What’s the best guitar to use at your particular level? Hmm… Is there one type of guitar that is better, or perhaps easier to play, than another? One that will help you reach your goals? Does it even matter? New students have often asked me about this. Perhaps you are wondering about it too. I think it’s a really good question. So, here are some of things you might want to consider…
The Best Guitar For Beginners
The instrument you choose is going to be your close partner for several years, or maybe even life. It makes perfect sense to learn all you can about the different types that are available. After all, it is a significant investment, so you’ll want to be sure you can get along with each other.
The idea of getting a new guitar is very exciting to most students. Just one step inside the music store can be a dazzling experience when confronted with the shear multitude of stringed instruments hanging on the wall. It can sometimes be a little overwhelming too.
With all the different models, shapes, sizes and colors there are to choose from, how does a person know which one is the “best” guitar for them? The answer to this question can seem even more daunting for the absolute beginner who doesn’t even know how to play anything yet.
Identifying your musical goals is a crucial step toward finding the best guitar to suit your needs. It can reduce the time it might otherwise take to make the right decision and also save you a lot of money in the long run. I always think its’ helpful to consider the style of music are you most interested in learning how to play… rock, blues, country, etc. Now I’m not suggesting that you should limit yourself to only playing one style or genre. Not at all! I just don’t want you to make the mistake of purchasing a guitar based solely on “love at first sight.” So think seriously about your goals before whipping out your wallet.
Before going any further, let me clarify this suggestion by providing a little example from my own personal experience. The first guitar I got was a nylon-stringed classical type. And, in case you may be wondering, I did not have any interest at all in learning how to play “classical” music when I was a teenager. I was only interested in learning how to play my favorite songs. You know… the songs I liked on my albums and the ones I heard on the radio.
Was this the best guitar for the job? Maybe not, but since it was a gift, I gladly accepted it!
Was I able to achieve my goals and learn how to play my favorite songs using a classical guitar? Yes. I just learned how to play “classic” rock instead of classical guitar music… A little play on words, but it’s true. =)
In fact, I used this guitar to learn how to play songs by… Led Zepplin, The Moody Blues, Ten Years After, The Beatles, Yes, The Rolling Stones, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Jimi Hendrix, and many others…
And it was an adequate guitar to have for playing some my favorite folk/rock songs by artists such as… Neil Young, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Joni Mitchel, Elton John, etc… Many of these songs used a finger picking style and that is what the classical guitar was designed for.
What About Electric Guitars?
Now I have often recommended electric guitars for beginner students too, because the neck is thinner and the strings are easy on the fingers. Probably one of the best guitar starter packages available right now is the Epiphone Les Paul Special II. This super deal has a five star customer rating and includes: guitar, amp, gig bag, picks, pitch-pipe, cable, strap, plus access to a downloadable instructional method.
As it turned out, fingerstyle became one of my favorite genres, so the best guitar to use for playing that style is my steel-stringed acoustic! I also became interested in learning how to read music and play classical guitar too. So, it all worked out for the best.
Things don’t always work out that well for others though. I have often seen students struggling with a guitar that was difficult for them to play for one reason or another. Sometimes the body of the instrument is too big and they have trouble positioning there arm over the sound-hole comfortably. Another problem I see is when the action is too high and the student is unable to press the strings down on the fretboard in order to get a clear tone.
But one of the most common problems I see has to do with intonation. If the intonation is poor, the student will be unable to create a good sound on their guitar no matter how well they can play. This can lead to discouragement and frustration which may keep the student from having the desire to play at all. It will also be hard for the student to hear the correct pitches, which is so vital to developing a good musical ear.
Poor intonation is usually the result of buying a cheap guitar. People often make the mistake of sacrificing quality for “affordability” in order to save a few bucks. However, those who do this will usually end up spending more money than intended simply because they will soon need to buy another one.
Believe me when I tell you that if the guitar is inadequate at the beginning it will only hinder the student who has any serious musical ambition. It’s okay to look for a good deal, I always do, but please don’t waste your time and money on a guitar that will only have to be replaced shortly after purchasing it.
There are several different ways to test whether or not the intonation is okay on an instrument you may interested in buying. Here is one method I often use…
- Tune the guitar
- While holding an E major chord at the first fret, strum one string at a time.
- Listen to the tone of each string.
- Do the tones blend? Does the guitar still sound in tune? If so…
- Move to an F major barre chord and repeat the process.
Continue this process of moving the major barre chord shape up the neck one fret at a time, strumming each string, and listening to the blend. If at any point the guitar sounds bad, or like it is out of tune, then the intonation is probably off.
*Note – This test will only be accurate if you are able to hold and play a barre chord correctly. If you unintentionally bend the strings while playing the barre chord, the guitar will sound out of tune, but the intonation may be fine!
If you are not able to do this test yourself, ask someone at the store if they will do it for you while you listen.
Another simple test you can do yourself is to play each note on each string as you move up the fretboard…
Again, you must make sure that you are pressing the string down without bending it. Listen to the sound of each tone as you move up the neck in order to determine if the intonation is good. Check for any buzzing, ringing or dullness in the sound too.
If you find a guitar that you really like (or have already bought one) and the intonation appears to be off, don’t fret. =) Many guitars have adjustable necks that can be tweaked until they are brought into tune. Adjustments can also be done to lower the action if it is too high.
Here’s a quick review...
Choosing the Best Guitar for Yourself:
- Buy a guitar that is geared toward your musical interest and goals
- Make sure the guitar is the right size for you physically (not too big, or too small)
- Check that the action is neither too high or too low
- Check that the intonation is good along the entire fretboard
- Don’t sacrifice quality for an “affordable” but poorly made instrument
Keep these tips in mind when you are looking for a new guitar. I hope they help make your decision easier so that you will be happy with final outcome. No regrets!