How to Choose a Guitar That Helps Beginners Succeed

If you’ve found yourself here, congratulations are in order. You’re about to embark on the fun and challenging journey of learning to play the guitar, which is extremely exciting.

But you’re missing one thing: The guitar! Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is there are thousands of different guitars to choose from. And the bad news? There are thousands of different guitars to choose from.

When you’re ready to choose a guitar for the first time, it can be very confusing with the countless options on the market. Lucky for you, we’ve done the research to help you figure out which axe is right for you.

In this article, you’re going to learn about:

  • Budgeting for your first guitar
  • The two main types of guitars (and the pros and cons of each!)
  • Different guitar body styles
  • Types of guitars for desired genres.
  • Top accessories you should buy right away.

We’re also going to suggest some top acoustic and electric guitars for beginners.

The guitar you ultimately decide to buy is going to be dictated by your budget and musical tastes.

Let’s Figure Out How to Choose a Guitar for a First-Time Player

What’s your Guitar Budget?

Before you start eyeing the Fenders or Gibsons, you better check your bank account.

Purchasing a musical instrument is an investment in your quality of life — and it doesn’t get much better than the gift of music and playing guitar. 

Probably the best tip on how to choose a guitar for beginners: don't break the bank!

But a lot of people who want to learn how to play guitar ultimately give it up. In fact, more than 50% of new music students across all instruments ultimately give up trying to learn, mostly out of frustration from a lack of progress.

What does that mean for coming up with a budget? Keep it low and affordable! There’s a coin-flip chance you’re going to lose interest in learning the guitar, so would you rather be out a couple hundred dollars, or $1,000?

One of the fun parts about getting good at the guitar is you can save and upgrade to a nicer guitar as your skills progress. When that time comes, it’s not really a gamble if you’re going to stick with the instrument or not.

How Much Should I Spend on My First Guitar?

Beginner guitars are quite affordable, typically ringing in around $200 to $250.

I really like that price point because it’s not big enough to break your bank, but it’s expensive enough to cause a little bit of friction with your wallet and desire to learn the guitar. In other words, you’re going to be more motivated to keep learning so your $250 purchase doesn’t totally go to waste.

Of course, you can always spend more money on your first guitar, but remember that a more expensive guitar doesn’t make you a better guitar player. Only practice will do that.


Choosing Your First guitar: Acoustic or Electric?

Before you start looking at body styles or brand names, you need to decide if you’re going to purchase an acoustic or electric guitar.

While you can start playing immediately on both kinds of guitars, an acoustic allows you to hear things better, while an electric (without the additional purchase of an amplifier, of course) will be more difficult to appreciate.

The Pros and Cons of Going With an Acoustic Guitar

Starting your guitar journey with an acoustic guitar is a great way to learn the instrument, but you can be limited in the genres you want to play. Here are the pros and cons of purchasing an acoustic as your first guitar.

Pros:

  • Affordable. With no electronics and an ability to use cheap wood, a beginner acoustic is a great way to learn the instrument at a low, entry-level price.
  • Acoustics are harder to play. Wait, so how is that a pro? Because if you stick with it, your hands will be stronger, your technique will be better and your overall musicality will be significantly stronger. When the day comes that you want an electric, you’ll be amazed at how strong of a player you are on that type of guitar.
  • You can bring it anywhere. Guitars are designed to bring them to places, be it a party or a family Christmas get together to sing carols. With an acoustic, all you need is the guitar — no amplification required.

Cons:

  • Limited. If you’re really into heavy metal music, you’re going to struggle to stay motivated learning on an acoustic guitar. While you can play several great genres on an acoustic, the popular hard rock and more modern pop genres don’t necessarily lend themselves to an acoustic.
  • Not the best sound. You can definitely tell a difference between an entry-level acoustic and a high-end Gibson or Martin acoustic. The sound is more pure, crisp and enjoyable. Cheaper acoustics can struggle to stay in tune and simply don’t sound as good.

The Pros and Cons of Going With an Electric Guitar

Perhaps you’ve always dreamt about rocking out on electric guitar. But going this direction for your first axe doesn’t make you a guitar rock legend. Here are the pros and cons of purchasing an electric guitar as your entry-level instrument.

Pros:

  • Versatile. An electric guitar can play more genres more easily than an acoustic guitar. 
  • More options. There are way more options for beginner guitars when you’re looking at electrics. This can make shopping for one a little more time consuming, but you’ll be able to find exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Looks awesome and is more fun. Let’s be honest, an electric guitar is way cooler looking than an acoustic guitar. And because many electrics are designed for playing quickly, they’re way more fun to learn on than an acoustic.

Cons:

  • Extra expenses. If you’re going to go with an electric guitar, you’re also going to need an amplifier and a cable to plug your guitar into that amp. Even by purchasing a cheaper amp, you’re still adding an additional $150-$200 to your budget.
  • Can stunt your ability to learn guitar. When it comes to an electric guitar plugged into an amp and possibly effects pedals, you can become distracted by the gadgetry and technology of the guitar instead of learning the art of playing.


Understanding Guitar Body Styles for Beginners

After you decide on acoustic or electric, you’ll need to figure out what body style of guitar you want to purchase.

