The Reverb Guide to Buying Your First Guitar

Whether you're just starting on the instrument yourself or looking to buy for a new student, the sheer number of options out there can be daunting. Do I buy an electric or an acoustic? What accessories do I need? Does this guitar make me look cool?

All these questions and more are probably spinning at the center of the burgeoning guitarist's mind when starting out. But fear not—we're here to help you make the best decision so you can start playing and, more importantly, keep playing until we can count you as one of our own.

Follow this guide for our tips and recommendations on what to keep in mind when buying a first guitar for yourself or someone else.

Acoustic or Electric: What's Right For You?

The first step when choosing your first guitar is to decide what kind of guitar you want to play. When you envision yourself rocking out or learning new songs, what do you see yourself holding? If you dream of scorching towers of amps stacks and pyrotechnics, start with an electric. If you see yourself as more of a coffeehouse singer-songwriter, get an acoustic.

Conventional wisdom often points to getting an acoustic for starters, but far more important is getting a guitar that will keep you inspired and motivate you to play. Similarly, while there are plenty of extremely budget-friendly options out there, often it's worth springing for a slightly more expensive guitar as the improved playability will do much to keep you playing more and more.

Your journey starts here. Click on one of the links below to jump to our tips on where to start the guitar buying process for a beginner player.

And as if you needed any more inspiration, we asked the Reverb staff about their first guitars in this video:

My First Guitar // Reverb Staff Stories
Starting with an Acoustic

Many teaching purists will passionately recommend new players start with an acoustic, and with good reason. There's an immediacy that comes with picking up an acoustic guitar and strumming away that doesn't exist with an electric. You learn the connection between attack and tone much more quickly with an acoustic. For players who strive to jump into the world singer-songwriter stylings or cozy up next to a campfire, starting with an acoustic is the natural choice.

Starting with a Nylon String Guitar

Found in middle school music room closets the world over, beginner nylon-string or classical acoustics are an extremely popular route for first-time players. There are several reasons for this. For one, the smaller bodies of these guitars can be especially inviting for younger players. Nylon string guitars have wider necks with more spacing between each string, which can make landing your finger in the right place much easier. Most of all though, the nylon strings themselves are softer and easier to press down, which is one area new guitarists frequently have trouble with.

For these reasons and more, classical or nylon string guitars are a fantastic choice for a first time player. Check out the section and links below for some of our picks for first-time nylon string guitars to consider.

What Are Some Good Beginner Nylon String Acoustic Options?

  • Yamaha CG Series — Yamaha-made beginner classical guitars in the CG series may rank as the most popular beginner acoustics of all time. Ask any guitarist and there's a good chance one of these models was their first guitar.

  • Ibanez GA Series — While Ibanez is more known as a manufacturer of electric rockers, their line of entry-level classical guitars delivers excellent value for the money.

Starting with a Steel String Acoustic

While nylon string guitars are a great choice for beginners, their tone can be a bit limiting when taking the next steps in your progression as a player. For something that covers the sounds of contemporary popular music, a steel string acoustic is far more practical. There may be a slightly longer learning curve to getting your fingering just right, but once mastered, a steel string acoustic can carry you through a wide range of diverse playing styles and musical genres.

What Are Some Good Beginner Steel String Acoustic Options?

  • Takamine G Series — Takamine makes acoustic guitars of all sorts, but its beginner series is famous for its high marks on the bang-for-your-buck scale. Also keep an eye out for Takamine's lower-end Jasmine brand which offers similar value.

  • Yamaha FG Series — Just like their classical guitars, Yamaha dreadnought-style acoustics in the FG series deliver incredible quality for the price point. There's a reason these have been in steady production since the mid-'70s.

  • Seagull S6 — Guitars by Canadian maker Seagull bring balanced and delicate sounds found on many high-end contemporary acoustics to an affordable price bracket. The S6 line is a popular choice for many beginner guitarists.

What About Small Body Guitars?

Often you find parents gravitating towards 3/4- or 1/2-sized guitars for their kids. Typically though, these guitars are only a necessity for the youngest and smallest players, as most children are able to handle most full-sized guitars. Additionally, young players will grow out of these guitars like sneakers, eventually needing to upgrade to something bigger as they continue to play.

Of course, even pro players do mingle with smaller sized guitars which are great for travel as well having in odd corners of the house to pick up at random. If you are going to go with a small-sized acoustic, the Taylor Baby series is definitely first-in-class, utilizing all the advances and features found throughout Taylor's guitar lineup. For something a little more budget-friendly, there's the Yamaha JR-1 (the junior version of the FG guitars mentioned above).

Starting With An Electric

As with acoustic guitars, there are a wide range of electrics to consider when shopping for a first-timer. Unlike acoustics, electric guitars require a few things beyond the instrument itself to get going. In this section, we'll go through some great options for a beginning electric guitar, amp and other equipment.

Of course, the most important consideration when buying an electric guitar is to find one that will make you look as cool as possible when taking rockstar selfies in the mirror. Joking aside, getting a guitar that excites you will keep you inspired to play, which is the most important thing for new players.

You should also consider what type of music you hope to master and what player epitomizes that style. Fan of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan? You should probably get a Stratocaster. Dream of playing some Wes Montgomery licks in a jazz combo? Maybe a hollowbody is right for you. Considering what guitars their heroes play when prepping for a purchase is something that allguitarists do, even if they deny it.

