So you’ve decided it’s finally time to transition from playing air guitar at 3 am in your bathroom mirror to playing the real-deal. Finding the best beginner guitar can be overwhelming: there’s so many choices, it’s difficult to know what’s legit and what’s not. Gathering data from my students’ guitars, my own beginner guitars, and reviews online, I headed to the local guitar store to test out and find the best beginner guitars for adults and kids.
Key Considerations When Buying a Beginner Guitar
First off, let’s cover the basics. When you’re trying out a guitar, there’s 5 key things to consider. (If you’re shopping online, and unable to get to a the store, fear not. We tested these in the shop, and will share our findings next.)
Feel - Run your hands along the neck and fretboard. Does it feel smooth, or are there noticeable bumps/irregularities?
Sound - Give it a strum. Does it sound deep and full, or does it sound tinny?
Durability - Gently knock on the body with your knuckle, and try out the hardware/tuning pegs. Does the material feel durable, or is it cheap & flimsy? Does it stay in tune?
Features - Electric, acoustic, electro-acoustic? Do you want a whammy bar for solo-ing? A built-in tuner?
Price - You can find a great beginner guitar for under $200, but beware deals from lesser-known companies that seem too good to be true. (Chances are, they are.)
Next we’ll provide our list of the best acoustic and electric guitars for beginners.
Best Beginner Guitars for Adults
We’ll start with the best full-scale guitars for adults and older children. If you’re looking for a short-scale guitar, skip ahead to the next section.
1. Washburn WD100DL: $200
Full sound, full size, no frills
Picking up this guitar, it immediately feels at home in your arms. The neck is wonderfully secure and balanced in playing position. The body, while larger because it’s a dreadnought, isn’t clumsy or bulky.
This guitar was designed to create a huge sound. The highs are bright without being shrill and the lows are robust. The projection from the guitar can fill a room. From my experience and others, this guitar also stays in tune for a ridiculously long time. One reviewer said theirs stayed in tune for almost 7 months! Though you should get in the habit of tuning every time you play, when you just want to play the guitar or haven’t invested in a tuner yet, it’s worth it.
One thing to keep in mind, is that the action (distance between the strings and the neck) of the guitar may be high straight out of the box. While this might make it more difficult to press down on the strings, it can be easily remedied by going to your local guitar shop and having them professionally set it up. I think the sound of this guitar is worth it.
2. Ibanez PC12MH: $150
Beautiful finish, smaller size
Like it’s appearance, this beginner guitar is beautiful yet understated. Its grand concert-style body is slightly smaller than the Washburn and, head to bridge, feels much more delicate. This guitar is easy to hold against your body and balance in your hands. The neck is slim, and the fretboard is very smooth: perfect for beginners to learn how to navigate the neck. The action is nice and low as well and can make learning the fretboard less intimidating.
The Ibanez PC12MH’s sound is full and can compete with other acoustic guitars in its price range, but compared to the Washburn the low end of the sound gets lost. Big, open chords will have a little less oomph, but this is still a great, more delicate option of acoustic guitar.
3. Epiphone SG Special: $200
Iconic guitar, short neck, great for smaller hands
For those about to rock…we salute you!
While Epiphone is Gibson’s affordable line of guitars, this one sounds and looks like the real deal.
The length of the neck is on the shorter end for full scale guitars which can be especially good for smaller adults or beginners whose hands haven’t fully developed yet. This guitar is perfect for shredding with the smaller neck and wonderfully flat fretboard so you’ll be playing like Angus Young fast. The hardware on this guitar is simple but effective which is perfect for beginners. The volume and tone knobs respond really well to adjustments as well.
This is a guitar that is both accessible from day one and can last far past a musician’s beginner stages. Since this guitar is based off a more expensive model, as you grow as a beginner and if you decide to update the hardware, you can have a guitar that has the sound of an iconic instrument.
4. Ibanez GRX20W: $150
Like its acoustic cousin, this Ibanez is a joy to play. The neck is narrow, the fretboard is smooth and it has just enough weight in your hand to balance it well. This guitar feels easy and is certainly easy to play. For that alone, it made this list of the best beginner guitars.
