Music helps define us. Music defines our culture and our heritage. Many of us aspire to be great musicians or to make it big in the music industry. Although most of us will never achieve the latter, it will not stop us from trying. I am a musician who plays guitar, and I am going to share a few things you need to know before purchasing one.

1. Play the guitar, before you buy it.

Although that guitar may look cool online, you may hate the way it feels in your hands. I have had that experience plenty of times and it is a terrible feeling to spend a great deal of money on a guitar that depreciates as soon as the purchase is completed. Although the guitar may look cool, it may not play that way. I personally made this mistake by purchasing a BC Rich Warlock. I loved the way it looked, but as soon as I got the guitar, I hated the way it played and immediately tried to get rid of it.

2. Research the guitar.

Research is key. Guitars vary greatly and only you know the type of tone that you want to have. I would not recommend buying a guitar with active EMG pickups if you hate playing with the distortion on.

3. Step outside of the box.

Nothing is more bothersome than to see musicians following the pack. Blaze your own path; this is your guitar! This will be the crafter of your sound, so avoid selling yourself short by following the crowd. Don't sound like everyone else! When you follow the crowd, nothing will distinguish you from the rest of the pack.

4. Know your neck.

There is enormous variation in the neck of guitars. (The major shapes for the necks are the C-shape, which is more rounded; the V-shape, which is more pointed; and the U-shape which is more squared.) Beyond the basic shape of the neck, there are many other things to consider! The fretboard is the next major item I want to draw attention to. The type of wood for the fingerboard is the first item for consideration. Some woods play faster, while others provide a thicker sound. Like everything else about buying a guitar, it is all about your taste and the tone you are trying to get out of the guitar. Fret size and fret count are also major factors. Most guitars range from 22 - 24 frets, but the size of the frets is the real key. For those of you with larger hands (or those who simply want a little more room), I would recommend jumbo frets.

5. Know your price range.

This could be a "make or break" point for some of us. I would love to have a huge budget for my next purchase, but sadly that is not the case (college student, anyone?). This point gets overlooked more often than it should. Try to avoid falling in love with a guitar that you know cannot fit into your budget.

6. Used or new?

Trust me, I love a good deal as much as the next guy, but think about buying a used guitar like buying a used car: only get it if you know what you are looking for. There are heaps of problems that can stem from both purchases if you end up with a lemon. A couple of questions I would ask when buying a new guitar: "Does it function properly (i.e., pickups and electronics)?, Is the neck warped?, and How does it look cosmetically?"

7. Electric or acoustic?

At this point in the shopping process, you should already have an idea of what you are wanting. However, this question is still important. Ask yourself: "What do I need?" and "Which option will benefit my collection better in the long run?". You may have fallen in love with that new electric guitar, but why would you want another electric when you are in need of an acoustic?

8. Know what you are looking for.

I recommend not stepping foot into a music store until you have a short list of guitars you want to play. Go into the music store with a purpose, because if you have done your research, you already know more than most of the customer service personnel. It is the employee's job to sell you something, so if you go into that store unprepared, you may just walk out with a guitar that you never even wanted.

9. Age is important.

Your age can play a big role in what guitar you want to buy. When I was younger, I dreamed of sounding like the 1980s era rock music and that reflected the kinds of guitars I bought. As I grew and matured, so did my taste in music. Instead of buying a guitar that is only going to sound good playing one type of music, think about your future goals and intentions for the guitar. Doing that might save you some money in the future, if you choose a versatile instrument.

10. What else do you need?

Buying the guitar is only one piece of the puzzle. You will need a few other things to accompany it. First, buy your guitar a hardshell case. A hardshell case will protect your guitar during transport, and makes it easier to carry from place to place. Softshell cases work too, but they do not offer the same protection that the hardshell cases offer. So, do yourself a favor and buy a hardshell case. The next item to buy is a pack of spare strings. Strings make a world of difference. Who wants to have a jam session ended abruptly by a broken string? You will thank yourself for having that extra pair of strings. If you bought an electric guitar, you are now in the market for an amplifier for it. Amplifier selections are just as diverse as guitar selections and require just as much research.

11. Now what?

This last point is mostly for new players who are looking to purchase their first guitar, however this point may apply to not-so-new players, too. Get yourself some lessons. Learn how to play the instrument properly. Having someone mentor you through the process of learning how to play will help you from getting frustrated and you will be less likely to quit when the going gets tough (sore, callused fingers and all). By having a teacher, you have someone who is skilled in their craft that you can ask questions to and can vent your frustrations to. Also, they can be someone who can help you overcome those frustrations, because it is highly probable that they went through the same issue.

Remember these tips when you step into the music store to start or add to your collection! Play on.