Here’s the situation:
You’ve never played an instrument in your life. You sing along with your favorite songs in the car, and like to air guitar. Now you’ve started thinking about how to take your dreams further.
You want to learn guitar.
Guitars, and all musical instruments, can seem like a bit of an impossible mystery to figure out at first. You know you want to start, but where?
Here’s everything you need to know in less time than it takes to drink a cup of tea.
Types of Guitars
- All guitars create sound by the vibration of strings as they’re plucked.
- Acoustic guitars use the physical characteristics of the guitar, the large hollow body, to increase the volume to a level that you can hear.
- Electric guitars use magnets to transform the movement of the strings into a signal that can be boosted using electronic components.
- Electro-Acoustic guitars possess both properties. You can play them without any external amplification if you wish, but if you decide to plug them in you can play through speakers large enough to fill any size room with your playing.
Which type of guitar should I start with?
When you’re starting out, you don’t need a brand new guitar – find a second hand one, but make sure that you get it taken to a music shop to get it serviced. Don’t worry about it looking good, it’s the sound you’re interested in.
Having said that, there are some major differences between the type of guitar you choose and how this will impact on your learning experience.
Acoustics come in two main styles. Full body (also known as dreadnought) acoustic guitars have metal strings, typically steel or another material such as bronze. Both string material and wood used in the construction of the guitar will give your sound a unique character.
Different materials can be used. Classical guitars are a subtype of acoustic guitars, and they use nylon for the strings, and have a much smaller body – leading to a very different sound.
Electric guitars also use metal for the strings, and the sound you end up with is decided more by the amplifier and other electronics used more than anything else.
So how does this factor into your playing?
Steel string acoustics are harder to play at first. You need to use a little more strength to press the strings down firmly, and this will hurt your fingertips after a short while. As you play more often, you’ll build up a tough layer so that you no longer notice any discomfort. Electric guitars, and classical guitars, are easier to get started with in this sense.
Electric guitars aren’t much good by themselves, and can end up being far more expensive than you expected. An acoustic guitar will sound good no matter what if it’s well made, but in order to get a comparable level of quality from an electric guitar you will need to invest equal amounts of money into a good amp (short for amplifier) as well as speakers if they aren’t built in. Add to this any effects pedals, and the cost can ramp up in a frighteningly short amount of time.
Classical guitars are much quieter than other acoustics due to the combination of nylon strings and smaller size. This makes them easier to play at first, but makes it difficult to do harder styles of music well.
How do I know which type of guitar is best for me?
The best way to decide is to go to a music shop and ask to play a few guitars. Don’t be afraid of not knowing what you’re doing. At first you just want to sit with it in your hands. Have a feel of pushing the strings down, maybe gently pluck them. Kiss it a little bit, the owners won’t mind. In fact, if you neglect to do this they will probably make fun of you for not knowing about this tradition.
If you have any friends who play, it can be a good idea to have them give you a crash course in the basics to help you get started, and it will also help you choose a guitar that feels right when you hold it.
This is an acoustic guitar perfect for beginners. The sound is far nicer than you would expect at this price point – owed in large part to Martin’s exceptionally high standards. In addition, it’s smaller size makes it easier to play chords quickly when you still aren’t used to the kind of stretching your hands will need to become accustomed to. View on Amazon.
If you want a full-size acoustic guitar (good on you) with a nice warm tone, the Fender CD-60 is a great choice. It’s very affordable, and the mahogany body and neck makes it sound very warm and rich whilst also making it beautiful to look at. The included case makes it ideal for taking to lessons without worrying about damage. View on Amazon.
The Cordoba Protege is possibly the ultimate beginner’s guitar. It’s a classical guitar, and can be found in ¾ size for the younger aspiring musicians out there. It’s very low maintenance, but will want a quick service at your local guitar shop to smooth out any problems from the production. View on Amazon.
The Les Paul by Gibson is one of the most copied designs for electric guitars in history. Epiphone have made a great version with their Les Paul (being a part of the Gibson empire helps) that’s much cheaper, but still holds a good standard in both sound and looks. If you’re looking for your first electric guitar, it’s hard to go wrong here since you won’t be breaking the bank but still end up with a guitar you will enjoy playing. View on Amazon.
If you want the best of both worlds, an electro-acoustic is the way to go! The great thing about the Epiphone PR-5E is that it also has a cutaway, meaning that a portion of the body is removed to make it easier for you to play high notes. View on Amazon.
So there you have it. If you’re still wondering whether the guitar is right for you, bear this in mind: there is a reason why the guitar is the most popular instrument that ever existed. Give it a go, it’s one life skill that will stand the test of time. Good luck!
Zac Collins writes about music, gear, and everything in between over at ZingInstruments.com where he is the editor in chief.