Ultimate Guide To Buying Your Guitar in 2020 for beginners
This guide is NOT some article full of complicated jargon about buying a guitar that only a guitar sales person would understand.
We created this guide for you from years of experience helping hundreds of our own beginner guitar students to buy their first or next guitar.
This is for you if you are looking for ONE PLACE to find all your answers for you for buying a guitar as an adult. Then this is it.
What type of guitar?
Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
There are two main kinds of guitars, electric and acoustic. If you're really into guitars, you will probably end up with both an acoustic and electric guitar in the future.
In the meanwhile, this maybe your first guitar baby so let's look at which guitar type is right for you.
To find out, you need to ask yourself the question:
What sort of music do I want to play?
If your dream is to play pretty, folky, classical, fingerpicking style music. Then an acoustic guitar is probably the right one for you.
And if your dream is to play any type of rock, blues, punk, metal music. Then an electric guitar is probably the right one for you.
“But… my friend told me that acoustic guitars are for beginners and electric guitars are more advanced?"
The above statement is a common misconception among guitar players.
Learning electric or acoustic has nothing to do with being beginner or advanced, It's all about what music you want to play, and what you like the sound of.
Even if you do still want to consider playing an acoustic guitar, I would recommend you get an electric guitar FIRST.
Electric guitars are easier to play in the beginning and will help you to sound good sooner.
But why is that?
Benefits of Electric Guitars Vs Acoustic Guitars for beginners
• Smaller body – easier to lean over and see – less croaky neck pain
• Thinner strings – easier to build up strength in fingers to play and strum
This will help to make the learning process much easier for you.
From our experience and research, if you play guitar past the first SIX MONTHS, you are way more likely to play for rest of your life vs giving it up altogether.
Listen to the sound of acoustic guitars vs electric and see which you prefer and would inspire you play for your upcoming year.
Click here to skip ahead if you know you want your first guitar to be an electric guitar.
Acoustic Guitar - I Choose You
There are two kinds of acoustic guitars, 'classical' and 'steel string'. The biggest difference is the sound of the guitar produces.
If you like the classical/flamenco guitar sound, which is more soft and mellow, then pick a classical guitar.
If you like listening to country, rock, pop styles of music, pick a steel string acoustic guitar. These sound much brighter.
Classical guitars are slightly easier to play because they have nylon strings which are easier to push down.
Steel string guitars take a little bit longer to get used to because all 6 strings made of steel.
Sometimes people think "If nylon strings are easier to press down, should I just put nylon strings on my guitar, then change over to steel strings in the future?"
While it's a great idea, unfortunately the answer is no. Each type of guitar is built differently, you need different guitars set up for each type of string.
Listen to both Acoustic Guitar options and see which one you like the sound of. Steel string acoustic is the more popular choice and more contemporary for modern music.
Electric Guitar - I Choose You
Unlike acoustic guitars, the world of electric guitar is much larger! There are many different shapes, colours, styles.
The big difference between the two is with acoustic guitars, once you've got it, it's very, very hard to change the sound of it if you're unhappy.
With electric guitar, the opposite is true, they're much easier to customise and so getting one you like the look of is an important factor.
(To make noise with your electric guitar, you will need to get some accessories with it too but let’s get the guitar first, then accessories in Chapter 7.)
I promise to keep it simple, so let’s go to the next chapter to see what the main things to look for when buying your new guitar!
Shapes and Sizes of Guitars
You want to like to look of your new guitar, and it also has to be the right fit for you.
Let’s see what things you might want to consider when you're researching for your electric or acoustic guitar.
Size and Shapes of Acoustic Guitars
For you, as an adult, there are two general sizes - “full size” or a smaller “travel” size.
However, even with full size guitars, there are a bunch of different sizes. They are also named all different fancy names
Most popular size is anywhere from the Grand Auditorium to Dreadnaught. Though the “baby” acoustics are now getting more popular due to Ed Sheeran and other indie artists.
