Buying a Guitar for a Beginner or Child

It’s a commonly asked question in the world of guitar music – what kind of guitar should I buy for a child or if I’m a beginner? Well, let’s look at a typical scenario. Bear in mind though, all these principles apply to all guitars – electric, acoustic or bass.

The Beginner’s Guitar

Simon wants to learn to play the guitar. He’s 16 years old. He doesn’t know if he’s going to like it or stick at it, so he doesn’t want to spend much money first time out. He buys a cheap electric guitar and a cheap amp to play through. He looks on YouTube at some beginner’s guitar lessons and has a try. What problems does he come up against? Well, the first one is that cheap guitars can be hard to play as the action (distance from the strings to the fretboard) can be quite high. This makes it difficult to press the strings down onto the frets to play a note. This is especially problematic for a beginner as they have soft fingers and this can hurt like hell until you get used to it and your fingers toughen up. This could take a while though. Second issue is tuning stability – a cheap guitar may have problems staying in tune. It can be hard enough to learn to tune a guitar and to get it to make a nice sound as it is, without it going out of tune all the time in a way that’s not going to be very encouraging. With the combination of these factors, many, many times, Simon is going to think that guitar is just too hard and give it up.

The Child’s Guitar

Children are by their very nature beginners too, and as they often have shorter attention spans, the same problems as above can apply, and yet be made much worse. Kids have smaller hands and are not as strong, which can all add to the potential situation of packing it in. Smaller 3/4 or 1/2 size guitars ARE available, but cheap guitars of this size are often much worse in regards to action and tuning stability than full size guitars. They are not sold in anywhere near the same numbers, so economies of scale mean you’re not going to get as much quality for your money.

Parents often think it’s a great idea to buy small children a classical or acoustic guitar too (perhaps they will have lessons at school) but there much harder to play than their electric counterparts. Even a very expensive acoustic guitar will feel much harder to play next to a regular electric guitar like a Strat or Les paul, as the strings with be heavier and the action much higher. i don’t know the statistics, but i’m betting that a lot of kids quit after less than a dozen lessons, and all these difficulties can only add more kids to the list of those that quit.

How to Buy a Child’s or Beginner’s Guitar

As we’ve explained, a guitar for a child or a beginner needs to be easy to play. It needs to be as easy on the fingers as possible and stay in tune successfully so that when you play music correctly it will sound right. An out of tune guitar means that whatever you play, it’s going to sound wrong. When you’re a beginner trying to work out the right things to do, you need some way of judging your success, and a good sound is usually just that.

I personally would always recommend starting with an electric guitar or bass. These instruments have lighter strings and lower action than their acoustic or classical counterparts, and are thus easier to play. They have much greater levels of adjustment too, so with attention from a guitar tech they can be set up to play in the easiest way possible. If a child is small, sure – buy a 3/4 size guitar.

Residual Value of a Guitar

The next thing is not to under spend. If you buy a brand new cheap (sub £100) guitar that’s essentially a no-name brand you may be saving money on the outset, but if you come to sell the guitar you will struggle to get your money back. If you buy a better brand name guitar, but buy it second hand, you can always get your money back on guitars like this when you sell them again. Of course, a second hand guitar of the same price will also be much better quality.

Get the Guitar Set Up Correctly to Suit a Beginner’s Style

The last job is to have a guitar tech look at the guitar, to set it up and make it suitable for a child or beginner. You can hop on over to my guitar setups page and have a read about what this entails, but let me boil it down to the basics. I will set the guitar up to play as easily as possible. I’ll put light, easy to play, strings on it and lower the action to make the strings easy to press down. I’ll also adjust the guitar to make it tune up as easily as possible, and stay in tune. Generally, I’ll make it the perfect beginner’s guitar – the one that’s going to give them the best chance of sticking with playing the guitar for a lifetime.

Want advice about buying, or want to talk about setups? Get in touch via my contact page.


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