Every week people ask me what's an ideal guitar to learn on, with the hopes of becoming the next rock god. But truthfully, not all guitars are suitable to learn on. If you are serious about learning to play yourself, or if you’re buying the guitar for someone else to learn on, you must be prepared to invest a little money. Don't buy the cheapest guitar, but buying second hand will save you half to a third of the cost. It's always a good idea to take your guitar teacher along with you for advice. I always try to do this when my students ask. Alternately, take a friend who plays.
The most important aspect of any guitar is that it must have a good playable action. What this means is, the strings must be close to the fretboard to make them easy to press (see fig 2 and fig 3). When the strings are too high the person attempting to learn to play usually quits in frustration. They find it too hard. The saddest part is that they think there is something wrong with them. Secondly, a straight neck. This can be checked by looking down the neck as if it were a rifle. Also check by holding down the bottom string (the thick one) on the first fret and the last one. There should be a small gap between the string and the 7th fret. This is called neck relief. The gap should not be too big (see fig 1), but should be there. It is also important to have good intonation. The 12th fret should produce the same note as the open string. This can not usually be adjusted on an acoustic guitar, therefore it needs to be correct. It's usually adjustable on electrics, but it is a little fiddly, so this should only be done by someone who knows what they are doing.
The next thing that is crucial is getting the guitar in tune and it playing in tune. Tuners should tune smoothly and stay in tune. This is a common problem when the guitar is very inexpensive.
Another common question is should I buy an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar. They may look somewhat different, but the finger positions for chords, picking, strumming and scales are identical. If you can play an acoustic then you can play an electric and vice versa. An acoustic guitar has a hollow body and doesn’t need an amplifier. Great for camping and power cuts. Electric guitars are designed to be used with an amplifier. They can be played at any volume and effects such as overdrive can be added. So the choice is yours. Most serious players end up with both.
When you select a guitar there are a few different sizes to choose from. A half size is the smallest. A three-quarter size acoustic has a smaller body so it is ideal for younger people aged 8 - 12. The full size dreadnought is comfortable for anyone who is an adult or young people, the size of an adult.
It is important that your guitar is in tune. Tuning is a process that is learned. Nobody automatically knows how to tune a guitar. Fortunately, there is a small battery operated device called a “guitar tuner” which by picking a string and watching the meter you’ll get your guitar in tune easily and quickly. You can also get them as phone apps. Playing a tuned guitar is far more satisfying.
This shows the neck relief being mesured. You are looking at the middle of the neck.
Showing a guitar with a poor action. I would not consider buying a guitar like this. The coin is a UK 20p
Showing a guitar with a good action. This coin is also a UK 20p