Buying a guitar
What size guitar do I need?
Guitars come in several sizes. Half and threequarter size guitars are intended for use by children (though older children may manage a small-bodied full size guitar), while full-sized guitars are intended for adult use.
Most four and five-year-olds will need a half-sized guitar (assuming that it is a nylon-strung model, which is most suitable for younger players). From about six to ten yrs old, most children are best off with a threequarter size, and at eleven or twelve they will probably be playing a full-sized instrument - but individuals vary, and it's always best to try out guitars of different sizes to make sure that you've got it right. I keep a full range of guitars for students to try out, and if you are in any doubt at all about which size your child needs I will gladly advise.
The price of a guitar is influenced by both the skill and care with which it’s made and the materials used, and the cost of buying a new guitar can range from around £30 for a mass produced junior guitar to several thousand pounds for an individually hand-made, full-sized instrument. Most cheaper guitars are made of plywood, while the more expensive instruments are made from solid woods. Very cheap (e.g., £15) guitars are available, but they can be almost unplayable and really aren't worth buying.
Choosing a guitar
Though quality does affect the sound that a guitar makes, this won’t be very apparent to the beginner, and a cheaper guitar is fine to learn on. Many players prefer a guitar that has been ‘worn in’ rather than a new instrument.
The choice of guitar is a very personal thing, and the best way to find the guitar that’s right for you is to try out what’s on offer. Don’t be guided by the price tag alone - some cheaper guitars play very well indeed, and not all expensive ones are worth the money.
Where can I buy a guitar?
A good guitar shop will help you to choose the right guitar for you. Choose a shop that offers a range of models rather than a general music shop that has only one or two on offer, and look for staff with obvious specialist expertise who can talk you through the options. Always try out any guitar you're interested in before buying.
Visit again for reviews of shops in the Caerphilly/Cardiff/Newport areas as I research the options.
Buying a musical instrument online can be very risky, especially for a beginner. It's impossible to properly assess the quality of an instrument that you can't see, feel and play, or to guage its size (important if it's for a child). I have occasionally had to advise students to ask for their money back when a guitar bought online has turned out to be unplayable. If buying online is unavoidable, steer clear of eBay and stick to reputable online suppliers and named brands.
Which kind of guitar?
Nylon strung or classical
A nylon strung guitar has a slotted headstock, through which the strings are wound onto the shaft of the tuners. The thicker three strings are made of nylon, and the thinner three are made of metal wire wound around a nylon core. This is the kind of guitar that is used for playing classical or flamenco music, and it’s the easiest kind of guitar for beginners to learn on: because the strings are made of nylon and not steel, they are easier to hold down and relatively gentle on the fingers.
The headstock of an acoustic guitar is solid, and the strings are wound on to pegs that stick out of its face. This kind of guitar is used for playing folk and country music, and for some pop and rock music too. The strings are made from various metals wound around a steel core, and they are harder to hold down than those on a nylon-strung guitar. The sound they make is less sweet and more twangy.
Electric guitars need to be plugged into a powered amplifier (‘amp’) in order to make enough sound to be heard properly. Once they are plugged in, they can make sounds that a classical or acoustic guitar can’t, but you can’t really sling an electric guitar on your back and take it to a beach barbecue —unless you can manage your amp, leads, and a generator as well! If you want to play in a rock band, you will eventually need an electric guitar—but a classical or acoustic guitar is fine for learning the basics, and is likely to be considerably cheaper and easier to look after.
Bags and cases
Whatever kind of guitar you buy, you'll need a bag or case to protect it from knocks, dirt and weather. While a few superficial scratches and dents won't affect the playing quality of your guitar, they will reduce its value - and more serious damage, e.g., broken tuners, a split top or a damaged neck - can make it unplayable and may cost more to repair than the guitar is worth.
A hard case provides the best protection so it's worth budgeting for this if you can, but a soft bag (or 'gig bag') is a lot better than nothing, especially if you get one of the thickly-padded ones. Classical and acoustic guitars are different in shape: if you don't buy the case or bag with the guitar, make sure before you buy that it's the correct type and fits - ideally by taking your guitar to the shop and trying it for size.