Which Guitar First?

My students (or their parents) will often ask my opinion on which type of guitar to buy. For most beginners, it’s not even a question of brands or manufacturers. It’s whether to get an acoustic or an electric. While I have my personal preferences, I usually bring the question back to them: which guitar is going to make you want to play it? Then we go over the benefits of each.

Acoustic. Discussing acoustic guitars often leads to a conversation on body styles and sizes. For children, it’s important to take physical growth into account. A parent is often unaware that acoustic and electric guitars come in three-quarter and half sizes. Although dreadnoughts are widely available, they aren’t comfortable for many people. But before a student rules out acoustics, I always let him know about folk, auditorium, and parlor styles.

Electric. Students of all ages find electric guitars easier to finger and form chords. And the enthusiasm of playing an electric can spur many students to practice more often. Three of my young students switched from acoustics to electrics this year and their mothers regularly report that it’s hard to separate the student from the guitar!

If a younger student decides on an electric, again, size can be a very important issue. Like acoustics, it is possible to find “student sized” guitars and if a student is particularly young or small, a smaller guitar will usually result in less frustration in terms of trying to fret notes and eventually form chords.

For the would-be first time electric guitarist, it’s also smart to discuss and demonstrate the importance of playing at proper volume levels-whether with an amplifier or with headphones-and being courteous to the other family members.

Classical. It’s easy for the classical guitar to get lost in the list of possible first guitars, and that’s a bit of a shame. The nylon strings seem less intimidating (I caution students that their fingers will still hurt), the wider fingerboard often helps to cleanly fret notes, and the smaller body size usually allows most players to develop better posture and positioning.

The guitar is a highly personal instrument. One can learn the basics on any type of guitar, but a student who loves his or her instrument will usually play (and practice) more than one who’s hoping for a different guitar. As teachers and guitarists, we know that the first guitar is simply that-a first guitar, one of many more to come. People take pride in their instruments as well as in their achievements as students. By helping students choose the right guitar, one that they will want to play, you’re helping to get them started on a lifetime’s adventure.

The key thing to remember about the first guitar is that, above all, it should encourage the student to play at every opportunity. Make certain that it fits the student both in terms of size and personality and that the instrument is set up as well for the student as it can possibly be.

Remember to check out our Guitar Buying FAQ and the topic page on buying guitars and other equipment.