A Guide to Buying Your First Guitar
Shopping for your first guitar is the most crucial step you can take toward pursuing a lifelong passion for the instrument. There are many different types, shapes, and sizes out there – so you’ll need to learn where to start on your hunt.
Electric or acoustic? Slope-shouldered or jumbo? Wood or plastic? These are choices you’ll need to make as you begin your shopping.
Don’t worry – we’re here to help. This guide from our guitar instructors will make the buying process a little easier. We’ll cover the different types of guitars, what to look for when purchasing your first one, and some essential accessories to get you started.
Choosing the Right Guitar
There are two main types of guitars to choose between: acoustic and electric. To help you decide which is right for you, let’s look at some key differences between the two.
Acoustic guitars are built to produce full sounds without the need for an amplifier. They’re popular in a variety of genres, including folk, country, bluegrass, and, occasionally, rock.
At its core, the acoustic guitar is very similar to the electric guitar. However, acoustics typically have a larger body and a hollow sound chamber. This design creates a fuller, richer sound. Additionally, acoustic guitars have thicker strings than electric guitars.
Advantages of Buying an Acoustic Guitar for Beginners
On average, beginner-level acoustic guitars are less expensive than electric guitars, ranging anywhere from $100 to $500. Additionally, you won’t need to purchase an amplifier, which also saves you a little bit of money.
Less Equipment Required
All you need to play an acoustic guitar is the instrument itself. This can be a significant advantage for beginners who are just starting out and may not want to invest in a lot of additional equipment.
Acoustic guitars are typically smaller and lighter than electric guitars. This makes them easier to transport from place to place, which is especially convenient if you’re toting your instrument to and from lessons.
Disadvantages of Buying an Acoustic Guitar for Beginners
More Difficult to Play
Acoustic guitars have thicker strings than electric guitars. As a result, they can be more difficult to press down on, making them less comfortable for beginners to play at first.
Not as Versatile
While acoustic guitars can be used for a variety of genres, they’re not as versatile as electric guitars. If you’re interested in playing many different music types, you may want to opt for an electric guitar.
Not Always Great Quality
Investing in a well-made instrument is critical when shopping for an acoustic guitar. The sad truth is that many “beginner” options on the market are poorly made and won’t play as well as a high-quality guitar.
Types of Acoustic Guitars
If you are leaning towards purchasing an acoustic guitar, you’ll need to decide which type is right for you. Here’s a breakdown of the more common types of acoustic guitars:
Steel-String Acoustic Guitar
The steel-string guitar is the most popular type of acoustic guitar. It’s also the loudest and has the most versatile range of tones. These guitars are a great choice for those who want to play a variety of genres, including rock, country, folk, and pop.
Nylon-String Acoustic Guitar
The nylon-string acoustic guitar is also known as the classical guitar. It’s a bit quieter than the steel-string acoustic and has a mellower sound.
Nylon-string guitars are typically used for classical and flamenco music. However, they can also be used for jazz, funk, and other genres.
Of all the different types of guitars, electric guitars are perhaps the most popular and versatile. Electrics can be used for a variety of genres, including country, rock, blues, and pop.
Electric guitars produce a soft, faint sound on their own. When connected to an amplifier, they can create a range of different sounds – from light and airy to a heavier, more distorted sound.
Advantages of Buying an Electric Guitar for Beginners
Easier to Handle
Electric guitar strings are generally lighter and easier to press down on than acoustic strings. This can be a significant advantage for beginners who are still getting used to the feel of playing guitar.
Available in Many Different Sizes
Most instrument stores offer a wide variety of electric guitar sizes. If you’re shopping for a child or if you have smaller hands, you can find an electric that meets your needs.
Common in Popular Music
Electric guitars are prevalent in lots of popular music. Therefore, learning to play one can help you feel more connected to the songs you enjoy listening to outside of your lessons.
Disadvantages of Buying an Electric Guitar for Beginners
Requires Additional Equipment
To play an electric guitar, you’ll need an amplifier and a cable to connect the two. This can add to the overall cost of starting to play the instrument.
