Guide Of What to Look For in a Beginner Guitar
Congratulations on your decision to start learning guitar.
I’ve been playing since I was eight years old and my Mother bought a classical guitar and started taking lessons. She quickly lost interest, and I took over her guitar. This was my beginner guitar.
Since then, I’ve been through good times, bad times, financial success, financial ruin, I’ve lived in many places and worked many different jobs.
Through it all, playing the guitar has helped me stay sane and grounded. Writing and playing music, playing favorite songs, and playing with others has nurtured my soul, and it can do the same for yours.
Finding a Beginner Guitar
So, let’s start the hunt.
Without a doubt, the easiest and quickest way to find a beginner guitar is to take $5000 to the nearest music store and throw yourself upon their mercy.
You’ll probably walk out with a guitar that looks and sounds wonderful, and is easy to play. There’s a good chance you’ll have enough left over to pay for a private instructor and have one on one lessons.
You also won’t need my help in your search for a beginner guitar.
For the rest of us, though, here is a helpful guide.
Guide of What to Look For in a Beginner Guitar
- Size: Make sure it feels comfortable
- Action: Check out how easy it is to hold the strings to the neck. Do this the entire length of the neck.
- New or Used: There are pros and cons for both.
- Tuning: Make sure it will tune properly and smoothly.
- Classical or Accoustic: This depends completely on your personal preference.
- Shape: Traditional or Cutaway and what is the difference.
- Manufacturer: At this point, does it really matter?
- Where to Look: Music stores, pawnshops, social media, private sellers and internet sales apps
Now, before we discuss this guide, let’s learn one critical rule in the search for any musical instrument.
You’ve gone your entire life without a guitar, and there’s tons of them out there. So, take your time, consider the things you’ll learn in this guide, and get something you really feel good about.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s parents bought him his first guitar. A toy, Masonite model from Sears with Wild West decals on it. It didn’t matter, because his desire to play was so huge. For us mere mortals, though, let’s start with a decent, inexpensive guitar.
This is very important.
When looking for a beginner guitar, you’ll find that guitars come in many different sizes.
You’ll hear terms like these:
* Grand Auditorium
These are simply names used to denote different guitar sizes. As far as a beginner guitar is concerned, these terms are meaningless.
Comfort is King.
For most chord fingering, (shapes), you must be able to position your left hand at pretty much a 90 degree angle to the neck of the guitar. So, obviously, the length of the neck is an important consideration.
Here’s the thing, though.
There are quite a few chords that require you to have two or three fingers all within the same fret. Because of this, you may have to compromise a bit.
If the neck is very short, which might be most comfortable for your arm to stretch, the space between the fret bars may be too compressed for you to easily fit more than one finger in.
Also, check out the size of the body. You need to be comfortable strumming your guitar.
You may not find your guitar at the first or second store you visit. So what? No rush, right? Check out another store
“Action” refers to the amount of pressure needed to achieve firm contact with the strings and the fretboard, or the neck.
Honestly, as your playing progresses, so will your appreciation of good action. We’ll talk a bit more about that in a minute.
If the strings are more than 1/8th inch above the fretboard, the action may well be too “high”, or “hard”. This means that you’ll have to press down very firmly in order to get a clear note.
Eric Clapton’s very first guitar was an accoustic Hoyer, made in Germany. It was so hard to play, he gave up on it. After quite a few months, the desire got to him and he tried that guitar once more, thank goodness. The rest is history.
On the other hand, if the action is too “low”, or “soft”, when you put the string to the fret, it’s so low that it vibrates on the other metal fret bars. And it sounds awful.
Here’s the thing….you just have to look around and compromise some. After all, you’re looking for a beginner guitar. You’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to upgrade as your skill progresses.
New or Used
Well, since you’re still reading this, the $5000 was not for you.
So, let’s talk about new and used guitars.
Unless we’re talking about collectibles, top-of-the-line, or custom-built guitars, a new guitar loses some value the moment it leaves the store.
