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There are several things you should think about before buying a guitar for yourself or your child. A common pitfall for beginning students is simply getting the wrong guitar for their size. It's important to find a guitar that's right for you.

Acoustic Guitars  

A common mistake for parents is to buy their son or daughter a full-sized acoustic guitar. These instruments are bulky, delicate, and harder to play than either reduced-scale acoustics, or full-sized electrics of comparable quality. I don’t usually recommend an acoustic, unless the student has a specific interest in acoustic music.

This isn’t to say that acoustic guitars aren’t suited for beginners. It depends on the individual, and on your particular situation.

Electric Guitars

I usually recommend beginning on an electric - for several reasons. If it's properly set up, an electric is easier to play than an acoustic. Chances are most of the guitar music you want to play was recorded with electric guitar. The techniques for acoustic and electric are the same, for the most part, though there are exceptions. There are a few ‘electric only’ and ‘acoustic only’ techniques.

There are many inexpensive, high-quality electric guitars available. Manufacturers like Fender, Ibanez, Yamaha and Washburn offer beginner's packages including a guitar, amp and cord which go for as little as $300. These are usually good quality, durable instruments.

You can also save money by buying a used guitar and amp, and there are always good deals around. Electric guitars and amps are fairly durable, so you don't have to be afraid of buying used. Have someone with experience look at it first, if possible.

Some people think there is an advantage to beginning on acoustic instead of electric. I believe that you are no more likely to form bad habits on electric than on acoustic. Some people think they will become better players if they learn on a guitar that's harder to play, but this only makes them learn more slowly.

The most important thing when you are getting the first guitar is to get one that is easy to play. Playability is determined mostly by the height of the strings from the fretboard, the spacing between strings, and the width of the neck overall.

Small Scale Guitars

I recommend to some of my students that they start on a small-scale instrument for the first year or so. Reduced-scale acoustic guitars are available for about $150.

A good starter guitar for a kid who isn't full-grown is one of the Squier guitars with a 24" scale length. This isn't a 'kids' scale length. It's the same scale length George Benson plays. (A Les Paul or SG is 24 3/4." A Stratocaster or Telecaster is 25 1/4.") A 24 3/4" guitar like the Squier Mustang with double-coil (humbucker) pickups gives you easy playability, and a modern, hum-free sound.

Before you buy a guitar, check to see if you can comfortably reach with your right hand over the top of body of the guitar, and touch the strings. Also see if you your left hand can reach comfortably across the guitar neck, to touch the strings. If the guitar doesn't pass these two tests, then it probably isn't the right instrument for you.

String Spacing

Some people have the opposite problem - their fingers are too big to get between the strings. It's a common problem. The solution is to find a guitar with a wider string spacing. This usually means a wider neck.

Neck width and string spacing vary greatly on both acoustic and electric guitars. Nylon string acoustics often have very wide necks. As for electrics, Les Paul and SG style guitars tend to have wide necks.

String spacing varies between individual  instruments, even when they're the same model from the same production run. And that difference is enough to effect how the guitar plays.

Warmoth Guitars makes a 'Super Wide' Strat neck that is 1-7/8" at the nut. (Search for 'warmoth super wide strat neck'.)

If you have a guitar that is too big for you, then you can use a capo to essentially 'shorten' the guitar neck. I've created a set of beginners lessons for guitar with capo at the 4th fret. This makes chording much easier for beginners.

Find The Right Guitar

Copyright 2000 by Greg Varhaug. All Rights Reserved.

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