People often ask me what kind of guitar should someone start with. They either have a kid that wants to start playing or they are curious about it themselves.
There is no hard rule for everyone, but the short answer is: get a guitar that the new guitarist will be excited about.
When I first started, I had a musician uncle who was trying to convince my parents to buy me a classical guitar, or worse yet, learn the piano first. What???? Hell no. Like that geeky kid from the old Twister Sister video, I said, I wanna rock!
So, I convinced them to get me an electric with an amp that had some distortion. I came home, plugged it in, and hit my first chord (with all open strings). Oh my, the angels sang (or maybe it was the devils?). I was hooked. The addiction started and has not let go since.
So here are some common questions I get from parents with my typical answers.
- Should my kid start on acoustic guitar first?
No, not necessarily. If your kid is into rock, he or she might get turned off by an acoustic guitar. It might kill their buzz and they might see a long, arduous road ahead before they will get to the fun stuff. Get him or her the guitar that they will be excited about picking up.
- Is it necessary to learn how to read music?
No. It can definitely help, but in general, a guitarist can become an accomplished player without ever having to read a note. I always stress that some basic musical theory is very important. For those that don’t know what that means, it’s knowledge about notes, scales, chord structures and how they all work together. Knowing how chords relate to each other or which notes in a scale make a melody sound a certain way, is equally important as technique in my opinion. Simply learning how to play songs or solos is not enough. Without a good solid grounding in music theory, a musician will play somewhat blindly. They will guess notes and chords instead of knowing what to play.Eddie Van Halen, one of the best guitar players ever, couldn’t read notes and it sure didn’t hold him back.
- How much should I spend on the first guitar?
Several companies make some decent starter guitars that are between $100-200. Fender and Epiphone are pretty dominant in this price range. Fender has both lower end Stratocasters and Telecasters, while Epiphone offers Les Paul copies. All are pretty good, but I always encourage new guitar players to stay away from guitars with whammy bars, since they can cause tuning problems and possibly lead to frustration for the new player. There are also plenty of amps in around the $100 range. The Line 6 Spider is a good starter amp. For acoustic guitars, there are plenty of good ones under $200 from Epiphone, Yamaha, and more.
- My kid wants to play hard rock/heavy metal, but should they learn classic music first?
Music is music, and although you might not like a particular genre, your kid is excited to learn the songs of his favorite bands. You should never discourage any music. What I’ve seen happen often is that kids actually expand their musical tastes once they learn a few basics. Once they see they can play some songs from a genre outside of their original tastes, they could start liking that music. I’ve seen kids start with hard rock and then get into country, folk, or jazz. Playing an instrument can often open people’s minds and develop an appreciation for other music styles.
- Do they need lessons or can they learn on their own?
I strongly encourage lessons, at least in the beginning to get some fundamentals learned. A new guitar player needs to learn some basic technique and theory. Otherwise, they might get frustrated when they feel like they can’t play something. It might feel impossible or like too much work. A good teacher can build up the skills in their students correctly, eliminate any bad habits, and ideally inspire them to stick with it.
When I started playing in the early 80’s, we didn’t have the internet and Youtube. There were books and some instructional videos, but some people just picked things up by ear if they had those natural skills. Today, people can learn from the endless footage on Youtube. That is a great tool that I wish I had when I was getting started, but still, some organized instruction from an experienced teacher is priceless.
So, the most exciting part is that your kid or you have gotten that itch to start playing the guitar. Now it’s time to keep that excitement going. Get a guitar, learn a couple of basic things and you’ll be amazed how exciting that moment will be when you or your kid can play a riff or a song from your favorite artist. And, hopefully you’ll stick with it and enjoy a rich life filled with music.