New students often ask what is the best guitar for a beginner to use. Is one particular type better, or easier to play than another?
This is an important question to answer since the instrument you choose is meant to be your close partner for the next several years, or maybe even life, so you want to be sure you can get along with each other.
The idea of getting a new guitar is very exciting to most students. Just one step inside the music store can be a dazzling experience when confronted with the shear multitude of stringed instruments hanging on the wall. It can be a little overwhelming too.
With all the different models, shapes, sizes and colors there are to choose from, how does a person know which guitar is “best” and right for them? The answer to this question can seem even more daunting for the beginner who doesn’t even know how to play anything yet.
Identifying your musical goals is a crucial step toward finding the best guitar and making the right decision. It can also save you a lot of money in the long run. Its helpful to consider the style of music are you most interested in learning how to play. I suggest you think seriously about this before whipping out your wallet and making a purchase that is based primarily on “love at first sight.”
Now, I need to qualify this suggestion a little bit before going any further. My own first musical “partner” was a Classical guitar. In case you may be wondering, I did not have any interest at all in learning how to play instrumental “classical” music when I was a teenager. I just wanted to learn how to play my favorite songs; the ones that I heard on my albums and on the radio.
Was this the best guitar for the job? Maybe not, but since it was a gift, I gladly accepted it!
Was I able to achieve my goals using a Classical guitar? Yes. I just learned how to play classic rock music instead. =)
I used this guitar to learn and play songs from groups such as… Led Zepplin, The Moody Blues, Ten Years After, The Beatles, Yes, The Rolling Stones, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Jimi Hendrix, and many others…
And it was probably the best guitar to have for playing some my favorite folk/rock songs by artists such as… Neil Young, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Joni Mitchel, Elton John, etc… because many of these songs used a fingerpicking style and that is what the classical guitar was designed for.
As it turned out, fingerstyle guitar became one of my favorite genres to play! Eventually I did become interested in learning how to read music and play classical guitar too.
Things don’t always work out that well for others though. I have often seen students struggling with a guitar that was difficult for them to play for one reason or another. Sometimes the body of the instrument is too big and they have trouble positioning there arm over the soundhole comfortably.
Another problem I see is when the action is too high and the student is unable to press the strings down on the fretboard in order to get a clear tone.
But one of the most common problems I see has to do with intonation. If the intonation is poor, the student will be unable to create a good sound on their guitar no matter how well they can play. This can lead to discouragement and frustration which may keep the student from having the desire to play at all. It will also be hard for the student to hear the correct pitches, which is so vital to developing a good musical ear.
Poor intonation is usually the result of buying a cheap guitar. People often make the mistake of sacrificing quality for “affordability” in order to save a few bucks. However, those who do this will usually end up spending more money than intended simply because they will soon need to buy another one.
Believe me when I tell you that if the guitar is inadequate at the beginning it will only hinder the student who has any serious musical ambition. Its okay to look for a good deal, I always do, but please don’t waste your time and money on a guitar that will only have to be replaced shortly after purchasing it.
There are several different ways to test whether or not the intonation is okay on an instrument you may interested in buying. Here is one method I often use…
1. Tune the guitar
2. While holding an E major chord at the first fret, strum one string at a time.
3. Listen to the tone of each string.
4. Do the tones blend? Does the guitar still sound in tune? If so…
5. Move to an F major barre chord and repeat the process.
Continue this process of moving the major barre chord shape up the neck one fret at a time, strumming each string, and listening to the blend. If at any point the guitar sounds bad, or like it is out of tune, then the intonation is probably off.
*Note – This test will only be accurate if you are able to hold and play a barre chord correctly. If you unintentionally bend the strings while playing the barre chord, the guitar will sound out of tune, but the intonation may be fine!
If you are not able to do this test yourself, ask someone at the store if they will do it for you while you listen.
Another simple test you can do yourself is to play each note on each string as you move up the fretboard…
Again, you must make sure that you are pressing the string down without bending it. Listen to the sound of each tone as you move up the neck in order to determine if the intonation is good. Check for any buzzing, ringing or dullness in the sound too.
If you find a guitar that you really like (or have already bought one) and the intonation appears to be off, don’t fret. Many guitars have adjustable necks that can be tweaked until they are brought into tune. Adjustments can also be made if the action is either too high or too low.
Here is a summary on how to find the best guitar that is just right for you…
1. Buy a guitar that is geared toward your musical interest and goals
2. Make sure the guitar is a good fit for your physically
3. Check that the action is neither too high or too low
4. Check that the intonation is good along the entire fretboard
5. Choose quality over an “affordable” poorly made instrument
Keep these tips in mind when you are looking for a new guitar. They should help make your decision easier and the final outcome much happier. No regrets!
Kathy Unruh is the author of the ABCLearnGuitar eBook.
