"Choosing the First Guitar"

Copyright©John Giunta, 2006

 

Choosing a musical instrument is a very nice thing to do.  I believe that everyone should have the experience of choosing and learning to play the instrument of choice.

 

For the guitar, I have certain opinions based upon many years of teaching and learning.  I believe that the first guitar should fit the size of the hands and body of the student so that lessons and practicing will be as comfortable as possible.

 

Here is a table that will help determine the right size guitar for young students:

 

Age

Height of Player

Size of Guitar

4-6 years old

3'3" to 3'9"

1/4-Size

5-8 years old

3'10" to 4'5"

1/2-Size

8-11 years old

4'6" to 4'11"

3/4-Size

11-Adult

5' or taller

4/4-Size

 

Here is a second table showing the scale length of the different sizes.  The scale length is the distance from the nut of the guitar where the head joins the neck, to the bridge of the guitar.

 

4/4 full size

24.75" or 25.5"

3/4 size

22.75"

1/2 size

20.5"

1/4 size

19"

 

 

My choice of guitar is the nylon-stringed instrument, or the Classical Guitar.  This instrument has softer, lower tension strings, so it is easier for beginners to play this kind of instrument than the steel-stringed instrument.  With determination, any person can learn to become used to either kind of strings.

 

Because it is called a "classical" guitar, many people believe that it's only for Classical music.  This is actually not true.  All styles of music from all over the world can be—and are played—on this instrument.  This instrument is played with the fingers, not with a pick, contrary to the practice of some musicians.  To play a Classical Guitar with a pick is considered gauche, in bad taste, and an uneducated practice, at least.  Using a pick is very limiting to the technique and musical possibilities that the guitar has to offer.  I can teach anyone the basic ideas of using the pick in about 20 minutes, but using the fingers takes a much longer time.

 

The other basic kind of guitar, which is very much more popular, es the steel-stringed guitar, commonly called the "acoustic" guitar.  Actually an acoustic guitar is any guitar—nylon or steel—that is played without electronic amplification.  So, the Classical Guitar with nylon strings is also an acoustic guitar.

 

A common question is, "May I put nylon strings on a steel-stringed guitar?"  Yes, you may, although the sound is going to be softer, not very dramatic, and there will probably be some buzzing because the guitar will then be out of adjustment.  This problem results because the space under the strings has to be higher for a nylon guitar than for steel strings.  It will not, however, be harmful to the instrument.

 

The corresponding question, "May I put steel strings on a nylon-stringed guitar?"  This will cause problems for the guitar and possible heartaches for you.  The Classical Guitar is built to respond to lower tension strings, so the top—or soundboard—is braced more delicately than the top of the steel stringed instrument.  The neck or your once-wonderful guitar might bend into a slight bow rendering it unplayable, the top might develop curves or waves, and the bridge might become detached.  It is much better to keep each instrument strung and adjusted for the way it was meant to be.

 

For prices, the beginners' Classical Guitar will tend to be a little cheaper than the steel string acoustic.  For the Classical Guitar, buy one that uses solid wood, not plywood for the top.  The traditional woods for this guitar are spruce or cedar (my personal preference, but highly debatable) for the top, rosewood for the sides and back, mahogany for the neck and ebony for the fingerboard.  For workmanship look at all of the joints to see how the instrument is put together.

 

For steel-stringed guitars, the materials and workmanship will vary greatly, but the general rule of choosing solid wood still applies.

If you wish to enlist my help in choosing a guitar, I will treat this as a music lesson.  If the timing is right, I can meet you at a local music store to play some instruments.  Let me know how I may serve you.