May Be Too Loud for Some Settings
If you’re planning on taking guitar lessons at home, an electric may be too loud for your family or roommates. In this case, an acoustic guitar may be a better option. Of course, you can also purchase headphones to plug into your amplifier, allowing you to practice without disrupting others.
Electric Guitar Body Shapes & Styles
If you’re leaning towards buying an electric guitar, you’ll have plenty of body shapes to choose from. Some will be more suited to your playing style and skill level than others.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the more popular electric guitar styles for beginners:
The Stratocaster is quite possibly the most popular electric guitar among beginners. It’s the same guitar that rock legends like Buddy Holly and Jimi Hendrix made famous.
Fender’s Stratocaster has a timeless design and is built to last. It houses three interchangeable single-coil pickups, which give it a versatile range of tones. Thanks to its contoured body shape, it’s also quite comfortable to play.
The Telecaster is another one of Fender’s timeless electric guitar designs. Created in the early 1950s, it was among the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitars.
Fender’s Telecaster has a classic single-cutaway design and is known for its signature twangy sound. This is due to its bridge pickup, which gives it a bright and cutting tone.
Its distinct twang tone has made it a favorite among country and blues players. However, the Telecaster also found its way into the hands of rock stars like Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen.
The Gibson’s Les Paul electric guitar, designed by the legendary guitar builder Les Paul, is one of the most popular and iconic electric guitars ever made.
Gibson’s Les Paul has a thick, solid-body design known for its rich, full sound. This is due to its dual humbucker pickups, which give it a warm and rounded tone.
It’s also one of the heavier electric guitars, which can make it a bit uncomfortable for beginners to play (especially for children). Still, if you can get past that, the Les Paul is an excellent choice for those looking for a classic rock band feel.
If you’re looking for an electric guitar with an aggressive bite to its tone, then the SG might be right up your alley.
Gibson created the SG in the 1960s as a re-design of their popular Les Paul model. It quickly became popular among rock and heavy metal players for its ability to achieve high gain tones.
Since then, the SG has become one of Gibson’s most iconic models. It’s known for its unique double-cutaway body shape, which allows easy access to the higher frets.
What is an Acoustic-Electric Guitar?
Interested in a guitar that combines the best of both worlds? You might want to consider an acoustic-electric guitar. This is an acoustic guitar that has been outfitted with a pickup system. You can plug the guitar into an amplifier to get a louder, fuller sound.
Acoustic-electric guitars are an excellent choice for those who plan to play gigs or perform live. They’re also a good option for those who want the chance to amplify their sound when necessary.
Keep in mind that acoustic-electric guitars tend to be more expensive than regular acoustic guitars. However, they offer a lot of versatility and can be a great investment.
What Are Some Guitar Accessories You Will Need?
Once you purchase your first guitar, you’ll need some essential accessories to go along with it. Here’s a quick list of things to consider picking up:
✓ Guitar Picks
Selecting the right guitar pick can be tricky – especially if you’re a beginner. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for the right one.
First, your pick should be comfortable to hold. If it’s not, it’s likely not the right size or material for you. Second, the thickness of your pick will affect the sound it produces. Thicker picks create a fuller sound, while thinner picks produce brighter tones.
Most picks are made from either celluloid or nylon. Celluloid picks are a bit stiffer, which can be harder to control for beginners. Nylon picks are more flexible and forgiving.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what feel and sound you prefer. We recommend trying out a few different picks until you find what you’re most comfortable using.
✓ Guitar Tuner
A guitar tuner is essential for keeping your instrument in great shape (and sound). There are a few different types of tuners on the market, but the most popular is the clip-on tuner.
These attach to the headstock of your guitar and use a built-in microphone to “listen” to your strings. Based on the pitch it hears, the tuner will let you know if you need to tighten or loosen your strings.