Depending on which one you pick, the shape of the guitar also varies as well. Several acoustic guitars have cut outs such as the grand auditorium which makes them easier to reach higher up the fretboard.
Common sizes of Steel-String Acoustic Guitars
To find which size is right for you, go to a local guitar shop with a couple of different sizes in mind, try them out, and make sure it’s physically comfortable for you to play.
If you are after a classical guitar, then all classical guitars have the same general shape. They do come in different sizes, and for an adult, you would go for a full-size classical guitar (avoid 1/2 and 3/4 size as these are for kids)
These are the general types of acoustic guitars, and of course there are a lot more out there beyond just size. But for your first guitar, let’s keep it simple.
Size and Shapes of Electric Guitars
Generally, electric guitars all the same basic “size”.
The two main styles of electric guitars are "Solid Body" and "Hollow Body". Hollow bodies tend to be slightly larger in size.
At this point you may be thinking:
"What's a solid body guitar?"
Solid body guitars are made from one big piece of wood.
"What’s a hollow body electric guitar?"
Hollow body guitars are where the inside of the guitar has been hollowed out.
An electric guitar typically has a solid body, however, a small selection of electric guitars have a “hollow body” or “semi hollow body”.
The reason you may want a hollow body electric guitar would be if you like the sound it creates, and the type of music you want to play. They are very popular for blues, country and jazz music.
Some electric guitars have more frets and therefore the neck of the guitar is a little bit longer.
For electric guitars, it’s the style that is the larger variable compared with size of guitar.
Since the world of electric guitars is so large, we have kept it very brief, mentioning the general styles so that you can pick a style you like based on your favourite type of music, and what you like the aesthetics of and would be excited to play the most.
Common sizes of Steel-String Electric Guitars
Main Genre of Music
Popular Style Brands of Guitar Make
Rock & Roll
Metal & Jazz
Rock & Roll
Heavy Rock, Metal
Heavy Rock, Metal
Semi Hollow/Hollow Body
Another contributing factor besides the shape and material of the guitar is the pick-ups of the guitar.
These determine largely how the guitar sounds. When you try them out in the store, you can compare which you like the sound of more of a particular guitar or a range of styles.
How to pick out of so many for your first guitar?
The easiest way is to choose one that you like the look of the most for your favourite genre of music.
You may even have a favourite guitar player and want something similar to what he or she plays.
As a beginner guitar player, your ear will still be developing and your ability to tell and appreciate the sound and tone of different guitars will come later on in your guitar journey. And there are so many other factors such as strings, amps, speakers, pedals that determine the sound of your guitar.
Soon, you will be starting a whole collection of guitars along with accessories. For now, let’s get you excited about your first guitar!
How Much To Spend On Your New Guitar?
When it comes to getting your first guitar, an important factor isn’t so much about how much you want to spend, but what you can expect to get for the amount of money you spend on a new guitar.
And based on that, how much would you like to spend.
Things to consider:
Style of Guitar
What else do I need to get started with Playing Guitar?
As a rough guideline for buying a new guitar as a beginner:
If you are buying a brand-new guitar as a beginner, stay away anything below around £100.
At below this price point, the build quality is more inconsistent due to both low labour and material cost.
What this means to you is that your guitar is more likely to go out of tune very frequently. It might be harder to play due to the strings being further away from the fretboard, and even break sooner due to the lower build quality (to name a few problems).
Investing a little more in the beginning means you can get a guitar that lasts a lot longer, be easier to play, and even if you want to upgrade in the future, you can sell it in the future.
What if you can afford to spend more?
If you can afford to spend more, anything up to £500 will get you a great starter guitar. Companies such as Yamaha, Squire and Epiphone have some great guitars in this price range.
Some people will spend up to £1000 for a specific brand and style. Anything over that amount, you need probably be an experienced guitarist before truly appreciating the quality of the instrument.
How much to spend on your first guitar?
Between £200-500 is good unless you have a really particular style/brand you are going for that costs more.
Or you can go for less if you've had someone a lot more experienced test it out for you.
