Electric Guitar for Beginners - Starter Guide and Reviews - 2020
Buying your first guitar is exciting – but it can also be intimidating. To make an informed choice there are so many things to learn and understand. The truth is, a lot of buying guides go into far more detail than you, as a beginner, need to worry about. Let's face it, the type of tuning pegs a guitar has isn't going to make or break your decision to buy it. But there are some things you should know about the important elements of an electric guitar.
I'm going to break it down to the essentials that you need to understand to make a smart choice for buying the best beginner electric guitar for your needs. As usual, there is no single answer that is right for everyone.
Note: I cover a lot of information on this page. Be sure to bookmark it so you can come back whenever you need to.
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Fast View: Best Beginner Electric Guitars
Our Top 3 Choices
Beginner Facts: The 3 Types of Electric Guitar
Solid Body Electric Guitar
This is what most people think of when they think electric guitar. It's the Fender Strat, the Telecaster, the Gibson Les Paul and the Flying V, to name a few. They're known for a bright, sharp sound and excellent sustain. It's also what a lot of beginners interested in electric guitar are aiming for.
These guitars are a constructed from a single block of wood. They have a full range of options for single coil and humbucker pick-up configurations (I'll explain pickups shortly), and can range from simple pickup choices to full-on techie.
While the solid body doesn't rely on resonance as much as a hollow, or semi-hollow body electric, the type of wood it's made from still makes a difference in the sound. I cover tonewoods on this page. Because they don't rely on a sound chamber, solid body guitars also come in a greater variety of shapes and styles. They also play nicely with high volume output and effects pedals.
Great guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend and Jimmy Page are all known for playing solid body electrics. This type of guitar is very versatile and can easily span many genres, but they excel at hard rock, punk, metal and classic rock.
On this page, we're only going to be looking at solid body electric guitars. We'll save the semi-hollow and hollow body electric guitars for other pages. I'll still explain them here, though, so you understand the differences.
Hollow Body Electric Guitar
Like the name suggests, these guitars have a hollow body, like an acoustic, that they rely on to create a deep resonant tone. The shape of the resonance chambers makes a difference so you won't see much variety in shape, like you do with solid body electrics. They also frequently have an arched top to enhance their resonance.
Despite their tones resembling acoustic guitars, they are not the same as an acoustic-electric guitar, because hollow body electrics still use pickups to translate the string vibrations into sound.
Of the electric guitars, these have the warmest, richest tone. They produce a round, rich sound that accentuates the bass tones beautifully. However, this great tone comes with a trade-off. Hollow body guitars are known for feedback problems at middle to high volume. They also have the lowest sustain amongst electric guitars.
Pat Metheny is known for playing a hollow body electric and it is the coveted guitar of many jazz players. Not too man beginners start out on hollow bodies.
Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitars
If you like the idea of the warmer tones of a hollow body, but want the sustain and volume capacity of a solid body, then you should consider getting a semi-hollow body guitar. We have a good discussion and rundown of some very affordable ones here.
While these guitars still have the resonance chamber, the center is a solid block of wood that stabilizes the structure and reduces the feedback issue that full hollow bodies have. This also allows them to be played at higher volume with increased sustain (though still not quite as much as a solid body guitar).
The semi-hollow body can achieve both warm, round tones and bright, punchy ones, given the right set up.
B.B. King's infamous Lucille is a semi-hollow body, Gibson ES-355.
The semi-hollow electric is a guitar that handles the blues extraordinarily well. But it can rock in the hands of Eric Clapton or Chuck Berry, and has been known to go punk and hard rock at the urging of Dave Grohl.
It's also a great beginner choice for early rock'n'roll, classic country, rockabilly, and jazz players that don't want to deal with feedback issues.
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Top 6 Budget-Friendly Beginner Electric Guitars - Reviews
I'm going to be honest right off the top, I'm a Strat fan and seeing a nice affordable Squier Strat model for beginners actually gets me excited.
It's a timeless model with a classic vibe, and one of the best beginner electric guitars out there.
The Strat is a versatile guitar covering a range of styles well. The trio of single coil pickups give it the classic Strat sound. Think Jimi and SRV. But it can pull off crunchier sounds with the right pedal and amp combination.
