As a guitar tutor I am often asked what type of guitar is best for a new student. It is a very important question as the type of guitar will effect a students' experience in learning and playing guitar. Enjoyment and a positive experience will lead to the student wanting to play, practice and improve on their chosen instrument. If the student isn't having a positive experience then they will tend to not enjoy their practice and quickly loose interest.
A well made instrument will not only sound better but will also be easier to play and lead to the student enjoying playing and improving.
Type of Guitar
Students will often want to go for a steel string acoustic guitar or an electric guitar as this is what they will most often see being played buy their musical hero's. Although it is possible to buy one of these guitars that is suitable I will usually recommend a nylon string or classical guitar for the beginning guitarist. There are a number of reasons for this as I have outlined below.
A reasonable quality instrument can be purchased for minimal cost. As far as guitar technology goes classical guitars are as simple as they come. This means that they are generally cheaper than an instrument with steel strings. A functional instrument can be purchased for minimal cost. Of course a concert standard instrument will be a lot more but a basic beginner classical guitar should one of the cheapest options available to you.
Nylon strings are a little bit softer and easier on the fingers than steel strings. It takes some time for a guitar players finger tips to toughen through the abrasive nature of pressing down guitar strings. This effect is worse when using steel strings and beginning students will often complain of soreness. Nylon strings are a lot softer and less abrasive than steel.
How do you know wether it is nylon or classical string? Firstly a nylon string guitar will usually look like the instrument in Figure 1. They may come in various colours. You can also check the thinnest 3 strings. On a nylon string guitar these will be made of clear nylon, on a steel string guitar they will be made of steel.
With a nylon string guitar you also need very little extra equipment. A pick if you choose to use one and a guitar strap if you want to stand and play. If you choose an electric guitar you are going to need an amplifier.
For some students a full size guitar will effect their ability to play comfortably and effectively. Guitars are available in various sizes, usually categorised as 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 size. it is definitely worth purchasing a smaller guitar for the younger student. A smaller guitar will be easier for the student to handle and play. With that in mind though it should be considered that the younger student will grow into the instrument.
I would generally lean towards buying the smaller guitar as it is easier to handle and then perhaps if the student is progressing well a high quality full size guitar can be purchased further down the track. The smaller instrument can always be handed on to a younger sibling or friend. I still use one as a travel guitar.
Solid body electric guitars and steel string acoustics are also available in smaller sizes and there are some beautiful instruments available in smaller scale.
In further posts I will explore buying a guitar for the more experienced guitarist.