Have you stood on the outside of the music store looking in, either literally or figuratively? You want a top quality guitar, but you’re not sure which one to buy. You’ve come to the right place. We’re going to answer your questions, even the ones you didn’t know you had. A guitar isn’t just a couple pieces of wood attached together with some strings stretched across it. It is a complex combination of materials and techniques to create an instrument that is as much art as it is a creator of art.
We’ve collected data on many models, rated them, and even have done extended reviews of the guitars. You can look at the comparison table below then delve deeper with the links to the reviews. There is an in-depth guide with tips and tricks to finding the right guitar for you after the table.
The Top 10 Started Acoustic And Acoustic-Electric Guitars:
The Top 5 Entry Level Classical Guitars To Learn On:
The Complete Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide:
First order of business, if you are learning to play classical or flamenco you will need to buy a classical guitar. If you are just looking to learn to play some songs around the campfire you can buy a classical guitar, but most likely you will want a steel string guitar. Needless to say beginner electric guitars have a separated article devoted to them. The genre of music you want to play will lead you to certain instruments just based on their sound. With that out of the way, let’s dive in and learn more about beginner guitars.
This article can quickly just degrade into a list of terms with a diagram showing where they are on the guitar. Every guitar is a unique experience. There are so many different pieces that go together to give each instrument its feel, tone, and look. We’ll delve into these elements first before going into the definitions.
I played in a band where the singer had a tendency to bump into me. When she ran into my right arm, it would go flailing ruining my timing. When she ran into my left arm not much happened as I had contact with the instrument. The neck is the part of the guitar that the guitarist has the most contact with to create music. This is where the feel of the instrument comes in. The width of the fretboard, the thickness of the neck, the height of the strings from the fretboard (also called “the action”), the type of finish, the spacing of the frets and the size of the actual frets, all play into the tactile nature of playing guitar.
Whether you’ve learned to play yet or not, you should put your hands on the guitar’s neck. In a beginner instrument this is the most important. If the action is good, then learning to play will be less of a struggle to capture the notes. More time and energy can be used to make those notes musical. Learn what feels good to play, then find the guitar that uses those elements.
The nut width will let you know how wide the fretboard is. The nut is a grooved piece of either plastic, bone, or synthetic material, that is between the headstock and fretboard. The nut can go from a narrow 1.5” (38mm) to over 2” (50.8mm) wide. This may not seem like much, but you will notice the difference (play a standard steel string, then play a classical guitar and you will know what I mean).
Scale length is the distance from the nut to the center of the 12th fret, then double that measurement. The shorter the scale length the smaller the guitar. The smaller the guitar the shorter the distance between each fret. People with smaller fingers will appreciate a shorter scale length while those with larger fingers will want a longer scale length.
The profile is how thick the neck is from the fretboard to the back of the neck. This speaks more to the size of a player’s palm.
A truss rod will make it possible to adjust the neck depending on the weather conditions. Truss rods are made of metal, and can have their tension adjusted to keep the neck as straight as possible. This is a very important feature for maintaining the playability on a guitar. Traditionally, classical style guitars do not have truss rods.
If you don’t play this is where you will need a friend to play the instrument for you. I can talk all day about tonewoods and how they affect the sound of the guitar, but that will mean nothing if you can’t hear the difference for yourself. You need to listen to the guitar, and know if that is a sound you like.
Most of the elements of an acoustic guitar have an effect upon its sound. There is a debate on whether the wood that an electric guitar is made out of effects the sound, but no one can deny that on an acoustic the wood matters.
A frustrating bit to think about is that two guitars made of the same wood will sound very different, it depends on the openness and orientation of the grain, the age, curing conditions, and numerous other factors of the wood itself. Construction techniques also have an effect on the sound of the instrument.
The look of the guitar is more than aesthetics. It is the shape of the body that drives the timbre and dynamics of the voice of the guitar. A jumbo body is going to give the guitar a big booming voice, while a OOO (said “triple-O”) size body will be a brighter and quieter sound.
The standard acoustic guitar shape is the dreadnought, named after the WWI battleship design. Most manufacturers produce a dreadnought acoustic guitar.
Every manufacturer has their own designs as well, or at least a tweak on a classic. You won’t know which one is really right for you until you try them out. For simple ease of use a smaller framed person is going to feel more comfortable playing a smaller sized instrument. There are designs that are simply scaled down versions of the original. These are nice for young players as a new instrument can be bought as they grow, and it will feel very similar to the guitar they just outgrew. A smaller sized instrument will have a small sound. That is the sacrifice that has to be made to fit the instrument to the size of a smaller player.
Looks are also important, because you want to like the look of your guitar. I had a guitar that I liked very much, but because of the way that it was built it had a large ugly pickguard. In the end I couldn’t stand it anymore and sold it, because no matter what I did it still had that pickguard. It didn’t affect the tone of the instrument, but it affected the way I approached it. Don’t sacrifice tone or feel for looks, but adding to your budget to buy a guitar that is good-looking is money well spent.
What Else Are You Going to Have to Buy
Besides the guitar itself there are other things that are necessary to purchase either with the guitar are soon after.
Most guitars at the beginner’s price point do not come with a case or gig bag. They will protect the guitar from the elements and from getting scratched or dinged. Gig bags are padded and soft-sided. They are fine for taking an instrument locally, such as to practice, a lesson, or to a friend’s house, but do not offer the protection of a case. To start with a gig bag is more than enough protection for your first instrument.