Tip: Remember to budget in accessories and guitar lessons too for after you get your guitar.
Where To Buy Your New Guitar?
Once you’ve decided on the type of guitar, general style/look of your guitar and how much you want to spend.
Next is to decide where you are going to buy your guitar.
Second Hand Guitar
Should I buy a second hand guitar for my first guitar?
Some of you might want to hunt for a diamond in the rough in the second-hand range.
If you buy second hand, you definitely need a friend who knows what to look for. As a beginner, it's very hard to know what you're looking for, and it's not worth the massive gamble of getting a guitar that will hold you back.
It's a bit like buying a second hand car, you could get something that's great and lasts you for years, or you could end up with something where you have to repair over, and over, and over again.
Going Online for my First Guitar
Should I buy a guitar online for my first guitar?
If you are after a new guitar, going online first is a good way to check out what’s out there. You might have already started doing this to find the look and style of guitar you are going for. There are some great beginner guitars that can be ordered straight from the internet.
A great guitar teacher will be able to tell you which brands and particular guitars are reliable to buy straight off the net. They may even have some demos at their place that you can try out first.
Tip: When ordering online, make sure it’s from a reputable guitar company (We like PMT online and Andertons) with a good return policy if the guitar arrives damaged or not as expected, you can easily return it.
Buying a Guitar In Guitar Store
There’s nothing more exciting than going into the physical store and seeing all the choices of guitars that you can buy.
The price may be a little higher than online, but you are getting the experience and benefit of trying it out in store first.
Going to a larger guitar store that has a wide range of guitars for beginners is better bet than going into a niche vintage store that holds expensive guitars.
Each store should have friendly assistance that can help you choose a guitar out and they should ALWAYS let you play and test them out.
Tip: If you have your eye on a guitar online, try calling ahead to see if they have it in store or can order it in for you to try before heading over to the store.
Extra tip: Try to go during quiet times so you have more time to look around and help from the shop assistant to try guitars with you.
If they are not helpful, walk out. You deserve great customer service and do not be intimidated. Everyone has to start from the beginning.
Picking Out Your Actual First Guitar
Whether you're going into the store, or shopping online, there are some other Important factors to consider before getting your first guitar.
This includes all the things we have spoken about previously as well.
If you didn’t get a chance to research the guitars beforehand, then this would be the time for you to consider :
• Size of guitar
Let's look at them in order of importance. . .
Left Handed or Right Handed Guitar
Are you left handed trying to buy your first guitar?
You want to make sure you are picking up the right one for you.
For left handed guitar players, the selection of guitars there is a little less than right handed, but this doesn't mean you have to play a right handed guitar. Do your research, and find one that suits you.
Who knows, one day in the distant future, you could always get your own custom guitar made if you really want a particular guitar once you know what you want.
Weight of Your New Guitar
Ordering your first guitar online, it can be hard to determine the weight of the guitar.
This is especially true for electric guitars. For example, Gibson guitars are pretty heavy, and so you may want to start off with a lighter guitar while you build up strength and stamina.
Brands of Guitars
Going for a reputable guitar brand will mean you usually have both better customer service, and also consistent quality of build.
Some reputable brands also have cheaper versions of their guitars, most of them are great to play too!
I’ve made a list for you of comparable cheaper versions of expensive iconic electric guitars that are generally well made and very much suited for beginners as budget friendly and good value for money options.
Check out the list in Chapter 9, Bonus Tips and reference under the bottom of the guide.
Characteristics And Features
If you are looking at Acoustic guitars, there might be an electro Acoustic version of the same guitar. It might be a little more expensive but could be worth it.
What’s an Electric Acoustic Guitar and why do I need one?
An Electro Acoustic Guitar means you can amplify the sound of your acoustic guitar. This is useful if you ever plan to perform and play live with your guitar. With a standard acoustic guitar, you would have a separate mic to amplify the sound of the guitar.
A lot of beginners get confused by the features of electric guitars and hence why they opt for an acoustic as the “easier” option. I would not worry so much about the features about an electric for now.