Acoustic Body Styles You Need to Know

  1. Dreadnought: Hands down, the dreadnought is the most popular acoustic body style. It can handle several different genres, it’s loud and it’s comfortable to play. A dreadnought features a large body with no cutaway, which can make fretting higher frets more difficult.
  2. Parlour: A parlour-style guitar is like a small dreadnought. Originally designed for traveling troubadours, It typically features a neck that joins the body at the 12th fret.
  3. Jumbo: A jumbo-style guitar is a plus-sized dreadnought, but can also feature a cutaway for easier access to top frets.
  4. Auditorium: Martin also refers to this guitar as a 000 (triple zero) guitar. It falls in between a dreadnought- and a parlour-style guitar, making it quite comfortable to play — and it sounds great.
  5. Classical: Classical-style guitars can be quite affordable, but they’re not like dreadnoughts or parlour-style guitars. The necks tend to be wider and the body can be difficult to hold. Learning to play on a classical guitar, however, is extremely beneficial, as it builds hand muscles and forces you to focus on properly fretting all of the individual notes.

Electric Guitar Body Styles You Should Know

Electrics are a little different as any manufacturer can take liberties with the design. Here are the main body styles to look out for:

  1. Stratocaster: Made famous by Leo Fender, the Strat features two sharp cutaways that are synonymous with rock music on an electric guitar. 
  2. Les Paul: Epiphone offers entry level models of this Gibson classic. This body style is great to learn on, but it can be heavy, so be ready for a workout while practicing.
  3. Semi-hollow: Not all electric guitars feature solid bodies. A semi-hollow gives you a pseudo acoustic sound when unplugged from amp, and extra warm tones when plugged in.


Must-Have Guitar Accessories for Beginners

There are a handful of accessories you should also purchase along with your first guitar.

Guitar Tuner

This is an absolute must-buy accessory. You’ll need a tuner to keep your strings in tune.

These are quite affordable ($25 and under) and convenient. Purchase one that can clip to the headstock of your guitar for easy use.

Capo

You may not know what this is used for now, but you’ll soon appreciate it. A capo allows you to clamp down all of your strings at once so you can play simpler chords, like G, C and D, higher up on the fretboard.

If you play a G chord when the Capo is across the third fret, for example, you’re actually playing a Bb chord. This is a handy guitar accessory when trying to play familiar songs that may be in challenging keys. A good capo will run you $15 to $20.

Metronome

This is probably the most boring guitar accessory, but it can help immensely in the development of your overall music skills. A metronome keeps time, which helps you develop a better rhythm.


4 Guitar Brands for Beginners Worth Purchasing

So, now the fun part: What guitar brands should you be looking at for your entry-level model? Here are my favorite guitar brands for beginners:

Yamaha

Yamaha is the king of entry-level guitars — both acoustic and electric. You can find a great guitar for about $200 that actually plays and sounds way above its price range.

The Yamaha FG800 is a great dreadnought-style acoustic perfect for those interested in singer-songwriter/folk music. The Yamaha FS830 is more of a parlour-style with a beautiful finish, ringing in slightly over $300.

The brand’s electrics are also very solid. You can’t go wrong with the Yamaha Pacifica Electric guitar. At approximately $200, you can’t beat the price and it actually sounds really good.

Squier

Squier, which is owned by Fender, solely sells entry-level replicas of popular Fender models, including the Stratocaster and Telecaster.

So if you’re new to guitar and want an electric, you’re likely going to come across several squier models.

I recommend the Squier Affinity Stratocaster. It comes in a bevy of colors, including the super-classy two-tone sunburst, and sounds like an authentic Strat. Priced around $200, you can afford to learn how to play on this guitar. And as you improve, you’ll likely want to upgrade to a real Fender Stratocaster. 

Epiphone

Owned by Gibson, Epiphone uses Gibson’s iconic guitar styles, like the Les Paul, for its models, but sells them at a fraction of the price.

The Epiphone Les Paul SL is a favorite of mine because of its price and tone. It features a cedar top, which helps give it a nice warm tone. And you can typically find one for under $150.

While these guitars are mass produced, Epiphone (and Gibson for that matter) do a great job at ensuring they are manufactured at the highest possible quality.

Fender

While best known for its higher-end electric lineup, Fender in recent years has produced some pretty high-quality acoustics at great entry-level prices.

Priced at $330, the FA-235E is a guitar you could actually play for many years because it sounds so good, plus it includes electronics if you ever need to amplify your acoustic.

Unfortunately, Fender’s electric lineup doesn’t really include guitars at entry-level prices.


Get Playing Today

Remember, it’s not the brand, quality or type of guitar that’s going to make you a great guitar player. It’s all about being disciplined and consistently practicing to become a better guitar player and musician.

There’s really no right or wrong answer on how to choose a guitar for beginners, but be smart in your decision and don’t overspend right away. Make it a goal to learn the instrument and then upgrade to a nicer guitar at a later time.

How will you know when it’s time? Well, maybe when you can play all of these songs with ease.


Image credits

Guitar Tuner Clip image: yoppy, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Yamaha guitar image: Freebird, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Squier guitar image: Arkach at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Epiphone guitar image: Flow 2015, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Fender image: Biso, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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