Is There Really a Best Beginner Guitar?
Acoustic vs Electric Guitar – Does it Matter?
Some will simply tell you the best guitar for beginners to learn on is an acoustic guitar. Others will suggest you learn to play on an electric guitar. Based upon my own experience, I’d have to say the best guitar for beginners will vary depending on the individual student’s goals. Let me explain…
While the fretboard notes and chords are the same on both an acoustic and electric guitar (and, yes, you certainly can learn guitar using either type), you’d do well to decide upfront whether you’ll learn on an acoustic or electric and stick with that one guitar until you’ve at least learned your first song. Why do I say this? Because you will progress much faster as you begin learning and playing the songs you want to play! And that’s key because it makes all the difference in the world! Learning guitar is all about practice and the motivation to practice comes much easier when you are practicing a song you want to learn.
When you’re just starting out…struggling to cleanly fret chords, enduring sore fingers and all, you need to be playing the songs you want to play as soon as possible. Some who try to learn to play guitar using the “old school” methods which start you out learning nursery rhymes can feel they’re so far from playing what they want to play, they quit before they ever really give themselves a chance. Had their lessons been vehicles aimed at getting them playing songs they liked, they’d have kept at it. It’s an unfortunate travesty, but it does happen quite often to budding guitarists around the world. Don’t let it be you. Make sure whatever guitar training program you choose has a path to get you playing your favorite songs as soon as possible!
And the truth is, some songs just don’t lend themselves that well to being played on both acoustic and electric guitars. I mean, sure, it can be done as you build up your chops, but would you really want to? For example, I’d much rather play a hard rock song on my solid-body electric guitar than my acoustic. The electric guitar naturally lends itself to string bending, adding pedal effects, and is easier to play higher up the neck. So, the choice of your beginner guitar should largely be determined by the style of songs you want to play.
So, What’s the Best Beginner Guitar For You?
Here’s a little guide I’ve put together that I hope will help you in your selecting your first axe. Again, these are just my personal suggestions on aspects you should consider when choosing your first guitar. Others may disagree with my thoughts here and they’re entitled to their opinion just as I’m entitled to mine. 🙂 And, of course, if you can afford to buy more than one type of guitar right out of the gate, that’s great, but I’d still recommend sticking with learning on just one single guitar until you’ve got a pretty good grasp on your first beginner guitar song. Switching between instruments at this early stage of your training may hinder your progress more than help it. Keep things simple and you will get further faster!
Tips for Selecting a Beginner Acoustic Guitar
If you’re desire is to play Folk, Country, or Light Rock, you’ll probably want to focus on acoustic guitar lessons for beginner and so you should strongly consider starting off with an acoustic guitar, with light or extra-light strings, and with low action. When I was just starting out, I bought a short-scale “cowboy guitar” (the same model in the pic on this page) and used Martin Extra-Light strings. It made things much easier on my fingers!
Before going further, let me define terms and give some important tips:
- A “short-scale” guitar has a slightly shorter neck than a “standard-scale” guitar. The advantage to the short-scale is that you won’t have to stretch your fingers quite as far across the frets while learning which can help on some of the tougher chords, especially if you’re hands are on the smaller side. There are short-scale versions available of both acoustic and electric guitars. These also are a bit smaller in size so if you are a small-statured person, you may want to consider this advantage as well. I personally don’t enjoy playing the large dreadnaught acoustics – they are uncomfortable for me to play! While short-scale necks are more commonly found on acoustic guitars, there are some short-scale electric guitars out there as well such as the Fender Mustang and Durango Guitar Works.
- “Light” strings are thinner (.09 – .10 gauge) and this makes them easier to fret than “Medium” or “Heavy” gauge strings. That is, they don’t require as much pressure for your fingers to properly fret the notes. Generally, the heavier the strings, the better the tone. Lightweight strings may sound a little brighter and not quite as nice as heavier strings, but when just beginning to learn guitar, they are perfectly adequate.
- “Low Action” means a shorter distance between the strings and the fretboard. This makes for easier fretting. If you can only get one feature in this list on your beginner guitar, this should be it!
- “Fast Neck” is a term oft used to describe a guitar neck that is shaped and contoured for easier playability. This often means a “thinner” neck which can go a long way to helping your fingers stretch across more frets. Whereas vintage guitars usually had larger, rounded necks, modern guitars are where you’ll find the “fast necks”, but some brands focus on this aspect more than others. Ibanez, for example, is known for their fast necks, especially in some particular models, making them a good choice as a beginner guitar.
- You’ll do well to ensure your first guitar (whether acoustic or electric) has at least two of the above features. If it has more than 2 of them, you’ll have the best guitar for beginners as far as your “setup” goes! Believe me, your fingers and hands will thank you! I know people who gave up learning guitar all because their guitar didn’t have any of these features!
