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Unlock Your Creative Potential

The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing an Acoustic Guitar

The guitar is the most popular instrument in the world, and for good reason: it’s portable, easy to learn at a basic level, and can be played in a variety of styles.

I have been teaching guitar for over twenty years. Despite the wide variety of students I’ve taught, they’ve all had one thing in common: they needed to find the right guitar to suit their needs.

All guitars are not created equal. When you choose the right guitar, you will become a better player because the instrument is a good fit for you.

In this post, I’ll share three keys to choosing the right guitar. If you’re considering buying a guitar, these tips will help you make the best choice. But even if you don’t play guitar, you may be helping someone else choose one in the future.

Key #1: Purpose

The style of music and the situations where you’ll play have a great bearing on the type of guitar you need.

For instance, if you play classical or Flamenco music, you’ll need a nylon string guitar. If you’re playing on a church worship team or an acoustic-type band, you’ll want a clean, clear sound. If you’re playing in a bluegrass or country band, you may want a bigger, fuller-sounding guitar. (These are broad generalizations.)

In addition, think about where you will be playing. If it’s a second guitar to keep at home, one you’ll take camping, or just a knock-around guitar, you probably don’t need an expensive one. Even a used one will probably do.

But if you’re touring or recording, you’ll need something nicer. If you’ll be playing with a PA system, you’ll probably want a guitar with a built-in pickup.

Many beginners don’t give much consideration to these questions when purchasing their first guitar, but they have a huge impact on your selection.

Key #2: Player

There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” guitar. To the untrained eye, all acoustic guitars seem alike. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Aside from the fact that they are made mostly of wood, have six strings and a neck, guitars can come in an almost endless variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. There are several questions you should think about:

How long have you been playing? If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want something on the more basic side. After you’ve played for a while, you’ll have a more discerning ear and will be ready for a nicer guitar.

What size fits your body? Many times over the years I have seen kids and smaller-sized adults try to play guitars that are too big for them. Get a guitar that isn’t too big or too small, but just right for your body.

When you sit down, the guitar should fit comfortably on your lap. If you buy your guitar from a music store, the staff should be able to assist with determining the right size.

What do you like? There are certain guitars you will be drawn to, for whatever reason. There is a strange unspoken connection between a musician and his or her guitar. Pay attention to your gut when you go guitar shopping.

Key #3: Price

Guitars are like any other consumer item: you get what you pay for. It’s tempting, especially for beginners, to want to find the best deal possible. But it would be a mistake to get an inferior instrument just to save a few bucks.

Guitars are not like electronics. They are not meant to be discarded and replaced every few years. If you buy a good quality guitar, you can easily spend twenty years or longer with it. A guitar is like a mattress: buy the very best you can afford because you will be spending a lot of time with it.

I bought my Taylor 414ce in 1997 and it has been my main guitar for twenty years. It’s a high-quality instrument, and it has aged well and sounds better than ever.

A high-quality guitar not only sounds better, but it’s easier to play. That will have a direct impact on your enjoyment and desire to spend time playing.

So what do you get at different price points?

Under $250. You’ll get a basic beginner guitar. If you are spending this amount and you’re a beginner, take along a more experienced player to help you find a quality instrument.

$250-$1,000. Guitars in this range can vary greatly. But you can get a great-sounding instrument in this range. Guitars at this price point will almost always have electronics.

Over $1,000. This is where the magic happens. If you spend at least $1,000, you’ll get a high-quality guitar that will sound great and last a long time.

I personally recommend Taylor guitars, a company that makes high-quality instruments at every price point. If you’re a beginner, I would recommend their newer GS Mini model, which you can buy for well under $1,000.

Some of the artists who play Taylor guitars include Steve Vai, Taylor Swift, Vince Gill, Jars of Clay, the Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews, Kenny Loggins, Mick Jagger, Switchfoot, Jason Mraz, and the list goes on and on. I’ve even spotted Katy Perry with one.

But the truth is that there are plenty of great acoustic guitar manufacturers: Gibson, Martin, Ibanez, Yamaha, Alvarez, and many others. (I also love James Olson guitars, but those are out of the price range of most people I know … including me!)

No matter what the price of the guitar you purchase, look for playability, a good sound, and a name brand manufacturer. Get the best you can afford because hopefully you’ll be spending a lot of time with this instrument!

Jimi Hendrix once said, “Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.”

If you follow these guidelines when choosing a guitar, you’ll be well on your way to joining the millions who have found a lifetime of enjoyment with this instrument.

What type of guitar do you play?

A version of this post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

About Kent Sanders

I help people unlock their God-given creative potential. I live with my wife and son in St. Peters, MO. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or YouTube.