Bastard Guitars: How to Identify a Bad Guitar | Hub Guitar

Bastard Guitars: How to Identify a Bad Guitar

Milushkina Anastasiya/

The ideas contained herein are the personal opinion of the author and not meant to be construed as objective, verifiable fact.

What is a Bastard Guitar?

A bastard guitar is your first and worst guitar. It is any old piece of junk that you found laying around. Maybe you announced on Facebook, “I want to learn guitar!” and the helpful reply came: “I have a [bastard] guitar you can use!” You go to your friend’s house and the attic upstairs becomes a bastard guitar show room. She opens the case whose thin cardboard barrier was rejected for use in the cereal box printing factory. Out comes the bastard, with its thick layer of dust, rusted metal strings and warped neck. Paul McCartney would cross the street to avoid it. Steve Vai couldn’t play a power chord on it. Even Willie Nelson would rather kick it aside than step over it. But you are going to learn guitar, and become a master of the instrument someday.

Are you off to a good start yet?

The unfortunate truth is that more than half of the world’s guitar learners begin learning with a bastard guitar[1]. The bastard guitar is not an opportunity to learn. It is a test of your patience, mettle and resolve. The survivors move to the next round, where they get a real guitar.

Students often come to their first lesson with a bastard. Maybe it was already a bit expensive for them to take lessons. Some dreaded the thought of buying a new instrument. This puts the teacher in a delicate situation. Every student is better off getting a few solid guitar lessons and a decent, playable guitar. But one should not come at the expense of the other. And so sometimes teachers have to help their students work with their bastard. Other times the teacher is forced to say, “Look. This thing sucks. Go buy a new one. If that means you have to skip two months of lessons to afford it, fine.” Harsh as it may sound, we’re not doing any favors by letting the student suffer from the delusion that they can play beautiful music on their bastard guitar. We can’t play that thing, and you probably can’t either.

Is Salvation Possible?

If the answer to ANY of the following questions is “yes”, that would be a clue that salvation may not be possible.

  • Guitar case is made of thin black cardboard
  • Guitar strings rise high off of the neck
  • Guitar string tuners appear to be made from soda can tin
  • Guitar is made from some sort of particleboard (aka factory floor sweepings + glue)
  • There is any note on the guitar you can’t easily play
  • Guitar purchase price was $100 or less
  • You offer to sell it to an instrument shop and they laugh at you, refuse, or go in the back room and never re-emerge

If the Bastard Can Be Saved

Sometimes a decent guitar gets mistaken for a bastard. Especially to the untrained eye, it may not be easy to differentiate. But if it’s a decent instrument of good workmanship and material that has been in storage for a long time, it may just need some adjustment. In this case, the only way to find out is to take it to a guitar repair shop and ask for a setup. Here’s what to do.

  • All beginners (or other players who are unsure) should ask for the lowest possible action
  • Have a new set of strings put on
  • Check the neck and intonation
  • Check the electronics, if there are any

If the Bastard Can’t Be Saved

There’s a high chance that the bastard can’t be saved. But for heaven’s sakes, don’t go out and buy another bastard. If you want to have any chance of learning the guitar, you are going to need a real instrument. There’s no getting around it. An advanced player can not do much with a piece of junk, so why would a beginner want to curse themselves with one? Check out this Guide to Buying Your First Guitar for more information.


If you’re trying to learn to play on a bastard guitar, stop. As soon as you can, get a real instrument. You’ll be glad you did.

[1] Completely unsupported claim.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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