How to Choose a Guitar for Beginners

How to choose a guitar for beginners is probably one of the things I’m asked about most often.

I’ve even been asked by people at the music store, while I was trying out a few guitars.

What’s the difference between them? Which one’s better? Which one should I buy?

If you were sitting here with me, I’d let you play some of my guitars, and ask you some penetrating questions.

Since we can’t do that, I’m gonna lay out some steps that you can take on your own.

Use these steps as a guide, and be sure to ask questions if you’re confused about anything.

Before you know it, you’ll be playing your new guitar like a pro.

Step #1: Decide What Kind of Music You’re interested in playing

If you’re interested in playing jazz, you’re going to want a different guitar than if you’re interested in playing speed metal.

Answer a few questions:

  1. What kind of music do you like listening to?
  2. Who are your favorite bands?
  3. Do you want to learn the guitar so you can play a specific style of music, or are you more interested in learning the basics of guitar playing?
  4. After you’ve been playing for a year, what do you want to have accomplished?

If you’ve got a general interest in just learning to play the guitar, an acoustic (or electric) will be fine.

If you’re looking to play a specific style of music, you might be better served buying a guitar that’ll complement that style of playing.

For instance, if you want to play country music, you’re probably going to be better off with a Telecaster or dreadnought instead of a Les Paul.

Take some time and imagine the times, and places you’re going to be playing the guitar in the future.

Step #2: Decide on an Acoustic or an Electric

This step may not be necessary.
If you want to play John Denver songs, you’ll need an acoustic.
But if you’re only interested in playing heavy metal, you’ll need an electric guitar with humbuckers.

If you’re just starting out learning to play the guitar, I’d recommend an acoustic.
Some people will recommend an electric, but here’s why I say acoustic.

  • Acoustics Don’t Need an Amp
  • Acoustics are Portable
  • You’ll build superior muscle memory and stronger fingers on an acoustic

There are some downsides to acoustics like

  • Not being able to play very quietly
  • Acoustics Often Have Higher Gauge Strings Which can Be harder for beginners to play

Positives about electrics include

  • you can create a range of different tones and sounds
  • Lighter gauge strings are often easier for beginners to play

Negatives for electric guitars include

  • Need an amp to play/practice properly
  • Not very portable

Always remember that you can upgrade and buy different guitars in the future.

If you change playing styles, or just want to grow your repertoire, it’ll be worth the investment once you’ve mastered the basics.

As an adult I’ve branched out and bought electric guitars I never thought I’d buy when I was a teenager.

Step #3: Decide On a Budget

This can be a tricky part of choosing a guitar.
Is it better to buy the cheapest thing you can get, and then saving for something better?
Or is it better to wait, and save up for a “better” guitar?

If you’re on a serious budget, this is what I’d recommend:

  • Buy the best guitar you can afford, after doing a lot of research.
  • Read reviews, buy from somewhere reputable and most of all, don’t let it stress you out too much.
  • If you’ve only got $100 to spend, it doesn’t matter how much better a $200 dollar guitar is.
  • It does matter which $100 guitar has the best reviews and offers the best customer service.

If you’re not constrained by a tight budget, then I’d recommend you:

  • Decide how much you’d like to spend
  • Research guitars in that price range.
  • Pick the one you like the best
  • Buy from a reputable retailer

Step #4: (If You Can) Hit up Some Music Stores and Play Some Guitars

With things the way they’ve been lately, you may find that your local music store doesn’t have what you want in stock, or may even be closed, so I understand this may not be possible for you.

Playing some guitars in real life will definitely help you to decide if the guitar you’ve been looking for online is for you.
As an example from my own experience,

  • I was looking to buy a dreadnought acoustic, and a guitar to learn to shred on.
  • I researched A LOT before going to my local Guitar Center to buy them.
  • After following all the steps I outlined in the previous step, I was ready, cash in my hand, to buy two guitars.
  • I walked out of the Guitar Center buying neither.

One, the dreadnought, had a neck that was slightly too thin for me, and the shred-guitar wasn’t worth the money they were asking.

None of this would be a deal-breaker for a beginner, (I was being picky because I’ve been playing guitar for so long, I know exactly what I like, and what I’m looking for.)

But, it did help me to narrow down exactly what I wanted to buy.
(I ended up buying some guitars from Thomann that I’ve been wildly happy with.)

Step #5: Decide On a Retailer

This is a vitally important step if you’re buying online. i
You want to purchase from a reputable dealer who’ll take the guitar back if anything is wrong with it.

If You’re thinking about saving a few bucks and buying used, this can be very hit or miss. You could be buying a well setup guitar for a steal, or you may be buying someone else’s headache.

