Choosing Your First Guitar

choosing a guitar - acoustic or electric?

what to look for when buying a guitar

recommended acoustic guitar for beginners

recommended electric guitar for beginners


Choose a decent guitar

Just because you’re a beginner, don’t think a crumby guitar is ok to begin with. An accomplished guitarist can play a crumby guitar with less effort than a beginner can. Besides, the idea is to enjoy your first instrument—dare I say, love it! A lousy guitar will rob you of all the enthusiasm you need to keep practicing. Give yourself a fair chance and buy a guitar that treats you like a friend and won’t let you down.

How much $$$?

Expect to pay around $250.00. That’s equal to about ten pizza pies. Not bad for a lifetime of enjoyment. I’ll show you a sample of very decent acoustic and electric guitars in that price range to give you an idea of the bang you can get for your buck.

Pet peeve: Standard acoustics do not allow you to play all the higher-up frets. The guitar’s body gets is in the way. That drives me nuts. Thankfully, “single cutaway” acoustics cut away this blockage to allow full access to every fret (just as electric guitars do). This surgery does not detract from the sound nor add to the price. To me, it’s a no-brainer to have. All acoustics shown here are (electric) single cutaway models.

New or Used?

Wear and tear can take its toll on a used guitar. If you have a friend who knows what to look for in a guitar, don’t hesitate to consider a used instrument. Otherwise, your safest bet is to buy a new one. New guitars will not have any damage or hidden problems. A product manufactured by a trusted name ensures a certain level of quality. If you are not satisfied, you can return it or exchange it. This applies to a store bought product or an on-line purchase from a reputable distributor.

What to Look OUT For

If you don’t have a guitar buddy to help you shop, there are certain things you can look for yourself. Yes, considerations such as the type of wood used and the quality of the hardware are factors, but a beginner would likely not appreciate the difference in quality in the first place. However, there are certain deal breakers you can spot yourself.


Action: This is all about playability. Specifically, the distance between the strings and the fretboard. Remember this rule: The further away, the more difficult to play.

Tone: A guitar’s sound is somewhat a subjective quality, comparison with other instruments is very educational. When comparing electric guitars, try to use the same (or similar) amplifier, since it makes a big difference.

Sustain: when you pluck a note, does it ring true for a while or fade away quickly?

Fret buzz: Test each note on the 1st to last fret, on the high E string, for a buzzing sound. Perhaps the strings are set too low (unlikely) or there could be a more serious problem (more likely).

Straight neck: Put your eye up to the head of the guitar and stare down the neck, as you would with a piece of lumber, to check that it is perfectly straight. Another technique is to press the high E string on both ends of the neck (on the 1st and last fret). Then see if there is a gap between the string and any of the frets along the fretboard.

Guitar’s looks: When it’s your first guitar, quality is everything. If that jazzy guitar you buy fights your every attempt to learn barre chords, for example, it’s a black widow spider in disguise. Buy a good looking guitar, but not for that reason. The real enjoyment is all about playing it, not admiring it!

The Best Acoustic for Beginners

As I have already stated, my (biased) advice is to buy a single cutaway electric-acoustic. The cutaway feature allows you to play all the frets on the guitar (duh!), while an electric model allows you to plug in and amplify your instrument. With the EQ, you can greatly expand your guitar’s tone, and most electric-acoustics include an electronic tuner. One guitar I would advise you to avoid is a nylon-string guitar. Unless, that is, you’re going to play only Classical or Flamenco music. Otherwise, this type of guitar will really limit the range of music you can play.

I am biased toward an acoustic-electric model with a single cutaway. This design features built in sound amplification with EQ controls for adjusting tone and volume.

Many models also feature a built in electronic tuner. Guitar bodies are available in a variety of body thicknesses, which can greatly affect the comfort and weight.

With electric guitars the choices may seem mind boggling. But the safest bet for a beginner is a new, store bought, entry level guitar from a reputable manufacturer. In time, you will come to appreciate the differences between a maple neck vs rosewood, a solid body vs a hollow body; humbucker pickups vs single-coil; jumbo frets vs regular ones; and so on. But for now, listen to your gut feeling.

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