She has been teaching guitar to students of all ages for over 25 years.
Many people have discovered that buying a guitar online can be a great way to save money. But what happens if your brand-new instrument arrives and you can’t play it because the action is too high or the intonation is off?
What do I mean by “Action” and “Intonation”? Let me explain…
Action refers to how high or low the strings are set in relation to the guitar fretboard. Problems can occur if they are not set correctly.
For example, if the strings are set too high you will need to apply a lot of pressure with your fingers in order to play a clear tone or chord. This can quickly take all the fun out of playing the guitar!
On the other hand, if the strings are set too low you will likely hear buzzing or ringing when you play your guitar. This happens when the strings interfere with the metal frets that lay across the neck.
Intonation refers to the accuracy, or blending, of identical tones as they occur on each string of the guitar fretboard.
One of the first things I do when trying out a new guitar is to test the intonation up and down the neck. An easy way to do this is to play a middle C on all six strings and see if the tones blend. Make sure the guitar is in tune before you start..
PLAYING MIDDLE C ON ALL SIX STRINGS:
Use your first finger to play the string indicated in the left column that corresponds to the fret that is in the right column. Every note on each string is a middle C and should sound the same.
You can test the intonation of the tone E found on the 1st string using the same method…
PLAYING E ON ALL SIX STRINGS:
Don’t panic or think you need to ask for a refund if you discover some problems with the intonation after doing your test. It may be that you just need to have a few adjustments done so that your guitar is set-up correctly.
Guitars are sensitive instruments because they are made of wood. This means that they are pliable and easily effected by changes in temperature and humidity. So, if you ordered a new guitar that traveled through different climates and/or was exposed to changes in elevation, chances are, it will need some adjusting by the time it gets to you.
There are professional luthiers who can do this for you, but if it costs more than $100 then you might want to learn how to set up a guitar yourself. Besides, it’s normal for all guitars to need a periodic adjustment from time to time as they age. Learning how to set-up your own guitar will help you keep it in good playing condition for years to come.
Even if you are not interested in doing your own guitar set-up, you can benefit from knowing how it is done. Understanding the process will equip you with a better means of communication whenever you have to take your guitar into the shop for maintenance or repair.
So, keep these things in mind when you buy online (or off) and may your guitar will live long and prosper!
Kathy Unruh is the author of the ABCLearnGuitar eBook. She has been teaching guitar to students of all ages for over 25 years.
Q: How long does it take to learn to play an instrument properly? And more specifically, how long to learn guitar?
A: My pat-ready answer is ‘not very long‘. If you want a more detailed one, it depends on what you mean by ‘properly’. There are a few stages of guitar learning that everyone goes through and each one of these relate to different levels of skill and technique. Some stuff you’ll learn quickly while others will take longer. For example, if your ultimate desire is the ability to strum sing-a-long songs on the beach or around the campfire, you’ll reach your goal much faster than the guy who wants to play blinding metal solo’s.
Here’s a breakdown of the stages of guitar learning and the approximate time it might take you to get there.
Playing Basic Chords – This is usually the first benchmark most new players reach: The ability to strum and switch between the basic guitar chords. At this point you don’t necessarily have the chords memorized and aren’t able to play many songs, but you’re managing to fret and strum them. This level can be reached within one week.
Playing easy songs – You’ve mastered more guitar chords and have been practicing them enough that you’ve got most of them memorized and are able to strum and switch between them without too much hassle, and without looking at the fretboard when you do. This means you can play songs! This level can be reached in two to three weeks of daily practice, though for many it might be longer.
Playing Barre and Power Chords – We’re moving right along and you’re advancing to a level where most self-taught guitarists never go. Barre Chords are much more difficult than open chords and learning these takes extra practice and a whole new set of strength in your fretting hand. It’s possible to play most barre chords in two months, quicker for some who practice a lot.
Fingerpicking – The ability to pluck individual strings and play simple riffs (short solo pieces on individual strings) is a new skill your strumming hand needs to learn. This can usually be achieved in two to three months if you start to learn and play easy guitar tabs.
Lead Guitar – A Lead guitarist is the guy or girl who’s got the audience at his/her beckoning. Playing solo’s and using techniques like slurring, vibrato and palm muting is a whole new set of rules and I’d give it three to four months. This might be way off depending on what kind of music we’re talking about – playing acoustic solo’s might take less time, but playing rock or metal solo’s will probably take longer.
The improviser – A guitarist that can improvise riffs and solos on the spot (and in the middle of a song), have moved from the realm of amateurship to being a pro or semi-pro. Depending on how much talent you have and what you’re musical background is, this might take anything from six months to a year.
Please note that these time lengths are given as a very broad estimate and aimed at people with little musical experience. If it takes you longer than a week to learn the basic chords, don’t get upset. These times are not set in stone and you have to learn and develop at a pace that’s natural and comfortable for you!
