Best Guitar To Buy

Best Guitar To Buy

Acoustic vs Electric Guitar for Beginner Guitarists

A lot of parents buying their child his or her first guitar think that it should be a nylon strung "classical" guitar.

There are plenty of good reasons for choosing a guitar of this style; they are inexpensive, easy on the fingertips and comparatively quiet (to keep the neighbours happy). However, the beginner classical guitar fall downs in many other categories, which ultimately mean it could become a bedroom ornament!

In this article I'd like to make the case for parents with budding guitarists to at least consider to other options out there for a beginner instrument. To do this I am going to introduce you to a few guitar term, and "score" the guitar option types out there so that you can judge for yourself what would be best.

We are going to talk about 6 fundamentals factors of a guitar which all add up to make up the overall experience of playing the guitar. These are:

1. Cool Factor
Ok, it's not scientific, but coolness is a big element for making a guitar enjoyable to play. The look of a guitar is the main reason it might be picked up and played. This is more important than anything else, as the whole aim of choosing a guitar is to pick the one that spends the most time in the hands of the player!

2. String Action
This is the height difference between the string and the fretboard. Simply put, the higher the action the harder the guitar will be to play. On some instruments the action is easily adjustable, but on others it's less feasible.

3. Sustain
This is the duration of time the guitar string "rings" for when it gets plucked. A guitar that sustains for a long time is usually easier to play, as the sound projects into the room.

4. Volume
The overall loudness of a guitar is a big consideration for a beginner instrument. The last thing you want is to get a noise complaint from your neighbours! Listening to a learner guitarist practicing is not particular enjoyable and so keeping the volume down is important for everyone in your house and the surrounding vicinity!

5. Versatility & Style
Not every guitar will suit every style of music, so it's probably worth thinking about what type of music is going to be played on it. If the player is a wannabe rockstar, an acoustic guitar probably won't sound the best for rock music. Similarly, if the player is going to playing classical pieces and traditional music grades, an electric guitar probably won't suit the music.

6. Cost
Probably the number one deciding factor on choosing a guitar is cost. Types of guitar vary in cost quite a lot, so in this article we will talk about cost in a very general sense and give info on what's out there for each instrument type at a beginner price point of £200 or less.

Scoring the instrument types

In this article were going to mention the main 3 types of guitar:
1. Classical guitar (nylon strings)
2. Acoustic guitar (steel strings)
3. Electric guitar

Here we go then, the scores at the doors. The first guitar type we are going to score is the...

Classical Guitar

Classical Guitar

1. Cool Factor: 1/5
How often do you see a pop or rock star with a classical guitar - rarely!

2. String Action: 1/5
Classical guitars typically have high action which is not easily adjusted

3. Sustain: 1/5
A more expensive classical guitar will have more sustain (notes ring out for longer) than a cheap one, but generally speaking a classical guitar will have very little sustain. This is mainly down to the string material - the relatively flexible and soft plastic the strings are made out of "soaks up" the vibration.

4. Volume: 5/5
In this article we are going to assume more volume is a negative quality. Even when played very hard, classical guitars don't get very loud. This is likely to keep neighbours and family members happy!

5. Versatility & Style: 2/5
A classical guitar is a must if classical music is what you want to play, but for rock, pop or folk, you'll probably want to look elsewhere. Of course you can play the songs on a classical guitar but they won't sound too similar to the original!

You also won't be able to play along with a drummer and bassist if playing in a band is required (unless you plug into a PA system).

6. Cost: 4/5
Classical guitars are simple instruments and a decent nylon string classical can be yours for less than £100 and will do basically everything a £2000 guitar will do.

Overall score - 14 points
Not a great score for the poor old classical guitar. As a guitar teacher, I am aware that many young players quickly feel limited by classical guitars and can easily become demotivated to play guitar, often due to the issues above.

Our next guitar type for consideration is the...

Acoustic Steel-String

Acoustic Guitar

1. Cool Factor: 3/5
Unlike classical guitars, which typically only exist in one design, steel string guitars are available in a multitude of interesting and quirky styles.

The modern day pop star (e.g. Taylor Swift or Ed Shreeran) is often seen playing an acoustic steel strung guitar and this gets it a few extra points for coolness!

2. String Action: 2/5
Typically, an acoustic guitar with steel strings won't have a very low action. This combined with the heavier metal strings mean that a beginner guitarist might struggle to push down the strings hard enough to let the string ring out. Even though a classical guitar will have even higher action, the strings are more flexible and so "fretting the string" is usually less of an issue.

3. Sustain: 3/5
Due to the design and string material, a steel string acoustic will usually have a good amount of sustain, meaning that they are more "satisfying" to play. Beginner guitarists can often get demotivated when the chords they are strumming sound muffled, and a nice steel string acoustic guitar can often reduce this issue.

4. Volume: 3/5
Steel string acoustic guitars are surprisingly loud when played hard and have a percussive attack that can really carry through walls. Smaller bodied guitars are generally quieter so people looking to keep the noise down should sway towards the smaller parlour size instruments.

