Tips for Buying Your First Guitar

What type of guitar should I buy?

This is the most frequently asked question when buying a guitar for the first time, and the answer is quite surprising really.  The kind of guitar you get is completely up to you.  Many beginners just walk into the guitar store, hoping that the seller will assist them in the purchase.  Even though the sellers are (hopefully) guitar professionals, they will be most helpful if you already know what type of guitar you are looking for. Here are a few things to keep in mind about different types of guitars for beginning players:

Guitar Type Picture Pros Cons
Steel String Acoustic

Steel String Guitar
  • Inexpensive at the entry level.
  • Does not require an amplifier.
  • Suitable for many popular styles.
  • Stiff action and heavier strings can be difficult to play at first (can be helped somewhat by buying extra-light strings).
  • Bulky body can be hard to hold for smaller players and is especially difficult to play while slumped on the couch like most young teens are prone to do.
  • Fixed bridge makes action height adjustments less precise.
Nylon String Acoustic
Nylon String Guitar
  • Inexpensive at the entry level.
  • Nylon strings have lower tension and are easier to press down.
  • Wider neck (to facilitate classical fingerstyle technique) can be a stretch for small hands.
  • Does not project as well as steel string instruments for "sing-along" type playing.
  • Fixed bridge makes action height adjustments less precise.
Solidbody Electric


Electric Guitar

  • Easier to play due to lighter strings and lower action height.
  • Necks are often thinner and easier to handle for small hands.
  • Adjustable bridge simplifies action height adjustment.
  • Easier to play in a sitting position due to smaller usually contoured body.
  • Much easier to learn lead guitar techniques like string bending and hammer-ons.
  • Requires the additional purchase of an amplifier.
  • Not as suitable for fingerstyle playing.

How much will all this cost?

Like most things there's usually a pretty firm correlation between quality and price. With that said, it's important to know that even relatively inexpensive instruments can still be very playable.  A good beginning-level acoustic guitar starts at about $100, and will cost a little more if you decide on a steel-string acoustic guitar.  Electric guitars are slightly more expensive, but quality ones can be found for $150 - $200.  Keep in mind that electric guitars only sound good with an amplifier, so count on purchasing one as well.  A $50 amplifier suits the needs of most beginners, and paying more than $100 is going overboard, especially if you only have a simple, inexpensive electric guitar.

If you've got a little more money to spend than the bare minimum, there are a few reasons to step up a notch or two. From the entry level, the first big jump in quality and sound for acoustic guitars (both steel and nylon string) is the solid-top guitar. The top of the guitar is where about 80% of the instrument's sound is generated. Inexpensive guitars are made with laminated tops, which is a poor substitute for plywood. A solid top instrument is made from one piece of wood throughout its thickness, which improves the guitar's sound immensely.  For electric guitars the situation is a little murkier, as there are more features to choose from in addition to matters of quality. As before, wood is very important to the sound and feel of the instrument, and higher quality instruments are made from better varieties and cuts of wood. With electrics there is also the choice between a fixed bridge and the tremolo bridge.  This is primarily a personal choice, but the quality of the bridges and other components does make a difference in the way the instrument plays, sounds and feels. Tremolos of higher quality also tend to stay in tune much better.

There's a few more things that you're going to need sooner or later, so you may as well factor them into the initial purchase. Extra strings, some picks and possibly a guitar strap. If you're buying an electric guitar, make sure you get a cable to go from the guitar to the amplifier as well. 

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