In our first lesson we gave you some basic advice before you embark on your guitar journey.
There’s just one more thing that you need to do before you start—get a guitar!
So in this article, we’ll explain how to choose your first guitar.
Your first guitar is an important choice. You’re going to spend a lot of time with your new instrument. How much you enjoy playing it will greatly impact your learning experience.
Types of guitar
There are several different types of guitar. Each has a different feel and sound. They are also associated with different styles.
The best guitar for you depends on the style of music you like, what you find most comfortable and your budget.
It’s worth checking out the different guitar sizes that are available so you understand which one is best for you.
Here are some of the main types:
Classical guitars, sometimes known as Spanish guitars, are acoustic guitars with nylon strings and wide necks.
A lot of people that like playing rock or pop music don’t like the sound of classical guitars as it doesn’t have the bite of steel-string guitars.
However, they are good guitars to begin learning on. Here’s why:
- Nylon strings are easy on the fingers, making them suitable for young children to learn on.
- The broad necks mean the strings are further apart, so less precision is required.
- You don’t need an amp to hear them through.
They’re also very affordable. You can pick up a brand new classical guitar like this Strong Wind 39 Inch for just $90. Many are even cheaper. So even if you later decide to switch to another guitar type, you’ve not spent too much money.
Steel strung flat tops
Another good beginner option is the Fender Squier SA-150.
Like the classical acoustic, these guitars don’t need an amp, so they are ideal for playing anywhere. Some do have built-in electronics that allow you to connect them up to an amp. This is useful if you are performing at a venue or recording.
They are particularly good for singing along to at home—so if you are a budding singer/songwriter, consider one of these.
For most people, this guitar will be the best to begin your journey with. They appear in most musical styles, they are affordable and they can be easily be picked up and played anywhere. Check out our list of 12 best acoustic guitars or 17 best acoustic guitars under $500.
Electric guitars rely on an amp or another speaker to produce sound. While this makes them more expensive and harder to transport, it also opens a whole world of sonic possibilities.
From roaring rock riffs to deep, ethereal soundscapes, electrics are probably the most exciting guitars to play.
The cost and loud volume mean that they aren’t ideal for beginner guitarists (they amplify your mistakes too!). But they are so much fun that most beginners are drawn to get one immediately—and if you are enjoying yourself then why not!?
There was a time when most budding guitarists on a budget had to make do with a horrible tinny sound from a guitar that was falling to bits.
Luckily, those days are long gone. Today, budget guitars are so good that many of the big brands are struggling to sell their more expensive models.
Here’s a few options we suggest:
As the name suggests, bass guitars play lower frequency notes. In a band or on a recording, the bass is a key part of keeping a song’s rhythm pumping.
Like six-string guitars, you can get electric and acoustic bass guitars. And like six strings, you’ll need to plug your electric bass into an amp.
Bass guitars only have four strings, so some beginners choose to play them because they don’t have to worry about learning chords.
However, this is a bad reason to learn an instrument. Players that do this sometimes find the bass guitar’s limitations frustrating.
We recommend learning guitar first and switching to bass if you still feel an affinity for it after a year or so.
Bass guitars tend to be more expensive than six-string guitars, but you can still get decent-quality budget brands. Ibanez make excellent low-cost basses like the GSR200BK.
Squire also make great budget versions of the Fender basses like the Bronco Bass.
½ sized and ¾ sized
If you’re buying a guitar for a child, then you may want to look at ½ or ¾ sized guitars. As the names suggest, these guitars are scaled down to suit a child’s hands. You can buy ½ or ¾ versions of all the guitar types listed above.
There are many cheap, poor-quality ½ and ¾ guitars out there. These are sold by opportunistic companies looking to capitalize on parents not really knowing what they are looking for.
It’s therefore a good idea to buy one from a shop and take someone with you who knows what they are doing. Get them to tune it and see if it stays in tune. Ask them how easy it is to play and if it sounds any good. Try to choose a well-known name. Examples of good-quality ½ or ¾ sized guitars include Yamaha CGS103A 3/4 Size Classical Guitar and this ADM Beginner Acoustic.
Ukeles aren’t actually proper guitars, but they are another stringed instrument that often accompanies the guitar in some pop and folk music.
They only have four strings that are made of nylon and are much smaller than guitars. Although they are not played the same as a guitar, they do require the same fundamental skills and could be a good place to begin. Children in particular, may find the small size and soft strings more comfortable to play.
Like with ½ and ¾ sized guitars, there are a lot of poor quality ukuleles out there that are effectively toys. Try to find one from a well-known brand that isn’t too cheap.
One of the best examples is the Kala Soprano Ukulele.
