Are you looking to purchase your child’s first guitar, but don’t know where to start? Well, don’t worry, you’re in good company, and we’re here to help. In this article, we’re going to show you exactly how to buy your child the perfect electric or acoustic guitar.
Playing the guitar is a passion that can last a lifetime. For many kids, it’s a great way to get started in music; the guitar is one of the most accessible instruments around, and there are tons of teachers and resources out there to help them get started on their musical journey.
Guitarists love fancy equipment. But realistically, the beginning guitarist isn’t ready to wind their own pickups or oil a fancy rosewood fretboard just yet. The most important thing for a young player is to have a functional guitar that is fun to play but won’t make mom and dad pull their hair out when it gets dings and scratches.
There are lots of good starter guitars that balance quality, value, and great sound that will keep your kid interested in playing for a long time, and most importantly, having fun!
Read on for exactly what to look for and to see our list of recommended starter guitars.
What To Look For When Buying A Guitar For Your Child
There are a few basic things to consider before purchasing a guitar for your future child rockstar.
- Electric vs. acoustic
- Quality and playability
- Does it even stay in tune
There are a ton of other things you can look for in more advanced guitars, but it’s best to stick to these essentials when choosing a starter instrument. A quality guitar at the right size and right price will be plenty to get started.
Electric vs. Acoustic
This is likely the first question you’ll ask yourself when shopping for a guitar. Does your kid want to be a hard rocker, with the ability to turn up and add effects? Or will they prefer the mellow sounds and simplicity of an acoustic guitar?
No matter which type of guitar they start with if they’ll end up playing both at some point. I can’t think of many electric guitarists that don’t have an acoustic sitting in the corner for spontaneous jam sessions.
Electric Guitars For Children
The electric guitar is a great choice for a new musician. And, believe it or not, it can actually be a quieter and more courteous option.
You can still play an electric guitar without plugging it in since an electric guitar still makes just enough sound to hear without an amp. Plus, if you want to add overdrive and effects, you can use headphones. For a brand new player, this is often the most practical.
Your child could easily sit in the same room with you and play their guitar while you watch TV. This is not likely the case with an acoustic. I’d say that the unplugged sound of an electric guitar is more like a whisper or softly spoken voice, while the acoustic would be akin to 2 people having a full-on conversation at an elevated level.
An acoustic guitar is also, generally, going to have tougher, thicker strings and higher action*. This means they are harder to press down for a new player, while electric guitars usually have lower string tension and are easier on the fingers**.
Genre is also an important factor, even though the electric guitar is pretty versatile. If your child will lean more heavily toward genres like rock-and-roll or metal, electric might be the way to go.
And finally, an electric guitar has that “awesome” factor, which can be a great way to keep some kids interested in playing and having fun. Just keep in mind that high volume will occur at some point!
*On stringed instruments, action refers to the distance between the guitar frets and the strings.
** New guitar players will find it somewhat painful on their fretting hand until they strengthen their fingers and build callouses. This is generally much less the case with an electric guitar. I would say, the exception would be a nylon string acoustic guitar which I’d recommend for classical fingerstyle.
Starting Your Kid With An Acoustic Guitar
An acoustic guitar is a more traditional way to start your child off. It’s much easier to pick up an acoustic guitar anywhere and just play; there’s no need for any extra equipment whether you’re practicing or playing for a room full of people.
Sometimes this can lead to more spontaneous practice sessions, rather than going through the hassle of plugging in and powering on all the electric guitar equipment. In fact, they’ll likely not need any other substantial equipment unless they start playing gigs.
And last but not least, an acoustic guitar’s noise level can be much more fun for everyone else in the house. It’s the kind of thing they can easily take to gatherings, pass around a campfire and tote to their school’s guitar club.
What Size Guitar Is Best For Your Child?
Small hands often have difficulty reaching the notes on a standard-sized guitar. Fortunately, there are many options to make the playing experience better for younger players.
Guitar sizes are measured in two ways; overall length and scale length. Overall length measures the guitar from end to end, and scale length measures the distance from the nut to the bridge (or the length of the string that can vibrate).
Unlike some stringed instruments that have lower or higher pitches as they increase or decrease in size, different sized guitars play the same notes. That means even with a ½ scale guitar, your young player will be able to jam to your old Clapton or Zeppelin albums without requiring any unusual tunings.
(OK, maybe the kids are jamming to different music these days, but that’s a whole separate discussion!)
1/2 Size Guitars
A half-size guitar is around 34 inches long with a scale length of 21 inches, compared with a standard guitar’s length of 38 to 40 inches. The size alone makes the half-size guitar a good choice for younger kids up to 8 years old.