This Squier Strat generally arrives well set up. It's comfortable to play with a C-shaped neck and smooth maple or laurel fingerboard. This model is available for lefties, too. This is one of those guitars that's easy for most people to play. It doesn't favor people on either end of the size spectrum, but a wide swath of the middle.
What's nice is this is a guitar that will grow with you. While upgrades are entirely optional, if you want to fiddle and adjust and change hardware until it suits you perfectly, the Squier Strat can handle that.
If you never change a thing, you'll have a guitar you can play for a long time. This model far exceeds its budget price range and won't disappoint.
In my mind, most people can't go wrong with a Squier Strat like this for their first electric guitar. It's as close to a slam dunk as you'll find. The perpetual beginner guitar for the ages.
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This Ibanez is an intermediate level guitar at an easy beginner price.
Not only does it have a gorgeous paint job, it's an all-around quality instrument. It holds its tuning particularly well and sounds good with almost any configuration of pedals and amps.
That great sound is thanks, in part, to a 2-Infinity R humbucker, 1-single coil pickup combination, giving you a 5-way selector switch to let you dial in the exact sound you want. The range of options is fantastic. While these components are good quality straight out of the box, they're also the easiest place to upgrade, which would make this a much higher end guitar than you're going to pay for it.
Another feature a lot of people like is the thin maple neck that makes it easy to play. The fingerboard is treated New Zealand Pine for a fast, slick surface. If you have average to small hands, you're going to love the comfort factor on this guitar. If your hands are bigger, or meatier, this might not be the right choice for you.
Rounding out this Ibanez is a well finished guitar, with few adjustments necessary. No sharp edges or elements out of whack and pretty ready to play upon arrival.
Looks good, plays good. This is one of the best beginner electric guitars you're going to find.
If you want to start your guitar journey with the classic Les Paul look and sound, then this is the guitar for you.
Starting with a complementary pair of humbuckers, the Epiphone 700T and 650R, giving it the classic Les Paul tone.
That walk down memory lane is augmented by a 1960's slim taper rosewood neck, topped by a smooth mahogany fretboard. Once again, a style favoring average and small handed players more than large handed ones.
They call this Les Paul a work horse of a guitar. This is a reliable model that will serve you for years to come. It's solidly made with most adjustments and upgrades being entirely optional.
If you never upgrade this guitar, you could still be playing it happily a decade from now.
In some ways not fancy, this one has an intentionally 'worn' finish, but reliable with an understated flair that suits a Les Paul. The nickel hardware rounds out a nice package.
Even if you're not a nostalgic Les Paul fan, this is still a great beginner guitar. Affordable and well made, you won't be disappointed.
If you are looking to play rock and metal, then this is a great beginner electric guitar for you.
The shredding starts with a slick, fast neck and fret board and continues through its throaty sound and complex harmonics.
For those with the need for speed the string spacing at the bridge is a little wider, allowing for people with thicker fingers as well as being a nice feature that makes playing easier for beginners.
Add a high gain amp to the mix for an awesome metal sound. Sound like a beast with an amp like this!
The finish is fine and hot and this Ibanez electric guitar comes set up straight out of the box. In most cases you're ready to tune and go.
There is nothing subtle or understated about the look of this guitar and the matte black finish just adds to the intensity. It'll pop no matter where you're playing.
This is probably the best beginner hard rock and metal guitar available in this price range. If metal is your gig, don't let this one pass you by.
Semi-hollow electric guitars are one of the most versatile choices for genre and style. They can play everything from smooth jazz to heavy metal and everything in between. If you don't want to limit your genre choice and are looking for a single guitar to handle them all, in a budget range, this Ibanez Semi-Hollow-Body Electric Guitar is an excellent choice.
A solid choice all around, this beautiful Ibanez gets its rich sound from the Sapele wood body and plays well with a unique, but comfortable neck shape topped by a nice rosewood fretboard. Some of the frets may need filing upon arrival, or the fret board oiled, but that's part of the trade-off for an otherwise top notch budget guitar.
The ACH pickups provide a clear, warm tone. Of course, if you're looking for something grungier you can alter the sound with your choice of amp and/or pedals, or even change the pickups. That being said, having a full warm sound to grunge off of is never a bad thing.
