... Let's say I have a philosophical issue with the first sentence: "Generally, when it comes to buying a guitar there are three key factors to consider: how does it sound, how does it look and, perhaps most importantly, how much does it cost?"
If you have listened to my podcasts or are a student with whom I have gone to purchase a guitar, budget or otherwise, you'll know that, sure, sound is the first consideration. If it doesn't have the sound you're looking for, what's the point of even purchasing it? But the second very serious consideration is how does it fit? I feel like I'm alone in the desert on this one, but as guitarist and instructor who has accompanied more friends, friends of friends and students than I care to quantify, to return guitars they bought or were given, that are downright uncomfortable to unplayable, I have to hold firm on this one.
Of course you don't want an ugly guitar. Obviously, you can't buy a guitar you can't afford. But come to grips with that no matter how well-priced and pretty and gorgeous-sounding it is, if you can't hold onto it comfortably, you're not going to be able to play it well. You may be able to play around with it, but play it? Uh uh.
Kids, extremely muscular men and petite people (usually women, but some men, too) have the hardest time finding a guitar they like that fits them. With the major gift-giving time just around the corner (2 months and a bit until Hanukkah and 3 months and a bit until Christmas) please take what I'm saying under advisement:
If you are purchasing a guitar for anyone other than yourself, or an adult who has played the guitar they have asked you for, give your recipient a gift card or photo of the guitar or some other representation of it, until they can go guitar shopping with you. I realize that you may want to do your shopping online. In that case, still take them shopping to a guitar store, where the model of their desired guitar is available for the lucky one to play. In more than half the cases of kids or petite adults I know, the guitar they thought they wanted sounds great but they can't hold it comfortably.
Don't allow them to get locked into thinking they only want a particular body shape. Hey, dreadnoughts aren't for everyone. Neck profiles vary noticeably from maker to maker, as well as from model to model from the same maker. Their left hand needs to be able to grip properly. If that left hand has to support the neck while they play (because the counter weight of their right arm isn't sufficient, or because their right shoulder is up so high, when their right arm is over the guitar, it's not the guitar for them. Sometimes, that's hard to take. I've been with students who owned the guitar they were about to buy, in their mind for a long time. Try as they might to justify buying it when we were at the guitar shop, they could feel that the axe wasn't right for them.
Okay, the annual rant is out of my system. If you're buying online, verify that you have a reasonable return/exchange policy, and don't allow the recipient nor yourself to mark, scratch, bump, nick or otherwise compromise the cosmetic appearance of the guitar before you or they are sure they're going to keep it. If you're shopping online, use a reputable dealer, not an unknown....
It's critically important that you embrace my advice about getting or giving a guitar that fits. As I'm writing this, we are just weeks from both Hanukkah and Christmas, this year. I can't recall a holiday season in which students didn't received guitars - either as a surprise or because they wanted them - but since they weren't present for the purchase and the fit was simply impossible, the guitars had to go back to their point of origination and the process had to begin again. In my experience, It was a waste of time and energy. It also took some of the delight out of the gift. Yes, of course, it's the thought that counts, but can you imagine getting an adorable puppy as a gift, falling in love with it, and then having to take it back? That's something like the feeling of receiving a gift guitar that doesn't fit. If you're going to make someone's season bright, fit is way more important than the element of surprise.
~ D A Arlaus, "doing my part to spread the excellence, one guitarist at a time."