Guitar for Beginners – 8 Vital Questions you MUST Ask Before Buying
What's the best guitar to buy for a beginner? That's the big question, isn't it?
Anyone who has tried to learn on the wrong guitar, whether it was the wrong size or style, or poor quality, knows the pitfalls of being tied to a bad instrument. Getting the right guitar when you're starting out can mean the difference between success, and giving up in frustration.
Hands down, the best guitar for beginners is the one that will encourage them to keep playing. The thing is, that's a different answer for everyone.
Buying a guitar is an investment. It can be a small one, or a big one, but unless you're borrowing an ax for free from your cousin, there's gonna be some outlay. If you're like me, you want to know you're making a wise choice.
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These are the questions you need to ask:
What style of music do I want to play?
There's an old myth that to learn guitar you had to start on acoustic or classical to learn proper form and then later, you could move onto the fun stuff.
That is total bunk. There is absolutely no merit to this. All it does is cause people to quit, and I don't want that.
If you're going to put the effort into learning guitar, you should be able to play anything you want. Don't hesitate to start on the instrument where you want to end up.
Start with the fun stuff!
Having said that, there is nothing wrong with starting on an acoustic, or a classical, or an electric. Do you want to play blues? Do you admire fingerstyle? Are you left-handed? Don't worry, there's a guitar for you.
Here are some things you need to consider about the main types of guitar:
Acoustic Guitars – These are the hollow ones with the steel strings. The nice thing about acoustics is that they're self-contained. Grab a strap, a case and an extra set of strings and you're good to go. They come in a variety of sizes, and even comfort models, to accommodate (almost) any size or shape of human being. Acoustic guitars can be used across a range of genres, including rock, pop, folk, bluegrass and country. They're also good for travel, camping and generally taking them along with. If you want to be able to entertain your friends, or just play at the drop of a hat, the steel string acoustic is ideal. The most iconic brands are Martin and Taylor.
Classical Guitars – These are the hollow ones with the nylon (plastic-looking) strings. They have all the same advantages of the steel string acoustic, but are more usually played fingerstyle. Their added advantage is that the full-size version is a little smaller to start with, and the nylon strings are softer and easier on your fingers. Classical guitars are used for Spanish, flamenco, and of course, classical style music.
Acoustic-Electric Guitars – These are simply steel string acoustics, or classical guitars, with the necessary hardware to plug into an amp. Acoustic-electrics are the most versatile of your acoustic choices. You can play them without plugging in and lose absolutely nothing over the unplugged version. But if you do plug in, you not only have a way to increase your volume, for gigs or noisy parties, but you can add effects pedals or change the settings on your amp to get different tones and sound.
Electric Guitars – For some of you, this is the only choice. Start here, don't worry about learning on anything else. You want to shred, you want to rock, you want to make that guitar scream. These are the guitars of rock, punk, metal, jazz, country, pop…etc. Depending on how you play it, you can drop an electric guitar into pretty much any genre.
Of course, electric guitars require an amp. You can practice without one, but you will need one eventually. This also means that you need some cables, and somewhere to plug in. Inevitably you'll end up getting a pedal or two, or ten. And you still need a strap, case and strings. So electric guitars come with a bit more gear than their acoustic counterparts. Oh, and they're heavier, too. But that's what the strap is for. The good news is that some of the best starter electric guitars won't break the bank.
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What is my budget?
What's the best affordable electric guitar? Or, what's a good affordable acoustic guitar? You can ask a hundred different ways and I'm going to tell you one thing. It's not all about the money.
Of course, if you're short on funds, it is about the money and I have guides that can help you find the best guitar on a budget – one that truly suits your needs. This is perfectly fine.
It's better to have a good entry level guitar and start playing, than to be waiting to be able to afford the perfect one.
Third, if everything goes wrong and you decide guitar isn't right for you (at least not right now), you can re-sell it for a good amount of money. A good guitar retains a lot of its value.
My recommendation, even in buying a guitar for beginners, is to buy the best guitar you can afford that won't drive your internal accountant, your spouse, or your real accountant, crazy.
If you can afford it, though, consider not starting at the lowest end. You don't need to break the bank, but buying a mid-range guitar from the get-go has some advantages.
First, it will play and sound better. When you're just starting out, this is encouraging. People will wonder how you got so good, so fast and they'll never know that the guitar is doing a little extra work for you.
Second, you won't have to replace your guitar, or upgrade, because you'll already be there. Starting on a mid-range means it will have a long life span. Some are so good you'll be playing them long into your guitar career.
