Every guitarist shares stories about their first guitars. Mine was a 3/4 size nylon string with a snapped neck, formerly belonging to my cousin and repaired by my Dad.
Choosing your own first guitar doesn't have to be stressful.
You're about to become a guitarist! You're going to purchase something which you'll use every day! So it's ok to be excited.
To make the process easy for you, here's a step-by-step guide to buying your first guitar.
Step 1: Acoustic or Electric?
An electric guitar needs to be plugged into an amplifier to make noise.
An acoustic guitar doesn't.
So which should you choose?
Ultimately, it depends on what you're going to be playing (and to a lesser extent, your budget).
If you plan on learning rock, punk or metal (and only rock, punk or metal), then by all means grab yourself an electric. It's a requirement for playing these styles.
If you're just generally looking to learn the guitar, or if you would like to play a variety of styles, always go for an acoustic guitar first.
- You don't need to buy and carry around and amp to practice
- You'll build up your finger strength and dexterity better in the early stages on an acoustic
Just to be clear - all music theory, chords, sheet music and techniques you learn can be applied to ANY guitar.
Certain techniques, like bends, hammer-ons and pull-offs and tapping are easier on the electric, whilst more percussive strumming styles are easier on the acoustic, but it's perfectly fine to play a Metallica song on an acoustic or a Bach piece on an electric.
Still can't decide? Many players purchase an electric guitar as their second instrument, once they've got a bit more experience under their belt, so if in doubt, go for an acoustic first and an electric later on down the track.
Step 2: Nylon String or Steel String?
If you've chosen an electric guitar, you don't need to worry about string types (they don't really change between guitars).
Acoustic players need to choose between a nylon string guitar or a steel string guitar.
Nylon string guitars are great for 3 reasons:
- They're cheap
- They're easy on your fingertips and
- They're great for playing classical
Steel string guitars are great for 2 reasons:
- The necks are usually a bit smaller, making it easier to reach
- They're great for playing pop, folk, acoustic rock and more
In Australia, you can generally find decent nylon string guitars starting at $100. Good steel string guitars start at about $250.
Again, all the techniques will be the same across both guitars when you're starting out, so whichever one you prefer the sound (and price) of will be fine.
Step 3: Left or Right Handed?
Most guitars you will find in a shop are for right handed players. For every brand I've come across (except for custom made guitars or Perth-based Ormsby guitars), you'll pay a premium for a left handed model.
So what's the difference? For many left handed players, it just feels more natural to fret notes with your right hand and strum and pick with your left.
That being said, if you're a lefty and you're not sure which is best for you, pick up a guitar and strum it one way, then flip it over and strum it the other way (with the other hand).
If it feels better to play left-handed, definitely make sure to get a left handed guitar (unfortunately, most guitars except for beginner nylon strings guitars can't just be restrung in lefty-mode - you need a different guitar). If there's no difference, the choice is yours!
Righties, you've got it easy - the guitar world is much more accommodating for us!
Step 4: Go into a real music shop and ask to play their beginner guitars.
So many people skip this step when shopping for the first guitar, and it is BY FAR the most important.
Every guitar is different, even if they're the same model from the same factory, and there is no "best". It all comes down to personal preference, which is why it's so important for you to actually pick up the guitar you buy before you play it.
Don't worry that you don't know how to play. Don't worry that you don't know much about guitars.
Everyone has been in your situation, and any good music shop will be able to help not only choose the right guitar for you, but also help you understand the subtle differences which will make you a more knowledgable player.
For anyone in the local area, I would recommend Hans Music Spot in Croydon for acoustic guitars and KC's Rockshop in Boronia for electric guitars (particularly the ESP/LTD line, which I proudly endorse and play live).
They won't mind that you want to try before you buy.
I would always advise against buying guitars online unless you're a seriously knowledgable collector.
Yes, you'll save a few dollars, but it's risky. A bad guitar can really slow down your progress, so you want to make sure you know what you're getting and have a good place to go when you need repairs or servicing performed.
Step 5: Additional items you need (and don't need)
Depending on the guitars you've shortlisted, there are some additional items you'll want to pick up at the same time.
These are often bundled in with your guitar, so don't be afraid to ask if your music store has a beginner's pack available.
Electric players will need:
- An amplifier (we could go into a lot of detail here, but I would go for a small 10-30w practice amp to begin with in 99% of cases - these are often bundled with beginner electric guitars)
- A guitar strap
- Carry bag or hard case
Acoustic players will need:
- Carry bag or hard case
To be clear - get a bag or case of some description for your guitar. They don't like being exposed to the elements!
Extra items that can be useful, but aren't 100% necessary are:
- Guitar tuner (you can get many free mobile apps instead if you'd prefer)
- Capo (used for playing certain songs and for moving the key of a song)
- Metronome (again, you can get free mobile apps instead if you'd prefer)
- Acoustic guitar pickup (this will be built into some acoustic guitar models, and allows you to plug your guitar into a speaker system or amp for gigs)
- Guitar care kit/polishes (good for looking after your guitar)
- Guitar stand (for storing your guitar at home)
- Music stand (for reading sheet music off of)
- Footrest or Guitar support (good for classical players or those with shorter legs)
Step 6: Work out your budget and get the guitar!
Once you've worked out what you want, you can decide whether or not the guitar is in your budget.
If you're spending more than $1000 on your first guitar (including amps and accessories), you may be spending too much.
Why do I say that?
- It takes time to find what you really like and value in a guitar, so no matter what, your first guitar is unlikely to be the perfect guitar for you.
For me, for example, I have particular scale lengths and neck feels that I really like to play on. It took me years of playing lots of guitars to find this out!
- There's no point buying an expensive guitar if you're going to stop learning after a month. Is guitar really your thing?
I encourage all students to set goals and reward themselves with new guitars. For example, if I practice every day for the next 6 months, I'll get myself an electric.
That way, you'll know more about guitars, you'll be more excited to get the new guitar and you'll know you're going to get value out it.
Step 7: Book yourself in for some lessons
If you haven't got a guitar teacher yet, it's definitely worth booking in a few to get you started - even if you plan on self-teaching yourself or using online guitar lessons.
Anyone in the local area who's just gotten themselves a guitar is more than welcome to come in for a free guitar lesson with us - even if you just want some more advice about choosing your first guitar!
Extra Tip: Kids first guitars, Gifts and family guitars
If you're buying a guitar as a present for an adult, it's generally better to let them choose the guitar for themselves.
For kids, however, a beginner Nylon string guitar will be perfect. Younger players often don't know the difference between the feel of different guitars, so it's better to make the decision for them. Nylon string guitars are cheap, don't damage easily, come in lots of colours and also come in 1/2 or 3/4 sizes which are great for smaller players.
Finally, if you have inherited a guitar (a parent who used to play, a friend giving you an old one), take it to your guitar teacher and ask their opinion.
If it does the job, don't worry about buying a new guitar for yourself. Save that money and get yourself a really awesome second guitar once you've got some more experience!
The added advantage of older guitars is that they can, if they've been looked after, actually sound better than many new guitars due to the natural ageing process of wood. You might have a hidden gem to learn on, something unique that has more sentimental value to you!
So have fun, and don't fret about your choice too much!
My first guitar wasn't a great guitar, but it was great to learn on. I don't have it any more (my cousin ended up taking it back), but I never look back thinking "I wish I had a mini-Maton to learn on back then!"
Now I have 6 guitars in all shapes and sizes, and use almost all of them regularly for different styles, different tunings or just because I can!