Three Things to Consider Before Buying a Starter Guitar

Learning to play a guitar is tough, but with a good instrument and some practice, you can have folks singing along in no time.

Black guitar leaning on tree.
A starter guitar doesn’t have to be a high-end instrument, but it should be comfortable in your hands and make you want to play it often.Picjumbo.com

You can only play air guitar for so long before your buddies start questioning the seriousness of your frequently stated rock star ambitions. Or maybe your daughter’s Taylor Swift phase isn’t passing like you thought, and her latest break-up song is “kinda-sorta good.” But given the sheer volume of choices and prices, how do you decide on that perfect first guitar? The probability of your royalties eventually paying for it isn’t high, sad to say, but given the importance of matching the guitar to the player, you’ll want to consider these three things.

Electric vs. Acoustic

Fender FA-115 Acoustic Guitar Bundle with Gig Bag, Tuner, Strings, Strap, Picks, and Austin Bazaar Instructional DVD
This popular acoustic guitar kit comes with everything you need to start learning to play guitar.Fender

This is your first and biggest choice. Electric guitars are more popular, generally easier to play, and more versatile sound-wise. But they are heavier and require an amplifier, which adds to the cost. An acoustic guitar is simpler and doesn’t require an amp to hear it but depending on the action and string type, can be more difficult for fingers to press the strings into the frets. Electric players trend more toward rock song and lead playing, while acoustic guitars are more chord-driven and used more for accompaniment.

Size

Squier 6 String Solid-Body Electric Guitar, Right Handed, 2 tone sunburst
This electric guitar is also available in ¾ sizes.Squier

Both electric and acoustic guitars come in different sizes. Electric guitars come in half, ¾, and full sizes, typically suited to 5 to 7, 7 to 10, and 11-year olds and up, respectively. Acoustic guitars are sized more by body shape, with smaller guitars as traveler or parlor models, and standard sized guitars as auditorium, orchestra or dreadnought shaped. Smaller players (youngsters or smaller adults with small hands) might be more successful with a parlor guitar.

Action

Epiphone Les Paul Electric Guitar Player Pack
Guitars with reputable manufacturers like this are far more likely to have a quality action.Epiphone

A guitar’s “action” has to do with the straightness of its neck, the distance of the strings above the fret and its ability to stay in tune, even at higher fret playing. Absolutely nothing is more frustrating to a beginner than a guitar with poor action. As a rule, guitars from reputable manufacturers are less prone to poor action, and a good guitar tech can adjust the action accordingly.


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