Buying a guitar for a beginner player is like buying a car for a new driver—you want something reliable yet affordable. Fortunately, there are plenty of good options for first time guitar buyers in the $100-$300 price range.
But first you have some decisions to make. Acoustic guitar or electric? Steel string or nylon string? Acoustic guitars are great for songwriters and sing-a-longs, and don’t need any additional amplification. Conventional teaching suggests all beginning players learn on acoustic guitar since the “stripped down sound” of the instrument demands proper fretting and fingering techniques. The reverb and fuzz tones associated with electric guitars can sometimes hide a player’s flaws. Still, many beginning guitar players choose to learn on electric guitar since the necks of the instruments are thinner and the string gauges lighter, making them easier on tender newbie fingertips (One of the first major milestones a beginning guitarist will cross is developing his or her first set of callouses!)
Steel string guitars, both acoustic and electric, are the most common instruments heard in popular music. Nylon string guitars, also known as classical guitars, are popular with finger-pickers and flamingo-style players, though Willie Nelson has played and performed on a beat up old nylon string guitar for his entire career. Classical guitars can be a good choice for beginning guitar players because the instrument’s wide fretboard and nylon strings make it easier for beginning guitarists to play chords and scales, and any skills learned on a classical guitar can be transferred to an acoustic or electric guitar. (Or not. Fingerstyle classical guitar is beautiful!)
TOP TEN GUITARS FOR BEGINNERS
The Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar is one of the best selling acoustic guitars in the world. Why? Because it’s built well, sounds great, and is priced right. Jasmine is a division of guitar manufacturer Takamine and much of the same skill put into crafting those higher-end instruments can be found in the Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar. A blend of “good wood” helps the Jasmine S35 Acoustic stand out from other instruments in this price range: a spruce top, nato back, sides and neck, and a rosewood fretboard and bridge. The Jasmine S35 doesn’t feel like a cheap guitar because it’s not. It’s a testament to how quality instruments can be produced at a reasonable price.
This guitar is funky! The Oscar Schmidt name isn’t as well known as other guitar manufacturers, but savvy players know the company has crafted quality musical instruments since 1871. The company’s entire line of budget guitars is impressive, but the Oscar Schmidt OG2SM Acoustic is a standout because of its gorgeous appearance and unique construction. The mojo dwells in the OG2SM’s spalted maple top, which not only produces a bright tone, but also offers a visually striking wood grain. Not only does the Oscar Schmidt OG2SM Acoustic play and sound great, it’s a sexy head-turner. Even if your beginning guitar player quits taking lessons, the Oscar Schmidt OG2SM will continue to look great hanging on the wall of your folksy, prairie-style home.
Yamaha has a reputation for building solid, dependable guitars, both acoustic and electric. Like the company’s pianos (and motorcycles) a Yamaha guitar will last for years and probably improve with age. Indeed, the Yamaha FG700 guitars produced in the 1970s are coveted among guitar collectors. Yamaha’s 2016 FG/FS800 line of acoustic guitars continues that tradition of craftsmanship. The Yamaha FG/FS 800 comes with a solid Sitka spruce top and newly developed scalloped bracing, which increases the guitar’s low-end projection and creates richer harmonic overtones in the mid range. Thousands of musical careers have been launched with a Yamaha folk guitar. Why not yours?
The Yamaha C40 Classical Guitar has populated grade school music rooms for decades, and it is often the first guitar people encounter. The Yamaha C40 classical guitar is a full-size guitar that delivers all the warm, rich tones associated with this timeless instrument. Beginning guitar players can’t beat the value found in the Yamaha C40 Classic Guitar Bundle, which comes with a gig bag, instructional DVD, clip-on tuner, strings, picks, and a polishing cloth.
Fender’s Squier Acoustic is a top-seller for good reason. It’s a well-built guitar that offers a lot of bang for the buck. The Fender Squier Acoustic is a full-sized, vibrant sounding dreadnought guitar that’s suitable for all styles of music. There’s nothing mind-blowing about the Fender Squier’s construction — a laminated spruce top and laminated agathis back and sides—but it’s a good sounding guitar that’s easy to play, which makes it perfect for beginning guitar players. Plus you get the Fender name on the headstock (in small print below the word Squier), which is sure to impress friends and family.
A nice step up from the Fender Squier Acoustic bundle is the Epiphone PR-4E Acoustic/Electric Guitar Player package. Epiphone is the overseas cousin of renowned American guitar maker, Gibson USA. The Epiphone PR-4E is a workhorse acoustic/electric, great for beginners and intermediate players alike. It’s $60 more than the Squier package, but the step up in price yields an eSonic2 preamp pickup and Grover machine heads, which are some of the best tuning pegs in the industry.
The Epiphone PR-4E Acoustic/Electric Guitar Player package also comes with a nifty 10W solid-state practice amp that is not only surprisingly loud, it has a cool retro look.
It’s hard to beat the Dean Vendetta for value—it’s a well-made guitar that costs around 100 bucks. Two humbucking pickups deliver clear, bell-like tones, and the plain-yet-durable maple neck and Paulownia wood body are perfectly styled and constructed. The Dean Vendetta offers some perks not often found on “budget” instruments, like a full, two octave, 24-fret fretboard (most guitars top out at 21 or 22 frets) and a combination of humbucking pickups and a tremolo bar, giving players the opportunity experience the best of both the Fender and Gibson worlds. Dean Guitars may not have the name recognition of a Fender or Gibson, but the company has made quality instruments for years, and the Vendetta series of guitars is a great introduction to the line.
Yamaha…again! The Yamaha Pacifica line of electric guitars offers great tone and outstanding playability in a value package. These are great instruments for beginners and experienced players alike, offering a wide variety of tonal possibilities, especially models with a humbucker/single coil/single coil pickup configuration. The Yamaha Pacifica is a great choice for beginning players because it can pretty much do it all, and it’s got Yamaha’s quality reputation behind it.
The Gibson Les Paul is an iconic instrument, especially in rock music (Jimmy Page and Slash play Les Pauls) but it’s pricy ($1200 on up). The Epiphone Les Paul is a solid, durable instrument that performs nearly as well as its American-made counterpart, but at a fraction of the price. Upgrade the pickups in your Epiphone Les Paul and you’ll have an instrument that competes with an American-made LP. Epiphone has built guitars for over 100 years, and that experience and expertise is clearly evident when playing an Epiphone Les Paul. The solid black and tobacco sunburst finishes are great on the Epiphone Les Paul, but if you want that Jimmy Page/Slash swagger, drop an extra $20 for the cherry sunburst finish.
If you can afford it, the Fender Squier Deluxe Stratocaster is one of the finest instruments on this list. Like the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Stratocaster is another iconic rock guitar (Eric Clapton has played Fender Stratocasters almost exclusively for the last 40 years, and Jimi Hendrix played an upside-down right-handed Strat restrung lefty). The Fender Squier Deluxe Stratocaster comes closest to emulating an American-made Fender Stratocaster, but at one-quarter of the price. The power of the Squier Deluxe Stratocaster lays in the three single coil Duncan Designed pickups, which deliver amazing punch, clarity, and sonic diversity. There are less expensive Fender electric guitars out there, but they don’t offer the value of the Fender Squier Deluxe Stratocaster. Beginning guitar players may eventually want to upgrade from the Fender Squier Deluxe Stratocaster as their skills improve, but they’ll never outgrow this guitar. It’s built to last.