Acoustic / Classical Guitars
One of the most common questions I get as a guitar instructor who teaches in lots of different schools is ‘What guitar should I get?’
There are a few things to consider but hopefully I’ll be able to answer all the main points here.
Firstly, we need to consider size, because no matter what anyone says, size does matter. That's why many companies make guitars in 1/2, 3/4 and full size.
One that’s too big is worse than one that is too small as it’ll be a stretch to play notes near the head, which is where just about all the first notes and chords you learn will be, and reaching around the body to pick will also be very awkward and limiting.
So, as a guide I’d go by a child’s age to choose the size:
5-8 years old – 1/2 size
8-11 –3/4 size
11+ full size
This is based around average heights for the age so please use your own discretion as I’ve taught 7 year olds who are as tall as their 11-year-old siblings. The most important thing is that they can reach the end of the guitar easily while sitting correctly with it and that the body on an acoustic isn’t too large to get the picking arm around.
Learning a string instrument is harder than other instruments that are popular with children, like a recorder, because not only do they have the co-ordination challenge common to many instruments but they also have to deal with other physical challenges like holding a string down correctly and the sore fingers that leads to. I’ve not seen too many blisters from playing recorders!
With this in mind, if they have a guitar which is the wrong size, it becomes even harder to play and much more frustrating.
Type of Guitar
Once we’ve got the size right the next thing to consider is what type of guitar is best. The obvious two choices are acoustic or electric, and here people will generally buy an acoustic as a child’s first guitar.
The main reasons given for this is that an electric will be too loud or that it’ll be too difficult and maybe they’ll move onto that after a year or two.
However, my take on this is that if you want your child to be enthused about learning guitar, get them the type that they want. Don’t force them into taking classical guitar lessons when all they want to do is rock out to AC/DC. This will always lead to the children giving up lessons pretty quickly.
Also, electric guitars are not loud at all. You can always turn the amp right down and most actually have headphone jacks anyway. On top of this, it can always be played unplugged if you need it to be really quiet.
And as far as electric guitar being harder than acoustic, anything that you learn on one at beginner level can be played on another anyway.
It’s all about the kids and ensuring they enjoy what they are learning. That's how to best instil a love of music and that will lead to more practice, which is what counts.
So let’s take a look at a few guitars:
Acoustics / Classical
Here I’d generally suggest a nylon string ‘classical’ guitar for most children, especially those under 11. This is because the strings are softer and easier to press down which means less risk of sore fingers and blisters.
Luckily, decent nylon string guitars are easy to find in ½ and ¾ sizes and are also quite affordable.
Here are a few options:
Steel String Acoustic
I wouldn't really recommend a 1/2 size steel string, but there are some good 3/4 ones such as:
You might even want to consider a parlour style acoustic or a travel style guitar as these have a smaller body but a full sized neck and work great as beginner guitars.
Bags and Cases
You may have noticed that some guitars do not come with a Bag or Case, so you may need to choose one.
The bags like the TGI ones below are basically just dust covers and offer no real protection but will prevent the odd light scratch.
The next step up in a padded case like the Stagg or Cobra ones. These are pretty good and offer decent protection.
If you really want to protect the guitar though, you'll want the hard case like the Gator.
It's a little bit of a compromise between protection and practicality when choosing as the hard cases are heavy and add a bit of bulk to the overall size. So here are a few suggestions:
More Useful Information
Don’t buy something cheap from a toy shop as these are often very difficult to play and go out of tune all the time. They can become very frustrating very quickly.
When you do get one, check out the nut height. If the nut is cut badly and is very high, playing the first fret in particular is extremely hard as the string is very high above the fretboard. This also leads to another issue which is that because you have to push the string down so far, it pulls the note out of tune. So even when the guitar has been tuned, it’ll still sound terrible.
I see this issue all the time.
If your child is left-handed, this really is not an issue at all. If you’re buying a nylon string classical style guitar and can’t find a lefty version, you can generally just swap the strings around, so the thinnest is now where the thickest was etc.
With electrics this can still be done (look at Jimi Hendrix) but the guitar will obviously be upside down. This can limit functionality as the controls maybe be harder to reach as will be the highest notes on the guitar.
The good news is though that lefties are being produced more and more often by manufacturers.
And that’s it. Hopefully some of this information has been useful and I wish you all the best in what will hopefully be a lifelong journey for your child in learning a wonderfully versatile and rewarding instrument.
Please note if you purchase any of the items from clicking on the links above, you help support my lessons and website as a whole as I receive a very small percentage of any sale.