Helping your child pursue their musical passions is an honorable task. However, if you have little to no experience with guitars, choosing the right guitar will be difficult.
While you could spend hours at a music store testing out different guitars, you could still go home with the wrong instrument. In this guide, you’ll learn about the different types of guitars and which set-ups are best for children. We’ll even help you identify the right brands for beginners! So what are you waiting for, let’s get started!
Choose Acoustic or Electric
First things first, you–or rather your child–needs to decide what type of guitar they want to play. This largely depends on the type of music they want to play.
If your child wants to play rock music, then an electric guitar is a better choice. Electric guitars tend to be easier for children to play. However, if they prefer country or folk music, then they should choose an acoustic guitar. If they’re undecided, start with an acoustic guitar.
Acoustic guitars are versatile and are usually more affordable than electric guitars. Another reason to steer your child towards an acoustic guitar is that it’s quieter. Electric guitars require an amp. If you want to avoid loud jam sessions, an acoustic is the better choice.
Another factor to consider at this point is whether your child will want to use a pick or their fingers to play. This decision will depend on the type of music they want to play as well.
Smaller children may also prefer to use a pick to play since their smaller fingers will blister and callus strumming the guitar.
Set a Budget
Once you know the type of guitar your child wants to play, you should give them a budget. While everyone wants to provide the best for their children, guitars can get quite expensive. In fact, Jared at Piccolo’s Music in Helena, Montana, says some top-of-the-line guitars could cost several thousand dollars.
Spending several thousand dollars on a guitar for a child who will soon outgrow it seems pretty unreasonable. To get your child a quality guitar, it should cost you a maximum of $700 to $1,000. These higher-quality guitars have better sound quality.
That said, you can still get a good guitar at a lower price. If possible, avoid purchasing a guitar for less than $100. Jared at Piccolo’s Music explains that the cheaper the instrument is, the more work they’ll need later on. Oftentimes, the work these instruments need costs more than the instrument was initially worth. Stay away from instruments selling for a price that seems too good to be true.
A good price range for your child’s first guitar is between $150 and $200. These guitars are built for students and children. For this reason, they won’t have the best sound quality; however, it will work for the learning phase.
If your child wants a more expensive guitar, encourage them to save up for it or earn it by taking on extra responsibilities around the house. The fact that they paid for or earned the guitar may motivate them to play it more often!
Shop the Right Brand/Set-Up
While price is a major factor when choosing a guitar for your child, the brand and set-up have significance as well.
First, let’s discuss what a guitar set-up is and why it matters for your child’s guitar. The set-up of a guitar refers to how tight the strings are and how high they sit above the fretboard.
The second part of that definition is especially important because it is harder for children to press the strings down. In other words, a guitar with strings that rest high above the fret board will make playing more difficult. If the guitar is too difficult to play, they likely won’t use the instrument.
Not only will the wrong set-up impact your child’s ability to play, but it won’t sound correct. A proper set-up ensures that the strings are in tune at every note down the fret board. That’s right, a string could be in tune at one point but out of tune at another.
Once again, if the guitar doesn’t sound good when your child attempts to play it, their interest in the instrument may diminish.
Before purchasing a guitar, verify its intonation. This isn’t as complicated as it might seem.
Start by having a clerk tune the guitar for you. Keep the tuner nearby, and play one open string at a time. Are they all in tune still? Great! Next, start with one string and play a note at each fret. If any of the notes are out of tune, the guitar set-up will need some work. Find out how in tune every string is by following these same steps.
Methods for adjusting the guitar intonation include adjusting the saddle height with a screwdriver, moving the trust bar, and lowering or raising string height.
Want to see the set-up process in action? Watch the following video to learn how to perfect the set-up on your child’s electric guitar.
But what if your child chose an acoustic guitar? What should you do instead?
As mentioned in the previous video, fixing the set-up on an acoustic guitar requires more knowledge of how the guitar works. Watch the following video to see how the professionals do it. If you have any doubts that you’ll be able to set-up the guitar properly, you should take it to an expert who knows what they’re doing.
While you can always adjust the set-up of the guitar you purchase for your child, if you purchase a good guitar brand you shouldn’t have to make too many adjustments (or any at all).
Not every quality guitar brand will have a good set-up, so be prepared to adjust your set-up just in case.
So what guitar brands should you be looking for for your child? Jared at Piccolos suggests that children who come into the shop should use either Fender or Yamaha guitars. These high-quality brands do sell some affordable guitars for children. We’ll take a look at some affordable options for your child in the next section.
Find the Perfect Size
While you could purchase a standard guitar for your child, it would probably be much too large for them to use. For this reason, you need to find the perfect guitar size.
