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Buying a Child's First Guitar - Ages 3-11

by Justin Reamer
 
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Parents - do you remember being a teenager, flipping on the radio and hearing the songs that you still love to this day for the very first time? You adored and emulated the musicians of your youth, wishing you could play as well as they could. Well here's your chance to foster that same love, that same dream, in your young ones. Buy a guitar, and get them started early!

With the huge variety of brands, styles and sizes to choose from, you might feel a little bit overwhelmed. Worry not! Over the next few minutes, you'll go from confused to confident about buying your child's first guitar.

  • Note to Parents of Left-handed Children



  • Contents:

    1. What Kind of Guitar to Buy - Electric, Acoustic, Classical?
    2. What Size Guitar to Buy?
    3. What Brand Guitar to Buy?
    4. What Accessories Do I Need?
    5. Should I Get a Starter Pack?
    6. Suggested Products






    1. What Kind of Guitar to Buy - Electric, Acoustic, Classical?

    A first question to ask yourself is whether you want an acoustic or electric guitar for your child. We carry both electric and acoustic models made that are suitable for ages 3-4 and up, so there are basically no limitations based on your child's age. There is no definitive answer to this question - if you're on a budget and not sure whether your child will stick with it, then you should probably opt for an inexpensive acoustic, but there are also advantages to choosing an electric.

    The majority of children start out on an acoustic guitar for one main reason - it's cheaper. If, as in the case of most parents, you have no idea whether your child will use the guitar for more than a few days, the less expensive acoustic option is more logical. On the other hand, many parents choose to start with an electric guitar because - let's face it - it's cooler and more fun! Because an electric guitar requires accessories such as a cable and amplifier, children's electric guitars are sold in starter packages that run about $100 or more. A children's acoustic can be had for half as much.

    Of course, you should also take your child's demeanor into account when choosing between acoustic and electric (it may even be a good idea to discuss this with them beforehand and show them pictures). If your child is rambunctious and energetic, maybe he would appreciate an electric guitar -- if you've ever held an electric guitar in your hands and ripped it like Pete Townsend did at Woodstock, you'll know what I mean! For the shy, introspective child, the soothing tones of a strummed acoustic might be most appealing.

    You may also want to consider your personal preferences, since this decision could also very well determine how much peace and quiet you will get while your child is learning to play. Who do you think got a better night's rest, Paul Simon's mother or Jimi Hendrix's? The amount of noise that an electric guitar can generate might surprise you, even when played through a less powerful amp. If you're set on an electric but also yearn for peace and quiet, don't despair - you can always pick up a headphone amplifier to keep things quiet (see section 4 on accessories and section 6 for product recommendations).

    One more decision on acoustic guitars - steel or nylon strings?
    If you've decided on an acoustic guitar, you have one more decision to make -- there are two types of acoustic guitars: Steel-String and Nylon-String (Classical). Steel-string guitars are used in almost all popular music and are much more common, but it is not unusual for a child's first guitar to be a classical nylon-string guitar. The reason for this is that nylon strings are soft and easier to press down, whereas steel strings can be very abrasive on a child's hands. All guitarists develop calluses on their fretting hand after they've been playing for long enough. However, for a child, playing acoustic guitar for too long can be painful at first, and a possible solution to this problem is to simply buy a nylon string guitar instead. That being said, most still start out with steel strings, mainly because there are more colors and options available.


    2. What Size Guitar to Buy?

    Size is a primary concern when buying a guitar for a child under the age of ten. It is important that the guitar not be too large for your child or they will not be comfortable playing it. On the other hand, they grow so fast that you don't want to get one that they'll outgrow in a couple of months...

    Many guitar makers build 1/2 and 3/4 sized guitars (about 30" and 34-36" respectively). As a rough guide, 3/4 sized guitars are good for 6-10 year olds, and 1/2 sized guitars are good for 3-6 year olds. Note also that there is a sizeable difference between a 34" and 36" 3/4-size guitar, with the former suitable for ages 5-8 and the latter for ages 6-10.

