Choosing the right first guitar when you are a beginner guitar player is almost impossible. There are so many different guitars, guitar shapes, colors, and manufacturers. Just go to a music shop, and you will see walls full of instruments. Which one would be good for you? The fact that you can’t really play the guitar(or you don’t feel confident enough to do it publicly) doesn’t help.
When you go to a good music shop ( a good example is Anderton’s in Guildford UK – CLICK HERE), the sales assistant will take you to a private room (or at least somewhere where it is quiet), will bring you a bunch of guitars to try and patiently explain the differences between them. On top of that, you can return the instrument within 14 days if you don’t like it … but it is not always that easy. In some of the guitar shops, the staff seems to be busy, and even establishing eye contact might be a real struggle 🙂 … not to mention giving you any help as some shops seem to be cliquey and exclusive.
So let’s build some basic knowledge that will help you feel a little bit more confident when you visit a music shop to buy the right first guitar.
YOUR FIRST GUITAR - ELECTRIC OR ACOUSTIC?
Here comes the hard question – which one should you get as your first guitar – an acoustic or electric? The electric guitar is a very tempting piece of equipment. It is loud, looks cool and is totally rock & roll! At the very early stages of learning, I would, however, suggest starting with an acoustic.
The major reason to choose an acoustic over an electric guitar at this early stage is that it is much easier to ‘wrap’ ourselves around an acoustic, as it feels more comfortable to sit with. Everything is “in the right place”. It is easy to place our strumming hand on the body of the acoustic guitar and not to mention that it is very portable – you can take it with you anywhere you go, unlike the electric one that requires a cable, an amp and maybe even some guitar pedals to properly hear the sound!
That said, I had quite a few students who were absolutely fine playing their electric guitars from the beginning, so there is really no right or wrong. We are all unique, and what works for one person may not work for someone else.
However, once you get “bitten by the bug”, you will probably own both – an electric and an acoustic – we call it GAS (gear acquisition syndrome 🙂). It is really fun to be able to practice on the acoustic one day and on the electric guitar the next as it gives you a different perspective. Having a variety of choice can help us be more motivated and will definitely make practising the guitar fun.
YOUR FIRST GUITAR - ACOUSTIC OR CLASSICAL
Now that we (me 🙂 ) have decided that it is probably a better idea to start from the acoustic guitar as your first guitar, let’s talk about acoustic vs classical guitar -yes, there is a little more to it…
In a nutshell, we can think about acoustic guitars as appropriate for pop/rock performances and classical guitars for… well, classical music performances.
The major difference between both is in the strings. An acoustic guitar will have metal/steel strings, while the acoustic guitar will have nylon ones.
The classical guitar has been suggested as a great first guitar for beginners for a long time as it seems to be a little bit easier to play on. Nylon strings on the classical guitar are quite soft, and there is noticeably less string tension, so they don’t hurt your fingers as much as metal ones do on the acoustic.
But, there is one big disadvantage – the neck on the classical guitar is very wide (the neck is where you play the chords- the long timber stick attached to the guitar). It means that while you play your chords, you will need to stretch your fingers a little bit more as the spaces between the strings are bigger. Also, classical guitars don’t have fret markers, so it may be a little bit more difficult to navigate while playing higher up the neck.
Now the acoustic guitar is a little bit different. It has metal strings, and at the beginning, they hurt your fingers! Obviously, over time your fingers will get in shape, and you will be flying up and down the neck, but these first weeks might be a little bit painful. Noticeably, the neck of the acoustic guitar is a little bit narrower, so it might feel a little bit less ‘stretchy’ than the one from the classical guitar … now, here is an interesting point to consider:
There is no obvious winner here, but if you would like to play the electric guitar in the future, the acoustic guitar might be a better choice as the size of the neck will feel more familiar.
YOUR FIRST GUITAR - PAY ATTENTION TO THE SIZE OF THE GUITAR'S BODY
The body of the acoustic and classical guitars is responsible for amplifying the sound. The bigger the body of the guitar is, the louder and more bassy it will sound. Smaller-bodied guitars are quieter, but the sound can be more balanced. The size of the body will also determine how comfortable it will feel when you hold it. You need to remember that you will wrap your strumming hand around the guitar, so it will feel awkward if it is too big.
I personally like medium-sized guitars because they are a little bit smaller, feel better, and, more importantly, are easier to carry around for me. You do not want to feel like you are walking with a double bass (a double bass is the huge upright instrument with four strings that you may see in jazz bands).
YOUR FIRST GUITAR - TIPS FOR BUYING YOUR FIRST GUITAR IN THE MUSIC SHOP
While in the music shop, don’t be afraid to ask for a few different guitars to choose from. Having a few different models around you will help you quickly see the difference in the instrument’s size, feel, sound, and general appearance. While testing different guitars, ask yourself some questions: Do I like how this guitar feels? Am I comfortable sitting with it? Is it something I would like to spend the rest of my life with 🙂 … maybe not that dramatic, but you get the point.
You probably won’t feel comfortable trying to tune up the guitar yourself, so it’s ok to ask the shop attendant to tune the guitars for you so that you can relax and enjoy your experience in the shop.
One very important point is to pay attention to something called ‘neck relief’. Neck relief is just a fancy word referring to how far the strings are from the fretboard (you might want to memorise this term to sound more pro in the shop). If the strings are too far away from the neck, it will make playing the chords very difficult as you will need to press harder to get a clean sound.
As a rule of thumb, a good guitar that is bought straight off-the-shelf should play well. Most music shops can adjust the guitar for you on the spot, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
Once you have tried a few different guitars, you can ask the shop attendant to play them for you so that you can have a different perspective so that you can hear the guitar from the perspective of a listener rather than a player.
YOUR FIRST GUITAR - ALWAYS ASK FOR FREE EXTRAS
One last tip … always ask for a free guitar bag so you can carry your guitar safely home. Guitar shops have plenty of them, so don’t be afraid to ask for one! Also, don’t forget to ask for a discount, they will make a lot of profit on your first guitar so a 10% discount won’t hurt them. If they refuse, then at least ask for some free guitar accessories like guitar picks, strings, etc. I never walk away with just the guitar! Half the fun are getting the free accessories!
And here you go, these are my few tips for you. Enjoy every moment of buying your first guitar, and let me know, how did it go?
Darius | Guitar Couch Lessons