Choosing a Guitar – what is best for beginners?
You’ve decided to learn the guitar, that’s great! And, you’ve decided to go out and BUY a guitar, fantastic! But what’s the best guitar for beginners to buy? Please don’t purchase a guitar before doing a little research and preparation. I learned the hard way that going by looks or “my favorite guitarist (insert name here) plays this style so that’s the only one I will buy” should not be the deciding factor.
While those gut reactions may play a part in your decision, there are many, Many, MANY other determinants to ponder. But since we’re focusing ‘what is the best guitar for beginners‘ let’s skim the list down to 4 key factors.
1. Age of the player
Age is a good place to start because you want to get a guitar that fits the needs and desires of the player.
- Starting off with an inexpensive, but acceptably made guitar makes more sense than a really expensive one that collects dust. Although there are some amazingly focused and talented children learning to play guitar, not all children stick with it. Kids have a lot of competing priorities, for that matter so do adults. So don’t go too expensive until you are reasonably sure this is something the perspective player really wants to do.
- Size is also a concern. We will go more in-depth in the next section, ‘Size, Weight and Ergonomics’ but suffice it to say you don’t want to buy a guitar that is too small or large. This can quickly become frustrating and even painful. It could also lead to the player picking up bad playing habits.
Let’s dig a little deeper…
2. Size, Weight, and Ergonomics – it matters
Why are size and weight so important? Ergonomics. Ego-say-what?
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines ergonomics as: ‘an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely‘.
An ill-fitted guitar just sets you up for failure. If it’s too heavy, you won’t want to practice long. Too wide, can’t get your arms around it. What if it’s too long, can’t reach all the frets. You get it – you want to be comfortable which will make learning more enjoyable. The right size can also keep you from developing soreness and putting stress and strain on your neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.
Guitars come in many shapes and sizes so here are a few guidelines to consider:
Quarter size, ¼ scale:
- About 30 inches (77 cm) in length
- For a player about 3 1/2 feet (107 cm) tall
- This is probably the best guitar size for children who are beginners.
Half size, 1/2 scale:
- About 31 – 35 inches (78 – 89 cm) in length
- For a player 3 1/2 to 4′ 3″ (107 – 129.5 cm) tall
Three quarter, 3/4:
- Most are about 3 feet (91.44 cm) long
- For a player 4 ½ feet (137 cm) tall.
- 40 inches (102 cm) long or more
- For a player 4 ½ feet (137 cm) tall and up.
The player should be able to sit up straight and comfortably (not an oxymoron) with both feet flat on the ground. At the same time, their arms should be able to reach over the body and fingers around the neck so that each fret can be reached with reasonable comfort. If you are able to do this then this is a good place to start.
3. Guitar Type or Style
Acoustic? Electric? Acoustic-electric combo? Which type is best for the newbie? Consider this:
Meaning: the sound (and hopefully music) comes from within the guitar. The vibration of the strings works with the body and soundhole so that you can hear what you are playing.
Advantages: No need for amp or cables so you can take it and play it just about anywhere. Acoustics are generally lighter in weight due to the hollow body – but they can still produce amazing sound.
Remember: The strings are heavier or thicker. It will take your fingertips a little while to acclimate to the feel of pressing the strings to the fingerboard. And, if you are playing with other guitars or instruments it may be harder to hear your playing.
Meaning: an acoustic guitar with a pickup (we will talk about that later) which allows the sound to be transferred to an amp for greater volume.
Advantages: The same advantages as an acoustic but can be plugged into an amp for better sound projection.
Remember: If you decide to plug into an amp well … um, you will need to get one. And you will also need a good quality cable to connect the guitar to the amp.
Meaning: you pretty much need an amp with these. The sound is produced by the vibration of the strings over pickups. The signals are then directed to an amp so you can hear the sound.
Advantages: The strings are lighter, or thinner than acoustic strings so it’s easier on the fingers. The sounds that can come from the marriage of guitar, amp, and pedals are almost endless.
Remember: If you decide to use and amp .. well, you’ll need to get one. And you will also need a good quality cable to connect the guitar to the amp.
A guitar is nothing more than a dust collector without strings. Although I guess you could use a stringless guitar for percussion but seriously if that’s your focus you probably haven’t even read this far. So, let’s talk a little about guitar strings.
You need at least 6 of them … although I’ve seen some guitarists remove a few strings for certain styles and songs. There are also 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12 stringed guitars – but I wouldn’t recommend any for beginners.
Having the right strings and the right gauge (thickness) not only impacts the sound, but for beginners may impact how well, how often, and how long you play.
‘String’ is really a misnomer. Most are made of metal alloy; others are made of nylon. You can find a string for every style of music, guitar type, and player level. Here are some thoughts:
If you play acoustic, we’re going to recommend a light or even super-light gauge (thickness) to start with. This gauge will allow your fingertips to acclimate to pressing the strings to the fretboard. Heads up, you are likely to experience some discomfort in your fingertips when you first start to play because the tips of your fingers are not used to the pressure you need to make the right sounds come from a guitar. That’s why we recommend a super-light or light gauge metal string to start with.
Another option is nylon strings which are usually easier on the fingers. These have the ability to produce absolutely beautiful sounds. But there are a few drawbacks.
- Your guitar needs to be set up for nylon strings. You normally cannot just add nylons strings to a guitar meant for metal.
- Nylon strings are known to go out of tune pretty quickly when new. And depending on the quality of the nylon they don’t tend to stay in tune until about the time they’ve lost their ‘pop’ and are ready to be replaced. But as a beginner, you may not even notice that.
Electric guitar strings are commonly thinner than acoustic strings. Still, these metal strings come in different gauges as well. We recommend ‘nines’, meaning .009 – .042 gauge, for novices because they are thinner and will be easier to play because the tension on the strings is less. (We will talk about tension later). Truth be told, many players stick with ‘nines’ even as they progress because of the playability.
So when choosing a guitar, ‘what’s the best guitar for beginners?’ It really depends on you. But the age of the player, the size for ergonomics, the type of guitar, and strings should all play a pivotal part in your decision-making process. Now go get yourself a guitar!!!
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Also, be sure to check out my blog What is the best ‘Acoustic’ guitar for beginners?
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