    These age-based recommendations are only a rough estimate, as the choice really depends upon the height, not the age of the child. Are you 6'6", and is your 9-year-old boy already approaching 5'? Then chances are you should invest in a full size guitar. Or, conversely, do you barely measure 5' and is your 6-year-old girl the smallest child in her 1st grade class? Then it might be a better idea to go for a 1/2 sized guitar.

    The following photos show children with various-sized guitars. They are here to give you an idea of which guitar sizes may be appropriate for your child:


    4-year-old (40" tall) with 30" 1/2-size acoustic guitar (just right!)

    4-year-old (40" tall) with 34" 3/4-size acoustic guitar (slightly too large, but useable)

    4-year-old (40" tall) with 36" 3/4-size acoustic guitar (way too large!)

    4-year-old (40" tall) with 31" 1/2-size electric guitar (just right!)

    4-year-old (40" tall) with 35" 3/4-size electric guitar (way too large!)

    6-year-old (45" tall) with 34" 3/4-size acoustic guitar (just right!)

    6-year-old (45" tall) with 36" 3/4-size acoustic guitar (slightly too large, but useable)

    6-year-old (45" tall) with 31" 1/2-size electric guitar (just right!)

    6-year-old (45" tall) with 35" 3/4-size electric guitar (slightly too large, but useable)

    11-year-old (58" tall) with 36" 3/4-size acoustic guitar (just right!)

    11-year-old (58" tall) with 39" folk-size acoustic guitar (slightly too large, but useable)

    11-year-old (58" tall) with full-size folk-size acoustic guitar (slightly too large, but useable)

    11-year-old (58" tall) with 35" 3/4-size electric guitar (just right!)

    11-year-old (58" tall) with full-size electric guitar (slightly too large and too heavy)


    3. What Brand Guitar to Buy?

    Another thing to think about when selecting your guitar is how much you want to spend to make sure that you receive a high-quality instrument. As with most things, the old adage applies that you get what you pay for - quality, durability, sound and feel are things that will cost you. On the other hand, be realistic about whether it makes sense to spend extra for a better instrument - when your child's primary concern is how to avoid eating vegetables at dinner, it's doubtful whether he or she will notice that the new guitar might've sounded better with a rosewood fretboard instead of maple!

    If you want an instrument that will last for several years, sound good, and be easy to learn on, then you should consider spending extra to get a top-quality guitar. Luckily, even the best children's instruments cost far less than the hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars you would need to get a top-quality full-sized guitar.

    But if you are buying this guitar as an experiment and you're not sure your child will stick with it, then you may be better off buying an inexpensive beginner instrument. You won't have lost too much if the guitar ends up gathering dust in a closet, and you can always make the investment in a higher-quality instrument in a year or two if your child does indeed decide to stick with it. Note, however, that it is more difficult to learn to play on a cheaper guitar, as they can be harder to play and do not stay in tune as well or sound as good as more expensive ones. By economizing on the guitar, you may be making it harder for your child to learn and therefore, easier for them to give it up.

    If you really want to make sure you get a top-quality instrument, we recommend that you get a Squier guitar, which is made by Fender. Aside from being the creator of the Stratocaster (one of the most famous guitars in the history of rock 'n' roll), Fender has been making Starter Packs and beginner guitars for years, and is the most trusted name in that field. Fender Squier ¾-size acoustic and electric guitars are the best children's guitars that we carry (unfortunately, Squier does not make a ½-size instrument). Their guitars are well constructed and reliable, and their starter packs have the goodies to make it worthwhile.

    If you want a higher-quality instrument that will stay in tune and sound good, but don't want to pay for the premium brand (or if the Squiers are all gone as happens every holiday season), then there are several other manufacturers that provide excellent value and higher-quality guitars at reasonable prices. Among these are Hohner, JB Player, Dean and Oscar Schmidt. European-made Amigo guitars are also a good deal.

    For those looking for the least expensive starter guitars, we carry several respected beginner brands, such as Lauren, Excel, and J. Reynolds, all of which offer beginner guitars at very affordable prices.

