I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Your First Guitar
If you are trying to choose your first electric or acoustic guitar you may be feeling a little overwhelmed, especially if you don’t yet know a whole lot about guitars. When you’re first starting out it might seem like everyone is speaking another language. The internet can be a tremendous resource, but with so many different guitars made by many different manufacturers, it’s hard to know where to start.
You need a little help, and that’s where I come in. I’ve been a guitarist for three decades, and have played and owned countless guitars over the years. I’ve also helped many new guitarists choose their first instruments, based on their needs and goals.
In this article, you’ll find all the information you require to choose the best beginner guitar for you. This guide will get you on your way, and help you to better understand your options.
It about more than learning which are the best guitar brands to choose from. You’ll learn how to assess a new guitar (even if you can't yet play a note), where to find the instrument you want, and how to handle yourself when you walk into a guitar shop for the first time. Nobody knows this stuff when they first start out, so try not to feel intimidated.
I may as well warn you: This is a long article. But it’s packed with information, and I’m constantly updating it to make sure it is the most helpful resource I can offer on the subject. I've also written several companion pieces you may find useful, which I have referenced throughout the text.
Consider the process of choosing your first guitar the first step in a long musical journey that will reward you for the rest of your life. Most of all, remember that this journey is supposed to be fun!
Let's get started!
Should You Start with an Electric or Acoustic Guitar?
Some new guitarists have the idea that they need to start out on an acoustic and later graduate to electric, but that’s not necessarily true. In fact, in some ways, an electric guitar can be easier for a newbie guitarist to learn on. The strings are generally lighter and easier to press down, and that means notes and chords are easier to fret for fumbling, inexperienced fingers.
From a parent’s perspective, an electric guitar comes with one major benefit you don’t always find on acoustics: a volume knob that can be turned down. Many beginner’s amps even come with headphone jacks, so a newbie guitar player can hack away in relative silence. Of course, volume knobs turn in the other direction too, so that’s always something to consider!
Ultimately, the decision of whether to start out on an electric or acoustic guitar is up to you. The right guitar is the one that inspires a new guitarist to pick up the instrument and learn.
Here are a couple of articles that can help you sort it out:
If you are still befuddled, consider what you expect out of your new guitar. What kind of music do you want to learn to play? This may already be clear in your head, or it may require some soul searching.
Then, learn what kinds of guitars the guys in your favorite bands that play that kind of music are using. In many cases, their personal instruments may be out of your price range, but there are always similar, more wallet-friendly models out there.
The First Step
Finding the right guitar takes research and a certain amount of work on your part. This is true whether you are a newbie looking for your first instrument or a veteran musician. The time you spend is worth it in the long run because you’re going to be far more knowledgeable than you would have been had you not done the work.
Getting your game plan together helps you stay cool when talking with the sales people at the shop too. Most sales staff personnel are excellent, but some really seem to have no idea what they are talking about. Few are nefarious, but you can imagine how hard it must be to keep track of the specs and details of hundreds of different instruments.
If you do your research you’ll be able to sort out fact from fiction when the sales guy starts spouting off and making recommendations. You'll be able to evaluate a guitar and understand the differences in tonewoods, electronics, pickups, and hardware. You are going to have to learn this stuff eventually, so you may as well start now.
If you don't have a clue where to start when it comes to learning about guitar specs and terms, here is a resource I created that goes deeper into the subject.
Online or Music Store?
Is it okay to buy a guitar online? If you are lucky enough to have guitar shops nearby that are owned and managed by local people who do a great job of meeting your needs, my advice is always to give them the business before going online. Unfortunately, those types of shops are becoming harder to find.
On a positive note, buying online offers you a wide range of choices, and you have an almost infinite number of merchants to choose from. Most importantly, you usually have a better chance of getting exactly what you want online.
Wherever you get your guitar, choose a dealer that offers a good return policy.
Your First Trip to the Guitar Shop
Even if you eventually decide to buy online, it's still a good idea to go out in the real world so you can get some hands-on experience with different guitars. After you’ve done some research and narrowed your choices down to a few different models it’s time to get out there and visit some guitar shops.
If you have several reputable stores in your area you should plan to visit them all. It’s a rookie mistake to go to one shop and grab whatever they have to offer. Ideally, you want to be able to compare multiple instruments.
It’s also a mistake to buy a guitar you aren’t completely happy with just because you can’t find exactly what you want. Most dealers will order a guitar for you if they don’t have it in stock, but if not you can always look online.
For a guitarist, a musical instrument store is a wonderful place packed with pretty, shiny things. It’s tempting, but don’t just stare at the wall when you get there! Find one of those guitars you’ve been researching and tell the salesman you want to check it out.