Just buy a electric guitar that you like the look of and sound of, and you can think more about the exact features you want once you are good at playing the guitar.
A quick mention of the essentials that you might come across as a beginner is Pick-ups and Floyd Rose.
Pick-Ups On a Guitar
What is a pick up?
Pick Ups for guitars are little magnets placed under your strings that pick up the vibrations and converts them into sound.
Different guitars have different pick-ups on them. Without going into the science of it:
Single coils, found on telecaster or Stratocaster sound clearer, more detailed, brighter sound and has some excess noise or “hum”.
Humbuckers, found on more heavier styles of guitar like Les Paul or SG creates a thicker, louder sound without a “hum” like single coil.
Sometimes you will see both types of pick-ups on the same guitar and you can pick between the two depending on the sound you are going for.
You might come across a Floyd Rose bridge some guitars. Designed to lock your strings at both ends and reduce the chance of the guitar going out of tune and be able to perform some great whammy bar sound.
That sounds great!
Why wouldn’t you buy a guitar with Floyd Rose Bridge as a beginner?
Floyd Rose are cool and very popular amongst metal and rock players. The downside with them is that they are a lot more difficult to upkeep, set up and tune compared to the average guitar.
In the beginning, I would recommend avoiding these guitars because you'll need to practice getting your guitar in tune, without the headache of setting it up all the time.
Colour of Your New Guitar
Once you’ve decided on the style, brand and made sure the guitar isn’t too heavy. Then you might want to have a look at the colours they have. Some stores will have more options than others.
For some people, the colour might be MORE important than style.
This really depends on you, and what you like that is available in the range.
If your dream multicoloured guitar with gold pick-ups isn’t available as your first guitar, you can always order one in the future as custom guitar.
I would always say, don’t have your heart set on a particular colourbefore going to the shop, you might be surprised what you fall in love with when you are there.
Testing playability of the guitar
When you are trying out the guitar, what do you need to look out for?
Whether you are trying the guitars out in stores, or you’ve just had your new guitar delivered. Here are some things that you can look out for.
Things to Test For:
How Does It Sound?
How High Is The Action
What is action on the guitar?
'Action' is how far away the strings are from the fretboard of the guitar. If the action is too high, it can be difficult for a beginner to hold down the strings.
This is more important to check on an acoustic guitar. You can get this changed afterwards if you have a preference, but generally, for beginners, you would pick one that is already comfortable for you.
Tip: Try placing your fingers on the string and pushing down. Feel how easy it is for you to hold down the strings. Compare between different guitars you like to see which are easier to play.
Is The Guitar Comfortable To Play?
• Does the body of the guitar feel comfortable for you?
• How does it feel leaning over to see your fingers playing it? (Even if you are pretending at this point)
• Playing high up the fretboard, how does it feel?
Some beginner guitar players like having cut outs on their guitars to help them play higher frets on the guitar. (This is particularly important for metal and rock guitar players.)
Is The Guitar Built Well?
A small, but very important detail to check is whether or not the 'frets' are sticking out over the edges of your guitar. The frets on the guitar are the brass looking pieces of metal on your guitar neck.
Tip: You want to run your finger along the top and the bottom of the guitar neck. If it feels perfectly smooth all the way up, you're okay.
As your finger passes over the edges of the frets and it feels a little 'sharp’. Either look for a new guitar, or if your heart is set on this one, ask for the frets to be filled down on the edges.
How Does It Sound?
First thing – if you can’t play the guitar, then have someone else play it for you. Either the shop assistant, a friend or guitar teacher. Don’t let this from stopping you from hearing the different guitars.
Ask them to play the same thing on different guitars and use the same amp for electric guitars so you can compare between them.
Do the same if you can play the guitar a little, playing the same thing on each guitar, feeling and hearing each one to find the one you prefer.
So What’s the Main Things I’m Supposed To Think About When Buying My First Guitar?
• Do you like the look of it?
