Best Guitar for Kids – 7 Things You Need to Know
The best guitar for kids – in a nutshell – is the one that makes them want to play.
This goes for everybody, of course, but is particularly important when you're trying to encourage kids in music. If it's not fun, they're not going to want to do it. The key to getting kids to stick with learning guitar is motivation – and the right guitar.
How do you achieve that? Let's take a look.
Whose idea was this?
This makes a big difference. If playing guitar is your kid's idea, great, the initial motivation is already in place. I know, sometimes it seems like they want to try something new every week, but trust me, if they get involved with guitar with the right attitude, they'll be hooked.
For now, let's assume learning guitar is your kid's idea. What made them decide this? Was it something they saw on TV, or online? Does their friend's big sister play guitar? Or do you? Take the time to find out and explore the field further with them. Look up that artist they heard, and others like them. Share a few of your favorite guitar players to see if that sparks interest. But don't push anything – let their natural curiosity lead this discovery phase.
Once you've homed in on the style of guitar music your kid wants to play, look at the best guitars to get the job done. Remember, we want this to be fun. There's no reason anyone should be forced to play a genre or type of guitar they're not interested in. If they want to play rock, get them a kid's electric guitar and let them go. If they want to go acoustic or classical, let them go acoustic or classical.
Here's a very brief look at what guitars are best suited to which genres:
Acoustic Guitar– Steel String – can be used across a wide variety of genres, including rock, pop, folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass and country. The steel strings will be a little tougher on a kid's fingers, but getting extra light strings will help. The range of these steel string acoustic guitars is excellent.
Classical Guitar – Nylon String – are used for Spanish and flamenco, especially fingerpicking, and of course, classical music. They're also the only ones that come ¼ size.
Electric Guitar – You can play just about anything on an electric guitar. No style is off the table. Rock, blues, old rock'n'roll, metal, reggae, jazz, bluegrass, country and pop are all possible on an electric.
You can take a look here to get a more thorough rundown of the primary guitar types and how they fit into different genres. But most of all – ask your kid what kind of first guitar they want, and discuss the options with them.
The more involved your kid is with the decision, the more invested they'll be in making it work.
If it's your idea for your kid to learn guitar, you might need to tread a little lighter.
If you play guitar, great. This is an easy in. You could let them play a little on your guitar, show them a few things, and if they show interest, you could offer to get them their own set-up.
You could even get a guitar starter kit that looks similar to yours and have it just 'appear' in your living room or practice space. When they ask, say it's for them, if they want to join you. If they don't jump at it immediately, sometime when you're practicing, ask them if they want to learn a few chords, or the chords for their favorite song. Keep it casual. Chances are, given some space to make their own decision, they'll accept the invitation.
If you don't play guitar, but you want them to learn, consider what you're asking of them. Learning any instrument is a lot of work, and guitar is no exception. It's a lot to ask if it's not something they're interested in. Consider offering to learn along with them – as long as they're not at that age where that would be utterly embarrassing. Or you could share the work of some great guitarists to see if you can spark an interest.
But please, don't ever force your kid into learning any instrument. Let them choose and you'll find the greatest success.
Getting the Right Size Guitar
There are plenty of child-size guitars. There are ¼, ½ and ¾ acoustics – the smaller ones having nylon strings (so technically they're classical guitars). There are ½ and ¾ kid's electric guitars. You'll have no shortage of choices and brands, like Fender, Yamaha and Ibanez.
For the sake of this discussion, size is more important than age. If your 6-year old is as big as most 9-year olds, get the size for the 9-year old. Likewise, if your 10-year old is the size of most 8-year olds, get the size for the 8-year old.
Kids Classical Guitars – Nylon strings are softer and easier on the fingers. Also, this is the only model that comes in ¼ size.
Age 2 - 5
30 - 40" tall
Age 5 - 8
40 – 50" tall
Age 8 - 12
50 – 65" tall
Kids Acoustic Guitars – Steel strings have a brighter, and louder, sound. Acoustics work in a wider range of genres than classical guitars.
Age 4 - 8
35 – 50" tall
Age 8 - 12
50 – 65" tall
Kids Electric Guitars – Often a bit easier to play, they're also heavier and require a little more equipment.
Age 4 - 8
35 – 50" tall
Age 8 - 12
50 – 65" tall
Or, if they're measuring the guitar in inches, and not ¼, ½, ¾, here's another handy guide:
Age 4 - 6
Age 6 - 9
Age 9 - 12
You WILL Need Accessories
In addition to the guitar, you will need a few things to make this package complete.
- 1Case – Whether hard or soft shell, your kid is going to need something to carry their guitar around in. Depending on the size, there might be a fun choice of colors and patterns.
- 2Strings – You never want a broken string to end a practice session, always have an extra set or two on hand to keep the music playing. Also, for steel string acoustic and electric guitars, get light, or extra light strings, so it's easier to play and gives your kids fingers some relief.