If you need some advice on which guitars to look at, here are a couple of recommendations:
Epiphone Les Paul LP Special II
If I had to pick one electric guitar to recommend for beginners above all others, I'd choose the Epiphone LP Special II. This is a great choice if you want to start out on electric guitar. It has a fixed bridge so it stays in tune better, and a pair of powerful humbucker pickups that can handle anything from hard rock to jazz.
This is a guitar built in the mold of the Gibson Les Paul, and it is hugely inspiring for newbie guitarists to start out on the same type of instrument wielded by so many guitar greats.
Hear the Epiphone Les Paul Special II
Yamaha FG Series
The Yamaha FG Series is my choice for the top acoustic guitars for beginners. The Yamaha FG800 in particular is a high-quality instrument for a reasonable price. It routinely gets high marks for craftsmanship and value, even from veteran guitarists. That makes it an awesome first guitar, and a great choice for launching your musical career.
Check out the Yamaha FG Series
How to Evaluate a Guitar's Construction
It is worth it to spend some time learning how to choose an electric guitar. The salesman will help you with the guitar you want to try out, and if its an electric he'll also line you up with an amp. Be sure to tell him what kind of music you want to play so he picks one that matches your style.
But before you crank it up take some time to noodle around with the guitar unplugged. You’ll get a good idea of how it feels, and what you think of the layout of the instrument.
Not sure what to look for? Here are a few things to think about:
- How does the neck shape fit your hand?
- Does the hardware seem solid or cheap?
- Does everything seem lined up correctly?
- Are there any issues with the construction, either inherent to the design or specific to that guitar?
- If it has knobs and controls, do they work smoothly without much friction?
- Are the tuners solid and without wobble?
- How does the guitar sound unplugged? When you strum across the strings do the notes ring clear?
- Is it hard to press the strings down to the fretboard because they seem too far away?
- If it is an acoustic guitar, do the pieces fit together snugly without excessive evidence of gluing?
Obviously these same points apply to choosing an acoustic guitar, minus all the electronic stuff.
You may have noticed you don't need to be able to play a single note to perform the evaluation listed above. A guitar is like any other piece of equipment, and you can tell a lot about how well it is made just by looking closely.
There is nothing wrong with passing on a guitar just because of the way it looks or feels. Of course, sound matters much more than appearance, but if you’re going to plunk down your cash you have the right to be picky.
How a guitar feels will tell you if it’s the right fit for you, and the quality of the components tells you a lot about how much you can expect to get out of the instrument. It’s true that quality can vary in some models, especially budget-level guitars, so just because you find one dud doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying out another of the same model.
This is why it’s good to try out many guitars before making a decision. There are some underrated guitar brands out there that make really good stuff.
Assessing the Sound of a Guitar
As a newbie guitarist, you aren't going to hear the same things as a veteran player when you evaluate the sound of a guitar. You may not have any idea what you are hearing! But you know what you like, so follow this simple rule of thumb:
Sounds you like are good; sounds you don't like are bad.
Don't focus so much on why a guitar sounds a certain way. Just worry about finding one that produces the sounds you enjoy.
If you can't play a single note, and you're too embarrassed to try, ask the guitar shop's salesman to play a little for you. They understand what it's like to be a newbie, and they were once where you are. Most will be more than happy to help you.
Remember that the sounds you hear on recordings, and even what you hear on the internet, can be colored by numerous factors, including the player. Only you can decide if the sounds are pleasing and if the tone and characteristics of the guitar match what you want.
Again, try out the volume, tone and pickup controls and make sure they are working correctly.
Hear the guitar at different guitar and amp volume levels, and with different amounts of distortion. Really dial yourself in and try to hear the nuances of the tone.
It’s important to compare and contrast many different instruments when you are trying guitars. Use the same amp each time so you know the differences you are hearing are in the instrument.
There's No Reason to Feel Intimidated!
Especially where you’re somewhat of a newbie, it can be intimidating to walk into a guitar store where it seems like everyone knows more than you do. We've all been there. The owners and staff members of the good shops know where you’re coming from, and they’re there to help.
On the other hand, if you run into staff that pressures you or makes you feel uncomfortable, leave the shop and come back later. Or, don’t come back at all.
Do not be hasty in your decision. Take a few days to sleep on it. If you have questions that the sales staff cannot adequately answer go home and do more research. Ask questions in online forums, and seek out reviews. If you have noted a sound issue in a certain guitar model, odds are someone else has seen this problem as well.
