Although they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles, there are three basic types of guitar: Electric, Steel String Acoustic, and Nylon String Acoustic or Classical guitar.
As we discussed in Part 1, buying a brand-name will ensure a certain level of quality, enable you to find replacement parts when repairs are needed, and get you a higher resale value when it’s time to trade up. Here are some brand names you should consider:
Electric – Fender, Gibson, Ibanez
Acoustic (Steel String)- Yamaha, Takamine, Breedlove, Taylor, Martin
Classical (Nylon String) – Yamaha, Takamine, Cordoba, Taylor
This is far from a comprehensive list — it contains only the most popular and commonly available brands. Having too many choices not only makes it harder to arrive at a decision, but you often end up less satisfied with your final selection. For first-time buyers, there are more affordable versions of the most popular electric guitars from Fender (Squier), and Gibson (Epiphone).
Unless the guitar is being purchased for a class or ensemble where the type of instrument is specified, you should go for a guitar that matches the style of music you (or your child) are most interested in. We put the following questions to Mark:
What should a new player look for when buying their first guitar, and what should they avoid?
A new player should always try out different models of guitars before purchasing. Plan on spending an afternoon trying out the wide variety of guitars available!
The most important thing is size ratio. How the guitar fits the individual is critical in the early stages of playing. Guitars come in half, three quarter, and full sizes giving the beginning player much more variety in their choice. In addition, the feel of the instrument is so important. Some instruments (especially steel-string acoustics) can be stiff and be hard to play.
Once you have settled on the particular type, always choose the guitar that is easy on the fingers and doesn’t require a lot of effort in terms of pushing down on the strings. One last thing, nylon strings tend to be easier on the fingers for beginners but that is relative to what style of music the player is interested in learning.
What is the minimum amount they should expect to spend?
Guitar playing is more popular than ever and therefore the amount and variety of models runs the spectrum from high quality high-priced models to much less expensive entry-level instruments. A very good first guitar can be purchased anywhere from $100 on up. That goes for electric or acoustic models.
Many models are available online but the hazard is that you don’t have the ability to try the instrument out before purchasing. Obviously, the more you spend the better the guitar, however some very good instruments can be purchased for a relatively small investment leaving the option to upgrade as the player becomes more proficient.
One more thing, any purchase of an electric guitar will necessitate buying an amplifier. Many small, portable, and powerful amps are available for the beginner as are guitar/amp packages. Just know that going in. Small amps run around $100 or more on top of the guitar’s initial price.
Would you recommend anything different for a young beginner vs. and adult beginner?
The only thing that I would watch is size ratio. Make absolutely certain that the guitar “fits” the player. Younger players do deal with sore fingers for the first month or so. Steel-string acoustics are much harder on smaller hands and fingers.
However, the choice of the first guitar should take many factors into account as all guitars will require some amount of “getting used to” in terms of the fingers. Back to the size issue I personally like the smaller models and have a half-size guitar that I just love. It’s a good guitar to travel with and doesn’t take up as much space in the car!
Should they consider used?
Yes, absolutely. There are many guitars out there that are no longer in use for one reason or another. Some very good used guitars are available if you take the time to research, but of course you should inspect the instrument carefully before purchasing. Go online and Google the model, get pricing, and read user reviews of the particular guitar you are looking at.
Having someone with a lot of experience in guitars would be very helpful too. If you know someone have them look the instrument over before you decide to purchase. If you have covered all these bases you should feel comfortable purchasing a used instrument.
Can you give some specific recommendations for entry-level, mid-level, and higher-priced models?
Yamaha makes a wide variety of guitars that meet all levels and needs of the new player. You can spend a little or a lot and get a good starter acoustic.
As for electric, Fender Squier models are everywhere. They do tend to vary in quality from one instrument to the next however, but they will do the job for the first year of playing.
As for acoustics, Takamine makes some nice instruments as does Breedlove. Breedlove models can get pricey and could be included under the high-end list but they do have some really nice mid-priced models that would last a lifetime. Just about every acoustic guitar manufacturer will have options at this price point.
Mid-priced electrics are everywhere, but by far, the most popular have been the Epiphone Les Paul Models. I recommend checking them out thoroughly before purchasing as I’ve seem some technical issues with them as they age. Ibanez also make some good electrics in this range that are good for the beginner.
By far Taylor seems to have a leg up on quality and innovation. Their acoustic models are top of the line and the variety is astounding. They also have some really nice small-sized acoustics that are great sounding and easy to play.
I did have a student show up for a lesson last night with a new Martin. It was a great guitar and reminded me of one of the most comfortable and great sounding guitars I ever played–also a Martin!
Some Final Words on Shopping
Shopping for your first guitar can be a dizzying process: there are more types, more makers, more models, and more individual variations among the same make and model than for any other instrument. So before you head out, try to narrow your choices.
If you will be playing acoustic rock or folk music around a campfire or fireplace, you’ll want an acoustic guitar. If you want to peform or record acoustic music, then look for an acoustic-electric model. One advantage of acoustic guitars is that you can take them outside or around the house without needing to lug around a bunch of other equipment.
If you are shopping for an electric guitar, do you want the clear, ringing tones that typically come from a Fender, or the smoother, rounder tones of a Gibson? Amplifiers and effect boxes can help shape the sound, but you probably want to start out simply with something that produces a sound you like without having to manipulate a bunch of knobs, pedals and buttons.
In Part 1, we suggested that you buy brand-name equipment at a price that is appropriate to the level of commitment you (or the recipient if it’s a gift) have to the instrument. But don’t go so cheap that the instrument will discourage a beginner. A guitar that is a poor fit, or is difficult to play or keep in tune will never be a bargain regardless of the price.
Also, keep in mind that if you stick with it, you will probably want to own both an acoustic and an electric guitar. Or more likely, several of each!