    If you're buying for a girl...
    Don't forget to check out Daisy Rock, Luna and Darling Divas guitars, as well as Squier's Hello Kitty guitars. These guitars have beautiful, often whimsical designs that are made especially to help stimulate girls' interest in the guitar. They look great and girls love 'em!


    4. What Accessories Do I Need?

    Once you've decided the size and style of guitar that is right for your child, you have to consider exactly what you need in addition to the instrument. There are tons of guitar accessories available, some you will need and some you won't. It seems like a lot to figure out, but it's not too hard to get a grasp on what you'll need, depending on the type of guitar you are buying.

    Here's a general list you can use for guidance:

    Acoustic Guitars: Accessories List
    • Required Accessories: Nothing extra is required except the strings which are already on the guitar when you buy it! Acoustic guitars are popular as beginner instruments because you can play them anywhere and you don't need any additional, expensive peripherals to get out and start playing.


    • Strongly Recommended Accessories: Most people buy at least a gig bag, guitar strap, picks and extra strings. We highly recommend buying a guitar tuner, because a beginning guitarist will not be able to tune their guitar independently and won't be able to learn unless the guitar is in tune. The guitar tuner is probably the most important accessory you'll buy.


    • Optional but Useful Accessories: Metronome, accessory/maintenance kit, guitar stand, instruction book or DVD
    Electric Guitar: Accessories List
    • Required Accessories: Amplifier and Cable - you must have an amplifier and a guitar cable, or you will not be able to hear the guitar being played. Almost all electric guitar packages include these, many kids' electric guitar packages include a mini amp which is smaller than a regular guitar amplifier but adequate for starting out.

    • Strongly Recommended Accessories: Most people buy at least a gig bag, guitar strap, picks and extra strings. We highly recommend buying a guitar tuner, because a beginning guitarist will not be able to tune their guitar independently and won't be able to learn unless the guitar is in tune. The guitar tuner is probably the most important accessory you'll buy.

    • Optional but Useful Accessories: Metronome, accessory/maintenance kit, guitar stand, instruction book or DVD. A headphone amp is also useful if you'd like your little guitarist to be able to practice without you having to hear it - powerful enough to let your child rock through headphones but not so powerful to cause any damage to young ears, a headphone amp can be the perfect solution to a noise problem.



    5. Should I Get a Starter Pack?

    You'll notice that many guitars are available in guitar packages and starter packs. A starter pack consists of a guitar and several extras to help you get started. These extras might include a gig bag, a strap, picks, an extra set of strings and so on. If you're buying an electric guitar, definitely check out some starter packs because they usually include an amp and cable, without which you won't be able to play.

    A starter pack is usually a pretty smart buy for your first guitar. Because you will need to buy the extras that come in a starter pack anyway, you end up saving money and getting everything you need in one convenient package. Even for acoustic guitars, a starter pack will save you money and time. Although acoustics don't have the same overhead as electrics, you will still be better off with picks, a strap, a gig bag, etc.

    One important item that is often not included in a starter pack is a guitar tuner. An electronic tuner is inexpensive and really vital for a young musician and we highly recommend that you get one in addition to your guitar. Although some starter packs include a pitch pipe for tuning, these are not a good substitute for a real guitar tuner, as they can be difficult to use, even for a more experienced musician.




    As a guitar instructor, I am often hired to teach young children, and with varied results. Children under the age of 6 face significant challenges to learning any instrument. Aside from the difficulties of keeping a child's attention while there are video games to be played and fights to get in, some guitars can be too big and steel-strings too rough and learning guitar is not as easy as some other things little kids like to do.

    This is not to say that you shouldn't buy a guitar for your child; on the contrary, the younger a child is exposed to music the better. Simply having a guitar available when your child develops an interest in music can plant the seeds to sprout a musician in the future. In other words, unless your child is the next Mozart, don't try to force a guitar on him too early; make it available, and let your child's curiosity take him until he is old enough to start seriously playing.


