Here are the top 5 things to know when buying a guitar for a beginner child.
What type of guitar is best for young children?
Should I buy an acoustic, electric or classical guitar for Christmas?
As a professional guitar tutor, running classes in Bearsden and Milngavie for over 14 years, I have been asked this question many times.
Getting the correct fit is essential, as a guitar which is too big or too small will hamper their progression – leading to frustrated children with painful shoulders!
The quality of kids guitars has really dropped over the past few years. As demand to learn guitar rises, greedy manufacturers have drastically reduced the materials they put into their guitars – leading to disappointing instruments which simply do not last. Guitars I would once recommend without a second thought, are now replaced with cheap imitations at the same or higher price, simply with the same logo put on it.
This article will help you avoid wasting your money and choose a great first guitar which will last for years or at least until they grow too big and need a larger size.
First, let’s discuss which types of guitars there are and which are best for beginner kids.
Guitars come in three main types: Acoustic, Classical and Electric.
What’s the difference between an acoustic, classical and electric guitar?
An acoustic guitar has thick metal strings, is bigger, has a thinner neck, is louder and takes a little more skill and finger strength to play.
A Classical guitar (sometimes called a Spanish guitar) has a mixture of very soft plastic strings and nylon strings, is smaller, gives a more subtle, warm sound and usually a wider neck. The soft strings make a classical guitar easier to play.
Electric guitars require an amplifier, to be plugged in via an electricity source and a cable between the guitar and amp. They are easier to play than acoustic guitars, though harder to play than classicals. Electric guitars give the ‘rock’ sound, but can also closely mimic that of an acoustic. They have metal strings which are thinner than those on an acoustic.
What type of guitar should I buy for a young child to learn guitar?
In a nutshell, From the range of instrument types above, the best for a beginner would be a 3/4 (three quarter) length classical guitar as they are the easiest for small fingers and hands to play as the strings can be pushed down easier, causing the least discomfort to the child.
At a glance (scroll down for full details);
- Know the difference between a toy guitar and a real guitar
- Don’t but a half size guitar
- Your child should learn to play on a Classic or Electric guitar
- Buy a decent quality guitar – cheap is cheap for a reason!
- Buy a varnished wood guitar. Paint hides problems!
Know the difference between a toy guitar and a real guitar
A lot of guitars for sale online and in shops aren’t real instruments, but more glorified toys.
several ways to spot a toy guitar masquerading as a real guitar are:
- Really thin strings, often all of the same thickness
- Painted with attention grabbing designs or famous kids’ tv characters
- Very small frets (the little boxes on the long front neck of the guitar)
- Cheap. A guitar, even a beginner guitar for children shouldn’t be less than approximately £50 minimum for a decent Guitar from Amazon
The guitar below is a fantastic starter guitar for kids aged 5 to 9:
Don’t buy a half size guitar
It may be tempting, especially if your boy or girl is small for their age or are in kindergarten, to buy an equally wee guitar. Avoid this trap, here’s why;
- No company really invests in good quality, good playing half size guitars. This is because as they figure as the children playing it will be really small and young – there’s no point making it a quality instrument. This leads them to making the types of toy guitars mentioned above in tip number one. they overlook the fact some kids this age are actually genuinely learning to play the instrument in lessons.
- They will outgrow the guitar a lot quicker. This leads to a guitar which is hard to play as their fingers are squashed on the fingerboard (the boxes on the long neck) and they have to hunch over to play it. This can cause discomfort which the child begins to associate with playing guitar.
The following guitar is a decent budget option:
Your child should learn to play on a Classic or electric guitar
A lot of kids will want to go straight onto the electric guitar, while most adults will assume they should buy an acoustic with metal (steel) strings. it’s the name of the classical guitar which throws most. A classical guitar isn’t just for playing classical music!
- Start the beginner learner kid out with a 3/4 size classic, like the examples above.
- If they really want to learn to play rock music (and your ears can suffer it as they learn and sound, eh, noisey!) – choose an electric. Even thought it’s not exactly my number one choice for beginner kids, if it’ll keep them stimulated and excited to learn – go for it.
- Note, starting on electic is more expensive as you’ll need; the Guitar, an amplifier and a lead
- If starting on an electric, go for a good brand like Squire, by Fender (the world’s biggest, most trusted guitar maker). (see below for an example). Cheap electric guitars are without question a complete waste of money (see next tip)
Buy a decent quality guitar – cheap is cheap for a reason!
A children’s guitar is going to get a rough time. It’ll be dropped, chewed, have things spilled on it, thrown and more. This is why it’s so important to completely avoid cheap guitars as they will not stand the abuse the will receive and more
- Cheap guitars are harder to play as the strings are further away from the neck (the part they press down on), which makes pressing the strings down harder, ultimately making the guitar harder to play. This will lead to the young one getting sick of trying hard only to struggle and will probably eventually give up.
- They are made from very poor quality materials and will perish in no time.
- The poor quality, cheap wood will bend and contort as the seasons and house temperature changes from hot to cold and back – eventually rendering the guitar completely unplayable
- Electronic components will be very quickly and poorly soldered and be of poor quality. The main thing which happens is the socket which accepts the lead to plug into the amplifier, comes away due to shoddy wiring. To take this to the guitar repair shop to fix could end up costing more than the guitar itself. I’ve seen it happen!
- On the other side of the coin, don’t go buying an expensive guitar either, even if you have the money – a nice squire will do fine! They can work up to more costly models.
Further, if buying an amplifier (more commonly called an ‘amp’), a small 10 or 15 watt one will be just fine. (see example below):
Cables: Again, don’t go cheap or expensive, in between is good. A can=ble which has an L-shape angle helps it last longer as the wiring won’t snap or be bent when pulled from side to side (see below):
Buy a varnished wood guitar. Paint hides problems!
Paint is great thing for cheap guitar makers. It means they can make sub par, poorly constructed instruments and simply paint over the evidence.
- Choose a varnished wood guitar. This way the craftsmanship quality has nowhere to hide
- If your son or daughter insist on having a coloured guitar, instead offer to have them customise the guitar with stickers, transfers or even sharpies! Don’t be precious over this, the main thing is to get them playing and enjoying the process. Have them do it on a good guitar!
- Electric guitars are almost always painted, so this point doesn’t really apply to electric guitars, further backing up the ideal guitar to start with should be a Classical.
Below is an example of an outstanding wood varnished guitar at the top end of child guitar prices:
If all you can afford is a super cheap guitar, then go for it – it’s best a child plays with something over nothing. If you can afford it, or wait a little while till you can, a decent 3/4 size classical guitar is best, followed by a 3/4 size electric with a 15 watt amp and decent L-shaped cable. Avoid 1/2 size guitars and try not to start them out on metal-stringed acoustic guitars.
If you would like any help or advise on buying a guitar for you child for Christmas, a birthday or simply a gift. Please feel free to get in touch and I will be more than happy to help.