There are also apps that can turn your smartphone into a guitar tuner. However, we recommend investing in a dedicated tuner – especially if you’re just starting out. Store-bought tuners are typically more accurate and easier to use.
A capo is a small device placed on the guitar’s neck. It’s used to raise the pitch of the strings, which can help you play in different keys and create different sounds.
Capos are a helpful tool for beginners who are still comfortable with the fretboard. However, even some experienced players use them from time to time – they can make complex chords easier to play.
There are many different capos available, but the trigger-style capo is perhaps the most popular. This type of capo is easy to attach and remove, which is helpful when you need to make quick changes.
✓ Guitar Strap
A guitar strap is a must-have if you plan on playing while standing. These go over your shoulder and around your waist, holding your guitar in place.
When choosing a strap, look for one that’s comfortable and adjustable. You want it to be snug but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable to wear. It’s also important to consider the color and pattern. After all, your guitar strap should reflect your personality!
Leather and nylon are the most popular options for straps. Leather is more durable and has a classic look, but nylon is softer and often cheaper.
✓ Guitar Case
Using a guitar case is the best way to protect your investment – both at home and on the go. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you can find one that fits your specific instrument.
Hard cases offer the most protection, but they’re also the heaviest and most expensive option. Still, this is the way to go if you often plan on traveling with your guitar.
Soft cases are lighter and more affordable. Although they don’t offer as much protection, soft cases are great for storing your guitar at home or taking it with you on short trips.
✓ Extra Guitar Strings
Even if you take good care of your guitar, all strings eventually break. That’s why having a few extras on hand is a good idea.
When buying replacement strings, get the same gauge (thickness) as the ones that came with your guitar. Using different gauges can cause intonation issues.
It’s also a good idea to buy strings made from the same material. For example, if your guitar comes with nylon strings, don’t replace them with steel strings. Doing so can damage your instrument.
If you need help, ask your guitar instructor or a music store employee. They should be able to point you in the right direction.
✓ Guitar Amplifier
You’ll need an amplifier if you plan on playing an electric or acoustic-electric guitar. These come in all shapes and sizes, from small practice amps to large, stage-worthy rigs.
The type of amplifier you need depends on a few factors. First, consider how and where you’ll be using it. A small practice amp will suffice if you’re just playing at home. But if you plan on gigging or recording, you’ll need something more powerful.
Next, think about the type of sound you want to create. Many amplifiers come with built-in effects, so you can get the perfect tone without buying separate pedals.
Finally, consider your budget. Amps range significantly in price, from around $50 to $2000 or more. Finding one that fits your needs and budget is important.
✓ Instrument Cable
If you plan to buy an electric or acoustic-electric guitar, you’ll also need an instrument cable to connect it to an amplifier.
Quality is the most important thing to look for when shopping for cables. Cheap cables often have interference issues, which can negatively affect your sound. They’re also more likely to break or become damaged over time. As a general rule, it’s best to buy the highest quality cables you can afford.
Guitar cables are also available in various lengths, from 6 feet to 25 feet or more. When choosing a length, consider how far away you’ll be from your amp when playing. A longer cable is great if you have a large stage, but it can be a pain to lug around if you’re only playing at home.
If you plan on practicing with an amplifier, you may want to invest in a good pair of headphones. You don’t want to disturb your family or neighbors.
When choosing headphones, look for a comfortable pair that produces a clear sound. You should also make sure they’re compatible with your amplifier. Some amplifiers come with a headphone jack, while others require an adapter. If you’re not sure which type you have, ask a music store employee for help.
Shopping for your first guitar and its accessories don’t have to be a daunting task. With a bit of research and guidance, you’ll be able to find the perfect setup for your needs.
The most important thing is to take your time and find the right instrument and gear for you. With proper care, your first guitar will provide you with years of enjoyment.
If you’re interested in learning to play your new guitar, Be Natural Music has you covered. We offer both in-person and online classes for students of all experience levels. Our instructors will teach you everything you need to know about guitar playing, from the basics to advanced techniques.