What Are Some Good Beginner Electric Guitar Options?

  • Squier and Fender Stratocasters - As the official lower-end version of the most popular electric guitar ever, Squier Stratocasters are likely the world's most popular first-time electric guitar choice. The Squier Affinity is the basic of the bunch and can be found new for under $180. For something a little better that will last a lifetime, you can't go wrong with a Mexican-made Standard Stratocaster which typically sell used in the $300 range (closer to $500 for a new one). For more on the world of Strat buying, check out our guide on Strats For Any Budget.

  • Epiphone Les Pauls - Like the Squier Affinity, the Les Paul Special II is a no-frills take on the classic rock machine made by Gibson's overseas brand. Epiphone makes Les Pauls for a variety of price ranges, though the Special II can be had for under $200. Another popular Epiphone choice is the Dot semi-hollowbody, the most affordable of all the jazz-style guitars made under the wide Gibson umbrella.

  • Paul Reed Smith SE Series - PRS does not have as long of a history of overseas entry-level guitar making as Fender and Gibson, but the increasingly popular SE (for Student Edition) guitars do a great job of capturing the tone and style of their custom made big brothers in the PRS family. These guitars aren't quite as affordable as a Squier, for example, but with models like the SE Custom 24 and Santana, the quality is definitely there.

What About An Amp?

While you can certainly play an electric guitar sans amplification, we don't really recommend it, since it's not nearly as fun. When shopping for a beginner amp, often you'll see the term "practice amp" used as well. Both terms simply refer to smaller, affordable amps you can play at low to moderate volumes.

One important feature to be on the lookout for when shopping for a beginner amp is whether it has a headphone output. This will allow the use of headphones when practicing, preventing the inevitable annoyed flipout from everyone else in the house when you stumble through the lead from Sweet Child of Mine for the eightieth time in a row.

Here are a few of our picks for beginner amps:

  • Orange PiX Series - Orange Amps has only recently gotten into the non-tube practice arena, but their PiX series of guitar amps are priced well within most beginner budgets. Not to mention that unmistakable orange look.

  • Line 6 Spider IV 15 - Like most things Line 6 makes, the Spider IV amp brings a few fun toys in the form of onboard affects and models set to replicate various classic amp sounds.

  • Fender Mustang I - There's been something of a trend over the past few years of small amps with onboard modeling and effects. The Mustang I (now in its second version) is Fender's take on the format.

In addition to the amp, note that you will need a 1/4-inch guitar cable to connect the guitar to the amp.

A Note On Strat Packs

In today's market, a popular first choice for players (and a perennial Christmas gift) is what's commonly called a "Strat Pack." This entails a pre-made package usually including an electric guitar, an amp, and an array of accessories like a strap and some picks. Packs of this nature are produced by a number of different companies including Squier, Ibanez, and Epiphone. While they offer a great all-in-one solution, often times you can get a better guitar just by piecing your own starter rig part by part.

What Else Do I Need to Buy?

Getting a great guitar that's going to keep you inspired to learn and play is the most important step to diving into the guitar universe. You will, however, need a few extra items to really get going, as well as some you may not need, but might want to get anyway. This in the music community is what's known as GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

Accessories You'll Need
  • Picks - Unless you're playing a nylon string guitar, most players will start learning using a pick instead of their fingers. Picks come in a variety of thicknesses and which you go with really depends on your playing style and personal preference. For new players, go for a medium thickness such as Fender Mediums or Dunlop Yellows (0.73 mm)

  • Strings - At some point or another, you will break a string. Even if you don't, guitars need a new set of strings every several months depending on how often you play. Strings are designed specifically for the above categories of guitar (nylon, steel string, electric) in varying gauges. Most new players use lighter gauged strings such as .9 or .10s.

  • Tuner - Tuning a guitar by ear is a difficult thing to master, but nothing's going to discourage a new player more than having to contend with a horribly out-of-tune instrument. For this reason, we consider a tuner essential (we actually sell a great, cheap one you can get to by clicking on this link).

Accessories You Don't Need but Should Get Anyway
  • Strap- This one's pretty straightforward. If you want to stand while you play, you'll need a strap. There are a lot of basic options out there, but every guitar looks good with something like a Souldier strap on it.

  • Stand - A guitar stand is a device that holds and props up your guitar for easy access. It's not an essential accessory, but lots of players find having their guitar out in the house inspires them to grab it an practice more than they might otherwise. It also prevents a lot of accidental knockovers from the dog, brother, sister, child or wind. Don't just lean it and leave it. Get a stand.

  • Capo - New guitarists love singing along to the songs they're learning. A capo can easily change the key of open position playing making it that much easier to play any song you want.

And here's a handy checklist of what accessories go with each type of guitar:

Steel String
Nylon String
Extra Strings

Looking at the chart, it seems like the electric guitar mandates the most extra stuff. And that's without even getting into the world of effects. Just wait, you'll get there.

So there you have it…

Hopefully the above will help you first timers out there. One thing to note is that once you have your guitar, you will want to get what's known as a setup performed by a tech at least a couple times a year if you're playing regularly. Think of this as like getting the oil changed on your car. Even experienced players don't often recognize the importance of getting their guitars setup regularly, but it's an essential part of keeping your instrument in tip-top form for years to come.

Got some tips of your own for new players? Share them in the comments below and let's help share some of that guitarist wisdom around!

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