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.

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