One big reason is that the fretboards of these guitars are typically skinnier, which makes them easier to fit into a younger child’s hands. The short overall length can also make it more comfortable to reach both ends of the strings.
Another benefit to the shorter length is a slight reduction in string tension, which can help avoid painful fingers or straining to fret notes the right way. It is important for new guitar students to learn proper technique, and guitars with strings that are easier to press down can help avoid a lot of frustration when practicing these critical skills.
When shopping for these smaller guitars, make sure you know what you’re buying because you might end up with nothing more than a toy (we’re going to help you along with that though). Also, you should probably skip up to 3/4 size for an electric guitar. You’ll have better quality options.
3/4 Size Guitars
The ¾ size guitar is a great middle-ground between the ½ size and full-size models. These guitars are around 36 inches long with a scale length of 22 to 22.5 inches. They are great for kids from around ages 8 – 11 years old.
It’s not uncommon, though, for adult players to keep a ¾ size model around as a travel guitar – the frets and neck are slightly smaller than a standard size guitar, but not enough that it will impact an experienced guitarist’s playing. So if you’re looking for a beginner guitar that will still be useful for many years to come, a ¾ size guitar is an excellent choice.
This size is also common in both electric and acoustic options, so there is often a wider variety of guitars to choose from in this category compared to the ½ size.
Full size (4/4)
A full-size guitar typically has an overall length of about 38 inches and a scale length of 24.5 to 25.5 inches. This size is best for children from about ages 11 or 12 through adult.
It will probably be difficult to play a full-size guitar for a younger child. The strings will be very hard to press down, and the neck may be too wide to fit into their hand comfortably. They may not even be able to reach their arm far enough. So we normally recommend avoiding this size until your young guitarist is a little older.
That being said, if your child is on the cusp of being ready for a full-size guitar, they may demand that sooner than anticipated if you decide to go with the 3/4 size.
PRO TIP: A quick way to check what size guitar best suits your child is to have them hold a standard guitar at the first fret, with fingers together and the index finger against the end of the neck.
If 3 or 4 of their fingers fit into the 1st fret, go for a ½ or ¾ size guitar. If only 3 fingers fit, a ¾ guitar would be a good choice. And if only 2 fingers fit at the first fret, a full-size guitar will work.
What is a reasonable price for a kid’s beginner guitar?
You might think there’s a tradeoff between price and quality in beginner instruments, and often that is true. But nowadays there are many manufacturers dedicated to making quality starter guitars that look, play, and sound great without breaking the bank.
An acoustic guitar set will typically be slightly lower in price than an equivalent electric set, mostly because acoustic requires fewer accessories to get started. Anything below $75 might be closer to a toy guitar than a real instrument, especially in the ½ size range, so pay close attention when searching for smaller guitars.
Electric guitars can vary in price a bit more, since many come in starter packs that include an amplifier, a cord, and other accessories. If you are starting from scratch, it can be a great value to go for a combo package. Or you can choose to buy only the guitar and use an amp of your own – or even no amp at all.
With these things in mind, a good price range to shoot for in a starting guitar is between $100 and $200, depending on the accessories that are included. Some electric combination packs can go up to around $300, which can still be a good value with the right accessories.
You will likely pay about the same for an electric guitar as for an acoustic of similar quality, but with an electric guitar the other required equipment can boost the price higher.
Quality and Playability
If you’re not experienced in this subject, this is where you might struggle. There is A LOT of garbage that is marketed as student-level children’s guitars. It may look great, but just not stay in tune. If it doesn’t stay in tune, it’s as good as a decoration.
Other issues include warped necks, fret buzzing, faulty electronics and horrendously high action. That being said, you can be confident to trust specific brands. Just make sure to buy new and, if nothing else, the product should be guaranteed.
The two most obvious beginner guitar brands that are known for consistent quality are Squire (made by Fender and found here on Amazon) and Epiphone (made by Gibson). These are classic go-to manufacturers for consistent quality guitars at decent prices. Below, I will give you a complete list of top beginner guitars for children.
Recommended Kid’s Guitars
A guitar is not only a super fun gift for any kid, but it could inspire a passion to last a lifetime. I always say that the best bet for a first guitar is to go electric. The strings are less brutal on their young fingers (which is just another unnecessary barrier to entry), it’s more versatile and it leaves more room for creativity.
Many people will certainly disagree with that opinion, I’m sure. Regardless, we hope you and your child get years of enjoyment from whichever guitar you choose. Good luck and happy playing!