Today I want to touch on a question that I have been asked hundreds of times over the years: “what guitar should I buy?” The answer is “that depends”. I will need some more information before choosing a guitar for the student. Information like:

  • How old is the student (what size are they)?
  • Is the student new to playing the guitar or has the student been playing for awhile?
  • What type of music do you want to play?
  • Will the student be performing with the guitar? Where will you be performing?
  • What is your budget for this guitar purchase?

The best guitar in the $500.00 range is not the same as the best guitar in the $1500.00 range, so cost does play a role in the best instrument. For purpose of this article, I will stick with the most common situation, that being a student that is new to playing and wanting their first guitar to learn to play on while taking guitar lessons.

I will set the budget for this purchase at $300.00 or less. The student is 12 years old so a full size guitar is a good fit. We now need to decide if an electric guitar or acoustic guitar will work better for the new student. My advice is for the student to share with me some of the music that they want to learn to play. What percentage of the songs in their original form were played on the electric guitar? If over half of the music the student wants to learn to play were recorded using an electric guitar then buying an electric guitar is a great choice for the new student. However if any of the songs on the list were recorded using an acoustic, then we should discuss further and decide together what type of guitar will best meet their needs.

I would also mention here that it is physically easier to learn to play on the electric guitar due to the lighter strings. For our student in this example several of the songs were played on the electric guitar so the best choice was to purchase an electric guitar and then maybe pick up an acoustic later on.

When looking at brands of guitars you should note that you will get “more bang for your buck” by steering clear of the major brand names in this price range of less than $300.00. A guitar from brand “F” that costs $275.00 will be the same quality as a $150.00 guitar from brand “I”. In other words, company’s with large advertising budgets need to pay for all that advertising so they charge more for less expensive-like products from smaller companies.

Try looking at known brands but not the “Big Guys” in this range and you will get a better guitar. These days the new student will find excellent guitars available in this price point from quite a few manufacturers. I would also suggest looking at some quality used guitars as many times you can find a deal purchasing used.

Finally I would hand the student several different guitars to hold. I find that many times after holding a few guitars the student with naturally gravitate towards one style that “fits” them best. I would also play a few of the guitars for them so that the new student can hear the difference for themselves.

My suggestion when shopping for your first guitar is to find a guitar shop that you trust and spend some time with a knowledgeable sales person to help you with your first guitar purchase. Steer clear of those that are in a hurry to make the sale or don’t seem willing to spend  some time with you answering your questions. The musician needs a trustworthy relationship with their guitar dealer, and this relationship starts with the first guitar purchase.

Today our hypothetical student choose a used Ibanez guitar that sold for $199.00 although originally was $499.00 when new. This choice left the student with enough cash left over to purchase a new amp, Score!

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