Guitar Buying Guide
A General Guitar Type Overview & Advice For Beginners
Interested in learning to play the guitar? Not sure where to start? Help is at hand 🙂
There are three different options to choose from when selecting your first guitar; it partly comes down to what music you’d like to play, but for young beginners sizing options available are also a consideration. Across all three types the quality of ‘beginner grade’ and ‘mid-priced’ guitars has improved over the years and it is now achievable to purchase a solid, playable instrument at an good price.
If you require any help in choosing a guitar for a beginner, or you would like advice on choosing a guitar based on music / style / examples of suitable guitars for potential students (deals change all the time) please ask and I’ll be willing to help.
Classical Guitar – Nylon String
3/4 Size – Suitable for children aged between 7 & 11. Smaller body size, and smaller, thinner neck. Easier for young children to handle. The most economical choice for a young beginner..
Full Size – Suitable for children aged 12 and above. Larger body size, longer neck, & wider fretboard. Much bigger, fuller sound due to the full size nature of the body.
I often advise young beginners to start on nylon string guitar and have a period of time learning the basics of the instrument before proceeding onto electric or steel string acoustic. Nylon strung guitars are a great choice for students of all ages, but especially for younger students at the beginning of their guitar playing journey as they benefit from an instrument that is appropriately sized for them, and because of the excellent teaching material aimed at younger pupils; they start off on ‘the right foot’ with regards to their playing and musical theory understanding. Gone are the days of boring technical exercises from very strict methods that have been used in the past! Classical guitars are also a great choice for more progressed students who either want to study classical guitar specifically, or if they perhaps want to supplement their electric or steel string acoustic guitar playing with another instrument that contains different tones more suited to other material.
Acoustic Guitar – Steel String
Steel string acoustic guitars usually come full sized. You can buy 3/4 sized steel string guitars but in my experience they tend to suffer tuning & playability issues unless you opt for a top-end guitar brand model, such as a Martin Mini or Baby Taylor, so for beginners I avoid recommending them. That said, there are many different sizes of full sized acoustic guitar, from Parlour size which is a small body, all the way to a Jumbo which is large. Generally speaking I find a steel string acoustic guitar more suitable for older students, aged 12 and above rather than young beginners. In a way they can be easier to play than a full-sized classical guitar as they have thinner necks however, as the strings are steel they can be a little tougher on the fingers. It’s bit of a trade off!
Steel string acoustic guitars sound much brighter than their nylon string counterparts and so tend they to be used for more contemporary styles of music such as rock, pop, country etc. With the popularity of artists such as Ed Sheeran at the moment it is a very versatile choice of instrument to play. Camberley Guitar Lesson students play a wide range of acoustic guitar styles; strummed chord progressions to their favourite songs, finger-picking styles by players such as Tommy Emmanuel, as well as other students sitting their Rockschool Acoustic exams focusing on set-pieces of popular repertoire. Some players take the natural ‘box’ element of the acoustic guitar body as a percussive instrument which adds another dimension to ‘fingerstyle’ guitar styles.
Acoustic guitars can be installed with a pickup, therefore becoming an ‘Electro-Acoustic’ guitar (not to be confused with a Semi-Acoustic such as a Gibson ES-335 or Rickenbacker 330 which are considered electric guitars.) These work well through dedicated acoustic amplifiers such as AER Amplification, or through a P.A. system. They can sound pretty awful when used with an electric guitar amplifier as the frequencies dialled into these amps aren’t complimentary to an acoustic guitar, and so should be avoided..! 🙂
Arguably the most diverse and popular choice, the electric guitar comes in a huge range of styles, sounds and technologies.
Popular with students of all ages and abilities, here at Camberley Guitar Lessons the approach to learning electric guitar is as structured as learning acoustic in terms of music reading, and theory, with many students taking exams on the instrument.
It is worth bearing in mind that when choosing an electric guitar you should also consider a decent amplifier to get the best out of your instrument, which will need to be factored into the cost of purchase.
The most popular electric guitar model is the ‘solid-body’ due to their, well, solid wood body.! There are many variants in electric guitar ranges, models and between manufactures (far too many to outline here!) This is even before you consider ‘metal’ guitars (such as Ibanez, Jackson & Charvel) or Semi-Acoustic guitars (such as the Gibson ES-335 & Rickenbacker 330 as discussed earlier) with their hollow & semi-hollow bodies similar to that of an acoustic guitar but with full electric guitar pickup system.
Popular models include:
Fender Stratocaster – Perhaps the most popular electric guitar in history. Uses 3 single-coil pickups to produce clear, shimmering ’bell’ like tones that sound awesome clean, or distorted. Famous users include pretty much every guitarist in the history of music, Hendrix, Clapton, Gilmour, Beck, Knopfler etc.
Fender Telecaster – The first model that Fender produced back in 1950 (called the Esquire.) It uses 2 single-coil pickups to produce bright, twangy, edgy tones. Famous artists to use ’Tele’s are Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Marr, Jeff Buckley etc.
Gibson Les Paul – Gibson’s solid body answer to Fender’s solid-body models of the 1950’s. The LP uses 2 ‘humbucker’ pickups to produce thick, meaty, heavy tones. Typically played through a Marshall stack turned up to 11..! Famous players include Slash, Jimmy Page, Clapton, Gary Moore etc..
Gibson ES-335 – A semi-hollow bodied guitar consisting of two hollow chambers attached with a solid centre block through the middle. As a result the ES-335 produces a lighter, more versatile tone than the Les Paul despite using the same pickups. Famous players include Chuck Berry, BB King, Alex Lifeson etc.
For experienced players, Fender / Gibson Custom Shop models and USA Standards are the top-of-the-range lines, but be prepared to pay ££££+ for them brand new. However, as stated before more affordable variants are available from Fender / Gibson and other manufactures. It often comes down to budget and what you are prepared to spend, but be assured there is something for everyone on the market.