This guitar is one of those that exceeds its price range by a large margin. The Ibanez semi-hollow electric is not only a great beginner guitar, but a highly versatile and playable intermediate one that will last well into your guitar learning journey.
If you want genre versatility on a budget, this is one of the best beginner semi-hollow electric guitars you can find.
It's not easy to find a good hollow body electric guitar in such a friendly budget range. And this is a good guitar. However, don't expect perfection upon arrival. You might get one that's perfect, but it might need a little work before it's fully ready to play.
That said, if you're a beginner and know you want to play jazz or blues, this is an excellent hollow body guitar to learn on.
Of course, a hollow body is the bulkiest of the electric guitars, and that's why I think it's good to start here if you know this guitar suits the style you want to play. Switching to this from a slim solid body will feel awkward and require you to make a lot of personal adjustments.
This Glen Burton model has good sound and holds its tune well. It's a good starter guitar. As you progress, you'll probably want to upgrade as soon as you can afford it.
If you want to play jazz and blues, but other genres too, you should seriously consider a semi-hollow guitar. Semi-hollows are the most versatile models for the widest range of genres and may serve you better if you don't know what style you want to commit to yet. I have a full discussion as well as additional semi-hollow guitar options on this page, over here.
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Budget Considerations for Beginning Guitarists
First, you have to remember that you're not just buying a guitar, you'll need accessories - a strap, case, tuner, amp, cables, strings and picks. Depending on your practice space, you may want to get a set of headphones as well. It's easy to forget this in your excitement over getting a new guitar.
I'd like to say that the sweet spot for how much to spend on the best beginner electric guitar set-up in is the $300-600 range.
This will get you a choice of some really good guitars without breaking the bank. These guitars are the kind that if you find this just isn't right for you, you can re-sell with little loss. Not that I want to set you up for failure, but I want to put your mind at ease if this outlay is a little higher than you were expecting. These are really more intermediate electric guitars, which means that you won't advance out of them quickly. The guitar you get in this range will be with you for many happy years.
HOWEVER, there are plenty of good set-ups for beginner electric guitars to be had under $300.
These usually include the accessories I mention above (minus the headphones) and some instructional materials. There is nothing wrong with starting in this price range if that's where you need to be. There's still a lot of quality gear here, just stay away from the cheapest of the cheap. If you crave a Fender or a Gibson, look at their budget lines of Squier and Epiphone (respectively). And don't neglect brands like Ibanez and Yamaha, they make some of the best starter electric guitars.
If you can afford up to $1000 for your new guitar, then great. You have a choice of some sweet guitars.
They'll look and sound awesome from the get go, even when you're still learning. These guitars really retain their value and you may never feel the need to upgrade again. Though I don't know too many guitarists that have only one ax. Buying awesome guitars is kind of addictive – in a good way. In this range – get anything you want and you're pretty assured of having a top quality instrument (but always check the reviews).
Top 6 Mid-Range Beginner Electric Guitars - Reviews
There's something the chief operations officer at PRS said that impresses me about this SE Standard 24 line of guitars.
He said, "With so many aspiring players struggling to stick with guitar past the first year, we knew we wanted to deliver an affordable quality Guitar that players didn’t have to fight. We want the guitar to inspire you to play. It can’t be something you have to worry about staying in tune or simply working right. So while the [SE] standards are our first foray into the below $500 price point, that doesn't mean we compromised on tone, versatility, playability, or reliability." - Jack Higginbotham, COO, PRS Guitars.
That's where the commitment is on these guitars and it shows. From the very comfortable and easy-to-play neck, to the solid mahogany body, "S" pickups and other PRS exclusive design details, they did not short this guitar to get it into this middle price range.
With the solid mahogany body, this isn't a lightweight guitar, but it has been designed to be utterly playable. It comes very well set up, holds its tuning well and sounds magnificent. You can go from sharp single coil sounds to warm, open jazz tones with the range the pickups give you, letting you play in a range of styles.
For as much as I emphasize how versatile semi-hollow guitars are, this solid-body PRS 24 does a great job of rivaling them for flexibility and style range.
A lot of guitar for not a lot of money. This guitar is top line.
Without even talking about the vintage nature of this Telecaster, this is a great guitar, a definite upgrade from your standard beginner's model.
