So you’re thinking about learning the guitar. Great! You’ve come to the right place. But if you want to start learning the guitar, you need to buy a guitar to learn on. If you don’t have a friend or family member to lend you a guitar to start with or give you advice on your first guitar to buy, it may be difficult to figure out what to look for in your first guitar. What follows are some tips on buying a beginner guitar.

Before you read anything though, these tips are designed to make sure you find a guitar that is both good value and relatively good quality. Obviously there are professional level instruments out there that are very good quality, but may not be good value for a beginner. I’m trying to help you balance both these things.

Since this article is going to be a long one, here are the sections so you can skip ahead.

  1. How much to spend on a beginner guitar
  2. Electric versus acoustic guitars for beginners
  3. New versus used guitars for beginners
  4. Checking out the quality of a beginner guitar
  5. Good guitar brands for beginners
  6. Other accessories you’ll need

How Much Should You Spend On Your First Guitar?

This is a really tough question to answer. Firstly, the costs of guitars vary depending on where you are in the world. Some people have a higher budget than others.

Even if you have a lot of money, I would advise against buying anything too expensive as your first guitar. Work your way up to the best instruments once you have some experience. Learning on a less expensive instrument is a right of passage for guitarists. You’ll remember that first guitar fondly.

With that in mind, also avoid the cheapest guitars. The quality of the instrument won’t be very good and it will fail a lot of checks that I’ll be suggesting below. Ultimately a cheaper guitar will be more difficult to play, making you enjoy it less.

Basically, look for models that take into account the suggestions below and find something to suit your budget.

Should A Beginner Get An Electric Or Acoustic Guitar?

That choice is completely up to you and the style of music you want to play. While my opinion is you should start with an acoustic guitar, that may not suit you and the type of music you like. While I’ll go through the pros and cons of both below, I think an acoustic is better to learn on because it’s a little bit more demanding and better for strumming based songs with the beginner guitar chords. I just think with just a little bit of extra work at first on an acoustic, you’ll get more out of it early on.

Pros And Cons Of An Electric Guitar For A Beginner

An electric guitar is one that you plug into an amp. These are favoured in a lot of rock and popular music. I’d hazard a guess that electrics are more popular for beginners.

Pros Of An Electric Guitar For Beginners

  • Electric guitars can be easier to learn on thanks to the naturally lower action (height of the strings above the fretboard) and the thinner strings.
  • While electric guitars do make some noise while unplugged, it’s not much. This allows you to play quietly with the amp turned down or even with headphones.
  • Beginner electric guitars are often better value because they’re so popular.

Cons Of An Electric Guitar For Beginners

  • Electric guitars require and amplifier. That’s another thing to buy!
  • There can be a lot to choose from when finding your first guitar.

Pros And Cons Of An Acoustic Guitar For A Beginner

An acoustic guitar is one that doesn’t need to be plugged in. It has a larger body with a sound hole that naturally amplifies the music. You may have seen some acoustics that are plugged in; this is to amplify it in large playing areas and shouldn’t be something you worry about for a beginner guitar.

Pros Of An Acoustic Guitar For Beginners

  • It’s all you need! You don’t have to buy an amplifier as well.
  • Great for playing songs based on strumming chords, which is what you’ll start with.
  • Super portable. You’ll be able to take your new guitar and practice anywhere.

Cons Of An Acoustic Guitar For Beginners

  • The action on acoustic guitars is often a little higher and they have thicker strings, making them more difficult to play.
  • The (generally) larger body on acoustics can be difficult for kids and beginners alike.

Should A Beginner Get A New Or Used Guitar?

Here’s an answer you’re probably getting used to in this article… it depends. You can save a bit of money buying used, but then again, there’s a lot more to choose from if you just go to a guitar shop to explore your options.

Let’s quickly run through it.

Pros And Cons Of Buying A Used Guitar For A Beginner

Whether it’s because someone tried to learn the guitar and gave up or it’s someone selling their first guitar so they can upgrade, there’s plenty of used guitars out there. You can find them on various online market places through private sellers or even go to a store that specialises in used guitars.

Pros Of Buying A Used Beginner Guitar

  • You may be able to save some money.
  • You may be able to find something cool and old that’s hard to find.

Cons Of Buying A Used Beginner Guitar

  • If through a private seller, you can’t easily compare guitars.
  • If through a used guitar dealer, choice may be limited.
  • You don’t know if another beginner treated their guitar alright.

Pros And Cons Of Buying A New Guitar For A Beginner

There are plenty of guitar shops out there, most with pretty good staff who are more than happy to help. Don’t worry that you’re a beginner. Ultimately these stores want to sell you a guitar. Everyone has been a beginner at some point.

Pros Of Buying A New Beginner Guitar

  • You’ll get plenty of help from staff at the store.
  • There are plenty of new guitars to choose from.
  • There may be warranties included with the instrument.

Cons Of Buying A New Beginner Guitar

  • Less value for money.
  • Too much choice.

What To Check For When Buying A New Guitar As A Beginner

Buying your first guitar is just as important as buying your tenth. Sure at this point you probably won’t have a preference for very specific things like what kind of fretboard it has, or the differences in tone thanks to what the body is made out of, but there are a lot of basic things to do to assess the general quality of the instrument.