• Do you feel comfortable and you like playing it?
• How does the guitar sound to you?
• How’s the price for you?
This is your first baby, but no doubt, it won’t be your last. Have fun with your purchase. Have fun searching for your guitar and enjoy your shopping experience!
Tip: If you're buying a guitar In a shop, once you're happy with the guitar you want, ask for the guitar to be 'set up' before you go to get it perfect for you.
Beginner Guitar Accessories
To best help you with your practicing, and with your general guitar playing, you will need a few accessories to go along with your guitar.
There are some “beginner packages” that will automatically come with a guitar bag, tuner, capo. If it’s an electric, it will come with an amp and guitar lead as well, and maybe a few guitar picks and a strap.
That’s a good start on the basics and it can impressive how much they pack into those little packs.
If you are not getting a beginner packages, then these are the things you need to get and what to look for:
You will want a guitar case to protect your guitar, whether it’s at home or out and about. There are two types of cases; Soft cases, and hard cases.
Soft cases are easier to carry around. You want to pick one that has strong straps with comfortable padding on the shoulders. The heavier your guitar, the more important this becomes.
If you plan to do performances with your guitar, and you are travelling in a car, you might want a "hard case" to really protect your guitar.
Tuners come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. The best one for a beginner is a clip on tuner that helps you tune the guitar with the vibration of the sound of your guitar.
The general rule is that the more you spend, the better it’s range of detection (If you have a bass guitar, some of the cheaper tuners won’t pick up the low E.)
And also, the speed in which it responds.
Capos come in all sorts of styles, and also ranges in price as well. The more expensive ones tend to have better spring action with nicer grip and cushioning for your strings and be less likely to damage your guitar and bend your strings out of tune.
I would recommend a spring action Capo rather than one that you have to turn to tighten up.
Metronome For Playing Guitar
You can get these as mobile apps, but if you are someone who gets distracted by your phone, then it might be a good idea to get a little metronome.
These are great for practicing staying In time and also measuring your progress too!
If you have great self-control and then you can save a few pounds and use a free app on your phone instead.
Getting a guitar strap is useful in case you ever need to play standing up, or start to get cramp sitting down and want to carry on practicing into the night!
Guitar straps are pretty standard so pick your favourite colour and style that compliments your guitar. If you have a heavier guitar, I'd recommend looking at straps that are more padded around the shoulder, and wider. This helps to reduce any aches any pains from playing for too long.
Tip: If you plan to hang your guitar upside down on your back or spin your guitar for tricks, please buy strap locks that will lock your strap into place. I don’t want you to end up with a broken guitar because of your enthusiasm.
We have specific picks that we like for our students. In general, I would recommend thickness between 0.71-1.2mm of either any shape will work fine for a beginner.
Foot stools are great to help you sit with correct posture so you can be more relaxed when you play and play for longer too. You can either get a footstool or a stack of thick books for when you are practicing sitting down.
Alternatively, you can practice with a guitar strap sitting down or standing down to help you to be in good posture.
You could prop your guitar next to your favorite chair, or you can have a dedicated place to stand your guitar proudly.
Leaving your guitar out will also help prompt you to pick it up to practice as well.
You will need spare strings to replace yours if they start to get fluffy, worn, or broken. Breaking strings are nothing to worry about.
The most important thing for you as a beginner to know is what type of guitar strings you need and how thick your new guitar strings are.
The larger the number, the thicker the string.
Guitar Strings for Classical Guitar:
You want Nylon strings, Normal Tension
Guitar Strings for Acoustic Guitar:
Light (.011) is good for a beginner
You can move on to Medium (.012) if you want a thicker, larger sound.
Guitar Strings for Electric Guitar:
9s (.009) and 10s (.010) are the most popular as they're easier to press down, especially if you are doing lots of bends.
Some people will play 11s (.011) and rarely 12s (.012).
Can I swap and change my electric and acoustic guitar strings?
As a general rule, no. They are manufactured differently so you cannot swap and change as it will affect the sound of your guitar and not in a good way.