A great indicator of the quality of an electric guitar’s build is how it sounds when you play unplugged. The Ibanez GRX20W has a lovely clear tone and the mid and highs shine without an amplifier helping. That sound matched with the solid wood of the body and neck of this guitar are a combo that will allow this guitar to last beyond beginner years.
My only complaint? It has a tremolo (or whammy) bar. While super fun to play with, beginners need to be wary, since whammy bars can get your guitar out of tune more quickly, and get in the way of strumming. If you tread wisely though, I do think this is a great electric guitar for its price and gives you plenty of room to grow with it.
Because of its modest price, robust build and size, this Yamaha is the perfect beginner guitar for young children. This guitar is durable. This guitar can be dropped, knocked over, bump into things and it’ll keep its above average sound and most of its tuning. Speaking of tuning, unlike most ¾ beginner guitars, the Yamaha JR1 stays in tune!
The particularly short scale of this guitar makes the navigating the fretboard simple, though its size may be cramped for older children. At 21.25”, this guitar’s neck is short even for ¾ sized guitars and is perfect for small fingers. While many beginner and ¾ scale acoustics struggle to project the lower notes, this acoustic is able to support the low end surprisingly well for its size. It doesn’t sound like a toy at all.
Especially for small and young children, this beginner guitar is an excellent choice. It also comes with a beginner bundle which includes a lot of useful accessories.
2. Luna Safari Series Muse: $170
For its sound, aesthetic and accessibility, this is a great ¾ sized beginner guitar for kids. First off, The Luna Safari has a great sound. It can compete with full sized guitars in terms of projection, and the mahogany body and rosewood fretboard creates a lovely warm, bright tone. Because of it’s tone and small size, I found myself reaching for it again and again when testing out guitars. It was just fun, welcoming instrument to play, an important feature in beginner guitars.
To take this instrument to the next level, I highly recommend replacing its strings. The factory strings are dull and to truly make this guitar have its complete sound, it will need nicer strings.
3. Squier by Fender Mini Strat: $130
When someone says “electric guitar”, you think Stratocaster. It’s been a classic since the 1950s and this Squier Mini Strat follows that tradition wonderfully and the aesthetic is unbeatable.
The guitar has a clean, bright sound which the built-in hardware picks up well. While it’s lighter as a ¾ sized guitar, this guitar doesn’t feel flimsy at all. The electronics and layout are simple, which is exactly what you want for a beginning guitar. It’s an incredibly accessible and popular instrument. And if it breaks? It’s very easy to fix and parts are readily at hand.
The biggest downfall is that this guitar will fall out of tune regularly. To mitigate this, go to your local guitar store and ask to have the guitar professionally set up and have the strings replaced. They’ll be able to adjust the guitar to make it perform at its best.
4. Ibanez GRGM21BKN: $150
This is the third time Ibanez has made the list and for good reason: They make high quality, affordable guitars.
In more ways than one, this guitar is heavy. The fretboard is wonderfully flat and made for shredding. The body and neck are solid pieces of wood which gives it great upgrade-potential past the beginner years of playing guitar. Like the Mini Strat, the Mikro falls out of tune quickly though this can be mitigated by getting the guitar professionally set-up.
The biggest difference between this guitar and the Mini Strat are the pick-ups. Instead of single coil pick-ups, the Mikro has humbuckers which gives it a darker, thicker sound. While the Mini Strat is great for classic rock and general playing, this axe is great for aspiring metal heads.
If you’re looking for a competitor in the ¾ sized electric guitar game, the Mikro is a great alternative to the Mini Strat.
Any of the guitars on this list are a great pick. For adults, I like the Washburn WD100DL for its rich sound and the Ibanez GRX20W for its playlability. For kids, the Yamaha JR1FG is wonderfully reliable and the Fender Mini Strat is a treat to play on. Whatever guitar you choose, I highly recommend taking your instrument to the local music shop and investing the $50 it takes to get it professionally set-up. Good luck and rock on!
Author: Elisabeth Crotser