You can often save money by buying an “acoustic beginner pack” that includes an acoustic guitar, soft-padded case (“gig bag”), guitar strap, picks, and usually a CD or DVD to help get you going with your new guitar. Check out the deals on acoustic guitar beginner packs in our guitar store.
How to Choose a Beginner Electric Guitar
If you want to play harder Rock, Metal, Funk, R&B, or anything with a significant amount of lead playing or requiring distortion, you’ll want to choose a “solid-body” as your beginner guitar (for reference, the guitar I’m holding in the pic on the guitar lessons for beginners page is the solid-body type). As far as the make/model of your first electric guitar, it’s more a matter of personal preference. You don’t have to invest a lot in your gear to get a good sound. While I’d avoid the cheapest electric guitars on the market, you don’t need to spend $500+ to get the best electric guitar either. You can get new ones in the $300-$400 range that will more than suffice. My own solid-body guitar is an Epiphone G400 (Epiphone is Gibson’s “lower-end” brand) and I’m quite happy with it. Fender also has their own lower-end brand called “Squire” and these make for excellent beginner guitars as well. You can often save money by buying a “pack” that includes a guitar, amp, and beginner accessories. Find great deals on an “electric guitar beginner pack” in our guitar store. Now, of course, not everyone has the money to do that. So if all you can afford is that $35 guitar at the yard sale or flea market, give it a go if it’s playable! Better to have a “less-than-ideal” guitar to start learning with than never start learning at all or put it off to “someday”. You can always upgrade later!
If you have deep-pockets and want to invest in a higher-end model like a true Gibson SG, Les Paul, or American Fender Stratocaster, that’s fine, but it’s really overkill at this point in your guitar journey in my opinion. If you really want a Strat, consider the “Mexican Standard Stratocaster” which sells for a good bit less than the “American Strat”. One of my friends owns a Mexican Strat and to see and hear him play it, nobody would ever know it’s not an “American” Strat unless he told you or let you see the little “Made in Mexico” branded into the back of the headstock. Also, a note about the Les Paul models…my Dad owned one and while I should have loved to play on it, I didn’t. Why? The Les Paul was a lot heavier which made it not nearly as much fun, especially when doing standup practice for an hour or more! [There’s now a Les Paul “Lite” which addresses this issue. I’ve not yet played one, but it should make this a moot point.]
About Hollow-Body Electric Guitars
If you want to play a mix of acoustic material with the flexibility to also play some lighter Rock, you might consider a “hollow-body” or “semi-hollow body” electric. These are almost like an electrified acoustic. I have one that I often use to play a wide variety of songs, but when it comes to the harder stuff, I break out the solid-body electric. Some genres specifically call for a specific guitar. For example, if you want to learn to play Rockabilly, you’ll invariably find Rockabilly artists playing on a guitar of this type, especially one with a tremolo arm or “whammy bar“. As far as pricing, here again, you needn’t spend more than around $350-$450 for a decent instrument any beginner would be happy with. And, if you wait for a sale, you can even catch them under $300.
A Bit About Classical Guitars
Another genre calling for a specific type of guitar is that of Classical Guitar (also called “Spanish Guitar”). So, if your goal is to learn Classical Guitar, you should get a guitar designed specifically for it. Classical guitars are nylon-stringed acoustic guitars. To learn more about classical guitars, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_guitar.
A Note About Buying Your Beginner Guitar Used
You can find good deals on used guitars online at sites like Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, and various guitar dealers, but be advised: used guitars may have problems that you, as a budding guitarist, may be unaware of. And, being used, it will typically not have any kind of warranty.
If you are considering buying a used guitar, my suggestion is to look for one locally and have someone knowledgeable about guitars (a friend or relative if possible) go with you to look at it in person to inspect it and play it a bit. At least then you know it plays well and doesn’t have any obvious mechanical defects that would hinder your playing. While new guitars usually cost more, the avoidance of potential problems as you embark on your guitar journey may well be worth it!
Some Final Pointers…
If you’ve made it down this far on the page, congrats! I can see you are really serious about learning guitar! I want to give you some extra pointers while we’re at it. As you can tell, my thoughts as to the best guitar for beginners is that it’s one that suits your personal goals. While I’ve covered the main aspects I think are most important in that regard, there are other nuances you may wish to consider when choosing your first guitar such as:
- tremolo arm (whammy bar) vs no tremolo
- rosewood vs maple fingerboard
- single-coil vs humbucker pickups
- bolt-on vs glued-in set necks
- type of wood
- fingerboard radius
Here’s an excellent video that explains some of these finer differences you’ll encounter and want to know more about as you search for your first guitar…
You can find great deals on a wide range of beginner guitars for sale in our Guitar Store as well as at Musician’s Friend. Once you’ve got your new guitar and are ready to start practicing, visit my page on the best online guitar lessons for beginners!
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