What To Look For In Your First Guitar: A Quick Guide

black and white photo of a row of acoustic guitars

When I started I had no idea of what to look for in a guitar. I remember when I was young and my dad would blast guitar music on the stereo all I wanted to do was to be able to play the solo from Johnny B Goode.

Was it expensive? Not at all! Your first guitar definitely doesn’t need to be, but there are a few things you should think about.

Here’s a short checklist of things to think about when it comes to what to look for in your first guitar:

The size of the guitar

The size of the guitar is one of the most important aspects of any guitar. It’s also probably the least known about and therefore the most over looked. This is especially important with learners with smaller hands (of any age).

You can get 3/4 sized guitars and even half sized guitars. Yes, if the guitar is for a young learner they are more than likely going to grow out of these. I started with a half sized and worked up and now find them particularly difficult to play. Due to this you shouldn’t be spending a fortune on these guitars (you didn’t buy a Ferrari for your first car did you… or maybe you did… but it wasn’t a necessity).

For learners with small hands chord shapes are very difficult on a full sized guitar, to the point where it actually isn’t possible. The result – it’s even harder to learn than usual or not actually physical possible until/unless your hands grow.

Don’t make learning even harder by trying to save money on buying a guitar ‘that will last’. In all honesty, you’ll probably give up before getting to that point because you’ve made it too hard for yourself in the first place.

It should also be noted though that as you grow out of the guitar you need to upgrade as your hands won’t fit in the frets easily.

Type of Guitar

Think about the type of music you want to play.

Typically people buy a nylon string classical as their first guitar, but do you want to play classical guitar? Acoustic guitars are also common first guitars, but will this suit your style of playing?

If not then you can look at buying a starter electric guitar. They’re usually slightly more expensive but if you want to rock then the classical guitar just isn’t ready for you.

“I’ve heard I should start with a classical guitar because the strings are easier on your fingers?”

Nylon strings are easier on your fingers than steel strings, but that isn’t the full story.

Classical guitars typically have much wider necks than other types of guitars. This means getting you hand around the neck to make chord shapes is usually much more difficult on a classical guitar than an acoustic or electric.

You can also put ‘lighter’ (thinner) steel strings onto an acoustic to make it easier to push down as there is less tension.

A nylon acoustic is only really suited to players who want to play classical music as the tone is very different from a steel string guitar and won’t give you the sound you are looking for if you want to play a different style of music.

The height of the strings


Especially with acoustic guitars, make sure that the strings aren’t really far away from the neck and the fretboard. This is known as the action.

If the action is too high, this can make playing the guitar much more difficult or even impossible. While it can be fixed in most cases, why absorb the added cost into your purchase?

Finding a guitar with a good action will also mean that you will be able to play it easier and enjoy playing it more.

Check it doesn’t buzz all over the neck and that you get a note on every fret

This can happen with new guitars as well as used guitars, but usually more of a problem with the latter.

If you can’t play guitar that’s ok, get someone else to play it and listen for loud buzzes. Having someone who can already play the guitar to do this will help as beginners often make the strings buzz even on well set up guitars due to the pressure needed on the strings.

You should hear a clear note without a buzz on every fret. Sometimes the guitar neck is bent or the action is too low (strings are resting against the metal frets all the time). Although this can be fixed there are so many beginner level guitars on the market I personally would move on and look at another one.

Are all the parts of the guitar there?

Years ago I had a student show up for their first lesson.

They were so excited that they were finally going to learn how to play the guitar. They handed me over the guitar to be tuned. Unfortunately, one of the tuning pegs was broken. So the string was attached but you couldn’t adjust it.

Guitar pegs can be replaced. The drawback is that you generally have to buy them in a set of six. As it was an inexpensive guitar it didn’t make sense to spend the money on six brand new tuners which would cost about the same what was paid for the guitar.

When buying your first guitar take a couple of minutes to check that it all looks ok, it could save you a lot of hassle.

Make sure whatever guitar you get it’s interesting to you

Learning to play guitar can be a difficult journey at times.

Make sure that you have as much fun as possible and whatever guitar you have you enjoy playing. It will keep you motivated and excited about getting better.

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