- 3Shoulder Strap – A comfortable strap is needed to play guitar standing up. Best for your kid to have the choice of standing or sitting. It's especially important for electric guitars that are a little weightier.
- 4Electronic Tuner – A clip-on model works great and is invaluable for making the guitar sound its best. They often include a metronome, which can be a good learning tool.
- 5Picks – You'll want a handful of these. Medium weight is fine. But know that they get lost, temporarily misplaced and are attracted to time-space vortices, so there's no such thing as too many. There are lots of cool designs to choose from here, too.
- 6Instructional Materials – No matter what learning method you choose, don't expect a kid to be able to progress without some instruction. You can choose anything from private lessons, to online ones, see here for a rundown, but make sure you have a plan for the minute the guitar arrives. You wouldn't want to squash their enthusiasm by not being prepared.
The rest of these items you only need if you're buying your kid an electric guitar.
- 7Small Amplifier – 5-10 watts is enough to get started.
- 8Headphones – So your kid can practice quietly. This can also be good to reduce interference from siblings. And early on, it might help save your sanity. It also lets your young learner make mistakes without broadcasting it to the world. For some kids, this makes all the difference.
- 9Cable – To go from the guitar to the amp.
A lot of guitars come with a starter pack that includes all, or most, of these items, (except headphones).
The good news is that you don't have to break the bank to get a decent guitar for your kid to learn on. But if you want your kid to have the best chance of success, please don't buy the cheapest thing available. There are a lot of crappy guitars out there. They break, or won't stay in tune, and are generally unplayable. One of these will become a dust collector in the corner real soon – and that's an even bigger waste of money. So spend enough to buy a decent guitar and gear from the beginning.
Of course, there no single, one-size-fits-all 'best electric guitar for kids' or 'best child size guitar'. As with all things, there are choices to be made.
What does this mean? In most cases, you're in the $75-300 range for the guitar and necessary gear. This range should get a well-made, very playable instrument that sounds good. This is something your kid will enjoy playing and sharing with friends and family.
Costs could climb up to $500 for full size kits (for teenagers) and higher end gear, if you have the means. But these more expensive set-ups should also last longer as they won't be growing out of them.
If you see a guitar, with a case, and all the accessories for $29.95, keep moving. There's nothing to see here but heartbreak and money going down the drain.
New or Used Guitar?
It's hard to find a used guitar kit that will fit your needs, but if you do, by all means, consider it. But there are things to watch out for. First, you don't know how well the instrument has been treated. If it's been sitting and collecting dust, you'll need new strings, at the minimum, but it might need more maintenance, and that cuts down on the savings.
Also, you might be tempted to accept something that isn't quite the right size or style and that can be anything from disappointing, to downright uncomfortable for a kid. And if it wasn't a very good guitar in the first place, it will not have gotten better with age.
Getting a truly good second hand instrument usually doesn't save you that much. So, for peace of mind that everything's going to be in good shape, I have to say I recommend a new guitar. It'll boost your kid's enthusiasm, too. There's nothing like having your own brand new ax!
But there can be exceptions. If you find a great deal, on the right guitar and can verify its quality and condition, and your kid loves it - then go for it.
What about Ukelele?
A lot of people wonder whether a ukulele is a good starter instrument for kids. They're small, sometimes colorful, and not very expensive. They're generally very convenient. So should your kid start with the ukulele?
The answer is – it depends.
If your kid wants to learn guitar, then NO, the ukulele is not the right way to go. It's an entirely different instrument. It's tuned differently, it's played differently. Learning the ukulele is not a stepping stone to learning guitar.
If your kid just wants to play an instrument and you think they might like ukulele, then look at some ukulele videos online and see if they like the style. If they show an interest, this is a great instrument to start with. The two of you can even learn side-by-side.
Stay Involved – but not too involved
This is another one of those balance things. You want to encourage them to practice, but you don't want it to turn into a parental mandate that will make them hate doing it. You want to be excited for them, but you don't want your excitement to override their feelings. You want to give them space to learn and discover on their own, but you don't want them to think you don't care.
If you want your kid to enjoy and love guitar, let it be their thing. Let them own it - but be there to support them.
You definitely want to inspire them in their learning, but don't be false in your praise. If they're having a hard time with a chord progression or a particular rhythm, don't tell them they sound 'great'. Encourage them to keep working at it – if they're the independent type. Or, ask them what's giving them trouble. If you don't have the musical knowledge to help them, try looking up a tutorial online.
NPR has an excellent segment on getting kids to practice without stress.
Let your kid know you're interested and excited about them learning guitar and that you're there to help with whatever they need.
If they are feeling good about their progress and want to show off, let them. It can be anything from you stopping and putting your phone down to listen, to setting up a little performance with friends and family in the audience.
Your kids will let you know what they need if you listen to them. Do everything you can to help them succeed.
I hope this information gives you a good guideline for getting your kid's guitar journey off to a great start. Playing guitar can be a lifelong passion and it's great that you want to help them find that. Music enriches life's fabric in ways you can't imagine. They'll thank you for it.