingly well and has single-coil pickups that are bright and even somewhat "screechy" to some ears, but I dig it. She's a great player. Yeah, there are dings in the neck now. Yeah, the pick guard is all scratched up. But she can sing because my hands have been on that guitar enough to break it in proper and make her sing.
The Fender I bought for features first because of the way its electronics were done. When I got it home, I first did a video on it, then right after that switched out the strings. After that I played it for a day, then adjusted the saddles. I haven't even opened up the back plate yet, and haven't intonated it yet either. First setup of any guitar I buy usually takes several weeks, because I have to play it a ton before I get to all the stuff I need to adjust.
Anyway, I'm fast learning that the Fender I bought wants to be played. She's a totally different animal compared to the Squier axes I have, but over time I'll be able to set her up to where it will be just right for the way I play. In my experience it takes time before a guitar truly feels like yours.
While testing the Fender I have now in the guitar store, it played and sounded like crap like I said, but I saw the potential that she could be something wonderful, and she is fast becoming just that.
Things I know in advance whenever I enter a guitar store
I'm not saying all guitar stores are like this, but I always experience the following whenever I'm in one:
- No new guitar will be set up correctly, even if there's a sticker on it claiming it was set up.
- The strings on any new guitar I pick up will be old or rusty (when you see black lines, that's rust). This is because most guitars regardless of price are shipped with strings that started to rust even before it arrived at the store.
- The back of the neck for any guitar will feel like plastic because it's been sitting on the wall or the floor collecting dust and hasn't been cleaned (possibly for weeks). When you pick it up, you're mashing all that dust right into the neck, hence the plastic feel.
- The fingerboard will also feel like plastic for the same reason the back of the neck does.
- Tuners on new guitars - even the expensive ones - won't feel right at all because they've hardly been used. For example, when you pick up an expensive axe, go to tune and the tuner actually clicks noticeably, that means it probably hasn't been adjusted for weeks.
Cheaper guitars in the store believe it or not always play and sound better than the expensive ones. Why? Because cheaper axes are picked up and played more because they're more affordable. Expensive axes just sit.. and sit.. and sit for weeks or even months on end. And of course they're always mounted high or put in glass cases so nobody can get to them unless they specifically request it.
I have never experienced a perfect-playing or perfect-sounding guitar in the guitar store; that's never happened to me. I know that whatever I get will require setup and many hours of play before it's broken in properly.
I'm not saying the 'magic moment' can't happen in a guitar store when you pick up certain guitars, but it's never happened to me in my years of playing. I know that whatever I buy needs to be played and played often for a while before it can truly sing for me.