How Do I Choose My First Acoustic Guitar?
A Guide to picking your first instrument
Congratulations! You’ve decided to take up a rewarding new hobby that can lead to many days of enjoyment and personal development.
Choosing your first acoustic guitar can seem like a daunting task at first. With so many options of size, shape, brand, price etc the choices can be endless. The aim of this guide is to break down all the different aspects of the instrument to help you begin your journey into the world of acoustic guitar.
Choosing Your First Acoustic Guitar
In order to know what guitar will be right for you, we need to look at the different styles and shapes of guitar. The choice mostly comes down to personal preference but there are a few things to consider when looking to purchase.
There are no right or wrong answers when choosing a guitar and while a flawless instrument will undoubtedly make better music, some of the greatest songs ever written were crafted on less-than-perfect instruments. One of the most famous examples being Willie Nelson’s guitar: Trigger.
Steel Strings or Nylon Strings?
A question that gets asked to us at Mickleburgh, in-store on a daily basis is:
“Should a beginner learn to play on a nylon string guitar?”
The answer to this question is a resounding… Maybe.
Granted, the physical motion of pressing down on a nylon string is easier than a steel string, however; nylon strung (classical) guitars generally have much wider necks than steel strung guitars and can be more difficult to get a hand around.
Another thing to consider is: what style of music do you want to play? A beginner who wants to play songs by Ed Sheeran will get the best results and achieve that sound by playing a steel string guitar (as that is what he uses to play them). In the same way a budding classical guitarist will struggle to get the nuance and depth of expression playing Segovia on a steel string, although Neither is impossible. The individual will often have an instinctive feeling about which guitar will be right for them.
Classes teaching multiple students at once may teach using one type of guitar. If this is the case, it is always best to take the advice of the teacher.
A highly dedicated student will learn on whatever instrument is in their hands. It’s always better to have any guitar than no guitar.
Which guitar shape is right for me?
Choosing the right guitar shape can be the difference between loving the guitar and not. Each guitar can be as individual as you are. Below are some of the most popular guitar shapes available. There are many variations within each shape and some guitars don’t follow the rules at all.
Dreadnought shapes have been used around more bonfires and on more contemporary guitar recordings than any other shape (probably). Its prominent booming voice can cut through a record and sit back to provide accompaniment when needed. As a beginner and depending on one’s size, the big body can be a slight cumbersome and hard to sit with but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t sit down with one and see how it feels. Fender makes a wide range of high quality, affordable dreadnoughts for beginners.
The parlour guitar shape is the smallest of the full-sized guitar shapes. It can be a very comfortable shape for beginners and is sought after for it’s restricted bluesy sound. Parlours generally have a shorter fretboard than other full size guitars so this can also be of benefit to beginners and individuals with restricted motor function.
000 Shape Guitar
The 000 shape was introduced by the Martin Guitars in 1902. It has since become one of the most iconic and recognisable of all guitar shapes. The 000 retains a lot of the bass end projection of a dreadnought but in a more compact slimmer shape. Many companies make affordable 000 style guitars with one of the best budget options being the Sigma 000M 15+
Grand Concert Guitar
Very similar to the 000 shape and one of the most popular sizes for singer songwriters and solo instrumentalists. The main difference between the grand concert (pictured below) and the 000 is that this guitar is built with a body cutaway at the neck of the guitar providing easier access to the higher frets. An often discussed point when choosing a guitar is whether this cutaway crucially affects the sound of the guitar. In my experience, having a cutaway tightens the sound of the guitar and controls some of the boomy bass end more commonly found in dreadnought sized Guitars. From bedroom to stage to studio this shape provides a great all-rounder. One great budget-conscious choice for a beginner would be the Ibanez PC12MHCE.
Explore More Guitars At Mickleburgh…
There are many more guitar shapes out there and many variations on all of the shapes included here. There’s no better way to see which one you prefer than by trying them out in your local music shop or shop online.
Does the look of a guitar matter? (Yes)
If the look of your guitar turns your stomach, chances are you will never want to pick it up in the first place. However, price traditionally would limit stylistic choices when buying your first guitar. Luckily, a lot of guitar companies know this and make many great looking guitars to suit any budget. The PN19-0NB (pictured below) shows that Ibanez are particularly good at pulling this off…
Other Things To Consider
As well as the shape of the guitar body, the acoustic guitar’s neck shape has many variants. Although manufacturers have many names for the neck shape (U, C, Deep C, etc) these shapes still differ wildly for different brands.
Solid Top or Laminate?
The soundboard (aka top) of an acoustic guitar is made with either a single solid piece of wood or a laminate wood (aka veneer). Generally solid wood will be more expensive than laminate and in turn will generally add greater depth and nuance to the sound of the guitar.
It is widely accepted that a solid top will age better than a laminate and the term “settle in” gets thrown around a lot. As a general rule of thumb if you are looking for a long term guitar you may want to consider a solid top over a laminate. If you are looking for a starter guitar that you will probably change or upgrade in a year or two, the solid top may not be as much of a requirement and you will generally save some money in the process.
String gauge refers to the thickness of the string (measured in thousandths of an inch). A thousandth of an inch may not seem much but most guitarists will generally have their preference and as your playing progresses so will you.
Changing the gauge of the strings on a guitar will change the tension of the string and change how it feels on the fingers. Lighter gauge strings can be easier for beginners due to the lower tension making the string easier to press. Lighter acoustic strings generally have less resonance than thicker strings so most guitarists will come to a compromise of playability and sound that works for them.
Most guitar purchases are made due to the fact that the individual loves the look, sound and playability of the specific instrument. Over time this can change due to the organic materials which makes up the build of an acoustic guitar. If you find that your guitar has been becoming gradually less playable over time then it may need a bit of TLC. Most guitars can be repaired and even adjusted to suit the player. This is generally known as a setup and is undertaken by a professional guitar technician. This would be a recommended step after purchasing a second hand guitar or if there is a specific change that you want to make to the guitar.
There are many factors in choosing your first guitar but the most important being that you yourself like the instrument that you are playing. A great first guitar can be the inspiration to a lifelong journey of expression or a glorified dust collector stuffed in an attic somewhere. One of the best ways to choose a guitar is to play lots in your local music shop and buy the one that you don’t want to put down. If this is not an option then hopefully this guide will have given you some help with choosing your first guitar.
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