Certainly, feel free to post your questions in the comments section of this article and I will be happy to help if I can!
Choosing your very first guitar isn't an easy task, and it's worth taking your time. Your new guitar should be something you’re completely happy with, never just good enough. Guitars are expensive investments but, if you’re like me and many other players, they are almost like part of your family. The guitar you buy today will hopefully be with you for decades. Picking out a new family member is a job worthy of a great deal of thought and preparation, don't you think?
Still, we all make mistakes. But being prepared for your trip to the guitar shop, and getting a good idea of what to look for when you get there, will go a long way in minimizing your chance of error.
Good luck with your search, and don't forget to have fun!
Resources for Choosing Your First Guitar
Here are a few more articles that can help you pick out the perfect starter guitar:
- Starting out on a quality acoustic guitar makes learning easier, since a better guitar is usually easier to play, not to mention sounds better. Inspiration means a lot when it comes to convincing a newbie to practice every day! This shortlist of some of the top options ought to help you find best guitars in this price range.
- Check out ten electric guitars, each under and from some of the top guitar brand names in the business. These guitars are perfect for beginners, and at such reasonable prices you’ll have some cash left over for a solid beginner amp. Think you can start out playing a Stratocaster or Les Paul? You bet you can!
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the biggest difference between an acoustic and electric guitar?
Answer: The biggest difference is in the purpose of each instrument. If you consider both the acoustic guitar and electric guitar as tools for making music, the difference between them comes down the purpose for which you would use each tool. Just as the hammer and the saw are tools with very different purposes, so are the acoustic and electric guitar.
Or, to make the metaphor a little neater, the acoustic guitar vs. the electric guitar is like the bow saw vs. the hacksaw. Both are saws. Both cut things. But you’d use each for a very different purpose.
Practically speaking, I’d say the biggest and most obvious difference, especially for beginners, is that electric guitar requires an amplifier, while an acoustic guitar does not. This means that starting out on acoustic guitar is a little less complicated, not to mention that it saves you a few bucks on your first guitar setup.
However, I think the difference in the purpose of each instrument is the most important idea for beginners to keep in mind when choosing between the two. It’s easy to get hung up on which is easier to play, or to worry about whether you should learn one before the other. However, the real question beginners need to ask themselves is: What do I most want to do as a guitar player?
To succeed, you need to be excited about the music you are learning, or are going to learn someday. If strumming folk or country songs gets you excited about music, you may prefer to learn on an acoustic guitar. If rock music gets you excited, you may be better off with an electric guitar. The tool you would use for folk music is not the same as the tool you’d use for heavy metal.
You choose the right tool for the job.
Michael James (author) on November 05, 2017:
Hi Paul. It sounds like the best thing to do is get out there and check out these guitars, especially if weight is a concern. It may be a little over your price range, but have you considered the Schecter Omen 6? It seems to meet your criteria - basswood body, 24 fret, great for metal - and I don't think it is especially heavy (in weight). Good luck with you choice!
Paul on November 04, 2017:
Hi, thank you for the article. I know this has been around for a while now but it came up in my search results still.
For health reasons I would like a light weight guitar, apparently basewood is good for this? I also enjoy listening to hard rock and metal so want something good for that too, ideally with 24 frets to ensure I'm never limited in what I want to play as I get better. I've shortlisted a few that appear to fit the bill and will check them locally if I can, but, could you share your thoughts please?
This wouldn't be my first guitar, actually my 2nd, but my 1st guitar is just a junk strat copy I was given and I really want something better.
Three brands are in my shortlist so far, ESP's EC-10, B.C. Rich's Mk1 Warlock and Mockingbird, and Dean's Deceiver X. Jackson would be on my list if were not for the poplar body on the JS32T Rhoads, I'll have to try the weight in a shop and see. Obviously I'm not spending a fortune as I'm still very much a beginner.
Michael James (author) on December 19, 2015:
Hi Dom. Hendrix played fairly stock '60s-era Strats through cranked-up Marshall stacks. One of the reasons for his epic tone was the volume he played at. Marshalls of that era weren't designed for thick distortion at low volumes like those we have today. He got his overdrive the old-fashioned way, with serious tube saturation and his picking technique. He also used gain-type effects pedals like a wah and a fuzz pedal to color his sound on certain songs.
But the biggest reason for his tone was, well, he was Jimi Hendrix. By trying to replicate his sound we are chasing the unattainable to a certain extent.
If you are looking for a budget rig that will get you in the neighborhood maybe go with a Squier Classic Vibe '60s Strat, Marshall MG50 amp and later add a Dunlop Hendrix Fuzz Face pedal and Dunlop Crybaby. If you have a few extra bucks to spend look at one of the Marshall low-wattage tube amps like a DSL15 or DSL40.