    6. Suggested Products

    Now that you know what you are looking for, here are some suggestions to get you started with your shopping.
     
    Sort by:  Editor's List | Top Selling | Title | Price: Lo-Hi | Price: Hi-Lo
     
     

    Electric Guitars for Ages 6-11 (3/4-size)

     
    J. Reynolds 3/4-size Electric Guitar J. Reynolds 3/4-size Electric Guitar - $109.99
     
    Item Options
  • Black - $109.99
  • Red - $109.99
  •  
     

    Electric Guitars for Ages 4-6 (1/2-size)

     
    J. Reynolds Children's Electric Guitar Prelude Package J. Reynolds Children's Electric Guitar Prelude Package - $115.99 - $127.99
     
    Item Options
  • Strat Style - Black - $119.99
  • Strat Style - Red - $119.99
  • LP Style - Black - $127.99
  • LP Style - Pink - $115.99
  • LP Style - Blue - $127.99
  • LP Style - Gold - $127.99
  •  
     

    Electric Guitars for Ages 11 and Up (full-size)

     
     

    Acoustic Guitars for Ages 7-11 (36" 3/4-size)

     
    Oscar Schmidt OG1 3/4-size Steel-String Acoustic Guitar Oscar Schmidt OG1 3/4-size Steel-String Acoustic Guitar - $110.99
     
    JB Player 36" 3/4-size Steel-string Acoustic Guitar JB Player 36" 3/4-size Steel-string Acoustic Guitar - $125.99
     
    Item Options
  • Natural - $125.99
  • Black - $125.99
  •  
    J. Reynolds 36" 3/4-size Acoustic Guitar J. Reynolds 36" 3/4-size Acoustic Guitar - $79.99 - $97.99
     
    Item Options
  • Steel-string - $97.99
  • Classical Nylon-string - $97.99
  • Black - $79.99
  • Pink - $79.99
  • Light Blue - $79.99
  • Dark Blue - $79.99
  • Red - $79.99
  •  
    Lauren 36" Student Guitar Lauren 36" Student Guitar - $66.99
     
    Item Options
  • Steel-string - $66.99
  • Classical Nylon-string - $66.99
  •  
     

    Acoustic Guitars for Ages 5-8 (34" 3/4-size)

     
    J. Reynolds 34" Student Guitar J. Reynolds 34" Student Guitar - $91.99
     
    Item Options
  • Steel-string - $91.99
  • Classical Nylon-string - $91.99
  •  
    Lauren 34" Student Guitar Lauren 34" Student Guitar - $61.99
     
    Item Options
  • Steel-string - $61.99
  • Classical Nylon-string - $61.99
  •  
     

    Acoustic Guitars for Ages 4-6 (1/2-size)

     
    Lauren Acoustic Guitar Package - 1/2-size steel-string guitar Lauren Acoustic Guitar Package - 1/2-size steel-string guitar - $64.99
     
    Item Options
  • Black - $64.99
  • Blue - $64.99
  • Red - $64.99
  • Silver - $64.99
  •  
    Lauren 1/2-size Acoustic Guitar Lauren 1/2-size Acoustic Guitar - $38.99 - $52.99
     
    Item Options
  • Steel-string - $38.99
  • Classical Nylon-string - $52.99
  •  
     

    Acoustic Folk-Size Guitars for Ages 11 and Up

     
    Oscar Schmidt Folk-size Acoustic Guitar Oscar Schmidt Folk-size Acoustic Guitar - $126.99
     
    JB Player 39" Folk-size Steel-string Acoustic Guitar JB Player 39" Folk-size Steel-string Acoustic Guitar - $135.99
     
    Hohner HW200 Folk-size Acoustic Guitar Hohner HW200 Folk-size Acoustic Guitar - $99.00
     
     

    Beginner/Practice/Headphone Guitar Amplifiers

     

    Justin Reamer loves to play guitar and write about music, as both activities afford him the ability to wake up at noon, play with his cat for an hour, and then (and only then) get to work.
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