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What size of guitar should I buy for my child?

If you have access to try out different guitar sizes, look for the largest one that allows the student to play a full G chord without touching any of the open strings with the left hand (ask someone who plays the guitar to help you test this). The student also should be able to see where to put the left hand fingers without having to turn the guitar up for a better look. If you don't have access to different sized guitars, here are some general guidelines:

Ages 4 - 6 up to 3'9" tall 1/4 size (30") guitar
Ages 7 - 8 3'10" - 4'5" tall 1/2 size (34") guitar
Ages 9-11 4'6" - 4'11" tall 3/4 size (36") guitar
Ages 12 and older 5' and taller 7/8 or Full Size guitar

What are the differences between classical, acoustic and electric guitars?

Classical guitars have nylon strings with wider necks that allow the strings to be farther apart to facilitate fingerpicking. They usually do not have a strap button on the bottom and often have decorative artwork around the sound hole. Classical guitars are traditionally used to play classical, Flamenco, and folk music. They have a mellow sound. Note that it is not recommended to put steel strings on a classical guitar, since the neck is not reinforced to hold the stronger pull of the steel strings.

Acoustic guitars have steel strings with a narrower neck than a classical guitar. They generally have a strap button on the bottom and a pick guard under the sound hole. Acoustic guitars have a brighter sound than the classical guitar and are used to play country and folk music as well as many other styles of popular music. Acoustic guitars may be amplified using an added pick-up; acoustic-electric guitars have the pick-up designed as an integral part of the guitar.

Electric guitars may have a hollow or solid body and come in many different shapes and styles. They require an amplifier with speakers for the sound to be heard. Electric guitars have a strap button on the bottom and on the left side of the body and often have a pick guard on the front. They usually have both a volume and a tone control and may also have other controls as well as two or more pickups that can be selected individually or together for a variety of sound options. Many accessories are available for the electric guitar providing a wide range of effects.

Should a beginner learn on a classical, acoustic or electric guitar?

A beginner may start on either a classical, acoustic or electric guitar. All three guitars are available in 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and full sizes. There are advantages and disadvantages for each type (see table below), and the student should weigh them to decide which one will fit his personality, learning style, and music goals.

Type of Guitar Advantages Disadvantages
Classical Nylon strings are easier on the fingers, so the beginner may be more willing to practice and continue lessons.

No amplifier is required, making the guitar more portable.

The neck is wider, so the beginner with small hands may have difficulty fingering some chords.

The mellow sound of the classical guitar may not match the expectations of the student who is wanting to play popular music. This may affect the student's motivation to play.

Acoustic The neck is narrower than the classical guitar, making it easier for small hands to play.

The sound of the acoustic guitar is familiar as it is used in popular music - this may help the student's motivation to play.

No amplifier is required making the guitar more portable.

To make it easier on the fingers it is possible to replace the steel strings on an acoustic guitar with nylon strings while the student is learning. If you choose to do this, be sure to purchase nylon strings with ball ends. The student may still have some discomfort whenever the steel strings begin to be used.

The steel strings are harder on the fingers which become sore from practice until callouses are formed. This may cause some students to give up their guitar playing. However, the pain does go away completely after the callouses are formed and most students are able to work through the painful period by practicing in shorter sessions as necessary.
Electric Contrary to popular opinion, there is no reason a beginner cannot start on an electric guitar. Playing the electric guitar can be very motivating for the student whose goal is to play rock or country music. If they start on the acoustic or classical guitar, they may not be getting the sound that they crave, resulting in lack of motivation and discontinuing lessons.

The strings on an electric guitar are closer to the fret board making it a little easier on the fingers than an acoustic guitar.

If the student uses an amplifier that has a headphone jack, they can practice without disturbing others. This can be a huge advantage in a small home and could result in the student practicing more frequently since there is no embarrassment due to others hearing the beginner's mistakes.

Electric guitars and the required amplifiers are a bit more expensive than beginner classical and acoustic guitars.

An amplifier is required, making the guitar less portable.

If the student prefers the acoustic style and sound, the electric guitar will not be a good fit--the sound created by the electric guitar will not meet the student's expectations and may result in lack of motivation and/or discontinuing playing.