I understand chasing the Hendrix vibe, but try not to get too fixated on it. I've found it's best to simply try to sound like the best you that you can be rather than sound like someone else. Good luck!
Dom on December 18, 2015:
Hi I just wanted to ask if you knew what guitar/equipment would help me sound more like Jimi Hendrix
Michael James (author) on August 24, 2015:
Hi Chris. The Epiphone Les Paul Special II is a great choice for a beginner. However, as a lefty I'm concerned you might have trouble with it. You would need to string this guitar in reverse and play it upside down (the guitar upside down, not you!) and the single-cutaway LP shape may present some issues in reaching the upper frets. If you like the LP sound and vibe, instead consider the Epiphone SG Special. It's around the same price but has a double-cutaway design that will allow you to reach the upper frets. It even comes in a starter kit just like the Les Paul.
Epi does have some lefty Les Pauls but they are quite a bit more expensive than the Special. They also have a lefty version of the G-310, which is an SG model just a bit pricier than the Specials.
If you wanted to move away from Epiphone, Squier makes some affordable Affinity-Series Strats and Teles for left-handed beginners.
Hope this helps. Good luck!
chris on August 22, 2015:
hi, really great article. I had a question, what do you think of the epiphone les paul special model 2 for left hand player for a beginner.?
Michael James (author) on June 22, 2015:
Thanks so much for the kind words Darren! Good luck with your new guitar, and your adventures as a musician. You'll never regret learning to play guitar.
Darren on June 22, 2015:
Thank You so much for all the Advice and endless amount of excellent articles you have on your page. I've been dithering around for about 2 months trying to decide which starter pack (never played a note) to invest into. I like so many genres of music I was struggling to make a decission.
I nearly gave up as I've spent hours and days, weeks watching videos, reading articles etc. I've kept a very open mind and taken little bits of advice from all over but yours has been the DEFINITIVE ARTICLE.
I have finally made a decission after reading many of your pages but this final one made my mind up.
I had started leaning towards the lp-100, This article Nailed it for me and confirmed everything I'd read.
Thank You so much for your Time, Effort and First Class Advice.
I will be Following Your Articles and Soaking up all that Knowledge You Put out there.
I'll try to let you Know how it goes. Regards a Very Grateful Follower, Darren.
Michael James (author) on March 02, 2015:
Hi Rasyid. I think the other three guitars are a notch above the Bullet Strat. The Squier Affinity Series Strat is more comparable, but there is nothing wrong with the Bullet as your first guitar if it fits into your budget.
Otherwise, my advice is to play the other three guitars and see which one you like best. The Sterling is more versatile, where I think you'll find the LP and Schecter are more similar to each other. They are all in the same quality and value ballpark, so if I were you I'd simply choose which one I like best.
Rasyid on March 02, 2015:
Hey there again.. in the music store in my town.. There are epiphone lp special II.. Schecter sgr solo 6.. and that sterling sub silo 3.. Which one is better? :3 and is the squier bullet strat a good guitar for beginner?
Michael James (author) on February 27, 2015:
Thanks Rasyid! Between the two, as a first guitar I'd probably go with the Sterling simply because it is a bit more versatile. Schecter does make very good guitars, but the SGR has been discontinued I believe so you'll be looking at second-hand most likely.
Rasyid on February 27, 2015:
what a nice article.. Btw im an acoustic player and want to get a feeling of electric guitar.. Which one do you prefer? Sterling sub silo 3 or an schecter sgr solo 6.. thanks anyway
Michael James (author) on February 06, 2015:
@ noname: I have many articles intended for beginners. If you take a look at my home page you'll find a bunch of them.
@LPG: Thanks for your kind comment, as always!
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on February 05, 2015:
Good article for the new player.
noname on February 05, 2015:
I'm a total newbie and I have never played an electro guitar before, I don't even know a single note. Do you have "electro guitars for newbies 101" or something?
Michael James (author) on November 13, 2014:
Hi Samuel. I think the Schecter SGR is a great guitar to start out with, especially if you are interested in metal. Unfortunately Schecter seems to have discontinued it, but if you can find one I'd say go for it. You can also check out the Schecter Omen, which is a bit more expensive but a great guitar for the money. Good luck!
samuel on November 12, 2014:
How about a sgr c-1?to start with if wanna play metal?
