Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide for Beginners
Let me help you get started
As a guitar instructor I really enjoy helping students get set up with a decent, yet affordable, starter acoustic guitar so that they have the best chances of enjoying their journey and reach their goals. I have found that new students realize better progress from their efforts when they start out with an acoustic guitar that is friendly to new fingers and not difficult to play. I would like to see this successful outcome be repeated for all of my students so let me offer you my thoughts, recommendations, and some additional resources on how you can go about buying your first acoustic guitar.
Here is how I can help:
- I can help you narrow down your guitar search criteria so you can reduce your stress and maximize your time and resources.
- I will share a very simple buying process that has worked fairly well for me and many of my students.
- You will receive my personal recommendations on several acoustic guitar brands that have held up very well for beginning students. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong if you decide on one of these guitars. You also can use my recommendations as comparisons for other brands/models that you come across.
- I also will provide information on accessories you will need to gets started.
Focus your search efforts by narrowing your options
Let’s take the first step of decluttering all the information and options you have acquired about acoustic guitars. I generally make better decisions when I narrow my decision tree to a few solid options. Here are a few questions that will help you figure out what type of acoustic will best suit your needs in the short-term:
What is the age of the student?
Knowing the age of a student is a very quick way to determine which size guitar will best serve a beginning student. Let me list this out by age range. These suggested guitar sizes are general recommendations and based upon the success I’ve seen with students when they start with a guitar size that best compliments their age.
- Students 7-8: Half-sized acoustic
- Students 8-11: 3/4 sized acoustic
- Students 11-adult: Full sized acoustic
As a rule-of-thumb most students ages 6-8 will do best with a half-sized guitar. Students between the ages of 8-11 will likely do well with a 3/4 sized guitar. Students ages 11-adult will usually have no problems starting with a full-sized instrument. As a safety tip it will be important for new student to try different sized guitars to determine what they feel most comfortable with when holding and playing the instrument.
What is your budget?
In my opinion you will have a much better experience as consumer if you establish your budget before considering specific guitars for purchase. “How much should I spend on my first acoustic guitar you ask?” My short answer: Somewhere between $100 – $350. Avoid spending too little and ending up with a guitar that is so poor quality that it becomes a barrier to your progress. I would also recommend against spending more than $350 on your first guitar. Your goal should be to find the “good enough” guitar that is both user-friendly and yet affordable. Here is why:
Your first guitar will not be your last
As music students, we are dynamic and subject to not being the same person we were when starting guitar lessons. Our music preferences, and commitment level, and goals will naturally change as we move forward with lessons. Therefore you want to give yourself or your student the future option to upgrade and modify your instrument as skills and knowledge increase. You will find that your ears may begin to prefer a different guitar tone. Your finger’s will greatly appreciate the ease of playing a higher quality instrument more so after learning on an entry-level instrument. By keeping your budget in check at the beginning you will likely have the resources and the stomach to spend a bit more on your next instrument if you know that you have a long-term commitment to continuing on guitar.
Avoid these scenarios:
Scenario #1: My guitar student purchases a low-quality guitar. The outcome is that the instrument cannot keep in tune and sounds pretty horrible. Plus the student often becomes discouraged or has a very slow progress curve because it is physically difficult to play their instrument.
Scenario #2: Family purchases a pro-level guitar in the $500 – $800 range for their beginning student. I have found that kids and teens just starting out really will not be able to fully appreciate the quality of a mid to upper level priced instrument. They also have not determined, by their own experience, if they are going to continue with lessons beyond a few months or a year. They also have no incentive to practice or put in the sweat equity to grow their skills so they can realize the future reward of upgrading to a better instrument.
My Recommended Buying Process
Once you have determined your spending limit and size criteria you can proceed to start your initial search. Establishing a good process often helps lead to better outcomes when making guitar purchases. Here is how I go about buying guitars and other music gear as my needs change.
Start with online research
Research prices of potential guitars online before visiting a local music store. Your internal range between “yes” and “No” will be a bit more firmly entrenched and you will be less likely to spend more than you intended. As with other purchases, you can use the information you find to ensure you are getting the best deal possible on your purchase. Most major music retailers will generally try to match anything that you find online. So it doesn’t hurt to do some homework beforehand. Plus, be advised that most music store employees are trained to up-sell and will make a concerted effort to push customers to purchase instruments that are priced higher than their budget.
Try many different acoustic guitars at your local music store.
So, now take time to physically play all of the guitars have set your sights on. Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t know how to play guitar when trying out instruments in public places. Strum the strings with a pick to determine the overall sound. Try to place your fingers on the fret-board and see if you can play a note on the fret-board. Is it really hard to play or fairly comfortable? How does it feel to hold a particular guitar? Trust your instincts and intuition. Chances are there is a good reason why you might prefer a particular guitar over another. Since you have limited your options to starter guitars you won’t go too wrong if you later find certain aspects of your purchase to be desirable. Ask the sales staff questions about the guitars you try and ask them to show your alternative options.