What does my practice space look like?
Do you have room for an electric guitar, amp, cables and the accompanying equipment?
Can you jam in your garage until 10pm before anyone calls the cops on you in for disturbing the peace?
Are you living in a dorm room with limited space and lots of other people to consider?
Do you want to shred all night regardless of whether or not your neighbors can sleep?
(This is a no brainer – go electric and get some good headphones.)
You should take these things into consideration while choosing a guitar. You'll be much happier if your guitar fits into your life instead of taking it over, or becoming a burden. If you're always being chased out when you want to practice, or have to play quietly when you want to jam, learning guitar will be a lot less fun. Ironically, it's the electric guitar, the one with the greatest potential for being loud, that can be the quietest.
Do I mind carrying equipment?
This, of course, refers to the electric guitar. If you want to travel around, even just going to friends' houses, you're going to have to bring your gear along. Small practice amps aren't too heavy, but it's still more than you need for an acoustic.
Consider a small acoustic or a travel guitar if you're going to be hunting orcs.
Is a low-end guitar a waste of money?
Absolutely not. Any guitar that gets you playing and learning is worthwhile. This is when experience outweighs dollars. I know I said to buy a better guitar if you could afford it, but if the difference is you getting an inexpensive guitar vs not starting guitar at all for six months to a year, then get the affordable guitar.
Never be ashamed of your ax.
I mean, you're playing one of the coolest instruments on the planet. Play it with pride.
Is there such a thing as an EASY guitar?
No matter how you slice it, learning guitar takes patience and practice. It's up to you to put in the time and energy needed. However, you choice of guitar can go a long way to make your learning journey easier.
- 1Choose a guitar you're going to love to play! This is simple, it makes everything easier. If even in learning you're getting the sound you want and you're already feeling and looking like you imagine your virtuoso self, then you won't hesitate to pick it up. This makes everything easier in your mind, and that's where all the important things start.
- 2You want a guitar that is comfortable and right for your size. This is most important with acoustics. Your hands and fingers are already going to be working hard learning new things. You don't need a sore shoulder from reaching over a dreadnought body that's too big for you.
- 3Electric guitars have an easier reach for most people, making them physically easier to manage. The strings usually have lower action, they're closer to the fretboard, and therefore easier to push down. Some people don't like having to deal with the nobs and switches, but some people love it. Keep in mind what kind of person you are and whether or not you'll enjoy the tech stuff.
- 4Steel string acoustic guitars are probably one of the easiest entry points for learning. They don't require much equipment and can sound good right away. They're a little more work for your hands, but the results are satisfying very quickly.
- 5Classical guitars are the most challenging for beginners. They generally have the thickest neck and the most stressful reach. Their biggest advantage is a smaller body size, but since steel string acoustics come in so many different sizes, this doesn't really apply. I'd only recommend starting on a classical guitar if you're truly committed to playing one of the styles it excels at, and are prepared to put in a lot of work.
Let me repeat this for those in the back.
Choose a guitar you're going to love to play!
How can I guarantee I'll stick with it?
Get the right mindset. Be excited!
Learn using the types of songs you want to play! Of course it'll be good to explore other genres at some point, but playing music you like keeps you interested and makes it fun. There's nothing better to keep you excited about learning.
But also be mindful of what you're committing to. Don't just say, I'll practice later. Make time in your day. It should be as routine as brushing your teeth. If you don't feel like practicing at the moment, commit to playing for ten minutes, even if you're just noodling. Often, once you have the guitar in your hands, you'll keep playing because it feels good.
There are some great tips on practicing here.
Whatever you do, DON'T kick yourself or put yourself down if you skip playing for one, or a few, days.
Playing guitar should be fun, not guilt-inducing.
Just pick up and play when you're ready.
Also, don't compare yourself to others. Everyone has different skills and learns at a different rate. You do you – don't worry about what anyone else is doing. If you want to improve faster, practice more.
Most of all, have fun with it. Play music you love. Joke around when you want. Have friends over to play together, or just to listen. Share what you're learning with someone you care about. Sit around discussing the best players with your friends. Play at a party. Do whatever makes it fun for you.
What is the best way to learn?
There are so many options now. It's hard to say that there's a fastest or best way to learn how to play guitar, but let's consider a few things.
