choosing an instrument

making the right choice

Choosing the right instrument is always a tricky issue – especially for the first time buyer.


Making sure the instrument is a good size for the player is possibly the most important consideration. Young children (6 or 7 year olds) will probably require a 1/2 or 3/4 size instrument. From aged 10 a smaller bodied  full-sized guitar is best  (for acoustics that is, electrics are less of an issue). This applies to smaller framed adults too.

Electric or Acoustic:

The choice of whether to go the electric or acoustic route really depends on the style of music you envisage yourself playing. If you see yourself as the solo singer songwriter then it sounds like acoustic is your calling. If you see yourself more as the lead or rhythm guitarist in a band then it sounds like it’s electric. Don’t forget, most of what you learn is directly transferable and most guitarists play both to some degree anyway. It’s really just a question of what you kick off with to get you started – you’re probably going to invest in both at some point.

As a beginner it’s easier to sound convincing as a solo guitarist on acoustic – it’s somewhat more forgiving, However an electric is easier on the fingers for a beginner, with less string tension from the lighter gauge bendier strings, lower action etc….


Steel Strung ‘Acoustic’ or Nylon Strung ‘Classical’ or ‘Spanish’ :

If you have, or have been given, a nylon strung Spanish or classical guitar that is fine to get started on, but for the styles of music that I teach, a steel strung acoustic is a better long term option – unless of course you particularly want to study classical or flamenco guitar.  A nylon strung guitar will be a little easier on the fingers for young children (softer strings, less string tension), but the finger board is both flatter and wider which is a little different.

Guitar or Bass:

It is possibly true that it takes less technique, and possibly less musicality, to get to a standard where you can ‘get by’ in an average band context on bass than guitar. Even though there are many bass players out there that do little more than plunk away on the roots, bass should not be seen as an easy ‘soft’ option  – because it most categorically is not. Just as you can either get by strumming a few open chords on the guitar, or shred like Yngwie Malmsteen, you can plunk away on a few roots or you can play like Jaco Pastorius , or anywhere on a sliding scale between the two.

It has it’s own technique issues that separates it from the guitar, the most obvious being the extra stretch required for a standard ‘long scale’ bass. This alone can cause competent guitarists some problems in the first instance when switching to bass.. Like with my guitar tuition I aim to get pupils pushing themselves constantly…. there is always more to learn…

How much to spend…

To some degree that depends on what you can afford and how committed you are. If it’s your first instrument, there is a lot to be said about not spending too much. Firstly, until you are sure guitar playing is for you, you probably don’t want to tie up too much money in an instrument that you won’t initially appreciate. Secondly, there is also something to be said about starting on something fairly basic and ‘earning the right’ to move up to a better instrument as you progress. You can never then be accused of having “all the gear, no idea”…

In short, if you’re a total  beginner, keep to an entry level instrument, but the best you can afford , if you already play, a trade up to something better is a commitment to yourself that you really want to make progress. As a guide, you will get a good quality entry level instrument for £80 to £120, but do try them out (or get a friend that plays to!). They do vary a lot in sound (which is what counts) and of course feel. You want to feel that you’ve made a good decision.

New or Second Hand: 

You will generally get a little more for your money buying second hand, as long as you don’t mind a ‘bedded in’ instrument (people pay a lot of money for artificially aged new instruments (!!) so why not go for the real thing.  If you have never owned a guitar before, I’d tread carefully with a private sale (via ebay or gumtree for example). There are a few local shops that trade in second hand instruments who will generally have a few comparable instruments in that you could try.

Having said that, what you get new for your money now with eastern made entry level instruments is quite amazing. Shop around, talk to guitar shop staff – that’s what they are there for.  Something will jump out at you as being the instrument for you. You may save a few quid buying online, but you don’t get the service, the set up or the after sales help should you need it.



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