Buying your first guitar is really a big deal.
The right guitar can send you off on a long and enjoyable guitar journey. The wrong guitar can stop you in your tracks before you even begin.
When buying your first guitar, there are three key factors to look at:
The first key factor is Playability.
A guitar’s playability refers to how easy or difficult it is to actually play. Some play as wonderfully. Others play like a plank of wood strung with barbed wire!
The playability of a guitar mostly comes down to two key things:
- Guitar Action
- Guitar Size
The Guitar Action is the distance between the fretboard and the strings.
When this distance is too much, it results in the strings being set too high above the fretboard. This is called a High Action.
High Action Picture Here
Cheap, poorly made guitars generally come with high actions (especially acoustics), making them really difficult to play. The higher the action the harder the fingers have to work to press the strings down onto the fretboard. This is painful on the fingers and it makes playing the guitar much more difficult.
A Low Action is when the space between the strings and the fretboard is smaller. This results in the strings being closer to the fretboard. A guitar with a low action is easier to play because the fingers don’t have to work as hard to press the strings down onto the fretboard. This is kinder to the fingers and it makes playing the guitar easier.
Low Action Picture Here
When buying your first guitar you need to measure the guitar action to make sure it isn’t too high.
To measure the guitar action, check the distance at the 12th fret between the top of the metal fret wire and the bottom of both the hi-E and low-E strings. They should measure like so:
Hi-E string – 2mm
Low-E string – 3mm
Hi-E string – 3mm
Low-E string – 4mm
The second consideration when it comes to playability is the guitar size, which is determined by two things: Scale Length and Body Shape.
Guitars come in scale lengths which is the distance between the guitar nut and the guitar bridge. The longer the scale length the larger the guitar.
Scale length picture here:
To figure out which scale length you should need, use the guidelines below.
Age – Guitar Size
Up to age 5 – I generally recommend a Ukulele
5 to 7 – 1/2 size (or 1/4 size for smaller children)
7 to 9 – 3/4 size (or 1/2 size for smaller children)
9 to 12 – 3/4 Size
12 plus – Full size
The shape of a guitar also affects its size, especially when it comes to acoustic guitars.
Acoustic guitars come in a variety of body sizes including:
Parlour – Small
Concert – Small/Medium
Auditorium – Medium
Dreadnaught – Medium/large
Jumbo – Large
As a general rule, Concert sized guitars suit shorter to average-height people, and Auditorium and Dreadnought sized guitars suit medium to taller people.
With electric guitars, the shape doesn’t really affect the size of the guitar like acoustics, but some shapes can make holding the guitar feel awkward (like the Flying V for example). That said, if Flying Vs are your thing, you can sit with it comfortably so long as you use a strap to help keep it in place.
Flying V picture here
The next key factor to consider is Budget.
When it comes to budget, just remember one thing – cheap, poorly made guitars come with high actions. The prices might be desirable, but the playability won’t be. Avoid super cheap guitars at all costs!
As a general rule, the more you spend, the better the guitar. The better the guitar, the easier it’ll play and the nicer it will sound.
If you’re buying new you’ll need to be spending upwards of around £100 for a guitar that’s going to play nice enough to learn on.
Also, don’t look past buying secondhand. There are some really good deals out there for used guitars. Most of the guitars that I’ve owned were bought second secondhand.
The third and final factor is Inspiration.
You want to be inspired by whatever guitar you buy. You want to be inspired by how it looks, how it sounds, and how it feels.
Sometimes people look past this but I think it’s important.
If you like acoustic music and want to play acoustic songs, get an acoustic guitar. If you like heavy metal, get yourself a heavy metal-style electric guitar (and amp). If your son likes the light green guitar with hippie artwork, buy him that. If your daughter likes the bright red rock and roll guitar, buy her that.
Just make super sure that whichever guitar you take a fancy to passes the Playability factors mentioned above.
Try Before You Buy
The best thing you can do when buying your first guitar is Try Before you Buy.
Go to your local music store and take a look around at all the different guitars. Pick out one (in budget) that inspires and excites you.
Sit and hold it to get a good feel for it. You don’t even need to play it. Just hold it and feel it. If it feels too big, too small, too bulky, or too wobbly, choose another size. If it feels good, check the action at the 12th fret. Does the distance between the string and fretboard look too high or is it OK? Use the measurements listed above for guidance.
If you have a friend that plays guitar, ask him if he’d mind coming along with you to help you choose and check the guitar over.
If getting to a music store is tricky for you, you’re going to need to buy a guitar without trying it. This is fine as long as you follow the size measurements that I’ve listed above and choose a reputable brand of guitar that plays nicely. For my recommended Budget Guitars, click the link below.