Define your personal preferences:
Which guitar body shape feels most comfortable?
There are quite a few different types of guitar body types in the world of acoustic guitar. The largest guitar body is the dreadnought which is the largest body shape and somewhat boxy. It’s advantage is that it provides a good deal of volume and tone. On the other extreme, a concert guitar body shape is much smaller and has a more subdued volume and tone. There are other shapes to consider but to simplify things I would advise you to pick a guitar body shape that feels intuitively comfortable when you are holding it and trying play it. When you pick up a guitar and try to play it do you feel like your personal space is constricted and you are hugging a telephone pole? If so, move towards a guitar with a smaller body shape (often referred to as concert sized). Or if the guitar you are holding seems to get away from you and it’s hard to keep it in place you might benefit from a larger body shape.
Consumer Tip: request if you can use a guitar strap when trying out guitars.
Steel strings or nylon strings?
I would recommend trying guitars with steel strings and nylon strings. Steel strings have a bit more tension and will require more efforts to hold down notes in the left-hand against the frets of the neck. Nylon strings are easier to play but often spaced further apart from each other. In general, most popular vocal music styles will generally utilize the steel-string acoustic guitar. Nylon stringed classical guitars are usually best suited for classical and finger style guitar. If you or your student are really experiencing difficult with pressing strings against the fret-board then I would definitely recommend trying out a nylon stringed guitar just to see if it’s a bit easier to play.
Evaluate Customer care
During your visit be sure to evaluate the quality of the customer care you receive while trying out guitars? Did the sales associate do their best to make you feel welcome? Did they answer your questions? Would you return to them to make future purchases or service your new instrument? I am willing to pay more the customer care that accompanies a purchase. It usually pays off in the long-term because there will be other needs that I will have with repairs, maintenance, and future purchases.
Time is your friend – Don’t feel rushed.
Sales and special offers are an ongoing constant in music retail. So, don’t fall prey to the fear of missing out on that one-time special sale or deal being offered online or in-store. Don’t feel rushed to make a purchase to avoid missing out on a deal. There will always be a deal in the future. If you are not convinced, just sign up on any music retailer’s mailing list. Give yourself the benefit of time to find an instrument that will serve you well. Plus, keep in mind that music instruments are sold at a 50% markup. Essentially what that means is that a new guitar can usually only expect to be resold at half of it’s original value. Just keeping that reality in mind has really helped me save money by slowing down my decision time-frame.
Accessories: Save money on the small stuff:
Keep needed accessories in mind when negotiating purchase price with retailer if you are buying locally. It never hurts to ask a local retailer if they will give you a discount on a guitar case, tuner, strings, guitar strap, or picks if you purchase them in a bundle with your chosen guitar.
Recommended starter acoustic guitars:
Here are a few acoustic guitars that I would recommend for new students just beginning lessons. I’ve organized this according to instrument size. This is not an exhaustive list. Please use these recommended guitars as a starting point as there are many other brands that are comparable in quality and price.
1/2 sized guitar
My Recommended Guitar accessories
Part of my job as a teacher is to provide students with very robust resources and information. Please consider reading these additional articles that echo many of my thoughts and ideas when it comes to buying your first acoustic guitar. The Guitar Center buying guide provides new buyers a good explanation of the different guitar body shapes, and general acoustic guitar models. I really like the visual instructions that WikiHow provides in their article “How to Buy a Guitar”. They break down the process into a well specified sequence that mirrors some of my thoughts on good consumer practices. Midlife guitar also has provided an “Ultimate Beginner Guide to Buying Your First Guitar” that provides much more information than what I’ve presented here. I highly recommend you read it. Finally, I also really appreciate the information and advice that is presented on “How to Choose an Acoustic Guitar for a Beginner” by Spinditty.
Buying your first acoustic guitar can be an enjoyable if you have establish your search criteria and determine your plan of action. Narrow your options be determining what size guitar you need and clarifying your budget. Take some time to research a few options online and then head to your local store to try out as many guitars as possible. Remember, that you are looking for a guitar that feels comfortable, is set-up well and easy to play, yet is still reasonably priced. It’s possible this will not be the last guitar you purchase. Ask your local sales staff lots of questions and see what discounts they will offer you if you bundle in accessories into your purchase. Trust your intuition and consider the level of customer care you receive when visiting local stores.
Contact me for assistance
Thank you for reading my beginner’s buying guide to acoustic guitars. Contact me if you have further questions or want me to be a sounding board as you walk through this process. I have provided assistance to families and students by also giving them feedback on potential guitar options they are considering. So, if you have a specific guitar in mind contact me and also send me a photo and info on the guitar you are considering. I’m happy to help!