Buy a tuner. Clip-on tuners are relatively inexpensive, and are very useful beyond the learning stage. Believe me, those around you will appreciate you playing in tune.
A music stand is invaluable for learning. A good one will last a long time, and be useful throughout your musical career. Right now on my music stand, there is: a clip-on tuner, a capo, some extra picks, my iPad, some sheet music, and a piece of paper with notes about a song I’m working on. It is so useful to have a place to put all these things. Most importantly it puts the music in your sight line while you’re practicing. You won’t be struggling to see your music or finding it when it comes time to practice.
Picks, buy lots of picks. Get different sizes, made of different material, and different thicknesses. Every once in a while I’ll buy a different pick just to give it a chance, but most of the time I buy the same pick I’ve been buying for years. Once you figure out what you like, buy a bunch of them. Picks are like socks, they are always disappearing.
A new set of strings can change how a guitar feels and plays. Thinner gauged strings will be easier to play at the cost of some depth of sound. Try different types of strings to find which feels best. Depending how much you play they will need to changed regularly.
Eventually you might want to get a guitar stand. It will put your guitar within easy reach, while being safer than just leaning it against the wall.
An important feature on an acoustic guitar is what kind of wood it is made out of. Entry-level guitars will also be made with less desirable woods, than their expensive counterparts.
Here are some of the common woods used to build acoustic guitars:
- Cedar- On the rare occasion when a guitar top is not spruce it will be cedar. It has a darker tone than spruce with more warmth and added bass.
- Mahogany- Used for back and sides, but can also sometimes be used for a top. It has a warm tone, but without the definition of some of the harder woods.
- Maple- Creates a very bright sound that lacks bass. Flame and quilted maple has a very striking and beautiful look.
- Nato- A replacement for mahogany. It has a similar look and tonal qualities, but it does not sound as good. You will notice that the more expensive instruments do not use nato. I find it lacks the clarity of mahogany even though it mimics the warmth. It does look very nice.
- Rosewood- Very commonly used for back and sides. It has good bass response with good articulation of each string.
- Sapele- Has a more dramatic look as compared to mahogany, and is used as a replacement for it. Sapele is a faster growing tree, so it is more sustainable than mahogany.
- Spruce- The most commonly used wood for acoustic guitar tops due to its strength, lightness, consistent look, and sound.
Solid vs. Laminate
Laminate guitars are made of several layers of wood pressed together to create the body of the guitar, laminated guitars are dominant in the best cheap acoustic guitars article that we’ve written. A beginner guitar is going to be made of all laminate wood. If you spend a little more you can at least get a solid top instrument, but to be honest I don’t know if that is really necessary at this level.
Laminate construction is cheaper than solid wood construction, which brings down the price of the guitar. A laminate guitar is stronger and will take more of a beating than a solid wood guitar. For younger players this is probably a good feature to think about. Humidity has less of an effect on laminate construction so depending on the environment you live in this can be a good feature.
Laminate does not have to sound bad. It all depends on how it is made. If filler or a substandard wood is used in the middle portion of the laminate, then that can make the guitar sound less than great. There are many very good guitars that have laminate back and sides. It is nearly impossible to tell whether a guitar is laminate or solid wood just by listening to it, but you can tell if you like the sound.
Some Other Terms
As you read through descriptions and reviews of the various models here are some of the terms you’ll run across that you might not know that haven’t already been discussed in this article.
- Bridge- The transfer point of the vibration of the string into the body of the guitar.
- Neck Radius- This is the curve of the fretboard. The smaller the number the rounder the fretboard is. Classical guitars have a flat radius.
- Rosette- decorative design around the soundhole. It can be ornate using abalone inlay down to a simple sticker.
- Saddle- A shim that is on the bridge that the strings are draped across made of plastic, bone, or synthetic material.
- Sound Board- The top of the acoustic guitar body.
- Soundhole- The round hole on the top of the instrument. It is the main projection of the sound.
Popular Questions From Beginners
- Should I modify my guitar to make it better? It is possible to improve a guitar with modifications, but the real question is it worth it? At this level my answer is no. You won’t add to the resale value no matter what you do. It would be better to save your money to buy a better instrument (for example just go with an acoustic guitar for $500), than to modify a beginner’s instrument.
- Should I buy an electric/acoustic for my first guitar? At an entry-level guitar the easy answer is no. There are sacrifices to make an acoustic guitar inexpensive, and by adding a feature that can cost as much as the guitar itself those sacrifices would be too much. Make sure that playing guitar is your thing, then the next one you buy you can get those electronics.
- How do I care for my guitar? Do not leave the guitar in a place with extreme temperatures, like in a car during the summer or winter. Wipe down the guitar and strings using a lint free cloth and put it away in a safe place when you are done using it. Keep it out of the reach of small children.
That should give you a good start on what to look for in a beginner’s guitar. Maybe you’ve decided that a more advanced model is the right fit for you, don’t worry we have other comparison articles that look at guitars in different price ranges. Subscribe to our newsletter to learn even more, and to stay ahead of the curve. Stop back regularly as we are always adding to the site. Until next time, keep strumming them open chords and practice your melodies.