Your First Guitar

Buying your first guitar can be daunting for a beginner, on par with getting work done on your car. “So you’re saying I need to replace my trans-rotary gyro belt…hmm, well I guess you’re the expert…”

To help with this situation, here are some things to consider:

Look and Feel
You want a guitar that’s the right size, and which looks, sounds, and feels good to you. Kids under 12 often can’t reach the 1st fret on an adult-sized guitar, so they’ll need a 1/2 or 3/4 scale model. Are you left-handed? You’ll need a lefty guitar.

Low Action = Easier To Play
Whatever guitar you get, try to avoid ones whose strings are high off the fretboard. That’s called “high action” and it makes it harder to fret the notes. You need all the help you can get when you’re starting out, so either get a guitar with low action or have your high-action guitar adjusted at the shop so it’s easier to play.

Electric Guitar?
Speaking of easier to play, consider starting on the electric guitar. Especially for kids, its lighter strings are easier to fret, and no, you’re not cheating by giving yourself a break. You’re giving yourself time to actually get hooked on playing the guitar. Plus, electric guitar is cool, and it makes you cool, by extension.

I’ve played mostly acoustic guitar for the last fifteen years, but I wonder if I would have stuck with it this long if I hadn’t built up my confidence by playing electric guitar for the first five years. There’s something to be said for getting directly to rocking, especially when you’re a kid.

Musical Style
Another important consideration is the style of music you want to learn. Steel string acoustic guitars lend themselves to strumming, fingerpicking, songwriting, and playing outdoors, maybe around a campfire. Electric guitars are rock ‘n roll and can easily be amplified to play with a drummer. They’re also good for noodley improvisation, and can use effects processing to get experimental, space-age, avant-garde sounds. By contrast, the nylon-string acoustic guitar is the sound of Latin America, Bossa Nova, classical music, gypsy and flamenco music.

Nicer instruments generally last longer, sound better, and are easier to play, so get the best instrument you can afford. Better acoustic guitars tend to have solid wood backs and sides, and better electric guitars have more reliable electronics, as well as tone-specific wood. Try out a bunch of guitars at the store, and check Craigslist for used guitars.

You’ll probably want a case, an electronic tuner, some picks, a backup pack of strings, and a string winder. The case can be hardshell (better protection) or a soft gigbag (lighter, with backpack straps).

Lots to think about. Here’s a quick summary: get a guitar that’s easy to play, with low action, which is the right size for you, and which fits the style of music you’re excited to learn.

Book Recommendations

I create my own lesson worksheets and song charts for students, which in essence builds you your own “book” customized to your needs, but it can also be nice to have additional reading. Here are some recommendations from my library:

Guitar From Scratch (Bruce Emery)
Simply the best book I’ve found for helping complete beginners learn chords in a straightforward, organized and musical way.

The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook
Once you know your basics, a Beatles fan can have endless fun turning to any page in here. I love books like this that lay out the entire song on two facing pages, with chord symbols. No piano arrangements, no page turns required, just the lyrics and where to switch chords. This book is unique in that it gives capo suggestions.

Hal Leonard Guitar Chord Songbooks
Inexpensive and straightforward. They make books on individual artists (Adele, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Johnny Cash, Green Day, etc) and also anthologies of folk-rock, country, classic rock, worship music, and more. Note: you’ll probably want to take your copy to Staples and have them cut the spine off and put in a spiral binding so it lays open.

A Modern Method For Guitar (William J Leavitt)
Want to learn to read music on guitar? Start here. It’s a series created for the guitar program at Berklee School of Music.

New England Fiddlers Repertoire, (Miller & Perron)
Learn to pick some fiddle tunes and go play at your local contra dance slow jam! Also provides chord symbols so you can strum along while others fiddle. You gotta be able to read music to use this, but the tunes are short and catchy. Once you start, it’s addictive. Eventually, you’ll also want The Portland Collection and The Waltz Book.

How To Play Jazz and Improvise (Aebersold Vol. 1)
Not just for jazz fans. Theory basics and improvisation are important for everybody. Aebersold provides straightforward instructions, musical exercises and a play-along CD for jamming (!!!) As you progress, you can pick up additional volumes for more tunes and topics.

The Advancing Guitarist, Mick Goodrick
For intermediate to advanced players. Deceptively simple, often witty, conceptual suggestions that will turn your mind completely inside out and change they way you look at the guitar. Addresses fretboard mechanics, scales, harmony, and ways of thinking about improvising.

Recorded Versions & Transcriptions
For intermediate players who are comfortable reading tab, invest in the accurate, official transcription books of your favorite albums. It can be slow going, but amazing insights await. They’re maybe $20 each, and you’ll be digesting this stuff bit by bit for years.

Spiral Binding
I recommend getting spiral binding put in on any music book that’s over a quarter-inch thick. Your local printing and photocopy shop can do it for around $6 per book and it allows the book to lay open in front of you without closing accidentally.

Where To Buy A Guitar

Shop Local!

(electric & acoustic, vintage / used)
38 Washington St, Keene, NH 03431
(one block off Central Sq, by old middle school)
(603) 357-9732

Acoustic Strings of New England
(acoustic, buy or rent)
16 West St, Keene, NH 03431
(on Central Square)
(603) 354-7979

Fiddlers Choice
(acoustic, new & vintage)
New Hampshire 137, Dublin, NH 03444
(upstairs at Del Rossis Trattoria)
(603) 563-8800

Peterborough Music Company
(acoustic & electric)
19 Wilton Rd #4, Peterborough, NH 03458
(603) 924-2145

Guitar Gallery
(acoustic & electric)
5 New Hampshire 101A #4, Amherst, NH 03031
(603) 672-9224

Guitar Center
258 Daniel Webster Hwy, Nashua, NH 03060
(603) 891-5777

Maple Leaf Music
23 Elliot St, Brattleboro, VT 05301
(802) 254-5559

Online Vendors

Sometimes convenience and bulk pricing wins out…

An online search for guitars will find you additional stores.