When someone first decides to learn how to play the guitar, there usually is a bajillion different questions going through their heads. One of the biggest is ‘what is good beginner guitar? And truthfully, this may be one of the most important things you can ask.
Do we have the answer? Of course, we do! But it may not be exactly what you think. If you’re expecting us to say, “the best beginner’s guitar is model 1234 from Manufacturer X’, then you may be looking in the wrong direction.
You see, there IS no one best model…
While that may seem a bit confusing, it’s not. Let’s take a look – when we’re done, you’ll see that while it is a simple thing to figure out, there are a lot of things to consider when shopping for your first guitar.
Guitar types | A good beginner guitar
The first thing to start with is developing an understanding of the different types of guitars. Important: The best guitar advice for beginners is to buy the best guitar you can afford. Sure, beginner guitars have improved a lot, and for the budget-conscious, you will still get a lot of guitars for minimal money. However, don’t be tempted to buy a cheap and nasty guitar. Nothing will put a beginner guitar player off more than the wrong guitar for your needs. A lousy guitar will be hard to play and sound lousy; you won’t want that.
If your budget is tight, or even if it’s not, the used guitar market is full of high-quality guitars that sound and play great. Regardless of whether you buy new or second-hand, do your research before committing to buying your new guitar.
Every guitar has its own set of pros and cons. However, having a little guitar knowledge under your belt will help you make the best choice. It’s super easy to overlook critical features for guitars in general. Components that affect how the guitar feels to play, for example, a guitar’s scale length, come to mind right away.
You need to know about features before buying that guitar, not afterward.
There are three main types to compare: a steel-string acoustic, a nylon string (or ‘classical’) acoustic, or a full-blown electric.
We should also mention the many bass guitars when talking about guitar types. However, the bass is quite a different beast, briefly mentioning it. There are electric and acoustic bass guitars available in various configurations. You can find all the information you need on our best beginner bass guitar guide, which will arm you with all the information to make an informed buying decision.
Steel-string acoustic guitar
One price gets you the entire package – no need to buy a guitar amplifier. For someone starting on guitar, an acoustic guitar will serve you well.
Depending on the model, the width of the neck may be a little larger at the nut than some other types. This extra space can make learning and playing your first chords a lot easier.
Body proportions are typically more significant than a solid body electric guitar, making them possibly a bit more awkward to hold at first.
The steel strings are the thickest out of the three main guitar types. This means more tension is needed to get them up to pitch, making them harder to press down to make your notes (a process called ‘fretting a note’).
See our best acoustic guitar for beginners guide, which explains all the variations you will find for acoustic guitars.
“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” – Jimi Hendrix
Solid-body electric guitar
The body and overall proportions are typically smaller than most acoustics, making them more comfortable to maneuver and hold when playing.
An electric guitar also has steel strings, but they tend to be thinner than a steel-string acoustic. Just as thicker strings need more tension to be tuned properly, the opposite is true – less is needed. And that means they can feel more comfortable under your fingers.
There’s just a bunch of cool stuff you can do on an electric that you can’t do easily on an acoustic. Sure, you can slide, bend notes, practice your vibrato, finger tap, etc., on the other guitar types – but you most likely won’t be able to do them all that well, especially as a beginner.
There’s one big con here – played by themselves; you can’t hear them. You’ll need to buy a guitar amp to listen to it above normal conversation. Sure, you can get cheap practice amps – or go all the way to an uber-expensive boutique, hand-made amplifier – but the bottom line here is that your costs don’t stop when you purchase the guitar itself.
See our guide for the best beginner electric guitar that is the right one for you. Electric guitars are different animals compared to electric. We won’t say you can’t play an electric with some type of amplification, you can, but it will be hard to hear.
Nylon string acoustic guitar (aka ‘classical guitars)
Nylon strings take the least amount of tension to be tuned to pitch, plus they are a little thicker than steel strings. This leads to the most comfortable and less likely finger pain when first playing.
Overall proportions are maybe a little smaller than full-sized steel-string acoustics, making them a bit easier to manage. As with a steel-string acoustic – there is no need for a separate guitar amplifier. Classical guitars are intended to, well, you guessed it play classical music.
