When someone first decides to learn how to play the guitar, there usually is a bajillion different questions going through their heads. One of the biggest is ‘what is the best guitar for a beginner’? And truthfully, this may be one of the most important things you can ask.
Do we have the answer? Of course, we do! But it may not be exactly what you think. If you’re expecting us to say “the best beginner’s guitar is model 1234 from Manufacturer X’, then you may be looking in the wrong direction.
You see, there IS no one best model…
While that may seem a bit confusing, it’s really not. Let’s take a look – when we’re done, you’ll see that while it is a simple thing to figure out, there are a lot of things to consider when shopping for your first guitar.
The first thing to start with is developing an understanding of the different types of guitars.
Each one has its own set of pros and cons, but having a little guitar knowledge under your belt will help guide you in making the best choice.
There are three main types to compare: a steel-string acoustic, a nylon string (or ‘classical’) acoustic, or a full-blown electric.
Steel-string acoustic guitar
One price gets you the entire package – no need to buy a guitar amplifier
Depending on the model, the width of the neck may be a little larger at the nut than some other types. This extra space can make learning and playing your first chords a lot easier.
Body proportions are typically larger than that of a solid body electric guitar, making them possibly a bit more awkward to hold at first
The steel strings are the thickest out of the three main guitar types. This means that more tension is needed to get them up to pitch, which can make them harder to press down to make your notes (a process called ‘fretting a note’).
“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” – Jimi Hendrix
Solid-body electric guitar
The body and overall proportions are typically smaller than most acoustics, making them more comfortable to maneuver and hold when playing
An electric guitar has steel strings too, but they tend to be thinner than that of a steel-string acoustic. Just as thicker strings need more tension to be tuned properly, the opposite is true here – less is needed. And that means they can feel more comfortable under your fingers.
There’s just a bunch of cool stuff you can do on an electric that you just can’t do easily on an acoustic. Sure, you can slide, bend notes, practice your vibrato, finger tap, etc.on the other guitar types – but you most likely won’t be able to do them all that well, especially as a beginner.
There’s on big con here – played by themselves, you simply can’t hear them. You’ll need to buy a guitar amp to listen to it above even normal conversation. Sure, you can get cheap practice amps – or go all the way to an uber-expensive boutique, hand made amplifier – but the bottom line here is that your costs don’t stop when you purchase the guitar itself.
Nylon string acoustic guitar (aka ‘classical’ guitars)
Nylon strings take the least amount of tension to be tuned to pitch, plus they are a little thicker than steel strings. This leads to the most comfort when first starting to play.
Overall proportions maybe a little smaller than full-sized steel-string acoustics, which leads them to be a bit easier to manage
As with a steel-string acoustic – there is no need for a separate guitar amplifier
Due to their particular designs, the fretboard has an almost flat radius. This can make full chords more challenging to play, as the fretboards on other guitar types are slightly curved to match the natural contours of your fretting hand.
They have a unique tone that’s all their own. They are typically heard the most in – you guessed it – classical guitar pieces. That being said, tell that to Willie Nelson or Zac Brown!
Taking all of the different types into account, we’d ultimately recommend a steel-string acoustic as the first type of guitar a beginner should start out with. Why? Not having to have an amp is a big deal – you can let yourself be heard in just about any environment.
That, and having thicker strings really may be more of a benefit than a downside. That’s true for a few reasons. They may be harder to press down, but they will build up the strength in your hands much quicker. Once you develop some skills on an acoustic, playing an electric will feel like warm butter…
You’ll also develop calluses on your fingertips faster as well. Building up calluses is a pretty big deal. We won’t kid you here – it’s gonna hurt when you first start out—possibly more than you expect. But once you get that hardened skin on your fingertips, you’ll be good to go. It’s just like weight lifting – ‘no pain, no gain’!
The ‘other’ big things to consider
OK – so we’ve gotten to the point where you have an idea of what type of guitar may be best for a beginner. But the decision doesn’t end there. From here is where you need to check out different models, all while taking into account the three main points below:
How well it plays
Simply put – don’t buy a cheap piece of junk that isn’t set up as it should be. While most guitars – even at the lower end of the scale – have decent quality levels, some may be just awful. The string action (the height of the strings from the fretboard) may be way too high, making fretting notes and full chords almost impossible.
Intonation is a big deal too. The term refers to a guitar’s ability to play in tune all the way up the neck. Guitars with poor intonation will get progressively worse the higher you go.
Don’t set yourself up for failure – get a guitar that plays reasonably well and in tune in all positions on the neck. Too many players have started out with a guitar that is just terrible, and they end up losing interest – fast.
How well it sounds
No, you don’t need to go out and buy a top-of-the-line Martin that costs several thousand dollars and has the tone of a chorus of angels. What you do need is a guitar that sounds good.
Cheaper models can have a lack of distinction between all of the frequencies that an acoustic guitar produces. Some may have a bass that is too boomy, and some may sound too harsh and brittle. The best choice is one that is balanced to produce a full, warm tone.
Just as you should not pick a guitar that’s hard to play, you shouldn’t get one that doesn’t sound good to your ears. It’s yet another big reason that people become discouraged because even though they are playing the right things, it just sounds…like…crap…
How much it costs
The bottom line is that we all have a budget, right? It sure would be nice to have unlimited funds at our disposal but for the vast majority of us guitar players that simply isn’t an option.
The best piece of advice here is to get the best guitar that checks all of the boxes that we’ve talked about so far but still is within your price range. And there’s a reason for that.
Learning to play the guitar can be one of the most rewarding things you can do, but it also can be one of the most challenging. And you know what that means? It means for every guitarist that is plugging away, building up their ability to play with every minute that they practice, there may be all the more that just lost interest and gave up.
That also means there are plenty of worthy guitars that are tucked away in a corner, or stored in a case under someone’s bed. It makes little sense to spend a lot of money on a guitar at first, especially if you don’t really know that you’ll succeed. That’s not meant to sound discouraging – not at all – but possibly a little realistic.
How well it looks
OK – so there’s four points instead of three. Consider it a bonus. But you have to admit – a good looking guitar is pretty killer, and it can inspire you to practice!
Right at the beginning is the toughest time for someone new to the instrument. There can be so much that is overwhelming, where all it may take for someone to give up is picking the wrong guitar in the first place.
Overall we recommend starting out with a decent quality steel-string acoustic that sounds good, plays right, and hits your price point. Finding that ‘best guitar for beginners’ really will take a little time and research on your end.
Just remember – it’s not the kill, but the thrill of the chase!
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