How to choose your first guitar
The best way to choose your first guitar is to try before you buy. That’s because the feel of your guitar is more important than how it looks, sounds or how much it costs.
Bring a friend who can play guitar so they can help you choose.
1. Set a budget
Before you begin looking, set yourself a budget and look for the best guitars in this price range.
These days there are hundreds of great budget brands to choose from. You can easily pick up a good-quality second-hand guitar for less than $100.
I wouldn’t recommend spending more than $400 on your first guitar. Imagine if you spent $1,000 on a high-end Fender only to find that you don’t enjoy playing guitar as much as you thought you would!
2. Hold the guitar
Once you’ve found a guitar on your shortlist, sit during wn and simply hold it. Assuming you are right handed, place the curve of the guitar on your right thigh and hold the neck with your left hand. Keep your back straight.
The guitar should sit comfortably on your knee, and the neck shouldn’t feel heavy or easily drop down.
3. Strum the strings
Hold the neck with your left hand but avoid making contact with any strings. Place your plectrum or your thumb on the top and thickest string and gently but firmly run it through the strings so they play together.
They should feel evenly spaced and an equal height. They should also ring clearly and smoothly, without any buzzing or wobbly notes.
4. Feel the neck and fretboard
The neck and fretboard are really important parts on the guitar – you hand is going to spend a lot of time there, so it’s important that they feel right.
There are many different types of neck and fretboard, so it’s important to find one that suits your hands.
Watch out for any signs of damage or warping on the neck – this is a warning sign that the guitar has been poorly treated or built.
5. Check it sounds good
Strum a few more times and listen to the tone. Do you like what you hear?
Go off instinct and choose the guitar that feels right. Don’t be swayed by the price tag, looks or brand.
You can start playing straight away with a guitar alone. But there are some other useful pieces of equipment that will help you at this stage:
Plectrums (or picks)
These are small triangles usually made out of plastic. They are used to strike the strings and produce a clearer, more resonant tone than you would get just from using your fingers. Picks are usually used on flat top and electric guitars but not classical guitars or ukeles. The bass player community is split between those that use plectrums and those that don’t. You can decide for yourself whether you prefer to use a pick or not.
You can pick up a pack of Jim Dunlop picks for less than $6.
We’ll explain how to tune a guitar in detail. It can be difficult to do to begin with, so it’s a good idea to buy some sort of tuning device. I’d recommend buying an electronic tuner to begin with. A good example is the KLIQ MetroPitch.
This uses an onboard microphone to ‘hear’ the frequency of the string you strike and tells you whether you need to tune it up or down. You can also buy tuners that produce a note for each string. For each, you play the note on the tuner and then play the string. You judge by ear how in-tune they are and adjust the tuning accordingly.
Guitar case or bag
It’s a good idea to buy something to keep your guitar in. This makes it easier to transport, protects it from damage and gives you somewhere to keep your other accessories. They also help protect your guitar from damp or cold, which can cause your guitar to go out of tune or even distort.
Guitar gig bags are cheaper and lighter and are a good place to begin. Cases are heavier and more expensive but will provide better protection to your guitar. I would advise starting with a gig bag and upgrading to a case once you get a more expensive guitar or begin regular gigging or touring.
This CAHAYA 41 Inch Acoustic Guitar Bag is a good example.
If you’ve bought an electric guitar then you’ll need an amp to play it through. Practice amps are very small amplifiers suited for playing at home. They are usually less than 20 watts and feature just one 8-10 inch speaker. The quality of these amps will vary with the brand and the price. Amps like Peavey Backstage Guitar Combo Amp offer a good balance of good sound, build quality and affordability. Look to upgrade your amp to something louder once you start playing with drums or performing live.
Alternatively, you can buy an effects pedal with amp modeling like the Line 6 POD Go Guitar Multi-Effects Pedal and use it with headphones. This is ideal for those with small children or sensitive neighbors. It also allows you to create a wider range of different sounds. The downside is that preamps tend to be quite expensive.
If you get an amp or preamp then you’ll need at least one lead. Plugging your electronic tuner into your guitar makes it more accurate, so you may also wish to use a lead for tuning too.
Guitar leads are notorious for their poor quality. Loose connections and leads failing in the middle of gigs are the bane of electric guitar players. It’s therefore worth investing in a better quality, higher cost lead. Fender Performance Series instrument cables are amongst the best. Not only are they great quality but they also come with a lifetime guarantee, so you can return them if they break.
Buy them together!
All the things listed above can often be purchased together for a discount. For example this WINZZ is just $89 and comes packaged with all the accessories you’ll need.
Next: Let’s get learning!
Now you’ve got your guitar, it’s time to start learning how to play it. In our next lesson, we’ll look at some of the basics of playing guitar.