For parents who are in the beginning stages of signing up their child for lessons and need to select a proper instrument, it can be a very daunting task with the wide variety of guitars hanging on the wall of a guitar shop. It is very tempting for many to borrow a guitar from a neighbor that’s been collecting dust in the basement for a few years. In my experience, those who select a proper instrument from the very beginning have a significantly higher success rate and enjoy the learning process far more than those using yard sale finds.
There are three broad categories of guitars marketed to children: electric, acoustic, and classical. An electric guitar has a solid body which hooks up to an amplifier via 1/4” cable. Acoustic guitars have steel strings and come in a wide variety of body shapes from dreadnaught to parlor. Classical guitars are strung with nylon strings and often associated with Spanish music, but are fully capable of playing most popular genres.
For children ages 4 to 8, I suggest purchasing a nylon string guitar. Steel strings are harder to push down and can cause a lot of finger soreness in the beginning. Nylon strings will be easier to push down, and since the distance is greater between the strings, it will be easier to them to fret a note without bumping into another string. I normally tell parents of younger children to avoid electric guitars in the beginning. The 1/2 sized electrics are notorious for having poor intonation (how well the instrument is in tune across the neck) and you’ll spend more money on buying cables and an amp.
I recommend purchasing a new instrument for your child. Older instruments, especially subjected to the dry climate of Colorado, will have warped necks, meaning the neck bows either up or down. This effects how well the instrument can be tuned and it’s playability. This bow causes the distance between the strings and the fretboard, called the action, to be significantly higher and more difficult to play. If an instrument is more difficult to play, it will be less fun for your child to practice on and keep them from willingly practice. Besides, who wants to play out of tune all the time?
To find the proper size of guitar for your child, first measure your child from the floor to their belly button. Many guitar makers size their instruments using the metric system, so be sure to convert from inches. Don’t feel pressured from salespeople to buy something too big for them to grow into just because your child likes the color or design. Imagine if someone handed you a guitar that was almost up to your shoulder, then told to practice for a couple of years till you got taller. Some younger children ages 4 to 7 might be best suited for a guitarlele, which is a cross between the body size of a ukulele and the 6 strings of a guitar. Don’t be afraid to have the store order you an instrument; it’s better for it to arrive in three weeks rather than walk out with something in hand today.
With any new hobby, you wouldn’t go to the lowest priced teacher, nor would I be comfortable sending a new driver on the road with the cheapest used car on the lot. I also don’t suggest buying a handmade classical guitar that will set you back 2000 dollars either. You can purchase a fine beginner instrument for around 150-200 dollars. Good brands that won’t break your budget include LaMancha, Luna, Yamaha, and Ortega.
When selecting a quality instrument that best fits a students goals and body type, I always encourage parents to reach out to me so I can help them make the best informed decision possible. You can also ask your teacher or an experienced musician to accompany you to the music shop to try them out for you. In my studio, I’ll just meet the family at a guitar shop during their lesson that week. Trust me, it’s no bother!