When figuring out what the best guitar for children is, first you have to decide the type of guitar that is the easiest to learn on and in doing so you have to take into account the fact that a child has smaller hands and arms and less physical strength than an adult.
First of all let’s take a look and see which type of guitar is the best to start out on.
Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar or Classical Guitar?
So should your child start out on an electric, classical or acoustic guitar? Let’s take a look at each one and see what the pros and cons are for each.
It’s not often that you’d see a child start out on an electric guitar. Is this just because it’s not the norm or are there reasons why an electric guitar is not the best option?
Let’s look at some pros and cons for kids starting out on an electric guitar.
- The action: The action (which is just how high from the fingerboard the strings sit) on an electric guitar is usually lower on average than it is on classical and acoustic guitars. And if you need to make adjustments to the action it is usually a more straight forward process too. A low action makes it easier (both technically and physically) to press down on the strings.
- The neck: Electric guitars usually have narrow and low profile necks. Smaller necks make it easier for a child to get their hands around and in turn makes it easier for them to make chord shapes.
- Weight: Electric guitars are usually heavier than acoustic and classical guitars. This extra weight makes it more difficult for a child to handle the guitar. If they are having to put in effort to hold the guitar up, it will make it much more difficult to focus on playing the guitar properly.
- Sitting: Electric guitars are typically made for playing standing up. It is much easier to learn to play sitting down. Of course, that’s not to say that you can’t play electric sitting down – it’s just not as easy as it is with an acoustic or classical guitar.
- Steel Strings and String Tension: Steel strings have more tension on them than nylon strings (found on classical guitars) this makes it harder physically and technically to press on the strings.
- Amps: If you buy your kid an electric guitar you’ll need to buy an amp too. Sure you can learn to play the electric without an amp – but it produces very little sound, with no resonance or sustain. Your child will likely become board of the flat, quiet sound. The amp adds to the cost and also means that they can make it really loud. You then also have to buy cables and the child has to learn how to adjust the EQ and the volume and all the extra things that come with having an electric guitar and amp.
O.k. so those were the pros and cons for starting with an electric guitar. I’ll let you know what I think is are the best options at the end of the post. First let’s take a look at the pros and cons of classical and then acoustic guitars.
Just quickly. A classical guitar is a guitar that has Nylon strings, and is typically used to play classical or flamenco style music. The size and shape of a classical guitar is fairly standard and doesn’t vary as much as electric and acoustic guitars can.
- Smaller body: Classical guitars have a smaller body size than your average acoustic guitar (though you can definitely get acoustic guitars as small (and smaller) as classical guitars). This makes it easier for a child to handle the guitar. Again, the easier it is to hold, the more attention that can be focused on learning to play.
- Weight: Classical guitars are, on average the lightest of classical, acoustic and electric guitars.
- Nylon Strings: Classical guitars have Nylon strings. Nylon strings are softer on the fingers than steel strings.
- Less Tension on the Strings: There is also less tension on Nylon strings. This means that it takes less effort to press the string into the fingerboard. This again means less pain on the fingers when pressing down. It also means that it’s technically easier to press down on the string because it takes less effort.
- Inexpensive: Yes you definitely can buy some very expensive classical guitars that will be very nice but you can also get very inexpensive models. Just don’t go too low in price or the instrument could end up being so unpleasant to play that your kid doesn’t enjoy it – or that it falls apart after only a short while.
- Higher action: Classical Guitars tend to have a higher action than electric and acoustic guitars and it’s more difficult to play a guitar that has a high action. When the string is higher off the fingerboard it takes more time to press that string into the fingerboard. Yes the lower tension of the strings somewhat counteracts that. But it can still be more difficult technically to play. You can lower the action on a classical guitar but you can’t lower it as much as you can on an electric or acoustic guitar. This is because the strings on a classical guitar need more room to vibrate.
- Wide neck: The other major downside of a classical guitar when used for kids is the wider neck. Classical guitars have significantly wider necks than acoustic or electric guitars. A wider neck makes it harder for small hands to play.