Online guitar courses vary widely in quality but give you the convenience of moving forward at your own pace. If they're well done, they're engaging and you progress fairly quickly. You have the advantage of being able to re-watch portions of the video for clarification and if the instructor is responsive to questions, it can be an experience similar to private lessons. You might have to try out a few systems before you find the one that's right for you, but these lessons can be very good.
Private lessons are great, if the tuition is within your budget. Regular attendance gives you a weekly goal to strive for which helps keep you on track. A good local instructor can address all of your questions as they arise and tailor a lesson plan according to your interests. The biggest challenge is finding an instructor that you're compatible with and that will lead you to your goals. Being a great player and good teacher are two different things. You might have to go through a few instructors to find the right one.
Group lessons have their merits, they're more affordable than private, but they rarely advance at your pace. In a group environment you are largely responsible for your own success. The way you improve is to do more than is asked of you. Go in prepared and with appropriate questions. Also, ask the instructor for additional exercises and material to practice.
YouTube videos can be great if you use them right. Of course it's great to learn the fun stuff. So watching a video on how to play a certain riff, or get a special effect can teach you a lot, but you shouldn't neglect the basics. Regardless of what method you choose, don't neglect chords and major and minor scales, and good strumming technique. These are the foundation of good musicianship and will help build you into a great guitarist.
Instructional books would be lowest on my list. They can make a great supplement to an online learning program, but to just sit down and teach yourself from a book is very challenging. Though it definitely shows commitment. But unless you have limited access to the internet, I wouldn't use books as a standalone learning method.
An Interesting Approach to Guitar Practice
Tony's Acoustic Challenge takes an interesting approach to learning acoustic guitar. It's low stress focus on fun, progress and community. If you're not aiming for guitar god rock star status, you should check this program out.
A Few Program Features:
• Daily, 10-minute guided guitar practice that follows the TAC Method of Guitar improvement for having more fun with your guitar while seeing constant progress.
• Perfect for brand new guitar players, those coming back to guitar after a long time away, and experienced players who feel stuck in a guitar rut.
• Brand new guitar players will start with the “30 Days to Play” course that takes them from knowing nothing to playing fun and recognizable songs and riffs in 30 days or less. Once completed, they’ll begin the daily, 10-minute guitar practice challenge.
• 60-day money back guarantee.
How to Choose Your First Guitar
Awesome, you've decided to learn guitar! Let's take a look at your options to help you figure out what kind of beginner guitar is right for you.
1) What type of music do you want to play?
If you want to play rock, country, blues or any mainstream genre, you're probably going to want either a steel string acoustic guitar, or an electric guitar (solid body or semi-hollow).
If you want to play classical, Spanish or flamenco music, you're going to want a classical (nylon string) guitar.
For jazz, you probably want a hollow or semi-hollow body electric guitar.
If you're not sure, take a moment to research the genre you want to play and find out what guitars your favorite guitarists play. This will be a good place to start.
2) Which type of guitar gets you most excited about playing?
Put that at the top of your list. But there are a few more considerations before making your final decision, so keep your mind open at this point in the decision making process.
3) What's your budget?
First, don't buy the cheapest of the cheap, if you can help it. A poor quality guitar won't stay in tune or sound good and can discourage you from wanting to play.
Start with quality student lines from brands like Yamaha, Fender Squier, Cordoba and Epiphone.
Steel string acoustic and classical guitars are easiest on your budget, partly because you don't need a lot of extra equipment. A strap, a gig bag, some picks and an extra set of strings and you're ready to go.
Electric guitars need a cable and amp in addition to everything an acoustic guitar needs, which adds to the price.
4) Does the guitar fit you?
You want a guitar that's comfortable and suits your body size and type. You want an instrument that feels good in your hands.
If you're taller, or smaller, with long or short fingers, you might need to take these things into consideration.
If you're smaller, or have small hands, you may want to consider a ¾ size or parlor guitar, or a smaller body electric, to start on just to make learning easier. You can decide later whether you want to up-size or not.
5) What features should you look for in a beginner guitar?
On acoustic guitars, if you can get a solid wood top in your budget range, go for it. Different woods have different tonal qualities, so keep that in mind. You can check out this article on tonewoods.
In general, look for tuners and knobs that move smoothly, that it's solidly built and well balanced. Check the fret board for smoothness and that there are no fret ends sticking out. You want the finish to look good, too, as the care they take there can be an indicator of other quality control issues.
6) Do you love the guitar you're getting?Even if you may have to start simpler than your dream guitar, hopefully the above advice has led you to discover a guitar you can love. One that fits your style, your body and your budget while being a great beginner guitar to learn on.