However, the nature of this guitar makes it easy to handle and play which is awesome for beginners. Having a mid-range price on a top quality guitar that you won't grow out of quickly, if ever, is a major boon for new players.
I've mentioned that it's comfortable. This comes partly from a polished maple C-shaped neck, smooth maple fretboard and medium jumbo frets. All that means this is a fast guitar. Your fingers will fly.
Also part of the comfort factor is that the Tele has a fairly small body and is a little lighter weight making it easy to handle. The physics of this guitar are not going to get in the way of your learning progression.
One very special feature on this guitar are the Fender Wide Range Humbucker pickups. They truly do give you a wide range of sound so you can dial in almost any tonal ranges you want. From sweet and clean to back room raunchy, you can totally push your options on this Squier Telecaster.
A guitar this good, at this price, is really a steal, no matter what level you're playing at.
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The Yamaha Pacifica is definitely considered a good beginner guitar. One look tells you it's a Strat inspired design, but it is different enough to be its own, in measurements and feel. Don't think the Strat and the Pacifica are the same. Both are great beginner guitars, however.
Overall, the body and neck are solid and well made on the Yamaha Pacifica. The proportions are comfortable and the action is low, which can sometimes cause fret buzz. This guitar may require some set up on arrival.
There are varying opinions on the electronics, and maybe it's a difference in the factory they're made in, but some people have complained about cheap electronics components.
Usually Yamaha makes great beginner to intermediate instruments without question, but it seems some of these models are a bit hit or miss. However, with Yamaha's reputation for quality, I'd still be willing to take a chance on getting a good one. Just check the seller's return policy before buying, in case you get one of the not-so-good ones.
The Yamaha Pacifica is a beginner line that will take you well into your intermediate playing years. I regret that there are a few reservations on this model, but I think the chances of getting a good one are high and that if you do, you're going to love it for a long time.
There are two truths about this guitar.
One – it's designed to play metal. The neck is fast and easy to let your fingers fly so you can shred to your heart's content. This is due to Ibanez's 3-piece 'Wizard' neck that includes a slick rosewood fingerboard and jumbo frets.
This guitar also supports a humbucker-single coil-humbucker pickup configuration that gives you tons of rich, rounded and gritty options for how you want to define your metal sound. Whether you want to emulate your favorite guitarist, or create your own tone and feel, the options are here for you.
Two, the second truth, is that even if you're not planning to play metal, this is an awesome guitar. It holds its tune amazingly well, that fast fingerboard makes life easier for almost any style you plan to play, and it's well made all around.
This is a quality instrument that rivals much more expensive models at a very reasonable price. This is one of those things that Ibanez does so well. They make great instruments and sell them at reasonable prices.
While this guitar is well-suited to beginners, it's not one you'll ever have to upgrade from until you're going pro. The Ibanez RG450DX will last you through years of learning and growing as a guitarist and you won't always be yearning for something better.
No matter how you want to rock, this guitar will get you there.
This maple bodied Artcore semi-hollow guitar from Ibanez is not only gorgeous to look at, but it has sustain that would make an Alpine yodeler jealous.
It's a slightly smaller, and lighter, version of the standard 335 semi-hollow design, perfect for anyone needing a smaller guitar, or just wanting one that's easy to handle. It's not extremely small, just…comfortable.
Don't let the size fool you, though. You still get the full tones and rich sound that you expect from a great semi-hollow electric guitar – and it has all of the versatility, too. This Ibanez can rock the rock tunes, sing with the blues and jam with the jazz.
The double cutaway gives easy access to the upper frets, if that suits you're playing style, while the dual humbuckers ensure big, open and complex tones whenever you want them. Oh, and did I mention that it has great sustain?
This is far more than a beginner's electric guitar, but it's a great place for a beginner to start.
You can fool around with so many different styles so easily as you learn and they'll all sound great. Even better, it's such a good guitar, you won't be in any hurry to upgrade.
This guitar will take you a long way on your musical journey. A great electric guitar choice for the modern player.
This Ibanez Artcore Hollowbody Electric Guitar is a major step up from the hollow body guitar in the budget section and it's still very reasonably priced.
In fact, this is an exceptional guitar for jazz, blues and many other genres and still well suited to beginner players.