Classical guitars need a wider neck for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the strings need more room to vibrate – so they need to be spaced further apart and secondly, classical guitars are made predominantly for playing finger-style and having a wider string spacing is better for playing finger-style (fingerstyle is when you use all of the fingers of your right hand to pluck strings either individually or together, as opposed to strumming or flat-picking (which uses a pick in the right hand or one finger of the right hand – or left hand if left handed of course).
And finally we come to the acoustic guitar and its suitability for kids. Acoustic guitars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with some being very well suited to kids starting out and some being quite unsuitable.
- Size/Shape options: You can get some quite small acoustic guitars. Some of these guitars are made to be good for travel and others are just small for the sound they are trying to achieve and some are small to appeal to kids and smaller adults. The smaller size options are great for kids because they are easier to hold – so they don’t have to concentrate to hold the guitar. Then they can spend their focus on playing it.
- Narrow necks: Like electric guitars, acoustic guitars tend to have narrower necks and you can get some pretty low profile necks too. This makes it easier for small hands to play.
- Lower action: Acoustic guitars have a lower action than classical guitars. And if you have a guitar with a high action you can lower that action quite low – lower than you can with a classical guitar, because the strings don’t need as much room to vibrate.
- Weight: Although on average acoustic guitars weigh more than classical guitars, those smaller sizes that we discussed above are naturally lighter than larger sized acoustic guitars. Even larger acoustic guitars are lighter than electric guitars, on average.
- Strings: Whilst acoustic guitars use steel strings which can be hard on the fingers, you can get steel strings for acoustic guitars that will be softer and easier on the fingers. The most common of these are “silk and steel” strings. Learn more about beginner guitar strings here
- Selection and Price: There is a large selection of acoustic guitars to choose from. So finding one that is suitable and in your budget should be an easy task.
- Steel strings: Most Acoustic guitars won’t come with silk and steel strings so you’ll need to purchase silk and steel strings separately if you want the strings to be softer on the fingers. They don’t cost too much so this is only a small con.
- String Tension: There is more tension on steel strings than nylon strings. This makes it more difficult technically and physically to press on the strings. But again, this is less so with Silk and Steel strings, which is another reason why they are a great choice for kids and beginners alike.
What Are the Best Options?
So what do I think the best guitar is for kids?
In my opinion you shouldn’t start your child on an electric guitar. In general I think they are too difficult to hold for a child and they’ll be spending half their focus on holding the thing up.
When they start growing bigger and stronger, and after they’ve already learned some of the basics of guitar, then an electric guitar is an option later on, but I wouldn’t personally recommend starting out on one.
Both classical and acoustic guitars are good options for kids in my opinion. Traditionally kids have started out on classical guitars but this trend is changing. There are downsides to starting on a classical guitar – the main ones being the wide neck and high action.
I think personally that an acoustic guitar is the best way to start if you keep the following things in mind.
You want to choose a smaller bodied acoustic guitar – whether that be a ¾ sized guitar, a parlor shape or the likes doesn’t matter, just choose a guitar that will be easier for a child to hold.
The other thing to keep in mind if choosing an acoustic guitar is that your best bet is to go with silk and steel strings to make them easier on your child’s fingers and easier to play physically and technically (because there is less tension on them).
Finally, make sure that the action (how high the strings are from the fingerboard) is low. This is something you should be able to have done at a guitar shop or music shop. Setting up the guitar properly will make it much easier to play.
In my opinion the best option is to find a small bodied acoustic guitar and put silk and steel strings on it (and have the action lowered if it needs it). Then you get all the advantages of a classical guitar but with a narrower neck and a lower action. A classical guitar is still a good choice but try to avoid an electric guitar – especially as their first guitar.
Thanks for reading and I hope you found this post useful in choosing a guitar for your child.
If you have any questions (hopefully I didn’t use too many technical terms that I didn’t explain!) or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you with a reply as soon as possible.
If you’re looking for some options for smaller acoustic guitars you can check out some of Six String Acoustic’s reviews at the link below.