Sizing your child for their guitar is based primarily on their height.
Guitars come in all different sizes; however, the most common ones are 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8, and 4/4 (Full Size). If you’re purchasing an electric guitar for your child, they often come in smaller sizes. Because these instruments use a magnetic pickup to produce sound, they don’t need to be as big as acoustic guitars.
Look at the following table from Kids Guitar World to learn which guitar sizes are best for what heights.
|Child’s Approximate Height||Optimal Guitar Size|
|3 feet, 9 inches||1/4|
|4 feet, 3 inches||1/2|
|4 feet, 8 inches||3/4|
|5 feet, 1 inch||7/8|
|5 feet, 3 inches||4/4|
If your child wants to start learning guitar before a 1/4 size guitar will fit them, Jared at Piccolos suggests they start with a baritone ukulele.
A baritone ukulele only has four strings that are spaced out more than regular guitar. With fewer strings that are spaced out more, children can learn to play without unintentionally pressing the wrong strings.
Although the baritone ukulele is slightly smaller, it plays in the same tune as a regular guitar. A baritone ukulele is 30 inches long. This is about the same size as some 1/4 size guitars.
Have your child hold several guitar sizes to find the one that fits them best. Your child should choose the guitar size that is most comfortable to hold and play.
As promised earlier, let’s take a look at some of the most affordable, child-sized guitars from the best brands.
Fender Kid’s Guitars
Fender sells several guitars in kid sizes. Two acceptable options are the FA-15N 3/4 NYLON and the Mini Stratocaster. The Mini Stratocaster has a scale length of 22.75 inches; meanwhile, the 3/4 Nylon Acoustic guitar has a scale length of 23.3 inches.
These guitars cost between $180 and $200. They are best for preteens not quite ready for a full-size guitar.
Fender even sells a smaller sized bass for kids to use. The Bronco Bass costs slightly more than $200 and has a scale length of 30 inches.
Yamaha Kid’s Guitars
Yamaha guitars are better known for selling full-size adult guitars. However, they do have some smaller guitars that kids can use.
The Yamaha JR1 and JR2, for example, are 33.25 inches long. This size places them somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 size, making them perfect for younger children. These Yamaha guitars cost around $250.
Does your child need a slightly larger guitar? They could opt for the Yamaha FS820 Small Body Acoustic Guitar Natural which has a scale length of 25 inches. This is four inches longer than the JRs. This guitar for your child will cost around $290.
You don’t have to purchase your child’s first guitar from either of these manufacturers; however, they will make quality guitars with good set-ups. Other popular guitar manufacturers include the following:
- Guild, and
Choose the Color
The color of the guitar, while it isn’t the most important factor in the purchasing process, will affect your child’s commitment to playing. If they don’t like the look of the guitar, they’ll be less motivated to continue playing.
Have your child choose the color of their new guitar. However, guide them in the decision making process. Help them find a color that they will enjoy for years to come (or at least until they outgrow the guitar).
Electric guitars tend to have more color options than acoustics. Meanwhile, acoustic guitars are often produced in natural, wood colors. However, they are available online in a variety of colors. For example, the Best Choice Products Acoustic Guitar comes in four different colors: Pink, Redburst, Sunburst, and SoCal Green. This guitar is 30 inches long, making it the best option for very small children.
Additionally, the Best Choice Products Acoustic Guitar uses nylon strings. Learn more about the different types of strings in the following section.
Choose the Right Strings
The final step when choosing a guitar for your child is the string type. For most guitars, the type of string used can be changed.
There are a variety of different guitar string types you could use. Below are just a few examples:
- Steel and Nickel
- Brass and Bronze, and
Nylon guitar strings are best for children because they are more flexible and easier to play on. However, these strings produce a sound much different from other string types. Musicians tend to prefer steel or brass strings for their sound quality.
If your child has no experience playing guitar, start them with a set of nylon strings and work up to a higher quality string as they progress.
The types of strings your child should use also depends on the type of music your child wants to play. For example, bluegrass music sounds better on a guitar with steel strings.
Guitar strings come in different thicknesses. As you can imagine, the thicker the strings are, the harder they are to play. However, they also produce a more rich tone.
Finding the perfect guitar for your child doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be kind of fun! Take your child to a music shop and have them hold several different guitars. Don’t let them settle for the first guitar they hold. Looking at multiple instruments and brands can help them determine the aspects of a guitar that they prefer.
You may even consider taking them to multiple music shops to gain access to a wider variety of products. Take advantage of the knowledgeable salesmen at the shop. If these shops have representatives as helpful as Jared at Piccolos, then you and your child will be in good hands.