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Buying a Guitar for Beginners – Which One Is Right for You?

*Disclosure: I only recommend products and services I would use myself or recommend to my students, and all opinions expressed here are my own honest opinions. This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission when you buy something from a link on my page, at no extra cost to you. This helps support the continued operation of Beginner Guitar Online. Thanks!

So, you want to play the guitar? Great!

The first thing you’re going to need is… a guitar, of course!  But there are so many options. Which one is right for you?

Here are some things to consider when buying a guitar for beginners.

What type of music do I like?

Woman wearing headphones looking out a window

Who is your favorite artist or band? What style of music do they play? What kind of guitars do they play? Would you like to sound like them someday?

The three main categories of guitars are:

    • Electric — Used in rock, pop, country, blues, and jazz
    • Acoustic (steel string) — Used in acoustic rock, pop, blues, country, and bluegrass
    • Classical (nylon string) — Used in classical and flamenco music

This is a good starting point for deciding what type of guitar to buy.

Is this guitar playable?

Preteen boy playing acoustic guitar

This may sound obvious, but whether you are buying a new or used guitar, or your crazy uncle Fred  just gave you his old guitar that’s been sitting in his attic for 15 years, it is crucial to have a guitar that is playable!

Things that may affect playability for you are:

    • The size of the guitar (compared to your height, weight, and hand size)
    • The action of the guitar (how close the strings are to the neck and fretboard)
    • The type of strings the guitar uses
    • The overall condition of the guitar (if it is used)

Guitar Size

Acoustic guitars hanging on a wall in a music store

Guitars come in many shapes and sizes.

If you’re a parent shopping for a guitar for your child, consider this:

    • A full-size acoustic or classical guitar is likely to be way too big for them to hold, and the neck may be too wide or thick for their smaller fingers to reach all of the strings
    • A larger electric guitar is likely to be too heavy and cause back strain
    • You may need to get a 1/2 size or 3/4 size guitar

Even if you are an adult who:

    • Is shorter than average height
    • Has shorter arms or smaller hands
    • Has… ahem… a little bit of “extra body” around the midsection (like me!), a full-size guitar with a slightly smaller, thinner body style might be the best choice.

Action

Acoustic Guitar Action String Height at Neck
Classical guitar with high action

The action, or string height, needs to be just far enough above the fretboard that the strings don’t buzz against the frets when you strum them. The higher the strings are away from the fretboard, the harder they will be to press with your fingers.

I have seen cheaply made beginner guitars with the strings so far away from the fretboard that they were painful to play, and when you could press them down the notes were horribly out of tune (something called intonationwhich I’ll talk about in a later post).

Sometimes action is fixable, sometimes it isn’t (again, I’ll talk about that later), but it’s best to start out with the lowest action you can find on a guitar that is in your price range.

The type of strings on the guitar

Electric and acoustic guitars use metal strings, while classical guitars use nylon strings.

Some pros and cons of the different types of strings are:

Electric guitar strings

Electric

    • PRO: These strings are typically the thinnest (lightest) metal strings, making them super easy to press.
    • CON: The thinnest electric strings that are easiest to press are also easiest to accidentally bend out of tune while you are pressing them, which might sound bad and discourage you.

Acoustic guitar strings

Acoustic

    • PRO: Because these strings are thicker (heavier) than electric strings, they give a nice full sound and are harder to accidentally bend out of tune
    • CON: Being thicker means they are harder to press than electric strings. They will actually leave little grooves in your fingertips for the first few days, and if you practice regularly you will develop callouses on your fingertips. Not so great if you’re concerned about the appearance of your manicure, but great for keeping your fingertips from hurting!

Classical guitar strings

Classical

    • PRO: These strings are made of nylon, so they are softer on your fingertips. While you will probably still develop some callouses, they won’t be as thick.
    • CON: The classical guitar is a specialized instrument with specialized strings to get a softer, more mellow sound. If you’re wanting to play acoustic rock, pop, or country, you won’t be as happy with the sound quality when strumming the guitar.

The condition of the guitar

Broken classical guitar

If you’re planning to buy a used guitar, you’ll need to also look out for the following potential problems:

    • Warping, cracking, or splitting. Guitars are made of wood. When wood goes through a lot of changes in temperature and humidity, it can crack or warp.
      • Make sure the wooden body of the guitar isn’t cracked.
      • Make sure everything is still glued into place, especially the neck and the bridge. The strings of the guitar put tension on these things, and over time they can become unglued and start pulling apart.
      • Make sure the neck isn’t warped, bowed (slightly bent), or twisted. This will affect the action and intonation (tuning) of your guitar and frustrate you as you’re starting out.
      • If the strings are tarnished, or even rusty, it’s no big deal. You’ll need new strings anyway.

Fun Fact: When I was in college I had a lovely old Hofner guitar that I accidentally left in the trunk of my car overnight in the middle of winter. The next morning the clear coat finish on the wooden top was cracked down the middle. Sad day. Thankfully the wood didn’t crack, so it was just a cosmetic blemish, but still…

Once you find the right guitar for you, it will be important to protect it and keep it safe… but again, we’ll talk about that later.

All things considered…

Wow! Who knew there were so many variables in buying a guitar for beginners?

I know, I know, it’s a lot of information to take in, but don’t panic. If you have any questions at all, please reach out to me at kim@beginnerguitaronline.com and I will be happy to help you find the guitar that’s right for you!

And if you want to keep up with the latest beginner guitars that meet all of these qualifications without breaking the bank, be sure to subscribe to this site.

All the best,

Kim playing rock guitar on black and pink background circle

Kim

BeginnerGuitarOnline.com

*Disclosure: I only recommend products and services I would use myself or recommend to my students, and all opinions expressed here are my own honest opinions. This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission when you buy something from a link on my page, at no extra cost to you. This helps support the continued operation of Beginner Guitar Online. Thanks!

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