Pick the Perfect Guitar | Hub Guitar

Pick the Perfect Guitar

A Starting Point

Want a versatile guitar that most players can comfortably learn with? One that meets the needs of most guitar learners and supports them in their study? One that “just works” for most learners, 9 times out of 10? Well, look no further.

Suggested Checklist

  • Price: get a quality instrument. Spend as much as you can. This makes a big difference.
  • Type: get an acoustic guitar. Why? They are popular, they are portable, they are simple to understand and operate.
  • Nut width: choose a nut that is 1 3/4" wide. (44.45mm). Why? A slightly wider spacing will make it easier to fret notes without touching the wrong strings.
  • Neck profile: get a slim-neck “C”-shaped profile, for a neck that’s smoother to grip.
  • String gauge: use slightly lighter-gauge strings. (10’s are good). Why? This will be easier on your fingers.
  • Action and setup: have the guitar setup for smooth playing with a low action. Why? This makes the strings easier to push down on.
  • Other considerations: get all-solid wood if you can; deluxe tuners if possible.

Choosing a Price Point

Before shopping, you’ll need to choose a price point. It is recommended to spend no less than $300 on a new instrument. In a perfect world, your very first guitar would be of excellent quality, and might cost $500-$750. If you are serious about learning, this instrument will absorb thousands of hours of practice, costing you less than $1 per hour of use.

Don’t be afraid to commit. The more you spend on the guitar, the more you’ll get back if you need to sell it. Good instruments hold most of their value over time—if cared for properly.

Electric, Acoustic or Classical?

Decide whether you want an electric, acoustic, or classical guitar.

Each has pros and cons, but they all can work for beginners.

Classical Guitar

Classical guitars make some lovely music, but require a specialized technique. They are used mainly in playing, well, Classical music, as well as some Latin repertoire. They have wider necks. Low-quality classical guitars are abundant, due to the theory that the softer nylon strings make the instrument somehow easier to learn. Unless you are keen on learning classical or Latin guitar revolving around this instrument, do not buy a classical guitar. Do not buy a classical guitar because of the idea that they are somehow easier to play. A properly set-up steel-string guitar is not substantially easier or harder to learn to play.

Electric guitar

Electric guitars form the bedrock upon which rock & blues music is based. If you really want to learn certain styles of music (such as funk, rock, blues, metal), you will need an electric guitar. However, it will probably be awhile before you really start learning the advanced techniques that these styles are known for, and which require an electric guitar. The added complexity of working with an electric guitar’s amp, effects and electronics is a nuisance to the beginning guitar player. And electric guitars are not quite as portable as acoustic guitars. If you strongly lean towards this guitar, go for it. Otherwise…

Steel-string acoustic guitar

Steel-string acoustic guitars are the guitar of choice for guitar learners. Most people who set out to learn guitar do so on such an instrument, and most players of other types of guitar also own a steel-string acoustic instrument. Acoustic guitars are portable, easy to understand and get working, and have a recognizable sound heard in much of popular music. If you’re not sure where to start, start with a steel-string acoustic guitar.

Second, choose a nut width.

Nut width affects the playing comfort. It is a matter of individual preference, and also the demands of the style. In theory, playing purely single-note lines would beg for a narrower nut-width, while playing complex fingerstyle arrangements would need a wider nut width to allow space to dance around. In reality, most learners desire some versatility, but perhaps with a hair more breathing room to allow for mistakes. For this reason, consider starting with a nut width of 1 3/4".

Classical guitars tend to have a nut width of 2". That’s it. This wide nut is needed because the nylon strings are thicker and need more clearance from each other. And, more importantly, playing complex, separate guitar parts on multiple strings is easier with the wider nut and wider string spacing.

Electric guitars tend to have a nut width of 1 11/16" as a standard, but they also come in a narrower variety (1 5/8") as well as a wider variety (1 3/4"). While the wider one is possible to find, it is much more prevalent on acoustic guitars than on electric guitars.

Acoustic guitars also are often equipped with a nut width of 1 11/16", but it’s easy to find a nut width of 1 3/4" inches, especially on grand concert or grand auditorium models that are meant to be a bit more versatile and intimate. Design patterns in guitars have in the past been dominated by trends that do not apply to the present day. For instance, there may have been a time when the acoustic guitar was an instrument for playing mostly open chords. The nut was narrow because why not? A nut width of 1 3/4" will be just a tad more forgiving when your fingers are fretting those first chords. And it will be a bit more versatile for you to explore the various styles of guitar.

Third, choose a scale length.

In a perfect world, most beginners would start with a scale length that was shorter than the standard. A short scale length means that each fret box will be smaller. That means reaching from one fret box to the next will require less stretch of the hand, and overall it will be more comfortable.

Most guitars have a scale length of around 25". A little shorter than this would be ideal. But this option is harder to find.

The exception is travel guitars, which do often have a short scale length. Unfortunately they often have a narrow nut width, so if you’re looking for a slightly wider nut width, this combination is not easy to find.

Another exception is parlor guitars. A “true” parlor guitar has scale length of 24" or less. These instruments are wonderful for learners and those with smaller hands.

Fourth, find a good neck profile.

The neck profile is the overall shape of the back of the neck, the part that fits into the palm of your hand.

A good neck profile is ergonomic, which is another matter of individual preference. To start with, look for a neck profile that feels slim and easy to fit in your whole hand.

Fifth, choose an overall body size.

“Dreadnought”-sized guitars continue to dominate the beginner guitar market with little good reason. They are large bodied and produce a bit more volume than smaller guitars. They are built for strumming chords, which is really only a fraction of what you are capable of learning to do with the guitar.

The “000” shape, also called “OM” or “Grand Auditorium” is perhaps the most versatile guitar shape. It is slightly smaller than the larger dreadnought shape, and so is suitable for learners of most shapes and sizes.

Sixth, choose a string gauge.

Guitar learners tend to find it difficult to push down on the strings. And they tend to be concerned about the strings being rough on their hands. Alleviate both of these problems by putting lighter gauge (11’s) strings on your guitar. If you’re really struggling, 10’s might be the way to go.

For extra help, consider getting silk-coated strings.

Seventh, have it set up by a professional to your exact specifications.

Generally, this means a fairly straight neck, a low action, and a nut slot depth that is as low as it can go. A setup might also include a few other extras, such as oiling the fretboard for a more professional and smooth playing sheen, and even filing off sharp or rough edges from the nut or frets that might protrude from the playing surface of the instrument and cause discomfort.

A guitar’s frets should be carefully polished to a mirror shine to create the smoothest platform possible, especially important when bending notes or playing vibrato.

Every guitar player should budget for taking their guitar to a luthier once in awhile to have it worked on. The first thing you should do when you buy a new guitar? Take it to your tech to let them have a look!

The low action is the key point. A low action will make a guitar easier to handle and easier to play.

And isn’t that what you need right now?

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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