Michael James (author) on August 02, 2014:
Hi cchamba. Yes, there are 3/4 and 1/2-sized acoustic guitars. My most recent post has some suggestions on good smaller-size acoustics for kids.
cchamba on August 01, 2014:
I have an 8 year old that wants to learn electric guitar.
are there different sizes like accustic guitars?
Schickeria on July 07, 2014:
Thanks for the advice. I read someother articles of yours and you seem someone who knows what he is talking about.
Michael James (author) on July 07, 2014:
Thanks Schickeria. If you're looking for a guitar for beginners and you're into metal check out the Jackson JS32 series. They are lower-cost versions of the King V, Kelly, Warrior, Rhoads and Dinky, and great starter guitars if you are into extreme metal. Good luck!
Schickeria on July 06, 2014:
This is really amazing. I feel like I know something about guiters after I read this article even if I played a guiter once in my life. I was thinking about buying a electonic guitar for a long time, but I don't know what to buy. I would like to buy something really brutal. Something for brutal death metal and black metal. If you could recommend me something for begginers like me it would be great!
Michael James (author) on June 20, 2014:
Hi mel. My main issue with beginners starting out on an electric-acoustic guitar is that some of the value of the guitar is tied up in the preamp (electronics). Beginners are usually looking at guitars around $200-$300, so if $50 of that is preamp the guitar itself will be that much lower quality. Of course that problem goes away if you're willing to spend more on your first guitar.
If you can find a good deal on a guitar you really like, there's no reason you can't start out on an acoustic-electric. Just make sure you do your homework. Epiphone makes a good electric-acoustic starter pack called the PR-4E.
mel on June 19, 2014:
So, where do electric-acoustic guitars fall in?
I'm a beginner researching to decide which to get and had just about made up my mind to get an electric-acoustic but after reading this I'm thinking electric.
Michael James (author) on June 07, 2014:
Thanks Starcaster. Glad you gave that poor abused guitar a new home! The OE 30 is a semi-hollow body guitar, very different in construction from your Starcaster Strat. Semi-hollow guitars have a solid center block and hollow sides usually with "f" holes.
Semi-hollow body guitars are larger, usually have a pair of humbucker pickups, and utilize warmer woods like mahogany for the neck and center block (not sure exactly what the OE30 used). The sound will generally be rounder, warmer but still with a a vintage vibe.
By comparison, your Strat has a totally solid body, utilizes snappier tonewoods and has three single coil pickups. You already know what your strat sounds like. :-)
Either guitar is just fine for starting out, especially if you can get a good deal. But they are very different guitars. Not sure why you asking about the comparison, but thinking maybe you're familiar with the old Fender Starcaster. The old Starcasters wasn't like a Strat at all, but a semi-hollow like the OE30. Those two guitars are much more similar than the present-day Starcasters and the OE30.
Adam Loveless from SALINAS,CA on June 06, 2014:
Alright so I have a Starcaster Stratocaster , from Fender . It had a missing high E string , and a broken wammy bar (My guess is the previous owner broke the whammy bar and tuned the High E string so high it broke) .It has the same as any fender guitar , three single coil pick ups , a five way switch , two tones and a volume knob , don't know what kind of woods was used though , but it was later retuned and sounded like a stratocaster should .
So what's the difference between an Oscar schmidt Delta King OE 30 by Washburn and a Starcaster Stratocaster by Fender , besides the names ? btw it was bought for 200 dollars in a local pawn shop .
Oh yes my Starcaster is a sunburst model just to throw that in , and the article is awesome !
Michael James (author) on February 25, 2014:
Thanks, Pat. I appreciate the kind compliment. If you are looking for an acoustic guitar with a thin body the Applause by Ovation series might be a good option. Fender has a guitar called the Stratacoustic that feels more like an electric and has a very thin body. The Taylor Baby Taylor (not the Big Baby) is a small-bodied guitar, but it is a bit more expensive. Good luck on your search!
pat on February 25, 2014:
This is the most helpful article on the internet. Thank you and good karma to you my friend! One question though, can you recommend some thin body guitars for beginners. I've tried a yamaha but it's too fat.
Michael James (author) on February 01, 2014:
Happy it helped, Hiroyoshi! Good luck choosing the best beginner guitar to start out on, and I hope you have a lot of success!
Hiroyoshi on January 31, 2014:
Thanks for this guide, really helped me out!
Michael James (author) on January 27, 2014:
Thanks Stephanie! Glad to help.
Stephanie Brennan on January 26, 2014:
This was super helpful! Thank you :)
Michael James (author) on January 14, 2014:
Glad to help, Sarah!
SarahChan12 on January 13, 2014:
Oh my gosh such a helpful article! Thanks so much! ;0; xD