Choosing a guitar for a beginning guitar students.
Every year I get calls and emails from parents looking for lessons for their kids. When the students are interested in guitar lessons, one question I’ve learned to ask is what kind of guitar they have because I know it makes a difference. Every so often I am happily surprised to hear that they will have really good guitars to use like a Taylor, Martin, Gibson, etc. Other times I hear they will be using an old, cheap guitar that’s been stored in an attic for many years collecting dust. (That's the point where I cringe)
As a parent myself, I understand how painful it can be to sink money into something my child may not take a real interest in, so it would be easy to give the kid the cheap guitar and let him have at it.
Unfortunately, this approach is counter-intuitive. Cheap, old guitars actually hinder students from learning well and developing a real interest in music. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Old, cheap guitars tend to bow when properly tuned. What happens is the strings’ tension pull the neck up and the strings are too high off the fret board to be played comfortably. For young students, it is really difficult to push the strings down and this makes practicing tedious and discouraging. I have seen many guitar players stop for this reason alone.
2. Old, cheap guitars may be too big for your kids. You’ve probably seen the video of several Korean kids playing full-sized guitars with skill and ease. This will not be the reality for your 6 year old. If the guitar is too big, they will struggle to play it. Some things will be near impossible like barre chords or simply reaching over three frets for other basic chords. For younger students (those under 10 or 11) a 3/4 sized guitar is a perfect fit. Also, some guitars have a wider body than others. A thinner guitar is more ideal for kids.
3. Old, cheap guitars don’t sound good. When a student finally masters a song it is so encouraging if it actually sounds good. Old, cheap guitars sound tinny and don’t resonate very well. Frequently, they don't play in tune as well. There are times when I let students play on my guitar after they have diligently practiced a song and it really encourages them to hear how good they can actually sound.
Student Guitar Recommendations:
Here’s what I suggest when my students are shopping for a guitar.
1. Priced between $200 and $500. There are a few other factors to consider, but this give an indication of what it took to build the guitar. Also, stick to well known brands.
2. Thinner body and 3/4 size for kids under 10. The body shape that is thinner is often referred to as a “Concert” guitar. The shape called Dreadnaught is usually bigger and harder to manage for students. “Jumbo” guitars... well, that should go without saying.
3. Resonance and no fret buzz. If you strum the guitar with open strings it should ring for 8 to 10 seconds before it dies off. Also, test the guitar by holding each string at the 1st, 3rd, and 5th fret. While holding the string at one of these frets, pluck and listen to hear if the string buzzes against other frets. If it buzzes, don’t buy that guitar. It is a fixable problem, but takes a skilled technician to make the adjustment.
Here are some good models to consider.
Taylor Big Baby Taylor is known for making some of the best professional guitar in the world. The Big Baby Taylor is actually a 15/16 scale guitar but is still very comfortable for budding musicians. I actually borrowed one of my students Big Babys for a gig once and it worked very well.
3/4 scale Guitar
Yamaha Thinline Acoustic-Electric A good price for a 3/4 scale guitar with the bonus of a pickup so you can plug it into an amplifier.
The goal of music education should always be enjoyment and enrichment. It’s too easy to view our children’s music education as a means to higher test scores, active schedules, or even American Idol. But, let me encourage you to seek enjoyment through music for your kids. In the big picture of music education good guitars are, in fact, inexpensive. A student level flute will easily cost $500 as will a clarinet. A student level saxophone begins at $1,000, etc. (Don't even ask about a harp!)
The instrument you purchase for your student to use is an investment that will teach them skills and discipline that will last a lifetime. So, give your kids the benefit of a good instrument when they start guitar. They are worth it.