If you buy from Amazon or a retailer on ebay, they’ll offer returns if something’s not right with your new guitar.

This is especially important if you’re buying a very inexpensive guitar because if it’s not setup right you can return it.

I’m not saying this to put you off of buying online, but because I’ve had problems, and buying from a reputable retailer fixing things was a breeze.

Step #7: Properly Receive Your New Guitar

This may seem like a useless step, but hear me out.

If you live in a cold, or hot climate, when you receive your guitar, you must let it acclimate to the temperature of your house BEFORE unpacking your guitar.

On some guitars, the finish can end up cracking if you don’t take this precaution.

Additionally, your new guitar may sound horrible, and you’ll feel disappointed.

Often you’ll have dead spots or fret buzz simply because the wood of the guitar hasn’t had a chance to adjust itself to the temperature change.

If it’s 20 degrees outside, and 70 degrees inside give your guitar more time to adjust than if it’s 90 degrees outside and 80 degrees inside.

It shouldn’t take more than 24 hours at the extremes.
Be patient it’s worth it.

Step #8: Take Your Guitar Out for a Test-Drive

Here are some ways tell if your new guitar is right for you:

  • Do you like the way it looks?
  • Is it comfortable for you to hold in your lap?
  • What about when you stand to play it?
  • How does the neck feel?
  • Try strumming, and playing some notes and see how it sounds, and feels.
  • Is it easy to fret simple open chords?

Some tips and things to try:

  • Play every fret. You may find that one or two frets fret out or buzz up the neck.
  • Play each string individually, and let them ring out.
  • Try playing a note, and letting it ring out to see how much sustain you’ll get.
  • If you have a friend who plays, this would be a good time to let them try out your guitar.
    • If a simple truss rod adjustment is all it needs, they should be able to tell you.

Don’t be afraid to send it back if the neck action is too high, or there’s too much fret buzz.
A well setup guitar will make learning to play a lot easier.

Step #9: Change Your Strings

Strings can start to degrade quite quickly. (See this post for a more in depth explanation.)

There’s a good chance your new guitar was manufactured over a year prior to purchase.

If you’re buying a budget guitar, the strings they put on the guitar at the factory probably aren’t the best quality.

In both cases, changing the strings will improve your sound.

Keep in mind, this isn’t something you need to do right away.
I often wait awhile, and get used to the guitar before changing from whatever they put on at the factory to Ernie Balls.

Step #10: Buy Accessories and Supplies

If you’re on a budget, these aren’t things you’ll absolutely need right away, but if you can, think about purchasing these when you buy your guitar.

Some things you should consider are picks, extra strings, a stand, and maybe a case or gigbag.

If you’re taking lessons at a music store or want to take your guitar to a friend’s house, it would be good to get a case or gigbag.

A gigbag with backpack handles is my favorite, and can be a handy place to store your guitar accessories.

I’d definitely recommend buying a variety pack of picks.

Different picks lend themselves to different playing styles, but you should definitely try different ones out.

A stand is definitely helpful to have, and makes it easy and convenient to play your guitar more often.

Unless you bought a Rhoads, or something else with a non-standard shape, something like this should do you fine.
If you’ve got something with a cool shape, try one of these.

Finally, guitar strings.
You’ll probably want to experiment with different string brands, and maybe even strings gauges. (See this post. )

For your first few sets, stick with the same gauge that your guitar came with, and I always recommend Ernie Ball for electric guitars. (They’re Slinky!)

How to Choose a Guitar for Beginners: Summary

So now you can go about choosing a guitar!

Remember that you can always upgrade later, after you learn the basics, and have a better idea of what you want.

I still regularly play the first electric guitar I bought in 1995, despite owning other more expensive guitars.

Please try to be relaxed about all of this.

I know how stressful it can be, but all of this should be enjoyable, and feel simple.

If you’re just starting out, please don’t think you need to spend an insane amount of money, or that you need a specific guitar to achieve a certain sound.

You’ll do much better if you find a guitar that appeals to you, (and that you can afford,) and you spend time learning the basics.

How to Choose a Guitar for Beginners: FAQ

  • What’s a good beginner electric guitar?
    • The one you have, or the one you can afford. Barring that, the one that looks good to you, and is setup well enough to play on.
    • Try this post, this one, and this one.
  • What’s a good acoustic guitar for beginners?
    • As long as it’s setup properly, and feels comfortable, you’ll be fine.
    • See this post, and this one.
  • What’s the best budget guitar for beginners?
    • Acoustic or electric? You can find great deals online.
    • See here and here.