Updated: Feb 17
The aim of this guide is to help you make some decisions about what type of guitar to buy when you are just starting out playing the guitar. Most guitarists will agree that buying your first guitar is an exciting moment but it can also be a daunting one, especially since the explosion of online shops and the sheer quantity of guitars available to buy. It’s hard to know where to start!
There are a few important things to think about, not least the cost, so it’s worth giving it some thought.
You may have a certain type of guitar in mind when you start playing. Some people have their heart set on a specific style of either electric or acoustic guitar. Many though, have never given it much thought and a Google search can often be overwhelming with all the options available.
The aim here is to outline the things you may want to think about when buying a guitar and to hopefully simplify the process making it more likely that you'll end up with an instrument that will set you up for success in your future guitar playing.
Where to Start?
The decision ultimately boils down to three main considerations:
1. Musical Goals
This one is often overlooked and could be considered less important than the other points. However, to me this is at the top of the list when I advise people of what type of guitars to look at.
There are three main types of guitar; acoustic steel string, acoustic nylon string (classical guitar) and electric, and there are many variations of each style; hollow, semi-hollow, electro acoustic the list goes on. The type of guitar you choose will depend on what styles of music you intend to play. This is usually music that you have long been inspired by, your favourite artist or band for example. There is no rule that says you have to buy a specific type of guitar and you could be forgiven for being drawn towards a guitar that catches your eye online.. however it’s worth giving some thought to this subject, to save any regrets later on.
A large number of beginner students have no aspirations to join bands or become professional musicians, instead they want to play at home as a way of relaxing after work or school, or maybe to play a few tunes at a party or barbecue. An acoustic guitar is the perfect choice in this situation as it doesn’t need to be plugged in and is very portable, they’re also a great for strumming songs.
In general, it’s common for people to buy acoustic guitars first, often with nylon strings. They seem like an obvious choice because the beginner models are relatively cheap and can be purchased easily online or from most guitar shops. Here’s my first heads up though… DO NOT BUY A GUITAR FROM A SUPERMARKET.. (please). These guitars are designed for impulse buying and whilst I’m sure some of them are ok, 99.9% of the supermarket guitars I have seen have been bad quality and in some cases almost unplayable. Think of it like this, if you started playing tennis at a local club, would you turn up on day one with a £5 wooden racket set from Asda?? My guess is no, but if it’s yes be prepared to struggle!
Guitars tend to fall under the ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ category for the most part. But inexpensive and cheap are two very different things in my opinion. Inexpensive is a very subjective term and is, of course, relative to someone’s income. Cheap on the other hand, evokes images of bad build quality, lack of attention to detail and playability leaving a lot to be desired. Therefore buying a very cheap guitar to see how you get on is often a false economy and more worryingly a potential hammer blow to your future guitar playing.
Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that you should buy a cheap guitar just to get started on, buy something that is the best you can afford. As a rough guide anything around £150/£200 or above will generally get you a well built entry-level guitar, either electric or acoustic. Most people tend to upgrade fairly quickly from these cheaper instruments.
Ok, lets be honest… this is probably the thing that most people base their first guitar purchase on! When you’ve make the decision to start playing the guitar and have decided to buy one, you can expect to spend many hours reading reviews, watching YouTube videos and scrawling online shops looking for your perfect guitar.. if you set a budget, chances are you might easily go over it when that shiny new electric tempts you, or the beautiful mahogany finished acoustic calls your name.. There are literally thousands to choose from. Ultimately, it should be a combination of the three things outlined in this guide which informs your choice.
I‘ve put together some links below of some guitar packs which would be a great place to start for any beginner.
Yamaha F310 Acoustic Guitar Pro Pack - https://amzn.to/2HgPRhx
Ibanez VC50NJP-NT Acoustic Guitar Jam Pack with Bag / Strap / Tuner / Plectra in Display Box Natural High Gloss - https://amzn.to/2TBYVyz
3/4 size (suitable for children up to the age of 10/11)
Fender FA-15 Steel Acoustic Guitar With Case - 3/4 - https://amzn.to/2TC4GfF
Epiphone Les Paul Special II Electric Player Pack - Vintage Sunburst - https://amzn.to/2Cerf2U
Fender Squier Mini Stratocaster Guitar, Black - https://amzn.to/2Rg1hq4
In the interest of transparency.. these are affiliate links, which means I do receive a small percentage of anything bought through them. However this doesn’t affect the price you pay and it helps me to continue to produce high quality content to help guitar players on their journey
Epiphone Les Paul Express Travel-Size Electric Guitar, Vintage Sunburst Finish,
JARGON BUSTER - Common guitar terms explained
Solidbody: An electric guitar with a body made of solid wood.
Famous solid body guitars include - Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul
Semi-Acoustic (also known as Semi-Hollow) :- A type of electric guitar. Semi-Acoustic refers to the fact that the guitar has hollow sections inside, usually a solid centre block with two hollow sections either side, typically the guitar has ‘f’ holes to give the guitar an airy sound but the guitar still requires amplification to be heard properly and is therefore not an acoustic guitar.
Famous Semi-hollow guitars include - Gibson ES335, Epiphone Casino
Hollowbody: As the name suggests, this is an electric guitar with a completely hollow body. The construction is similar to that of an acoustic guitar however the top and backs are often arched and the guitar has electronic pick-ups instead of a large sound hole found on acoustic guitars. The hollow body electric can be played unplugged, but the volume is still relatively ow and so most require some kind of amplification.
Famous Hollowbody electrics include - Gretsch WHITE FALCON, Gibson ES-175
Steel String: Sometimes referred to as a ‘folk guitar’, the steel string acoustic guitar is the most common type of instrument for beginners and is what most people think of when they think of acoustic guitars. Famous brands include Martin, Taylor, Takamine, Gibson. There are are a countless number of acoustic steel string guitars available to buy, ranging from less than £100 to tens of thousands.
Electro-Acoustic: Often confused with semi-acoustic, which is a type of electric guitar. The electro-acoustic is a regular acoustic guitar, both steel string or nylon string which has a built in preamp allowing it to be plugged through an amplifier or PA system. Many entry level acoustics now have this feature and if you ever plan to play live or in a band it can make life easier in the long term. Electro acoustics are generally a bit more expensive than non electro’s but if you think it will will be a feature you can make good use of it’s definitely worth the extra spend.
Nylon strung guitars are very common, cheap ones can be found up and down the country in charity shops and at car boot sales. But high end instruments can command huge prices. Strung with Nylon strings, classical guitars produce a softer tone than steel string acoustics and are therefore a popular choice with beginners. However they do have limitations when playing certain styles of music.
I hope you found this guide useful. Buying your first guitar is an awesome experience and if you’re anything like me, it won’t be your last!