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The Best Guitar For Beginners

What is the best guitar for beginners? There are plenty of options to choose from, but here is my best advice for buying your first guitar.

Electric Guitar or Acoustic Guitar?

I am often asked by new guitar students if their first guitar should be an acoustic or an electric. I usually recommend an acoustic for three important reasons:

  • First, an acoustic guitar is a great solo instrument. If you’re just learning how to play, you’re probably not in a band, which is where an electric guitar would make the most sense. An acoustic guitar is perfect for your practice room, back deck, coffee house, campfire–anywhere you want to play.

  • Second, an acoustic guitar requires less gear. In fact, the only thing you need to play an acoustic guitar is the guitar itself. Pick it up and you’re ready to go. If you’re going to play the electric guitar, however, you need to buy amplifiers, cables and pedals in order to get the full experience. If you’re just starting out, simpler is better.

  • Third, learning on an acoustic guitar allows for an easier transition to electric guitar later on. If you go the other way–beginning with the electric guitar and later switching to an acoustic–it is often more difficult. I’ve had students who started on electric guitar, and then get discouraged when they go to pick up the acoustic. Acoustic strings are typically heavier, and the action (the distance between the strings and the frets) of an acoustic is usually a little higher. This means you have to push down harder on the strings to play notes and chords. If instead they had started on the acoustic, their transition to electric guitar would have been a breeze.

What else should I consider when getting a new guitar?

Help! My acoustic guitar hurts my fingers! Here is what you should do.

Beginners (younger students especially) might prefer nylon strings over steel strings. Many students start out with steel strings and do perfectly fine with it, but if you’re wanting a softer start, there’s no rule saying you can’t switch to nylon. Nylon is typically easier on your fingertips. There is a catch: the potential downside to nylon strings is that they give a mellow sound to your music. That works for some songs, but if you want to play songs that aren’t classical or folky, nylon strings won’t get you there. On the other hand, steel strings are more versatile and can accommodate a number of different styles and genres.

As for quality and expense, you first need to decide your readiness level. Do you want to try out the guitar for a while? Are you (or your kids) committed to playing for the long haul? Answering these questions will help you make a wise, cost-effective decision.

If you are just getting acquainted with the guitar and aren’t sure it will become a lifelong companion, you might want to try renting a guitar. While not every town has a store that rents guitars, if you find one that does, you can often rent it for cheap. One store in our home city of Lexington rents guitars for $8/month–a great deal if you’re not sure you want to invest a couple hundred dollars in a guitar just yet.

But if you know you want to take the plunge and buy a nicer guitar, many of my younger beginning students buy Luna guitars. Luna makes several ¾ scale guitars as well as acoustic/electric combo guitars. They’re cheap, lightweight, and perfect for traveling. Of course, little of that matters if your guitar sounds poor. Thankfully, Luna guitars have great sound for their size, and I’ve been impressed with what comes out of such an economically priced instrument.

As for other brands, Fender, Yamaha, Seagull, and Takamine make great entry-level guitars for beginning students. If you buy a guitar from one of those companies, you can be confident you’ll have a nice sound once you develop your playing abilities. Unless you are super strapped for cash, I’d stay away from First Act guitars and its off-brand equivalents. While they are extremely cheap, they aren’t inspiring to hear or play, and they also frequently go out of tune.

As for the higher end of the spectrum, you can spend hundreds, even thousands, on premium guitars. Taylor, Martin and other well-known companies make superior instruments. The problem for the beginning guitarist is that you won’t be able to get out of the instrument what you’ve paid into it until you have honed your skills. That takes time. It might be discouraging to fumble around on a guitar that cost you $1,200. You can purchase a solid, good-sounding guitar for $150-$300 that will serve you well until your skills and budget are ready for an upgrade!