So you’ve decided to learn to play the guitar, that’s fantastic! If you are in the market for a guitar to get started on you might be confused by the amount of choice. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes of guitars with different types of strings…..there are acoustic guitars, electric guitars, acoustic-electric guitars…..?
A question we receive all the time at The Guitar Gym is “what is the best guitar for beginners?”
Well let’s start by saying that your guitar doesn’t care how good you are!
The common advice which seems to be perpetuated by guitar teachers and sales assistants in guitar shops is that beginners should start playing on a nylon-string acoustic guitar, otherwise called a “classical guitar”. We do not agree with this. If you already have a nylon string guitar in working order there is no reason you can’t start with it, but it’s probably not the best choice unless you want to play classical guitar.
Here are the most common reasons you will hear as to why you should buy a nylon-string acoustic guitar as a beginner, and our refutations for each:
Reason #1. Nylon string acoustic guitars can be purchased more cheaply than steel string and electric guitars.
Firstly, why are these people assuming you want to spend as little as possible? Secondly, if you need a particular tool for a particular job, do you buy the wrong tool because it costs less? For example, if you need a drill, would you buy a saw because it is cheaper? While fundamentally speaking a guitar is a guitar, and when you are first starting to play, the type of guitar you own will not dictate the content of your lessons too much, different guitars are designed for different applications. You should purchase a guitar to suit the style of music you like and wish to play.
Reason #2. Nylon strings are softer and do not hurt your finger tips as much as steel strings do.
Oh please, who cannot handle a bit of tenderness on their fingertips for a little while? When you first start to play the guitar, the fingertips on your fretting hand will be soft which makes it very difficult to produce a good tone when fretting a note. Why? Because when you push the string down, the string pushes back (Newton’s Third Law). The tissue on the end of your finger is soft and spongy, so you have to push extra hard to compress the tissue to the point where “fret buzz” is eliminated even when fretting the note correctly, right in behind the fret.
You WANT to develop calluses on your fingertips as soon as possible, allowing notes to be cleanly fretted with a light touch. It actually takes much longer to develop calluses playing on nylon strings than it does on steel strings. The reality is that with consistent play, most people experience slight discomfort in their fingertips for only a week or so before their fingertips harden and they are away!
Reason #3. The strings are spaced apart a little wider at both the nut and bridge, making it easier to form chords and pick individual strings.
While this is the soundest of the 3 reasons, there are pros and cons to wider string spacing. A wider string spacing may make some chords such as the open position A chord easier to form, but others such as the common G chord (especially played in first position with fingers 2, 3 and 4) much more difficult. Generally speaking, cheaper nylon-string guitars have thick neck profiles, which combined with the wide string spacing at the nut make them awful to play especially for those with small hands. Narrower string spacing generally requires a bit more precision for fretting chords cleanly, so it could be argued that it encourages better technique development.
Wider string spacing at the nut does make picking individual strings (string isolation) a little easier – this is why fingerstyle guitars are designed this way. However, if you are playing with a plectrum, again it could be argued that a narrower string spacing encourages better technique as it requires more precision.
Here is our advice for buying your first guitar:
1. Talk to us for some independent advice before buying your instrument. We are always happy to help.
2. Buy a guitar that suits the style and sound of the music YOU want to play. For 99% of people, this is NOT a nylon-string guitar! And by the way, there is nothing stopping you from starting with an electric guitar. It is not a more advanced instrument that you must graduate to from an acoustic guitar as many people believe.
3. Spend more if you can. Some guitars do represent better value than others, but the market is competitive so in general if you spend more you should be buying a better guitar. Cheap guitars are harder to play, lack tuning stability and intonation, and just don’t sound as nice. Just because you are a beginner it doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate the feel and sound of a nice guitar! The better you get, the more you will appreciate it too.
4. Get a guitar you like the look and feel of. If you have a vision of yourself rocking out onstage, what guitar are you playing?
5. Avoid second hand instruments unless someone that knows their stuff has checked it out for you. A lot can be wrong with a guitar that you might miss if you don’t know what to look for.
6. If buying a steel string acoustic, avoid a “dreadnought” body shape unless you are absolutely in love with it as they make playing with proper posture and neck angle while sitting down very difficult. Try to find an auditorium or “OOO” body guitar instead. For more information refer to our article Guitars Explained.
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