1/2 size, 3/4 size, or full size? Acoustic, electric, or acoustic-electric? Dreadnought or Grand Auditorium?
May as well be speaking gibberish, right? Buying a guitar for your future rockstar can be a daunting task if you're not already an expert in all things related to guitars. The guitar is an extremely versatile instrument used in countless musical genres all over the world. And as a result, they come in all shapes, looks, sizes, and prices.
So, how do i find the right guitar?
Well, first we need to gather some information about your student, including musical interests, age, height, and commitment level. These factors all come in to play when shopping for guitars. In this post, I've attempted to simplify the struggle for you (a little). I've drawn from my own research on the topic as well as my experience as a guitar teacher to bring you 5 concise guidelines to aid you in your search. Shall we begin?
What type of guitar is your student interested in? There are two main categories:
This is the style of guitar I most often recommend to beginners, especially young students. It requires the least gear, since its hollow resonating chamber amplifies its own sound acoustically (hence the name). Also, "acoustic-electric" guitars are acoustic guitars that have the capability of being plugged in to an amplifier, which can be nice for versatility though they are a bit more pricey.
This type of guitar requires a guitar cord and amplifier to produce its sound (See point #5 below). They tend to be a bit more pricey compared to their acoustic counterparts, especially at the beginner level. So, if your student is a beginner, I usually recommend this style of guitar only if he/she shows a dedicated interest in rock or blues music. It can also be a good incentive to start out with an acoustic guitar with the possibility of getting an electric guitar if they stick with it.
Playing a guitar that is too big or too small can be frustrating to a new student, so we want to make sure to find a guitar that fits just right. Here's a couple basic charts to follow based on your student's height and age:
- 3'3" to 3'9" tall (~4-6 years old) - 1/4 size guitar
- 3'10" to 4'5" tall (~5-8 years old) - 1/2 size guitar
- 4'6" to 4'11" tall (~8-11 years old) - 3/4 size guitar
- 5' or taller (~11+ years old) - 4/4 full size guitar
- 4' to 4'8" tall (~6-9 years old) - junior electric guitar
- 4'9 or taller (~9+ years old) - full size electric guitar
Remember that these charts are only guidelines, with the greatest emphasis being the height (not the age) of the student. It never hurts to head over to a local music store to size up your student to a guitar before you buy. I've had some young students with longer wingspan and fingers that fit well with guitar sizes that were "technically" too big for their height and age, and I've had the opposite happen with students as well.
3) Body Style.
Now that you know what type and size guitar is right for your student, consider some of the different body styles that are available.
More than on the electric, acoustic guitar bodies affect the sound quality of the guitar. Here are eight of the most common acoustic guitar body styles:
The Dreadnought is the most popular strumming-style guitar. It sounds great in pop, rock, folk, and country settings, though it can be a bit large for smaller musicians. The 00 is the most popular finger-style (classical) guitar, with a body that is suitable to smaller musicians. The neck is often wider, though, which can be trickier for small hands. The Orchestra Model and Grand Auditorium bodies are going to be your most common "all-around" guitars, which are suitable for finger-picking and strumming.
There are two primary categories of electric guitar bodies: solid body and hollow body. As their names suggest, solid body guitars have bodies made of a solid slab of wood, and hollow body guitars are hollow (kind of like an acoustic). I typically recommend starting with a solid body, since they are the most common electric guitar and are used in all sorts of musical scenarios.
With solid body electric guitars, the body itself has a less significant impact on the sound than the pickups. Pickups are the rows of magnets on the body right under the strings that "pick up" the strings' vibrations and turn them into electrical current. So, to really boil it down, with a solid body you're mostly paying for the quality of the pickups, and the look and feel of the body. Here's what six of the most common electric guitar bodies look like. (Note that the ES-45 is a hollow-body guitar)
4) Quality and Price.
This is where we start to have to consider each situation individually. How old is your student? How long has he/she been playing music? How fired up and committed to playing is he/she? My typical recommendation is starting out with an inexpensive guitar - that is still as reliable as possible - during the first few years, and then progressing to a higher quality guitar once time passes and commitment level grows. Likewise, you'll want to avoid spending a lot of money on a guitar that a student will outgrow in a few years. A good ballpark price-point for a beginner guitar is around $150-300.
Some inexpensive starter acoustic guitar brands to consider are J. Reynolds, Epiphone, and Yamaha. A great first electric guitar, which is also perhaps the most famous type of electric solid body, is the Fender Stratocaster. And as a more economic alternative, the Fender Squire will give you a Fender-made product at a more affordable cost.
Congratulations, you're done with the heavy lifting! But before you put your feet up, make sure you don't leave the store (or website) without first making sure you have the accessories you need to truly be "all set." Here's a brief checklist of items to have to make sure your student is totally ready to play:
- Guitar case. Many times guitars will come with one, but still double check that yours does and that you like the quality.
- Extra picks.
- Extra strings. Make sure to purchase strings made out of the right material for your guitar.
- An amplifier (electric or acoustic-electric only). A beginner won't need much beyond a basic amp with at least 10 watts of power.
- A cable (electric or acoustic-electric only).
Many music stores will offer value packs that will supply you with all of these accessories in one package. A good acoustic guitar value pack is the Yamaha GigMaker Deluxe Acoustic Guitar Value Pack, and a solid electric guitar value pack is the Squier Affinity HSS Stratocaster Electric Guitar Pack w/ 15G Amplifier.
You now are fully equipped to tackle the task of purchasing a guitar and accessories that are tailor-made for your student! I hope this has been helpful to you. Now the only step left is finding your student the right teacher to start them down the path to becoming the musician you know they can be. If you live in the greater-Indianapolis area, head to the Vibe Music Academy "free lesson signup" page to set yourself up with a free guitar lesson with myself or one of our other expert music instructors!
- John Gotsis, Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy, Fishers, Indiana.