Now, it’s a “used” guitar.
But, it still sounds and plays the same as it did in the store.
If you take care of that guitar, in ten years it will still sound just as good. The point is, if treated well, a guitar will hold its value. So, bear this in mind when looking for a beginner guitar, or any other guitar. If you’ve been nice to it, you should be able to sell it for reasonably close to the purchase price. We’ll talk some more about that later, also.
I think most folks will find satisfaction and a lower price with a used guitar, though you’ll certainly spend less time looking for a beginner guitar if you buy a new one from a music store. You’ll find great diversity in their offerings, and you’ll probably find something you like fairly quickly.
It’s fast and easy.
Just remember…once you walk that new guitar out the door, it’s a used guitar.
We’ll be quick with this one
Before you buy your guitar, you should check out how well the tuning pegs work.
It’s not uncommon for one or more of the pegs to “jump” in sound when being tuned a bit higher. Conversely, they will hold the same tuning, or sound, while being tuned down, and then “jump”. By “jump”, I mean a rapid increase or decrease in the tuning. This makes it difficult, or at least frustrating when trying to tune your guitar.
Try this. It only takes a minute or so.
One by one, loosen each string a bit and then bring it back into tune. Most businesses that sell guitars have a small, electronic tuner you can use to do this.
Hopefully, you’ll hear a smooth, gradual transition.
If not, it’s not the end of the world, but it may be a negotiating point.
Classical or Accoustic
When looking for a beginner guitar, the choice of classical or accoustic is totally up to you. Go to a music store, and check out a few of each.
Classical guitars have nylon strings, which produce a soft, mellow sound. They are also easy on your fingertips. It’s a bit more involved to change the strings, but in removing the old ones, you’ll see how to tie the new ones.
Accoustics have steel strings, which produces a bright, clear sound. They are also a little rough on your fingertips at first.
It’s also easy to find accoustic/electric guitars if you think you may want to make some noise.
Honestly, the best guitar will be the one whose sound appeals the most to you. There is no right or wrong.
This is supposed to be fun, right?
It’s no fun if you’re not happy with the sounds you’re producing.
Although you may see professional musicians playing guitars of many different sizes and shapes, in our search for a beginner guitar, we’re going to deal with the three most common shapes.
* Traditional – This is the shape of guitar you envision being played around a campfire.
* Cutaway – In a “cutaway” shape, the bottom curve where the body meets the neck is” cut away” a little bit so that you can play sounds further up the fretboard than possible with a traditional shape.
* Double Cutaway – This is the same idea as the cutaway shape, except the top curve where the body meets the neck is also cut away.
Classical guitars, for the most part, stick with traditional shaping.
Most cutaways and double cutaways are accoustic, and many are accoustic/electric.
As far as looking for a beginner guitar, the shape is not as important as the comfort of the instrument in your hands. If the guitar feels good when you’re holding it, the shape is fine.
When your skill level increases, and you find a playing “style”, you may find the extra neck access found with cutaway guitars to be beneficial.
You can always upgrade.
This is another category that really should not influence your search for a beginner guitar.
If you’ve followed all the other guidelines, the manufacturer is not that important. Here’s the thing…I’ve come upon guitars by companies regarded as top-of-the-line that just don’t pass muster. Some fail miserably. Maybe the team just had a bad day. It happens.
On the other hand, I have found guitars that check all the boxes exceptionally well, but I’ve never heard of the manufacturer. So what?
Sound rules, Baby!!
Don’t get hung up on a brand name.
Where do you look for a beginner guitar?
* Music store
* Apps such as “Offer-Up”, “Craigslist”,etc. These will be private sellers.
Sometimes, private sellers have simply bought a beginner guitar themselves, decided it was not for them, and just want to get rid of it. If you can find one of these folks, you’re in luck. Often, though, private sellers have their own agenda, and are fairly firm in their pricing.