5. Versatility & Style: 3/5
Steel string acoustics tend to suit a wide variety of genres and will find a spot in the mix from heavy metal to pop music. You won't be able to alter the stock sound of an acoustic guitar drastically (like you can with electric guitars) but for learning covers of popular songs, a steel string acoustic is ideal.

6. Cost: 2/5
A the hard truth for buying an acoustic is that you get what you pay for - a more expensive (£200+) acoustic steel string will play and sound much, much better than a budget guitar. You can buy an acoustic guitar for less than £200 but it's likely to be hard-work to play and "dead" sounding due to the cheaper materials.

Overall score - 16 points
A better score then for the acoustic over the classical guitar. There are pieces of music for which a classical is absolutely essential but for general purpose, you can get a more versatile and satisfying instrument when you go for an acoustic with steel strings.

A brief aside
You may be wondering what the difference is between a classical and a steel string guitar. Other than the strings, the differences are small but important. Neck width and radius dimensions are greater on a classical instrument. The distance between strings means full bar chords and fast playing are trickier for beginners. Necks are not equipped with a truss rod either meaning the relief (bow) in the neck is solely dependent on string tension. For this reason and because the inside bracing for the classical guitar is different, you can't string a classical guitar with steel strings - or else you'll damage or even snap the neck or body. A normal acoustic with the wrong, nylon strings, won't do the job either, as the bracing makes the top too "taught" to get the vibration to project. All this means that you can't really switch strings from one type to the other.

Last up we decide the score for the...

Electric Guitar

Electric Guitar

1. Cool Factor: 4/5
If you're into guitars, an electric guitar is always going to be cool. There are so many designs and variations available, there is something for everyone in terms of taste. Of course a cool guitar doesn't guarantee more "playing time" but it may inspire youngsters to give it a bit more attention before giving up!

2. String Action: 4/5
A well set-up electric guitar should have a low action, which can make the effort needed to push down and play the strings minimal. Again, this isn't always the case but at least on an electric guitar, it's usually possible to adjust the action via the saddle height and make the action lower.

3. Sustain: 4/5
Here's where things get complicated - you can't truly compare an electric guitar and an acoustic in any particularly scientific test because an electric guitar requires amplification which can have a big influence on overall sound. The sustain on tap for an electric guitar is generally "better" than for an acoustic because of the string material and solid body but if you add to this mix a decent amount of distortion from an amp, it's possible to have infinite sustain. Certain electrics, such as Les Pauls and Telecasters, are renowned for their sustain. Electric guitars with vibrato equipped bridges don't tend to have the best sustain but are still going to beat your run of the mill acoustic or classical guitar.

4. Volume: 1/5
The volume available for an electric guitar and amp are far greater than for an acoustic. You're likely to get complaints from the neighbours unless you carefully moderate the volume on the amp.

5. Versatility & Style: 3/5
With a bit of extra money put towards effects and software, you can make an electric guitar sound like just about anything you can think of... Saxophone, piano... Anything is possible.

Style wise, you've got all of the rock, indie and pop songs covered and can play metal and electronic styles too. Classical and folk won't be so easy to play on an electric though...

6. Cost: 2/5
You can get a lot for your money when it comes to electrics. The quality available for low cost instruments has improved massively in the last few years, however you really can't expect to get a decent set up including an amp for less than £250-300 making it the most expensive of the three guitar types.

Overall score - 18 points
18 points for the trusty electric. Fun, cool and easy to play, electric guitar is the one to go for if cost isn't an issue and the neighbours are deaf!

In summary
Making music practice fun can be a tricky thing to do. A fun instrument is absolutely essential to make this happen. There's nothing motivating about picking up a nasty sounding guitar that hurts your fingers and doesn't sound like you want it to - a new guitar should try to be the opposite of this.

Unfortunately many people don't really know what to look for when getting a guitar for their child or themselves when starting out, so I hope this article has helped bring a few issues to light that can lead to a more rewarding and long lived guitar experience. Playing the guitar should be as fun as playing any new PlayStation or Xbox game and great guitar is a perfect starting point to make this a possibility!

Happy playing!

Alex Fixsen

Resident Online Guitar Tutor

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Electric & Acoustic Guitar

I cover all styles on both electric and acoustic guitar, enabling my guitar students to learn through the playing the songs that they love. Whether that is rock, pop, jazz, funk, blues, folk or anything in between we can cover it in our lessons. I have taught many beginner students over the years, developing a fantastic course of foundation lessons to enable my students to learn how to play the guitar at a pace that suits them. 

For more advanced guitarists I offer lessons to ensure that you reach that next level on guitar, whether that is improving improvistation, nailing solos or gaining a more rounded approach to playing guitar to a professional standard.

To book your first lesson or simply find out more about my guitar lessons in London send me an email or call 03455 086739.

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