The Ultimate Guide to Testing a Guitar in the Store

If you’re looking to purchase a new guitar, then you’re probably wondering what the best way to test it out is. Guitars are expensive so you need to make sure you choose the right one. And there’s no better way to do that than in a guitar store. So here’s the ultimate guide to testing a guitar in the shop!

7 tips for testing a guitar in a store 

  • Do your research beforehand
  • Learn the controls
  • Use your amp
  • Sit down and stand up
  • Think about what you’re play 
  • Check for flaws
  • Go when it’s quiet 

Do your Research Beforehand

In my opinion, it’s not the best idea to just rock up without having any idea what you actually want. Yes, most of the staff in guitar stores are very knowledgeable and helpful, but you have to give them something to go on. 

Doing your research beforehand is the best way to get the most out of your experience. You don’t need to know exactly what make, model and specs you want before you head to the store. But it’s good to narrow it down a bit if you can.

Think about what kind of music you want to play and then go from there if you’re really stuck about where to start. There are several different variables when it comes to electric guitars like: the body shape, tonewoods, pickups, bridge type, neck shape, neck construction and fretboard. 

If you can start considering these variables and which you prefer, then it’ll give you more direction when you go into the store. 

Learn the Controls

If you already know what guitar you want to test, then you should have a look at the controls and try and familiarise yourself with them. If you don’t know what guitar you’re testing, then ask the sales assistant in the store to explain any controls that you’re not familiar with.

It’s really important to go through all the different controls on the guitar when you test it, so you know the different tones it produces. Here are some of the most important controls you should go through.

  • Volume pots: see what the guitar sounds like when you roll the volume back. Does it affect the tone? How does it sound at low volumes?
  • Tone pots: see how versatile the tone is when you roll the tone pots back. Does it sound dull or warm? Or is it too bright and sharp?
  • Pickup selector: go through each pickup selection and see how it sounds with both chords and riffs. 
  • Coil tap: not every guitar has this, but some humbuckers can be split to sound like a single coil. Take a look at this post on coil splitting if you want to learn more. 

Use your Amp

This is another really important tip. When trying a new guitar, it’s really important to use your own amplifier. Guitars sound completely when you play them through different amps. 

One of the worst things that can happen is that you buy a guitar you loved in the store, and then you take it home and it sounds completely different through your own amplifier. 

Check ahead of time if they have your amp in the store that you can use. But if not, then take your amp to the store and see if they’ll let you set up with it. It’s the best way to make sure you choose the guitar that gives you the perfect tone to suit your rig. 

Think About What to Play

This one is really crucial. It can be hard when you’re in the store to think of what to play, especially if you feel a bit nervous and are not used to playing in front of other people.

If you’re a complete beginner and have never touched a guitar before, then don’t worry about this too much. But if you’re purchase your second guitar, then you’ll probably already have an idea of what kind of music you want to play.

Think about trying around 5 different songs or riffs that are quite varied so you can properly test what the guitar sounds like and how it feels to play. It’s a good idea to write them down on a piece of paper or type them up on your phone so you don’t forget them when you’re put on the spot in the store.

The Worst Songs to Play

Now I’m not saying you absolutely shouldn’t play these songs, but expect a few eye rolls if you start playing them in a guitar store!

  • Smoke on the Water
  • Stairway to Heaven
  • Enter Sandman
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit
  • Wonderwall
  • Sweet Child O’Mine
  • Back in Black
  • Crazy Train
  • Walk This Way
  • Master of Puppets

Sit Down and Stand Up

You also need to make sure you fully test out the guitar by playing stood up and sat down. 

A lot of guitarists, including myself, practice at home sat down. You need to make sure that it’s comfortable to sit with the guitar resting on your knee. It’s also really important to see how the guitar feels when you’re stood up too. Make sure it’s not too heavy and is comfortable to play.

Check for Flaws

This is most important when you’re purchasing a second-hand guitar, but it’s also really important when you’re buying a new guitar too. 

I remember when I bought my second electric guitar, a knock-off Les Paul that was second hand and cost around $100. I was really pleased with it, until I noticed the dreaded fret buzz. At first I thought it was the way I was playing, but then I realised that it was the guitar itself. 

To avoid this, make sure you test every fret individually. It sounds like a lot, but it’ll only take a few minutes and it’s well worth it!

Check the intonation as well. Simply play a 12th fret harmonic, and then the 12th fret note. They should be the same pitch if the intonation is correct. 

Make sure you check for any visual flaws on the body, fretboard, neck and headstock too. 

Try and Go When It's Quiet

This is a less important tip, but if you can go to the guitar shop during an off-peak time, then you should definitely do it. 

When the store is less busy, the sales assistants will have a lot more time to help you, and you’ll be able to spend longer with the guitar without feeling any pressure. It’s also great if you’re not used to playing in front of other people as there will be less people listening to you play!

So try and avoid weekends if you can do!

Do's and Don'ts

To round this article off, here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when you go and test a guitar in the store. 


  • Research what you want and don’t want in a guitar before going to the store.
  • Test the guitar using your amp model.
  • Make sure you test the guitar sitting and standing.
  • Check the intonation and for any fret buzz.
  • Play a range of chords and riffs. 
  • Take your time and properly go through the controls. 
  • Ask plenty of questions. 


  • Play something cliched.
  • Keep playing the same riff.
  • Crank the volume up too loud.
  • Try expensive guitars just for the sake of it.
  • Try and show off your knowledge to the sales assistants.
  • Reach for a guitar without asking to try it.
  • Wear zips or buttons as it can scratch the guitar.
  • Ask to try every guitar in the store.

Guitar Center are always the first place I look at when I’m interested in a new electric guitar because have a huge range of models for sale and always have some excellent deals on. Here’s a link to take you directly to Guitar Center’s electric guitar range so you can see all the offers available at the moment. 

So there you go! That’s a guide to testing a guitar in a store! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:


Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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