The one question that has perplexed would-be guitarists for centuries is: "Which sweet guitar should I buy at Guitar Center" The answer isn't a simple one and requires a bit more information about your current state. The following guide will help all levels of guitarist to walk away feeling better informed. There are basically three categories everyone falls into:
If you've never touched a guitar before, it will be tough to discern between all the brands and models. Just grab something off the wall that catches your eye. Hold it and see how it feels. Are you a giant with huge hands or a dwarf? Pick something that suits your size and feels comfortable. After all, you'll be holding it for years and getting real comfortable with the weight and contour of the body.
At this point, you have a general idea of the guitar and what you've played in the past. Maybe it was a huge jumbo guitar, a standard dreadnaught or the smaller parlour sized model. You know some chords and want to sit down and strum for a while. As you play each one, subtle differences will be noticed in the action and sound. You will simply prefer one of the other and ot takes time to find this out. Nobody can tell you what you like, you simply have to find it.
The seasoned guitarist already knows what they like. They can tell the difference between their current guitar and a different one. They may be a picker, strummer or soloist - maybe all three. They know that a brand new guitar requires years to 'break in' and mature in tone. These people can tell how the action feels different due to string tension and height.
Walk into a Guitar Center and you'll be met with rows upon rows of flashy looking instruments. You may have your sites set on a certain model but keep an open mind and most importantly, open ears. The only factors to look for are sound and action. Action is the tightness and height of the strings. Some guitars are easier to fret so spend some time playing several models to get a feel for it. When a new guitar comes off the assembly line, it's generally stiff and requires playing to 'open it up' - this can take years. Taylor acoustic guitars and higher end boutique models tend to sound great new, but for the most part a ten year old guitar will have developed a character and tone that players desire. The good news is that a cheap used guitar can sometimes sound better than a new one but the drawback is that the older it is, the more likely there will be some work that needs to be done. This could be re-fretting, new bridge, saddle, tuners, etc. The Yamaha FG series from the 1980's has a great reputation for collectors and players due to the high quality wood they used. Some of these can sound phenomenal with great action. The key is to get your hands on as many guitars as possible to really know what you like. Used instruments can be found in some strange places - garage sales and pawn shops as well as guitar shows are a good place to start. Craigslist is another amazing resource for trying all kinds of used guitars for the right price.
You have two guitars, exact same model but one is 15 years old and the other is brand new. Not a huge difference with an electric, but if both are acoustic, the used one will have the edge. Wood ages over time and becomes lighter - It also gets used to the sound of the strings hitting it for years. This absolutely affects the sound and it's no surprise that vintage models are so sought after. If it is too old, say 30+ years, then structural problems can come into play, requiring a luthier to repair it. The bottom line is that a good old guitar can be upgraded as well - changing the saddle from plastic to bone is a common way to improve the sound of an acoustic. Some choose to get a brand new acoustic anyway, as they enjoy the task of playing it over the years and hearing it change. Let your ears and hands be your guide!