By Ben Rimerici
One of the things young guitar students often need help with is choosing their first guitar. It’s an exciting time for any budding musician, and the prospect of owning your very own instrument is thrilling, to say the least. But it can also be quite a nerve-wracking experience; you definitely want to get it right!
Here’s some advice for young musicians (and parents) on making the right choice.
Firstly, check that it’s the right size. It’s not always obvious, but guitars come in lots of different sizes. Most of the ones on display will be full, adult-sized models. But good music stores will generally have at least a couple of options in different measurements too.
Kids grow up so fast, and you don’t want to have to be buying a different guitar every year, either. As a rule of thumb, children under 8 years old will be best served by a half size. Between 8 and 11 years old, you can look at three-quarter sizes. After that, we recommend a full size.
Look at them holding it. If they’re dwarfed by it, go a size down. Key points to look out for are that they can comfortably get their hands around the neck, and that they can get their arm over the body of the guitar. Take into account that they will grow, and that there’s things they can learn in the meantime, even if they can’t reach absolutely everything to begin with. But also bear in mind that, if you’re too ambitious and go straight to full-size for your 6 year-old, they won’t be able to hold it, much less play it!
Secondly, and importantly, check that it sounds nice! We may not all be hardcore audiophiles, but if they don’t like the sound it makes, they won’t want to play it. Let them decide what sounds good to them – that’s by far the easiest test. There are lots of tips floating around about looking at the quality and grain of the wood. But, frankly, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, this can be an unnecessary cause of stress. Entry level guitars are never going to be made of the finest tone-woods in the world, so keep things simple and judge it based on sound.
Speaking of ‘entry level’ models. Don’t aim too low! There are definitely some absolute bargains to be found if you know what you’re looking for, but it’s a bit of a minefield if you’re at all uncertain. There are some great beginner models available in the $350-$500 bracket, which most local music shops will have examples of. Try to avoid the ‘starter packs’ which sell you a guitar together with all sorts of other kit. They’re rarely a good deal, and you tend to lose out on quality where it’s most important – on the instrument. Put your money on a good guitar that they’ll enjoy playing, all the other stuff can come later.
Electric or acoustic, you ask? Good question. We’d recommend sticking with a steel-string acoustic as a first instrument so long as your junior music-maker isn’t hell-bent on playing rock and roll. There’s very little difference between the two in terms of technique, and learning on the heavier, harder-to-handle strings of an acoustic will make electric playing all the easier down the line. Plus, acoustics are easily portable, quieter (thinking about the neighbours here!), and require less maintenance on the whole. The only caveat to this is if they desperately want to play electric to begin with. In that case, opt for the instrument they’re excited about playing.
It’s not very often that children express an interest in classical or Spanish guitar, the acoustic’s nylon-stringed cousin. If they do fancy learning a bit of Segovia, the same rules about size apply. Ask at the store for a classical guitar instead, and pick the best-sounding instrument you can afford. Quality does matter a bit more on these, and prices tend to be a bit higher, but always go for what they’ll enjoy playing because it sounds nice and you should be fine.
To get you started with some acoustic guitar brands that offer generally good value for money, we’d recommend asking after Yamaha, Squier or Fender entry-level models. With any guitar, whether it costs $400 or $4,000, it’s imperative you try out the one you intend to buy. For this reason, we’d say steer well clear of buying online. Each and every instrument is slightly different, and when you find one that feels magic to play, don’t count on the same model ordered online feeling anything like it. There’s too much variation to wood and strings that could make a real difference.
We hope this has been a helpful guide in shopping for that all-important first love. If you have any more questions or concerns, please do get in touch! We’d be more than happy to advise. Good luck with the search and here’s to finding that first love – and the start of many, many happy years of music!