Choosing the Right Guitar: Introduction
When embarking on your musical journey, selecting the right guitar is a pivotal first step. For beginners, this choice sets the tone for your learning experience and progression. The perfect guitar should resonate with your style, feel comfortable in your hands, and align with your musical aspirations. In this guide, we'll explore crucial factors, from the different types of guitars to the impact of construction on playability, ensuring you make an informed decision that will enhance your musical journey.
Types of Guitars
Acoustic guitars, known for their rich, natural sound, are a popular choice among beginners. They come in two main varieties: Classical guitars, with nylon strings, offer a softer sound and are often recommended for fingerstyle playing and because of the softer strings, are less likely to hurt your fingertips. Steel-string acoustic guitars, on the other hand, produce a louder, brighter tone, suitable for a wide range of music genres. Their versatility makes them a favourite among folk, country, and pop musicians. It’s worth noting that in general terminology, steel-string acoustic guitars will simply be referred to as ‘acoustic guitars’.
PRO TIP: To make a steel-string guitar easier to play, put lower gauge strings on it. Ask your local guitar shop to help you with this, the strings will then be a bit easier to push down onto the fretboard.
Electric guitars, distinguished by their solid bodies and reliance on amplification, offer a diverse range of sounds and styles. They are generally easier to play, with lighter strings and a slimmer neck, making them a great option for beginners, especially those interested in rock, blues, or jazz. Popular models for beginners often balance quality and affordability, providing an excellent introduction to the world of electric guitars.
PRO TIP: In my experience, Squier Strats or Yamaha Pacifica electric guitars make good choices for beginners. Also, don’t settle for cheap electric guitars, they often don’t stay in tune and aren’t fit for playing. At the time of writing (November 2023), around £200 is a good target price for your first electric guitar.
Understanding Guitar Anatomy
Guitars consist of several key parts: the body, which shapes the instrument's sound; the neck and frets, where you place your fingers; and the headstock, which the tuning pegs sit on, see the diagrams below for all parts of the acoustic (steel-string), classical and electric guitars. Click the images to make them bigger.
Size and Comfort
The size and shape of a guitar are crucial for comfort, especially for beginners. Guitars come in various sizes, from full-sized dreadnoughts to smaller parlor guitars. Younger players or those with smaller frames may prefer a ¾ size guitar for easier handling or a full size guitar with a smaller body. For example, I prefer a Taylor 332 acoustic guitar which has a slightly smaller body (I’m 5 ft 11”/183cm tall if that’s helpful). The key is to find a guitar that feels comfortable to hold and play, as this greatly influences learning progress and motivation.
Guitar prices vary widely, from affordable entry-level models to high-end professional instruments. For beginners, it's important to find a balance between quality and affordability. A decent entry-level guitar can range from £150 to £300 depending on the type of guitar. Nylon string guitars can be pretty good starter options if budget is your main consideration and they generally stay in tune (as long as you didn’t buy it in a supermarket or a cheap Amazon outlet!). You might also consider buying second-hand or looking for seasonal sales to find quality options within your budget and if possible, get a friend who plays guitar to help you buy.
PRO TIP: Be mindful that guitar is a long-term commitment, we’re talking months and years, not days and weeks so the financial commitment will also need to be there. You’re going to spend quite a bit of time playing your guitar so it’s best not to cut corners at this crucial stage and pay for something with some longevity.
Sound and Music Genre
The type of guitar you choose should align with the music you aspire to play. Acoustic guitars are versatile and suit genres like folk, country, and pop, while electric guitars are ideal for rock, blues, and jazz. Listen to different guitar sounds and try playing various models to see which resonates with your musical taste. Watch videos of your favourite artists and see what guitars they use on the songs that you love listening to and aspire to recreate. This will give you a good indication of which guitar you should buy.
In addition to the guitar, beginners will need some essential accessories:
Picks for strumming
Tuner for keeping the guitar in tune
Strap for playing standing up (it helps sitting down too)
Capo for changing the key of songs easily
These accessories don't have to be expensive but are crucial for a complete beginner's setup.
Maintenance and Care
Proper maintenance is key to your guitar's longevity. This includes regular cleaning, safe storage, and avoiding extreme temperatures or humidity. Simple habits like wiping down the strings after playing can prolong their life. For more serious issues, consult a professional for maintenance or repairs.
Choosing the right guitar is a personal journey. It's about finding an instrument that feels right in your hands, suits your budget, and inspires you musically. Remember, this guitar will be your companion through the early stages of your musical journey, so take your time and choose wisely.
If you’ve already decided on your guitar, check out The Key to Successful Practice for Beginner Guitar Players for tips on what you should think about when practicing guitar.
About The Author
Aaron Carrington is the owner of Carrington Guitar Academy in Bath, UK. Now permanently in Bath, Aaron specializes in teaching older adults how to play guitar and learn their favourite songs by offering a personalized lesson plan tailored to each student’s goals. You may also catch Aaron busking regularly on the streets of Bath. If you're interested in guitar lessons get in touch to book a FREE trial lesson.
Since graduating from The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London, Aaron has played in high profile locations such as Buckingham Palace, The Savoy and The London Eye. He’s been a regular part of the UK wedding and corporate gig scene and has travelled internationally to the Middle East to play in top quality residency bands 6 nights per week. The finesse gained from this level of playing experience is passed on to his guitar students.