Around Christmas time every year guitar instructors are inundated with questions about buying new guitars. In addition many instructors use the holiday season to push their advancing students into better instruments. As a teacher I try to get my students into the best instrument possible. Here are a few suggestions to help guide you when looking for an instrument:
- Don’t make it a surprise- Buying any instrument without knowing the proper size, type, or style may turn out to be a bad decision. A couple times a year I will have new students returning or trading in a guitar they got as gifts because they are too big, wrong type, or in poor playing condition. It is nice to surprise someone, but with something as personal as an instrument, you should have them involved.
- Ask a pro- be sure to talk to a well qualified instructor before making a purchase. Many instructors may have a specific style of guitar they prefer their new students to start on. These guitars are often the best choice for a new student to start on and give a better chance of success. Remember to talk to a guitar instructor or trusted music shop owner. Unfortunately many purchasers find themselves talking only with salesmen who are concerned with making a sale or maybe have little or no teaching experience.
- Find a teacher; get lessons- Perhaps more important than finding a guitar is finding a good teacher. I know students that received instruments for Christmas or birthdays and let their instruments sit for years before getting lessons. Getting a gift certificate for lessons along with a good quality instrument will help set the studen on the right path.
- Lessons instead of Instrument- It might be a better gift to pay for a few months of lessons even before buying a guitar. Music schools such as CSM have rental programs for instruments that are reasonably priced. By doing this you can take some time before committing to an instrument. This will also ensure that you get the proper instrument you need to continue learning.
- More than the Guitar- There are many items other than the guitar that someone will need to learn the instrument. Items such as a tuner, music stand, foot stool, humidifier etc. will be needed regardless of the type of instrument. You can not go wrong giving these items as gifts.
- Don’t level up- If you have a student that is playing for a year or two and is ready for a new guitar, resist to urge simply move to the next model up. When moving from one model to the next you are not looking at too much of an improvement. After some time in lessons the student’s ear will be more acute and notice tonal changes and characteristics than when they started. While the next model up may be an improvement it will not be long before they may want a new guitar. My advice is to go for the next two or three levels up. Although more expensive, an instrument like this will serve a student for years before another new guitar is needed. Better quality sounding instruments inspire students to play more making it a much better investment.
- No electrics or steel string guitars for beginners- It is not that you can’t learn on an electric/steel string guitar, it just makes the process much more difficult. Steel strings acoustic guitar are large, hard to handle (even for adults), and the steel strings are painful for new students. Electric guitars are more expensive (need an amp, cable etc) and cheap electric guitars are often very poor quality and sound the same. It takes experience for student to make these types of instrument sound they way they should. I strongly recommend all new students start on an appropriately size nylon string classical guitar. These are fairly priced, easy to handle, and easy to play. These are great instruments for learning the basics and working toward the electrics and steel string acoustics.