A Beginners Guide to Buying an Appropriate Guitar


Proper Size

Children need size-appropriate guitars as this enables the young student to realize his or her best success in acquiring new skills. Be wary of music store salespersons who attempt to sell you an adult-size guitar for your child or even a child-size guitar that still remains too large for your particular child. Guitars that are too large for children make learning the guitar difficult and can lead to a loss of interest. Often children quit the guitar not so much because they lack the desire or discipline necessary, but because the awkwardness of the guitar’s size makes playing unnecessarily difficult and overwhelming. For the child who perseveres nonetheless, using a guitar that is too large will slow his or her progress. Also, the compensations that their smaller hands have to make in such a situation during their formative years on the guitar can create bad habits that persist into adulthood, unknowingly depriving even accomplished guitarists from realizing their fullest potential. Lastly, it is important to develop good habits of technique on any musical instrument because faulty techniques can lead to injury. Children are generally ready for full-size guitars at 12 to 14 years of age, depending on the size of the child. Child-size guitars are available in roughly 4 different size groupings: 1/4 size, 1/2 size, 3/4 size, and 7/8 size. However, there is no standardized system for determining what constitutes these sizes; two companies may make the exact same size guitar, yet one calls their model a “half size” while the other calls theirs’ a “3/4 size.” So you will need to be specific as to what the actual string-length is. The best graduation of string length measurements for child-size guitars go roughly as follows: 440 mm; 520 mm; 580 mm; and 615 mm.
The classical guitar options below basically follow these measurements, give or take a few millimeters. (There are generally more options for child-sizes in classical guitars than in steel string guitars.)

Avoid Poor Quality

In addition to appropriate-sized guitars, it is also important for the child to avoid guitars of poor quality. Many parents buy cheap guitars in order to avoid spending too much money in the event the child won’t stick with lessons. But learning on a poor-quality guitar could well be the very thing that dooms the child’s chances of staying the course with lessons. An instrument of inferior quality can be very difficult, unsatisfying, and discouraging. Below are some links to child-size guitar options. (I also help parents of my existing students sell their children’s outgrown guitars to other students, so there may be a used instrument presently available at a low price.)

Child-Size Guitars

Child-Size Classical Guitars

Cordoba is far superior to any other brand, carrying a range of sizes at a reasonable price beginning at 480mm in string-length. For children who are particularly young, Strunal carries a 440mm string-length guitar. It can be purchased at the Kirkpatrick Guitar Studio.

Child-Size Steel-String Acoustic Guitars

The Mitchell MDJ10 is a decent quality 1/2 size guitar (540mm string length) at a very reasonable price.

The Fender Mini-Squire is an inexpensive 3/4 size guitar (590mm string length).

Laguna has a very nice 3/4 size steel string guitar (580mm string length) called the “Brat.”

Remember that it is best to have a competent guitar instructor determine the right size guitar for your child, not a music store sales person. When a parent signs up their child for lessons I consider it an advantage when they don’t yet have a guitar. I bring in a child-size guitar of my own for their first lesson and am am able to use it to assess what is the right size for them.

Adult-Size Guitars

Adult-Size Classical Guitars

To purchase a decent student-level classical guitar one will generally need to pay a little more than one would for a steel-string acoustic guitar. The maker that carries the highest quality in student-level classical guitar models is Cordoba. Cordoba makes excellent student level guitars at extremely affordable prices, often out-performing guitars that are at least double their price. Cordoba carries a number of different full-size models. A good starting point is either the Cordoba C5 for about $300 and the Cordoba C7 for about $500. Cordoba’s C3 model goes for about $200. One should be aware that aside from Cordoba, Yamaha and Aria guitars, for whatever reason, classical guitars sold at major music stores can be very over-priced.

Cordoba also carries two smaller-sized instruments, the Dolce (630mm) and the Cadette (615mm) which are great for smaller-sized women.

To review different Cordoba models visit their website here. Most major music stores carry Cordoba guitars.

For anyone interested in buying a higher level classical guitar or concert-level classical guitar, here are some excellent options: Kirkpatrick Guitar Studio and Guitars International.

Adult-Size Steel-String Acoustic Guitars

For beginners who don’t want to spend a lot of money on an instrument, an adequate new acoustic guitar can usually be bought at major guitar outlets (Guitar Center, Sam Ash) and local music stores for about $150-$175. Yamaha is a reliable bet both for a new or used guitar, but there are many other brands that make decent, student-level, steel-string acoustic guitars in this lower price-range and can also be bought at major stores.

Here is a link to Yamaha student-level steel-string guitars.

An excellent website for anyone interested in higher-level steel-string acoustic guitars is Guitars Plus USA. Call Steve Davis at (216) 533-4781 to try a guitar in person!