Guitar Amplifier (Amps)
This is for the electric guitar players. Buying an amp can be a whole guide of its own and can be a separate investment for you as a guitar player.
That’s because based on the amp you purchase, it has the power to create a whole new range of sound and tones for your guitar.
I’m going to keep this super simple in this guide for you.
If you live in London, you may consider getting a headphone amp in the meanwhile while you ponder the merits of different amps to go with your new guitar.
And if you are determined getting an amp TODAY, the two types of amps I would recommend:
A mini practice amp
A mini practice amp (around 10w)
Pros: Very small, can be battery powered, very portable
You can even use it for recording if you mic it up well.
Cons: You will need something more powerful if you play in a band or with an audience
A small amp (20w-30w)
Pros: It will suit a range of purposes, practicing, small gigs with less than 200 people.
Cons: It might still be too loud for that London apartment of yours. Depends how friendly your neighbours are.
Just like a guitar, try out the different amps to which you like the sound of paired with your guitar.
Why pick a solid-state Amp over a valve amp?
With a solid-state amp, they are cheaper, lighter, more portable, and requires less maintenance than a valve amp. And 99% of people will not be able to tell the difference in tone where valve amps are known to be superior.
Should I get a separate Guitar Head Amp and Speakers?
You can also definitely get separate Guitar Head Amp and Speakers, but as a beginner, it’s easier to have a combo together for ease of use and set up.
Headphone Amp is a little gadget that plugs into your guitar and headphones and can be useful if you want to practice in peace with the children running around and still visualize yourself playing a live gig with your guitar plugged in.
You want a well manufactured lead that is durable, that’s all. Oh, and make sure it’s long enough and not too long (about 3 metres is good place to start).
Can I use a speaker lead instead of a guitar lead?
You have to use a guitar lead to avoid risking blowing up your amp! They are not the same thing.
Do I need to get everything right now for my new guitar?
The priority would be:
• Guitar case
• Guitar picks (Unless you are strictly learning fingerstyle or classical guitar)
• Spare guitar strings
Amps and leads can wait, though your electric guitar won’t sound as cool and loud in the meanwhile. And the others you can pick up along the way.
What to do now ?
It depends if you have bought your guitar yet.
If you haven’t bought your new guitar yet, and you are one of those people who like to do lots of research and know a lot more before making a purchase, then I would speak to someone who knows more about guitars. Like a guitar teacher or someone who has guitar store experience.
They should have some great advice for you.
Already have your new guitar? I would recommend going to get guitar lessons, if you are based in London, England. We would love for you to come visit us at Guitar Tuition East London.
If you want to see how far you can get on your own or live further afield, try our beginner guide to getting started on the guitar to help you.
You can also learn how to look after your instrument, make sure you know how to tune your guitar.
If you want to get practising, set up your practise area and store your guitars when not playing so you can get the most of your practising.
Any other questions you have, please comment below and we will be happy to answer them for you.
And of course, your downloadables, they are all in the next Chapter in references for you to keep forever and help you along your first guitar buying journey.
Bonus Reference And Guitar Buying Decision List
Beginner Electric Guitar Dupe
Buying My First Guitar List
Do I want an Acoustic or Electric Guitar? ____________
My favourite style of guitar is ____________________
I’m going to spend around ___________ on my new guitar not including accessories and guitar lessons.
I’ve had a look online at what I want and going to go into ___________ store to buy my new guitar.
I need a left/right handed guitar
☐ This guitar is a good weight for me.
☐ I like the characteristics this guitar comes with.
☐ I like the colour options.
☐ I like the sound my new guitar makes.
I’ve got all my accessories:
☐ Guitar Tuner ☐ Guitar Strap ☐ Spare Strings
☐ Guitar Picks ☐ Capo
Electric Guitar only:
☐ Amplifier/Headphone Amp ☐ Guitar Lead
☐ I’ve got a plan for learning the guitar so I can start doing what I would love to do on the guitar!