The dual humbucker pickups give a warm, clear tone like you'd expect of a jazz guitar. You can even push the sound to something grungier with the right amp settings, but you might have to battle some feedback issues if you do. This is the nature of hollow body electric guitars, and not a flaw of this model.
If you truly want sweet and grunge, consider getting a semi-hollow guitar.
The top, back and sides are laminated maple, providing a nice bit of warmth. The great price doesn't quite cover solid wood options, but it still sound great. Also, the one advantage of laminate is that it's less susceptible to environmental changes, which makes caring for your guitar a little easier.
All around this guitar is well made. Great finish, smooth fret ends and it usually comes pretty well set up. This Ibanez Hollowbody Artcore is just fun and easy to play and a perfect fit for aspiring jazz guitarists or anyone looking for that smooth, round sound.
Beginner Facts: How Electric Guitars Make Sound
This is the short version.
As you know, all sound is created by vibration.
On electric guitars, the vibration of the strings is collected via electromagnetic induction by a device called a pickup. The pickups translate the vibration into an electronic signal that gets sent to an amp which then amplifies that signal so you can hear it.
Pickups are supremely responsible for the way an electric guitar sounds. The choice you make here will make a difference in the type of sound you get from your guitar.
There are two kinds of pickups we're going to discuss, single coil and humbuckers. Both kinds of pickups can be active or passive.
Stick with me and I'll explain what this all means.
How Pickups Work – Single Coil and Humbuckers
Single coil pickups consist of a magnet wrapped in layers and layers of fine wire. They have a bright, crisp tone that rides on top of the rest of the band, and cuts through a noisy room like nobody's business. Their main drawback is that they often produce a slight hum, or underlying buzz when you plug in your guitar.
Plenty of great guitarists, Springsteen on his Fender Telecaster, SRV, Jimi Hendrix and John Mayer on their Fender Strats, like the single coil pickup sound.
Humbuckers use two coils set next to each other. They're intentionally calibrated out of phase so that they cancel out the buzzy signal created by the single coil magnet. They literally buck the hum of the single coil pickup. Humbuckers produce a thicker, more robust sound but lack the sharpness of the single coil.
Humbuckers are great for the heavier tones of hard rock, heavy metal and punk, but can be used to great effect in jazz and blues, as well. Slash and Jimmy Page are Humbucker fans.
This can be a hard choice for a beginner. Luckily, some guitars have both single coil and humbucker pickups in various combinations, and it only takes the flip of a switch to change between the two.
A Little More about Pickups - Active and Passive
Passive Pickups, which are currently the most common, create a consistent signal based on the way you pluck the string. But if you push or exceed their limits, distortion and noise become an issue.
Active Pickups, which are newer and coming into more use, are wired into a preamp that requires a separate battery. The output of the active pickups is actually lower than that of the passive pickups, but the preamp makes up for it by boosting the signal beyond what the passive pickup can handle. You also have the ability to adjust the signal before it ever gets to the amp. The signal created by this system has almost no noise, but you do need to keep a battery handy.
Passive pickups are considered more expressive, while active pickups have higher output.
The choice is yours. Remember, there is no right answer other than the one that's right for you.
Note: If you're interested in the long version explanation, you can go here.
Bridges – Fixed Bridge vs Whammy Bar
The bridge is where the strings are anchored to the body of the guitar.
Fixed bridges are just what they say. The bridge stays in place and doesn't move. This helps the guitar remain in tune longer. It also makes an easier job of changing the strings. It is the simpler of the two systems and the one preferred by many beginners.
Floating Bridges aka Tremolo Bridges aka Whammy Bars are a fixed bridge that you can move, changing the tension on the strings, and thus the intonation. This allows you to be able to create some awesome effects. Changing strings on a guitar with a whammy bar is somewhat more challenging. Some people don't recommend this for a beginner, but I think you just need to go in with your eyes open. If you don't have a good local music shop that will teach you, there are plenty of YouTube videos to help.
I will say that if you go with the whammy, stick with the Fender type, and not the Floyd Rose style bridge. The Floyd Rose are extremely complicated to restring and not a good idea for a beginner.
Beginner Facts: Guitar Neck Construction
There are three types of neck construction. Here's a quick rundown just so you know what you're getting. The more integrated into the guitar the neck is, the better sustain and resonance the guitar will provide. Of course, the price goes up with every further integration.