Whether you’re buying new or used, the following things are all normal things to do when buying a guitar. Even a less expensive guitar is a lot of money for people, so take your time and don’t be rushed to just buy something. It’s not unreasonable to assess your purchase.

If the sales person isn’t willing to help you, they’re not willing to invest in a person who will likely become a lifelong customer. Find a new guitar shop.

Hold The Guitar In Your Lap To See How It Feels

Hold the guitar in your lap like you’re going to play it. Even if you don’t know anything, how it like you’re going to play it. You should be able to get a general feeling of what the guitar is like. Can you reach all the way up to the head of the guitar? Is it generally well balanced in your lap? Does it feel sturdy and well put together?

Ask Someone To Tune The Guitar And Strum A Few Chords

This will let you know whether the guitar stays in tune. Even if you don’t know anything about music, you should be able to hear whether the person strumming for you sounds OK or not. A lot of cheaper guitars use not so good tuners that slip easily. This will be a pain later.

Check The Action On The Guitar

The “action” refers to how high the strings sit above the fret board. The lower the action the better (as long as strings aren’t buzzing). Compare the action of some of the beginner guitars to similar guitars that are for more advanced players to get an idea of what’s reasonable. Sure, the less expensive guitars may not have as good an action, but some will be better than others.

Make Sure The Neck Is Straight

The guitar neck should be straight. Look down the neck to see if you can see anything. Also check the action around the 12th fret to see how much higher the strings there are compared to at the nut. It’s not for there to be a slight bend in the neck, making the strings at the 12th fret a little bit higher, but nothing too big. Again, check this against more expensive guitars and across beginner guitars to see what’s reasonable.

Similarly, make sure the neck isn’t bent backwards making it so the strings are touching the fretboard.

Pluck Each String Slowly

You may not know how to play guitar, but you can probably pluck each string. Listen for anything that sounds wrong. These are things like string buzzing on the frets, and rattle, or anything like that.

Compare More Than One Model Of The Same Guitar

Ultimately these instruments are made out of wood and, even if parts of them are made by machines, they’re still assembled by hand. There will be variations across guitars of the same model. If you happen to like a model, compare a few to figure out which one is best.

Good Brands Of Guitar For Beginners

Let’s start with the big guys. Two of the biggest manufacturers of guitars out there are Fender and Gibson. They really can’t be beat when they come to overall popularity and quality. That being said, these are more expensive instruments.

The good news is Fender has an entry level brand called Squire and Gibson have an entry level brand called Epiphone. Both of these brands make fine instruments at a good price point. Often Squire and Epiphone will also come in some sort of pack that includes accessories you may need like a bag, as well as an amp and cable if you’re going electric.

Fender/Squire and Gibson/Epiphone aren’t the only ones out there though! You may be able to get better value with a less popular brand. It’s hard to say exactly which brands because they’ll vary by country and store, but here’s some I’ve played or heard good things about:

  • Cort: I got a Cort to replace my beginner acoustic and still play it occasionally. They’re a good quality manufactuer.
  • Yamaha: Yamaha just generally make good instruments. Ordinarily I’d suggest a company that just makes guitars, but they’re a good all around manufacturer who get good reviews.
  • Ibanez: Ibanez are another great guitar maker for both acoustics and electrics. A lot of professionals swear by them.

Ultimately though, brand doesn’t matter. It’s important that you love your first guitar and just enjoy playing it!

Other Things You’ll Need To Buy With Your First Guitar

Sorry, you’re not out of the woods yet. Sure, you’ve just spent your hard earned on a new guitar, but there’s a couple more things you need to buy.

  • Music stand: get a music stand. In my 10 Tips For Beginner Guitarists article, I mention getting a music stand. Just get a cheap one. It makes practice easier.
  • A case or bag: a hard case will do a better job of protecting your guitar but will be more expensive. Depending on how often and where you’ll be moving your guitar will help you decide what to get. Get one though as you’ll need it to transport your guitar.
  • Guitar Amp: if you’re buying an electric. Feel free to go cheap and cheerful here. Upgrade to something better when you start playing with other people and know what sound you like.
  • Lead: if you’re buying an electric you need a lead to go from your guitar to your amp. Don’t go too short! At least three metres will keep you comfortable.
  • A few guitar picks: it’s good to start practicing with a pick from the start. Get a medium weight pick to start with, then you can start seeing how you like heavier and lighter picks.
  • Guitar strap (optional): it may be a good idea to get a strap so you can play standing up, but this is totally optional.

And that’s it! That’s all the advice on how to buy a beginner guitar. It’s a lot of advice, yeah, but your first guitar is a big purchase that starts you on a journey that will hopefully last you many years. While this will be your first guitar that you’ll surely cherish, keep in mind that you will grow out of this guitar. At some point you’ll get something nicer and fancier. And that’s OK. You can hold onto your first guitar to use when people are around if you’re worried about damaging your nice guitar, you can sell or give it to another beginner, or just keep it for sentimental value. It’s up to you!

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