Step 1 is to find the right size of guitar for you. 99% of all adults and most teenagers will need a full size guitar. However if you are choosing for a child, you may need something smaller. The main issue to address is the size of the body of the guitar relative to the player. A player seated in the correct playing position must be able to place their right arm over the body of the guitar, and be able to comfortably reach the strings.
As a very rough guide, a ½ size guitar will suit a 6-8 year old, ¾ size a 9-12 year old, and full size 13 and above. If in doubt, visit the shop with the child and we’ll be happy to advise you. If that isn’t possible, check with your teacher.
A reasonable ½ or ¾ guitar will cost between £70 -£140.
For a full size guitar choose the best you can in the £100-£300 price range.
For some strange reason, the same people who will happily spend several hundred pounds for a flute or clarinet for their child baulk at spending more than £50 for a guitar. This is a tragedy, as many young players are put off playing because the guitar they are using is more of a musical toy than a musical instrument.
You get what you pay for!
A good, well made instrument, properly set up will last you longer, sound better, retain more of its value and will help motivate a player in the difficult early stages of learning.
Classical guitars were designed to be made out of solid woods. The top of the guitar is normally constructed from a block of quarter sawn timber, which is then split and opened like a book, (bookmatched), then glued together to make one piece. The top is very strong along the grain and very flexible across the grain.
The bracing glued to the top adds strength, and transmits vibrations from the strings across it. The vibrating top then radiates the sound out from the guitar to the listener. Solid tops tend to start out with a better tone, but they are still stiff and tight when new. The more they are played the more freely the top vibrates. This has the effect of enhancing the guitar's tone
Many budget guitars have laminated tops. The laminate is basically plywood, where the grain of the centre layer (the filling in the sandwich) runs across, while the grain of the front and back run vertically. Manufacturers use plywood because it is strong and inexpensive. However, acoustically a laminated top behaves differently to a solid top.
Manufacturers tend to copy the bracing designs developed for solid top guitars, which is not ideal. The laminate is strong, but stiff, which limits the freedom of the top to resonate. Also the glue in the laminate has a dampening effect on the tone.
Laminated top guitars can sound ok at lower volumes, but tend to be less articulate when played harder, when they can become a bit muddy and indistinct. Many players choosing in the store are self-concious and only play quietly, and so don't necessarily pick up on this.