As guitar teachers who specialise in teaching beginners and young children, we often get asked for advice on buying a good starter guitar.
As I write this, it is not possible to physically go to a music shop, so I have put together some updated advice to help you find a suitable guitar online for you or your child.
1. Stay Local
Firstly, the most important thing I normally suggest is to go to a reputable music shop and try out a few for size. As with people, guitars come in all shapes and sizes and it’s virtually impossible to recommend a “one size fits all” option, regardless of your/your child’s age or level. What may be good for one adult or child may not be suitable for another. All kinds of variables come into play, such as your age and height as well as personal preferences like the kind of music you or your child would ultimately like to be able to play.
While you can get many cheap and cheerful options online from the usual suspects – and I know it may be tempting to go down this route – we’ve found that this can often be a false economy as many of these guitars are shoddily made and can arrive badly set up, impossible to tune and even, in some cases, broken! We’ve seen this many times before and it has resulted in students/parents then spending more money on either a new guitar or getting their existing one fixed/set up.
At the moment of course, it is not possible to visit a shop in person. However, local music shops do have online shops so I would recommend going through them, rather than a generic online retailer. The guitar will most likely be posted to you from the UK and is more likely to have been tuned/set up prior to you receiving it. What’s more, if there are any problems with the instrument, or if you have any questions, the retailer will be just a phone call away and you will be more likely to get any issues fixed quickly.
So, please contact a local (or at least based in the UK) music shop and discuss your needs with the trained staff there. If you explain that you are a beginner, they shouldn’t try and sell you something ridiculously expensive but will ensure that you get a good quality instrument that is set up correctly, tuned and, in some cases, may even throw in a case, tuner and some plectrums.
UK-wide retailer Andertons are also a good bet – you just need to request a tune and set up at the time of purchase and they will do it free of charge.
2. Choose The Right Kind of Guitar For You
There are three types of guitars to choose from – Classical, Acoustic & Electric – and it can be confusing to know which one to go for.
While there is a school of thought that says you should start on a classical or acoustic guitar before “graduating” onto electric, we believe that you should start on whatever instrument is going to get you excited and motivated to pick up your guitar and practice! The basics are the same regardless but we encourage you to think about the kind of music you would ultimately like to be able to play on your guitar.
Here is a short guide to each type:
Nylon string classical guitar – this is normally the first type of guitar kids learn on (unless they have specifically requested otherwise). This is because they are reasonably affordable and the nylon strings are softer on children’s fingertips. If you are the parent of young child, they are great starter guitars (although your child will probably want to move onto an acoustic or electric guitar within a few years) but for adults, unless you want to become a serious classical guitar player, I would recommend buying either an acoustic or electric guitar.
Steel string acoustic guitar – whether you’re into pop, rock, folk or jazz, acoustic guitars have a louder, brighter sound and are generally more versatile. They are harder on the fingertips though but this will help you develop callouses, which you will need to do anyway if you want to become a serious guitar player. If you’re into laid-back singer-songwriter type stuff and would like to accompany yourself or a friend, you’re probably going to want one of these.
Electric guitar – If you’re into rock, blues or metal and have ambitions to form a band one day, you’re going to be better off starting on an electric. The lower string action actually makes them easier to learn on than an acoustic, although the smaller neck means that you will need a greater degree of accuracy to stop your strings from muting. Plus they look really cool!
3. Choose The Right Size For You
Generally speaking, adults and children over about 11 or 12 should get a full-size guitar, children between the ages of about 7 and 11 should learn on a 3/4 size while younger kids (4-6) should go for a half size guitar or even a guitalele, which, as the name suggests, is a cross between a guitar & ukulele.
For adults learning on acoustic guitars, the size and shape of guitars’ bodies can vary greatly. The biggest of the lot is the dreadnought, which can be a bit bulky for some. If you have a smaller frame, you might want to go for a triple-O or parlour guitar, which both have a smaller body or even a 3/4 size “travel” guitar (I have one of these and I love it!).
4. Our Recommendations
Kids – we recommend Valencia classical guitars, which many of our younger students use. You can get them in both half and 3/4 size. If your child has expressed an interest in learning an electric guitar, we suggest getting a 3/4 size guitar starter kit, which are very reasonably priced and usually include a small amplifier, case, cables, tuner and picks – everything your child will need to get started!
Acoustic – there are many decent acoustic guitar makes out there but we have found, consistently, that Yamaha are of a high standard and very good value for money.
Electric – go for a starter pack, which are very good value for money and generally include everything you’ll need. Both the big names – Gibson and Fender – do high quality, affordable options and they look really cool too!
I understand that there is a lot of info here and it can be confusing, so if need any further advice, please don’t hesitate to give us a call 🙂