Pawnshops generally only pay sellers about 10% of an items value, and then do a significant mark-up. Because of this, they are quite open to negotiation. They are often not musicians, so they can only offer minimal help, so it’s important to adhere to our guidelines.
They also sell fishing poles and laptops, if you change your mind.
A music store will provide the best selection. Also, the most expensive selection.
Unlike pawnbrokers, most music stores are staffed by musicians, and they value musical instruments more by sound and aesthetics than by simply book value.
They are also more discriminating when buying used guitars, so it’s often easier to find a decent, used guitar.
That said, I have always had great luck with pawnshops. If you go that route, remember rule #1…..no rush!!
There are plenty of pawnshops, music stores, and private sellers to check out.
All These Things For a Beginner Guitar?
Yes! All these things are critical, and it’s really not that many things.
The reason is simple, but of utmost importance.
Playing the guitar is supposed to be fun.
Sailing is supposed to be fun, too, but if your boat leaks and the sails are tattered, it’s hard to have fun.
Same thing with skiing. If your bindings don’t hold the skis properly, it’s no fun.
Trying to play a substandard guitar is no fun, either. It can be done, but how long are you going to keep trying to play something that’s just a drag to play? Probably not very long.
Remember, inexpensive doesn’t have to mean cheap.
Let’s Get Back To Action
Ever category in the guideline for what to look for in a beginner guitar is important, but we need to add a little weight to the “action” category.
Action can make or break your desire to play.
You see, when you begin to play guitar, you have nice, tender little fingertips. Now, after playing for a while, you’ll have grown some small callouses on these tender little tips.
This is a natural result of the pressure you must exert to hold the strings down. Initially, this will also cause some discomfort. The higher the action, the greater the pressure needed to hold the strings down. Therefore, the greater the discomfort to your poor little fingertips.
Don’t worry. This will pass.
You can take a guitar to almost any music store, and they will either have or have access to a “luthier”. A luthier can adjust most guitars to the “action” you desire. Beginners, however, should simply try to find a guitar that’s comfortable from the start.
On the bright side, if you don’t give up the first time your fingertips ache, it will soon be over, and then the guitar gets a lot more fun to learn.
So, the action is critical.
Do not buy a beginner guitar that has lousy action. You will regret it…..and you just may quit.
New or Used and Re-sale
When looking for a beginner guitar, don’t worry too much about the re-sale value. As we mentioned earlier, if a guitar is treated well, it will hold its value well.
If I had between $100 and $200, I could leave my house and return in a few hours with a quite decent beginner guitar.
There are a lot of guitars out there.
You’ll get a better re-sale value from a music store or a private buyer. Pawnshops will give you 10%, even if you bought the guitar from them yesterday. That’s just how they make money. But, they’ll give you that 10% all day, every day. Other avenues may take some more time.
But, let’s think positively.
Forget about re-sale!
Think of the fun you’re going to have learning some of your favorite songs. Once you have a few songs you enjoy playing, you will be motivated to keep learning and playing more and more.
You have probably noticed that electric guitars have been absent from this discussion of beginner guitars.
When learning to play, you may have to squeeze a learning session in between some of life’s other demands. There may also be sound restrictions.
An electric guitar means cords, amplifiers, and access to electricity. There are battery-powered amplifiers, but the ones that deliver decent sound are pricey.
Let’s keep it simple for now.
Learning to play the guitar is fun, but it’s not a walk in the park.
So, why not learn to play a bit first, before complicating your musical life with all the baggage that an electric guitar requires?
Not only that, it is easy to twist knobs and push buttons on electric guitars and amplifiers. In other words, you can make substandard performance sound good. This gives instant gratification, but does not increase your playing skills.
Learn how to play first. Then, you can use those same buttons and knobs to augment your sound rather than to mask it.
So, use these guidelines for what to look for in a beginner guitar, go get one, and let’s start your wondrous musical journey.