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Which guitar should I buy?

Which guitar should I buy?
Cliff
Cliff Smith Guitar Lessons London- close up of Cliff Smith's guitar rack, focus on Gibson SG Standard headstock.

This is a very common question that I am often asked by beginner guitarists. “Which guitar should I buy?”, “What is the best guitar for a beginner to learn on?”, “Do I have to start on acoustic?”.

Some people assume that you have to start on the acoustic guitar before ‘progressing’ to the electric. I do not believe that this is true. Some teachers, when asked “Which guitar should I buy?” suggest that all beginners should start on a nylon strung (classical) guitar, as it is softer on the fingers. I do not subscribe to this theory.

Why do you want to learn to play the guitar?

Before we can answer the question “Which guitar should I buy?”, we need to delve a little deeper. Why do you want to play guitar? What is it that has driven you to start researching this? Is there a song, sound, piece of music or artist that you heard which struck a chord with you, touched you in some way? Is it a style thing – do you like the look of a particular guitar?

For me, answering the question “Which guitar should I buy?” comes down to the music …

Electric guitars

If you like rock, punk, metal etc then don’t buy an acoustic! Especially a nylon string! You’ll hate it and either give up or end up selling it and buying an electric guitar, wasting valuable time and money in the process. If you like electric guitar music and that is the sound you want to make, buy an electric guitar!

Which electric guitar should I buy?

There are many different types, but the main two are ‘Fender style’ guitars and ‘Gibson style’ guitars. Fender style guitars have single coil pickups and bolt on necks, which give a tight, funky sound with a lot of top end. Gibson style guitars have ‘humbucking’ pickups and glued in necks, which have a fatter, more powerful sound.

If you are into heavy rock/metal etc, you need humbuckers – a Strat isn’t going to cut it! Choosing your first electric guitar is a tough choice to make as a beginner as it really comes down to personal taste, but you don’t know what you like yet! A good place to start is to look at the guitarists from your favourite bands and see which guitars they are playing, as those guitars (and those guitarists) produce a sound that you like. You can then aim to buy a guitar similar to theirs.

Guitarists who play/played Fender
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eric Clapton
  • Dave Gilmour
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Keith Richards
  • John Frusciante
Guitarists who play/played Gibson
  • Slash
  • Billy Joe Armstrong
  • Chuck Berry
  • Jimmy Page
  • Gary Moore
  • Angus Young

Acoustic guitars

Not into the whole electric thing? Then lets talk acoustic. There are two main types of acoustic guitar; steel string and nylon string. They are very different instruments and it is important to make the right choice. You cannot put nylon strings on a steel string guitar and expect it to work! It is the same the other way too. The dimensions and construction (including the neck tolerance) is different on steel string and nylon string acoustics. You could permanently damage a nylon string guitar by fitting it with steel strings.

Which acoustic guitar should I buy (steel string)

If you are interested in learning to play acoustic rock, pop, blues, country etc, then you need a steel string acoustic guitar (also known as the ‘western’ or ‘acoustic’ guitar). They cut through nicely with a bright sound and can be played with a pick (plectrum) or fingers. You can also get 12 string versions of the steel string acoustic. I would not recommend 12 string guitars for beginners as your left hand will not be able to handle it. No matter how many weights you can lift at the gym!

Guitarists who play/played steel string acoustic guiar
  • Tracy Chapman
  • Bob Dylan
  • Neil Young
  • Damien rice
  • Nick Drake
  • John Martyn
Which acoustic guitar should I buy (nylon string)?

If you like classical, latin/Spanish, flamenco or bossanova, then the nylon string acoustic (also known as ‘classical’ or ‘Spanish’ guitar) is the way to go. Nylon string guitars are pretty much always played with the fingers. The tone is more mellow, rounded and sweet and contains less high frequencies than a steel string.

Guitarists who play/played nylon string
  • John Williams
  • Julian Bream
  • Xuefei Yang
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela
  • Paco Peña
  • Andrés Segovia

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I hope that this helps you to answer the question “Which guitar should I buy?”. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

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