Taking your first steps to learning the guitar is a very exciting time but it can also be a bit confusing. With the huge range of guitars available it’s hard to know exactly which one is best suited to you. There are two main types of guitar that the majority of people learn on - 'nylon' or 'steel string' acoustics – but there’s a wide variety of choice with both and suitability depends on your age, budget and what style you want to play. So which guitar is right for you? Deciding on your first guitar can certainly be a little bit daunting, so we’ve put together a handy guide to help you find the perfect guitar to suit your needs:
First we’ll talk a bit about nylon string acoustics and why they are such a popular beginner’s guitar. Otherwise referred to as ‘classical’ or ‘Spanish’, these guitars are characterised by their soft nylon strings, wide fretboard and small body. The perfect first guitar for children, nylon strings acoustics are also a great way for adults to start learning for a number of reasons:
First and foremost, the availability of nylon string guitars in a variety of sizes makes them by the far the most common guitar for children to learn on; a full size steel string acoustic is far too big for a child to play, whereas a ½ or ¾ size nylon string guitar is the perfect instrument to start out on.
Compared to steel strings, nylon strings feel soft on your fingers and they will be noticeably easier to play, especially when you first start out. The body on classical guitars also tends to be a lot smaller which makes it easier to hold the guitar and reach round the body to pluck or strum the strings.
Another important consideration is that a decent quality nylon string guitar can be bought on a very modest budget nowadays which is especially useful when buying for children; you may be reluctant to spend too much on a ½ or ¾ size guitar that they will eventually grow out of and choose to wait until they graduate to a full size guitar before really investing!
-The Jose Ferrer Classical series combines excellent build quality and fantastic playability with classic looks to bring you a great beginner guitar at astonishingly good value.
-If you see the Fender logo on a guitar you know you’re going to get a quality instrument and the ESC series is no different. Featuring a spruce top, these guitars have a great, resonant tone and they look pretty smart as well with a matte finish!
-The ESCO-80 is a ¾ scale guitar and the ESC-105 is the full size model.
Whereas nylon string guitars might be easier to play, steel string acoustics are by far the more popular type of acoustic - most of the time you hear someone talking about ‘acoustic guitars’ they will be referring to steel string acoustics. Throughout most popular genres of music, including folk, rock, blues and pop, it is the steel string acoustic that you will hear being played. Although classical guitars are a great way to get started, you just can’t replicate the sound you hear on your favourite tracks using a nylon guitar.
The steel string acoustic first gained prominence in the folk and blues music scenes, but following a huge surge in popularity in the 1960s it has been a common instrument in almost every genre of popular music since. A steel string guitar has a slimmer neck than a nylon string guitar, meaning that all the strings are bunched closer together on the fretboard, and so it is far easier to play chords. Broadly speaking, all steel strings do the same job and have very similar sounds, but there are several differences, such as body size, type of wood used and whether or not they have an electronic pickup that make them suited for different purposes
Steel-string acoustics tend to have larger bodies than their nylon strung counterparts, but the advantage of this is added volume - the larger the space the sound has to reverberate in then the louder it will be. However, smaller body shapes such as the Folk size acoustic are available for players who find it more comfortable, without compromising too much on volume.
Steel-strings will initially be harder to play than a nylon string guitar due to the fact that the strings are made of metal and have a higher tension. However, your fingers will quickly adapt to this and after a short time you won’t even notice. Having a narrower neck makes steel strings easier to play overall, as your hands have to stretch a shorter distance to cover all the strings, and the guitar is more suited to strumming rather than the more complex ‘fingerstyle’ picking.
Due to the absolutely massive range of steel-string acoustics available prices vary drastically, but for a good quality beginner guitar prices start at around £100 or just over (guitars for less than £100 tend to very poorly made and therefore difficult to play – they’re more likely to put you off playing guitar altogether than make you want to practice!)
-The Fender CD-60 is an absolutely perfect beginner’s guitar, combining quality construction, classic looks and a great tone all for a very reasonable price. It may sound a bit reductive to say that it simply ‘does the job’ but it’s a credit to the CD-60 that it offers everything you need from a beginner’s guitar at superb value.
- The Dreadnought body is probably most the common among acoustics guitar shapes with the large rounded body providing plenty of volume for your playing.
-The CD-60 comes in black, natural or sunburst finishes with a spruce top, or for slightly more you can get the mahogany model (mahogany has a slightly more rounded and resonant tone, and the darker wood always looks great on a guitar!)
- There is also an electro-acoustic model (CD-60CE) available which will enable you to plug your guitar into an amplifier or PA system for a much louder, amplified sound – essential for playing live!
Fender CF-60 - £115
-The CF-60 is the sister model of the CD-60, featuring a slightly smaller ‘Folk’ shape body, ideal for people who find dreadnoughts a bit too cumbersome. Despite the smaller body the CF-60 does not compromise much on volume and offers more than enough sound for almost any player. The smaller body size also makes the guitar a noticeable amount lighter, making it both comfortable and very portable.
-Features a natural wood finish, adding to the authentic, folky feel of the guitar.
-As with the CD-60, the CF-60 is also available with electronics (CF-60CE)
-Slimline 'folk' shape body means a more comfortable playing style for anyone who struggles with the large bout of the dreadnought shape.
Fender CD-140S - £205
-If you’re determined to stick at learning the guitar then you might want to invest in a slightly better quality guitar. One of the key features to look out for when buying an acoustic is whether or not it has a ‘solid top’, meaning whether the front piece of the body (the bit with the hole in) is made up of one solid piece of wood or several layers of wood glued together. If a guitar has a solid wooden top then it will sound more warm and resonant, this is because one piece of wood will resonate freely, whereas the glue in a laminate top guitar will muffle the sound slightly.
-The Fender CD-140S features a solid spruce top, giving the guitar a great, rich tone to match its attractive natural wood looks. At just over £200 it also represents brilliant value for money; the perfect beginner’s guitar if you want an instrument to learn on that oozes quality without breaking the bank.
Tanglewood TWJFE - £359.99
-It’s a common misconception that you need to already be an accomplished musician to play a more expensive instrument, in fact a good quality guitar will be a lot easier to play and learn on. Investing in a really good guitar early on will help you progress quicker and make you more likely to carry on playing!
-The Tanglewood TWJFE is one of the best value guitars we’ve ever seen; even though it costs a bit more than the other guitars on the list you get a really top quality instrument for your money. The guitar’s solid cedar top gives it a warm, rounded and resonant tone and the guitar is so well set-up that playing it is a breeze, making it a fantastic instrument to learn on. The Tanglewood scores pretty much full marks on looks as well; the back of the guitar in particular is enough to make you stop in your tracks, with a central stripe of light mango wood set against the dark amara sides. Overall, a stunning guitar that looks as great as it sounds – if you’re serious about learning guitar and want a quality instrument from the start then the Tanglewood TWJFE might be the best guitar around.
(All prices are correct at the time of writing - please contact us for latest prices)