Learning to play the guitar is a difficult (but rewarding) journey and choosing that first guitar can be a daunting step in an already long process. Picking the right guitar may be the difference between years of joy and fulfillment or a week-long experience of wasted time and money. Yet, there are multiple factors to take into consideration and often times the result of hours of research is indecision and frustration. This quick, practical guide will make the decision a little easier and set you up for years of excitement as you learn to play the guitar.
Acoustic or Electric?
This seems like it would be the easiest step, but it can often be the most difficult. Sometimes it helps to think about which genres and styles peak your interest as well as goals you have in mind. The good news is, you don’t have to come to a conclusion yet. Reading the rest of this guide may help you determine which is going to be the best starting point so keep it in the back of your mind as you continue.
Before going any further you have to decide what your budget is going to be. Fortunately, some great guitars are on the market for about $200 so you don’t have to spend thousands on a big name to get a quality sound. An investment of this amount is much easier to make than one that will break the bank and leave you feeling that buyer’s remorse the next day, but will still be enough motivation to spend some time learning to play.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you are almost guaranteed to spend more on an electric guitar than you are an acoustic one. Those $150 value packages you can buy that include a guitar, amp, and cables, and sound too good to be true, are going to be low quality and leave you with no motivation to continue playing (trust me, I’ve made that mistake before). Playing an electric guitar is more complex and expensive in that you have to choose an amp, or an audio interface if you’re going to use your computer, cables, and possibly some pedals for those sweet effects we all love. For this reason, it may be best to start with an acoustic guitar for the purpose of understanding the basics and not complicating the learning process even more.
Fender and Alvarez are two highly recommend brands when looking at guitars within a $200-$400 price range.
Style and Size
The most important thing to keep in mind here, at least when your first getting started, is comfort. If you’re not comfortable with the guitar, then you’re not going to want to play it. Individual manufacturers have their own standards for size specifications, but there are some general body styles to consider when it comes to an acoustic guitar. Concert guitars are generally going to be the smallest, while auditorium guitars are going to be mid-sized. Jumbo, as the name implies, is going to be the largest of the three. Keep in mind that if you are shopping for a child or you often travel, you may consider traveler or backpacker guitars that are even smaller than concert ones.
In addition, you will have to choose between a dreadnought or a cutaway guitar which describes the style more so than the actual size. Dreadnought guitars typically appear and feel more square and bulky while cutaways are styled in a way that gives you easier access to the higher frets (those closer to the body of the guitar). While its unusual I will find myself playing the last couple frets of an acoustic guitar, I prefer the look of the cutaway and tend to favor those.
For electric guitars, the most important thing to consider with regard to the style is whether you are going to purchase a solid body or hollow body guitar. Hollow bodies have sound chambers like an acoustic guitar and solid bodies are, as the name states, solid. This means that most of the sound that you are going to get from a solid body guitar is going to be transmitted by the electronics while a hollow body will give you a blend between the electronics and resonance from the sound chamber like an acoustic guitar. Solid body guitars are typically heavier than hollow bodies as well so if you plan to stand while you practice it may get uncomfortable after a while.
My biggest recommendation when choosing between sizes and styles is to go to a local music store and get a feel for different guitars, even if you don’t know how to play anything yet. Sit in a stool with one in your lap and pretend to strum. Throw on a strap and stand up to get a sense of the weight and how it feels to carry it. It may seem silly, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did. One last note, choose a guitar that has a look that appeals to you. If you buy a guitar with a finish, color, or appearance that you don’t like, you’ll be less inclined to pick it up and practice.
While you can consider other factors such as types of strings, types of wood that the guitar is composed of, and the pickups being used, this is much less important when you are first learning to play. The biggest concern is choosing something that is comfortable, appealing to the eye, and stays within your budget so that the learning process is as enjoyable as possible. As you become more experienced you’ll develop an ear for the way that different guitars sound and what appeals to you. Then, when you go to buy that second, third, or tenth guitar you will know your preferences and the process of buying a new guitar will get even easier over time.