“Let me get this straight… you’re providing FREE lessons on this site (some of the best, most detailed and easiest to follow anywhere on the net), and yet you promote and want me to spend $$ BUYING stuff to teach me guitar? Why would I do that?”
The above is a content summary of some of the e-mails I occasionally get from die-hard BestBeginnerGuitarLessons.com followers (or just anyone who subscribes to my newsletter). It’s a legitimate question that deserves a legitimate answer. So here you go…
Free Lessons vs. Paid Lessons – The why of it…
– Free lessons will only get you so far
Free lessons are great for getting you started as musician and can even propel you into reaching an intermediate level in some aspect of your guitar playing. But you will reach a plateau…
My site BestBeginnerGuitarLessons.com does not claim to take you from zero to HERO on guitar. No, it’s aimed at beginners who want to get started on guitar – so the free lessons here will cover perhaps 30-40% of the material that a program like Gibson’s Learn & Master will teach you.
– Detail & depth
Paid programs with big budgets can naturally provide better instruction then I can with my Yamaha guitar and Flip HD Camera :-). For a few bucks, a paid-for program often provides quality HD tutoring videos, with professional guitar instructors with years of experience. This is naturally something that free lessons cannot provide.
– Ease of learning
I’m a big promoter of following a set of fixed lessons and not jumping around between different websites, books and instructors. And while I’ve tried to make the lesson structure on BestBeginnerGuitarLessons as easy-to-follow and logical as possible, I believe that all of the paid-for software and guitar teaching packages I promote will do an even better job of encouraging you to stick to their program.
This is especially true with total DVD instruction (such as the kind Gibson’s Learn & Master provides) – it simply makes it easier to learn using a format like that and makes it easier to follow in a step-by-step manner.
– I’m also earning a living here
If you end up buying stuff I recommend, you’ll be supporting me, the wife, our son and our 4 beautiful grandchildren – so don’t feel too bad about it. Yes it’s true, this site is part hobby and part business and I do earn a living from it. Naturally, I end up earning some commission off of anything you buy based on my recommendation.
That doesn’t mean I promote junk just to earn money – I honestly try to maintain integrity when reviewing and recommending products, and the stuff I end up recommending is usually universally known as good products (by winning awards or being endorsed by experts etc.).
So there you have it! Some people will be satisfied to stick with the basic free lessons on BestBeginnerGuitarLessons, since they aren’t interested in going that deep with guitar. And that is of course…perfectly fine!
But I nevertheless continue to promote these products to provide options for those looking to go further.
Whatever you end up doing, I’m just super glad you’ve been enjoying my site (and e-mails) and hope to hear a lot from you in the future!
All the best,
Webmaster & Creator
1. The Good Enough Syndrome
This syndrome can happen if you become satisfied with sloppy guitar playing and don’t make an effort to improve your technique. As a result, you slowly slip into complacency and don’t ever seem to get any better.
Beware of being satisfied with “good enough” when you should be pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
Always remember to strive for the best quality sound you can achieve from your guitar. This will require you to develop an objective, listening ear so that you can evaluate and, if necessary, make improvements to the sound you are producing.
2. Never Reaching the Finish Line
Many guitar students will learn part of a song and then move on to another song before they finish learning all the parts of the first one. They end up with a lot of “mini” songs, or licks, but are never able to play one complete song all the way through from beginning to end.
When someone asks them to play a song, they simply can’t, even though they may have acquired the skills to do it. Don’t let this happen to you. Make it your aim to learn how to play an entire song all the way through from beginning to end.
3. Becoming a Three Chord Bandit
I used to have a student who called himself “The Three Chord Bandit” because, when he came to me for lessons, the only chords he knew how to play were G, C and D.
Although he could play several songs with these three chords, he had become bored and was not growing as a musician.
I suggest you add a new chord to your chord vocabulary on a regular basis. An easy way to do this is to learn some chord substitutions for common major and minor chords, then use these substitutions in a song you are already familiar with playing.
4. Getting Stuck on the Same ‘ol, Same ‘ol thing
This is a very common pitfall. It happens when you become good at playing your favorite genre or style, but never branch out from there.
While this might be a necessary “career” choice for some musicians, it can put limits on your creative expression and stunt your growth as a guitar player overall.
You can always learn something new on the guitar… whether it be a new technique, a new chord, a new style, or a new idea… it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing.
Music is a vast reservoir that can be tapped into by simply using your imagination and then acquiring the guitar skills you need to make it happen.
Remember… some of the greatest music we have ever heard was made by people who were receptive to learning and trying new things. So keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to experiment with sound!
Kathy Unruh began playing guitar more than 35 years ago. She has over 25 years experience as a guitar teacher and has had students of all ages and interests. You can try her free beginner guitar lessons at: AbcLearnGuitar.com