To choose an acoustic guitar for beginners, select an instrument that you’ll love to play for many years. This choice does not have to be difficult or expensive if you are informed.
This article contains the information necessary to choose the best cheap acoustic guitar for your unique needs as a beginner, focusing on cheap acoustic guitars that still have the quality that you need to learn effectively and to enjoy playing for years to come.
Why should you choose an Acoustic Guitar for a beginner vs. Another type of guitar?
With several types of guitars out there to choose from, such as the enticing electric guitar, why should you choose an acoustic guitar for a beginner?
- They require less additional equipment than, for example, an electric guitar, which requires an amplifier in order to really play correctly.
- They aren’t as loud, in general, as an electric guitar. Your neighbors won’t complain!
- They are easy to learn and fun to sing along with.
- Many different styles of music can be played on an acoustic guitar: classical, jazz, blues, country, and more!
What is a “Good Acoustic Guitar” to buy?
A good acoustic guitar for beginners is one that you will enjoy learning on, playing on, and listening to year after year, even as your skills grow. Luckily, today’s manufacturing techniques allow mass production of guitars to keep costs low while keeping quality high due to precise machining.
Features of good acoustic guitars:
- Manufactured by a top brand, not a cheap or generic brand
- A perfectly straight neck
- Six strings
- A hardwood fretboard (such one made of rosewood)
- Strings that are the same distance from the fretboard along the entire length of the neck
- Die-cast tuning pegs
- A new or very high-quality used guitar (verify the quality of both types!)
- 19-20 frets—three octaves
- The correct size and “hand” for the player—standard-size, for most beginners, or ¾-size for youth or petite adults; left-handed for players who are left-handed
Why you shouldn’t buy a Bad Acoustic Guitar for beginners
With prices on some acoustic guitars very low, it is tempting to buy the cheapest instrument you can find for a beginning guitar student, however bad the guitar may be. After all, who knows if your budding guitar player will turn into a more serious player, so why not buy any bad, cheap guitar? The reason is the same as that for any other instrument: if you buy a bad guitar, the student will necessarily get bad and unpleasant-sounding results and will definitely be turned off to the idea of playing the guitar at all.
This falls under the category of “you get what you pay for”: garbage noise from the guitar and low enthusiasm from the student results since you are limited by the low quality of the instrument and can never see and hear progress beyond a certain point.
A bad acoustic guitar may have the following characteristics that are highly detrimental to the learning process:
- Difficulty keeping the guitar in tune
- Poor sound quality—tinny or too mellow; too loud or soft; buzzing sounds on the strings against the frets; not resonant, vibrant, and rich tones
- Poor quality strings and fret board that are hard on the fingers, especially the sensitive, un-calloused fingers of a beginning guitar student
- Not pleasing to the ear, therefore more difficult to play—especially when improvising (“playing by ear”)
- Hard-to-adjust or loose tuning pegs, meaning that tuning is an unwelcome chore and time tuning is time spent not learning and playing the guitar
- Visually unattractive and unappealing
- Cheap wood (or even plastic!) that is subject to warping and not pleasing to the touch
What should you consider when Purchasing an Acoustic Guitar?
Questions to Ask yourself before buying an Acoustic Guitar for a beginner:
- What is my budget: How much money can I spend on the guitar? How much can I spend on lessons, sheet music, accessories, and so on?
- What style(s) of music will I be playing? Folksy, classical, bluesy, jazzy, Spanish/flamenco, light or heavy strumming, finger-picking, and so on.
- For what purpose(s) will I be using the guitar? Learning seriously, for fun only, recording, performing life, and so on.
Be sure to consider the following when you want to get and purchasing the best acoustic guitar, especially for a beginner:
Price & Budget
Often you get what you pay for. In this case, to get a good acoustic guitar suitable for a beginner, you should anticipate paying between about $150 and $300 USD. If you are paying more than $300 for a beginner acoustic guitar, you are either getting a bad deal or buying more guitar than is necessary: a good beginner guitar will be suitable for playing for years, not just for a few initial lessons.
Keep in mind that it is an investment in a rewarding hobby as well as in the instrument itself, which can be resold later if necessary. Also remember that, for most people, the best way to learn is to learn from a live teacher, therefore factor in the cost of lessons for a beginning student, also, when budgeting.
The desire to learn and the ability to do so
The higher your desire to learn and ability to practice regularly, the higher the price you may want to pay to get a higher quality guitar.
The cost and hassle of taking lessons and buying learning materials and guitar accessories. These costs add up considerably over time. Note that if you buy a guitar from a guitar store, sometimes an introductory number of lessons are included in the price of the guitar.
New vs. Used guitars
Do your homework before considering buying a used guitar. Especially be sure to check out the stability of a used guitar. For example, make sure that it can hold its tune for several hours and that the case is solid and relatively undamaged, and that the fretboard and tuning pegs are sturdy.
Note that there is much less risk when purchasing a used guitar from a trusted friend whom you know to be conscientious about caring for his/her instrument properly. That friend will be more honest about the pros and cons of the particular guitar for your beginner’s needs, also.
Steel vs. Nylon stringed acoustic guitars
This is an important decision because string types are not interchangeable: you either need to buy a guitar with steel or with nylon strings, and that is what you will need to stay with for that instrument. Steel strings provide a bright, crisp tone, whereas nylon strings are more mellow and less responsive.