Due to their particular designs, the fretboard has an almost flat radius. This can make full chords more challenging to play, as the fretboards on other guitar types are slightly curved to match the natural contours of your fretting hand.
They have a unique tone that’s all their own. They are typically heard the most in – you guessed it – classical guitar pieces. That being said, tell that to Willie Nelson or Zac Brown! If you are interested in playing classical music, see our buying guide for the best classical guitar for beginners for your needs.
Considering all the different types, we’d ultimately recommend a steel-string acoustic as the first type of guitar a beginner should start with. Why? Not having an amp is a big deal – you can let yourself be heard in just about any environment.
That, and having thicker strings really may be more of a benefit than a downside. That’s true for a few reasons. They may be harder to press down, but they will build up the strength in your hands much quicker. Once you develop some skills on an acoustic, playing an electric will feel like warm butter…
You’ll also develop calluses on your fingertips faster as well. Building up calluses is a pretty big deal. We won’t kid you here – it’s going to hurt when you first start—possibly more than you expect. But once you get that hardened skin on your fingertips, you’ll be good to go. It’s just like weight lifting – ‘no pain, no gain’!
An acoustic guitar does not need an amplifier
The ‘other’ big things to consider
OK – so we’ve gotten to the point where you have an idea of what type of guitar may be best for a beginner. But the decision doesn’t end there. From here is where you need to check out different models, all while taking into account the three main points below:
How well it plays
Simply put – don’t buy a cheap piece of junk that isn’t set up as it should be. While most guitars – even at the lower end of the scale – have decent quality levels, some may be just awful. The string action (the strings’ height from the fretboard) may be way too high, making fretting notes and full chords almost impossible.
Intonation is a big deal too. The term refers to a guitar’s ability to play in tune up the neck. Guitars with poor intonation will get progressively worse the higher you go.
Don’t set yourself up for failure – get a guitar that plays reasonably well and is in tune in all positions on the neck. Too many players have started with a guitar that is just terrible, and they end up losing interest – fast.
How well it sounds
No, you don’t need to go out and buy a top-of-the-line Martin that costs several thousand dollars and has the tone of a chorus of angels. What you do need is a guitar that sounds good.
Cheaper models can lack a distinction between all of the frequencies that an acoustic guitar produces. Some may have a bass that is too boomy, and some may sound too harsh and brittle. The best choice is balanced to make a full, warm tone.
Just as you should not pick a guitar that’s hard to play, you shouldn’t get one that doesn’t sound good to your ears. It’s yet another big reason that people become discouraged because even though they are playing the right things, it just sounds…like…crap…
How much does it cost?
The bottom line is that we all have a budget. It sure would be nice to have unlimited funds at our disposal, but that isn’t an option for the vast majority of us guitar players.
The best piece of advice here is to get the best guitar that checks all of the boxes that we’ve talked about so far but still is within your price range. And there’s a reason for that.
Learning to play the guitar can be one of the most rewarding things you can do, but it also can be one of the most challenging. And you know what that means? It means for every guitarist plugging away, building up their ability to play with every minute that they practice, there may be all the more that just lost interest and gave up.
That also means there are plenty of worthy guitars that are tucked away in a corner or stored in a case under someone’s bed. Spending a lot of money on a guitar first makes little sense, especially if you don’t know that you’ll succeed. That’s not meant to sound discouraging – not at all – but possibly a little realistic.
How well it looks
OK – so there are four points instead of three. Consider it a bonus. But you have to admit – a good-looking guitar is a pretty killer, and it can inspire you to practice!
Right at the beginning is the most challenging time for someone new to the instrument. There can be so much that is overwhelming, where all it may take for someone to give up is picking the wrong guitar in the first place. If you are unsure about your choice, it might be prudent to ask a salesperson you can trust or an experienced guitar teacher.
Overall we recommend starting with a decent quality steel-string acoustic that sounds good, plays right, and hits your price point—finding that ‘best beginner’s guitar really will take a little time and research on your end.
Just remember – it’s not the kill, but the thrill of the chase!
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