Bolt-on Neck is just what it sounds like. While this is less expensive construction, it doesn't mean that you can't have a good guitar with a bolt-on neck. But it is what you'll find on the more affordable electric guitars, especially those designed for a beginner. The advantage is that it's easier to remove or change out the neck if the need or desire arises.
Set Necks are when the neck has been glued into the guitar body. It's a process in woodworking that's called lamination (which has nothing to do with thin wood laminates in this case, but a method of gluing and clamping pieces of wood together). This process is more stable than the bolt-on neck.
Neck Through guitars have a neck that runs the entire length of the body. Flanges where the neck enters the body help stabilize this construction even more. This style creates the greatest sustain and resonance and is what you find on mid-high dollar guitars.
The Role of Music Genre in Choosing a Guitar
A lot of electric guitars cross genres very easily. You an use a pick, or play fingerstyle. Throw in some effects pedals and an upgraded amp and they have even more range.
Having said that, some guitars, pedals and amps are better suited to certain genres than others. Solid body electric guitars lend themselves to rock styles, but cross many genres. Semi-hollow electric guitars excel in jazz, blues and rock and are maybe the most versatile of all. Hollow body electric guitars are ideal for jazz, and some blues.
Take note when I've mentioned particular genres in the above reviews, but don't let that limit you. Play the guitar you want to play however you want to play it. Who knows, you might just be a guitar innovation guru in training.
The Really Big Secret to Choosing your First Guitar
Now that you know about the essential elements of electric guitars, I have something very important to tell you. After type of guitar and type of pickups, it's the MOST IMPORTANT part of your decision-making process, as a beginner, when buying your first guitar.
It's very simple.
You need to LOVE the guitar you're buying.
That's it. No matter what anyone else says, me included, you want to get a guitar that makes you happy. You're going to be spending a lot of time with your new, six-stringed friend and you want to look forward to that time together.
If everyone you know is telling you to get a Les Paul, but you prefer a Stratocaster, then get the Strat and don't look back. Your friends aren't the ones playing it. You're the one that has to be happy with it. If you want to learn on a Gibson Explorer or a Lucille clone, then more power to you. Get what you love.
FAQ - Best Beginner Electric Guitar
How much should I spend on my first electric guitar?
The price range for a good beginner guitar electric guitar is $250-600. There are plenty of good set-ups for beginner electric guitars to be had under $300. These usually include the accessories you'll need to get started. Just stay away from the cheapest of the cheap (don't go under $200) or you might end up with an instrument that causes more frustration than enjoyment. The really sweet spot for budget on a beginner electric guitar set-up in is the $300-600 range. This will get you the choice of some really good guitars that you won't advance out of quickly.
What is the best beginner electric guitar?
There is not a single 'best' beginner electric guitar. Size, shape, genre, and style preference will vary from person to person. However, I would be looking at Ibanez, Squier by Fender, Epiphone and Yamaha as reliably good brands to get a beginner electric guitar from. And Paul Reed Smith, who doesn't make a low-budget line, does have a mid-priced introductory guitar series that's very impressive.
Top 10 Beginner Electric Guitars:
Should a beginner buy an electric guitar?
A beginner should absolutely buy an electric guitar if that's the kind of guitar they want to play. There is no reason to spend hours and hours learning on an instrument you don't want, or intend, to play later on. Learning guitar is challenging and you will get more enjoyment out of it if you are working directly toward your goal of playing electric guitar. There's nothing wrong with learning on an acoustic guitar first, but you should feel no obligation to start there. If you're having fun, it will keep your motivation for learning high, so start on whichever guitar you enjoy the most.
Can I teach myself electric guitar?
Yes, you can teach yourself electric guitar. This doesn't mean you won't need instruction, but you can go a long way with online classes and YouTube videos. Ultimately you will reach a plateau where you may need to seek out more professional, one-on-one instruction, especially if you're very serious about your guitar playing and want to take it to the next level. But there's plenty of information out there to get a really good start on your own.
Check out our review of TrueFire vs Fender Play to get an idea of how the online guitar classes look.
I've given you a bunch of information. I hope it's useful in helping guide you to the right guitar for you. Let me know in the comments what your final choice was and how you're enjoying it.
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