Choose which type of string to buy based on the type(s) of music you plan to play. Choose nylon if you want to play classical and folk music; choose steel strings if you want to play rock, country, or other styles. For a beginner, steel acoustic guitar strings may offer the most versatility. Steel strings also stay in tune better/longer than nylon strings do.
The guitar should feel comfortable in your arms with the bottom groove comfortably resting on your right leg. In the case of a youth or petite adult beginner, a ¾-sized guitar might be more appropriate than a standard, full-sized guitar. This is why holding the actual guitar that you will be buying is so important when choosing what works best for you.
In addition, the width of the neck should be comfortable so that you can reach all strings on the fretboard comfortably—the shorter your fingers, the narrower the neck you will want to shop for.
Special case: Left- or Right-Handed guitar?
Make sure to get a left-handed guitar if you are left-handed! If you are ambidextrous (both left- and right-handed), try both types of guitars extensively and buy what feels the most natural to you. If possible, lease or borrow guitars of each type for a few weeks to determine which works best for you and then make your purchase.
The acoustic guitar should have a wide and open timbre, meaning a pleasing, vibrant sound that you could listen to for hours.
Actually Purchasing an Acoustic Guitar for a Beginner
The key piece of advice I can give is: take your time looking at many places and actually hold and test-play MANY guitars before making any purchase. Remember, you are not just investing in an item, you are investing in a sensitive, unique musical instrument and in a new hobby that you will spend hours enjoying on a regular basis. Take your time and make sure that you know what you are doing before putting up the money for any guitar.
Visit several reputable shops (not chain stores or pawn shops) and get a feel for various manufacturers’ guitars and for what interests you before you actually make your final decision.
The best thing to do is to actually test the specific guitar you are going to buy. Not just the one on the shelf that is the “demo model” (although you should do that first to narrow down your choices), but the actual instrument you are considering taking home with you. This is because there are many variations naturally between instruments since they are all unique, as are all instruments.
- Tip: Take the guitar into a soundproof practice room that does not contain other guitars or instruments to test it. Why? Because sympathetic vibration will cause the strings of other stringed instruments to vibrate, making noise and thereby making your guitar sound better than it really is.
In addition, test for what feels and sounds the best, rather than just what looks the best: you’ll be happier in the long run with something you’re more willing to play regardless of the looks.
- Remember: If you are buying a guitar from a store, insist on testing the actual guitar you will be paying for, not just the demo model before you pay good money for your guitar. Any good guitar dealer will understand your need to test-play the actual instrument you will be purchasing and will be willing to unbox it for you and help you get it set up.
After testing the guitar, do not be afraid to walk away and think over your decision overnight or even for a few days: ask the store to hold/set aside a promising-sounding guitar for you for a short time if you are fairly sure of your choice but just need time to think about it.
Since the neck of the guitar is key to the quality of the sound, sight down the length of the neck to verify that it is straight (not warped) and that all of the strings are the same height/distance above the frets.
Guitar Accessories you may need or want:
Strings (if the guitar does not come with them or if it is a used guitar)
Case—hard- or soft-shell
String winder and cutter
Sound pickups: electromagnetic soundhole pickup, microphone pickup, contact (soundboard and under-saddle) pickup, and more
Beginner instruction book/DVD
Beginner-level sheet music or a book
Lessons from a qualified teacher
The Best Methods for testing Acoustic Guitars before buying one
Bring competent guitar-playing friends and have them test prospective guitars for you. Question them extensively about the playability of the guitar and its suitability for a beginner. Remind them that the guitar that they would choose for themselves as experienced players might not be the best one for you as a beginner!
Have store personnel test many guitars for you and describe differences between models and even specific guitars of the same model.
- Ask about each individual guitar’s features and benefits.
- Ask about drawbacks, too: every individual guitar has them!
- Ask for a guitar with a medium action, which is easiest for beginners
Where is the Best Place to buy a guitar?
The best places to buy a good acoustic guitar for a beginner are:
- From authority website such as Amazon.com
- From a friend or family member whom you trust.
- From a local guitar or music store with a good reputation—ask guitarists you may know where the best shops are in town.
Do not buy a guitar from a salesperson that is pressuring you to buy something, especially if you came in to the store to buy an acoustic guitar and you are being pressured into another type entirely, such as an electric or electro-acoustic guitar.
Tip: A written list of requirements may help you stay on track and avoid sales pressure in stores.
When to use caution when buying a guitar
Use caution when buying a guitar…
- …from a department store, toy store, or massive chain guitar store.
- …that is second-hand/pre-owned.
- …from a pawn broker.
Conclusion: So, What is the Best Acoustic Guitar for beginners?
Only you can answer the question, “What is the best acoustic guitar for beginners?” based on the guidance provided above as it relates to your specific needs, goals, and budget. Is still not satisfied? Do you need further information? You need a few more, please read another article about Discriminating between the Bad vs. Good Acoustic Guitar at here!
Choosing the right acoustic guitar for beginners is the key to successfully learning and loving to play the guitar. If you choose wisely, following the criteria above, you will be most likely happy with your choice and your new hobby for years to come.
Family and friends will also enjoy your playing, and sing-along sessions are both fun and almost mandatory when one learns to play the acoustic guitar; your services playing the guitar for the crowd to sing along with will almost certainly be in high demand throughout the year, especially at parties and family gatherings.