How to Choose Your First Guitar for Beginners
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.
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 an 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.
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.
What kind of music are you interested in playing?
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, the 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 FG700S 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 FG700S
How to Evaluate a Guitar's Construction
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?
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.
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 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!
Have you ever felt intimidated in a guitar shop? (Don't worry, this poll is anonymous!)
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:
This article covers the best electric guitar starter packs for beginners. Starter packs are a great way to get everything you need in one cost-effective kit. You get an electric guitar, an amp, strap, cable, picks, extra strings and other accessories. Often they include an instructional DVD as well, which really kicks off a newbie’s learning experience.
In this article you can read about my recommendations for acoustic guitar starter kits . Just like the electric guitar packs above, here you get everything you need in one box. There is no right answer when it comes to choosing an acoustic or electric guitar as a first instrument. The choice is yours!
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 starter amp. Think you can start out playing a Stratocaster or Les Paul? You bet you can!
Questions & Answers
What is the biggest difference between an acoustic and electric guitar?
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.