We are not a retail music store we can offer unbiased advice on buying a guitar
Before (or shortly after) anyone starts music lessons at our school, they need to purchase an instrument to practice at home and in the case of instruments other than voice or piano, use at their music classes. All of our students, new and experienced, ask for our music teachers’ advice on buying that first or next musical instrument.
Buying That First Guitar
As a general rule our first recommendation to beginner guitar students is to buy an acoustic guitar, more specifically a nylon string acoustic guitar. Sometimes called the Classical, Flamenco or Concert guitar it is our favourite beginner guitar choice for a number of reasons:
- Firstly, and maybe most importantly, the strings on nylon string guitars are of a softer nature and lower tension and therefore easier and more comfortable on the fingers.
- Secondly, they come in three body sizes (full, ½, and ¾), so there is a guitar for small children, older kids and full grown adults.
- Thirdly, they have been making guitars of this style for literally centuries and so there are consistent standards for every manufacturer and model.
- Lastly, they are quite economical. You can get a decent sounding and playing guitar for around $100. If you spend that little on a steel string acoustic guitar you would be stuck with a VERY hard to play instrument that will produce very little music.
If you are set on buying a steel string acoustic guitar then you will need to spend more. A cheap steel string guitar is an instrument that will make music lessons and music practice unpleasant. One with low action (strings closer to the fret board) possibly closer to $300-$500 will do the trick nicely.
Buying the Next Guitar
Once you or your child have ‘paid their dues’ with music lessons and practice you may feel ready for a new (or new to you) guitar. Now that you know more about the guitar and guitar playing you may have a better understanding of what you need in a guitar.
Acoustic or Electric?
With younger guitar students much of their formative music instruction is centered on playing and learning on the acoustic to prove to their parents they deserve an electric. The main case for getting the electric is just that, the kid wants it. The electric was what inspired them to start in the first place.
The main tipping point between buying an electric and acoustic guitar is the OVERALL cost. Whatever budget you set, for example $500, has to be split in half or doubled when considering an electric because the electric guitar needs an electric guitar amplifier.
So if you want a $500 guitar you’ll get one with an acoustic guitar but if you want an electric then you have to take your $500 and spend some on the guitar and some on the amp or you need to spend more to get that amp.
While it is possible to get a electric guitar ‘package’ that contains the guitar and amp, in all honesty back 10-15 years ago the amps that came with those weren’t very good and they aren’t even as good as that now. They are basically mini transistor radios and sound like it. You would be better off with an acoustic.
Today’s budget electric guitars are much better instruments than they were 10-20 years ago so we find it odd that the amps they package up with them are much worse. If we do the math it makes sense, a student model electric guitar might cost $200-$300 guitar amp packages cost $300-$400. That means $100 dollars covers the cost of the amp, cable DVD, book, picks etc. We would recommend buying a guitar and amp seperately. You can get a decent practice amp for under $200.
What you need in a Guitar Amplifier
Practice amps can come with lots of bells and whistles but there is only one that you need to look for: Reverb! Reverb! Reverb! Not delay, not echo, not chorus, not tremolo. Why is this?
- Reverb in amps seems to be the dividing line between a “tinny” thin sounding amp and a pleasant, practice enhancing, amplifier.
- Reverb gives any amp or guitar that ambience to the sound and takes away the dry dead sound of cheaper reverb free amps
All amps come with the 2nd channel (distortion) so it is rarely something you have to seek out.
At our music school we use 4 Traynor DG 15s that have reverb, distortion, a headphone jack for silent practice, CD input for play along and are not too loud even on full blast.
River Heights School of Music
2nd Floor of the Tuxedo Park Shopping Center (Safeway, Starbucks)
202-2025 Corydon Ave