When first starting out on the guitar it’s difficult to know what kind of instrument is best for you and it’s all too easy getting stuck with the assumption that you need to spend a lot of money to get something good. However, you don’t need to spend a bunch of cash to get a quality instrument. Here are some basic things to look out for:
Solid construction, especially when it comes to the top.
The top of acoustic guitars (both steel-string and classical) is the primary component in the production of a guitar’s sound and tone (no matter how pretty that cocobolo or Brazilian rosewood back and sides may be, they play a lesser role in the overall sound of the instrument). When a string vibrates it transmits that vibration through the bridge into the air inside the body of the guitar so that the air resonates with the pitch, but then comes the top: the top literally oscillates up and down and pushes that resonating air out of the body. The point, then, is you want a guitar with a solid top. Laminate top guitars will stand up much better to weather, but they don’t have the same vibrating power and tone as solid tops. Not only that, but solid tops will also sound better as they age.
Laminate back and sides? No problem.
While a solid top is a must and is not a huge price premium, laminate back and sides will differ little in sound production and tone from solid back and sides…while the latter will be quite a bit more expensive. So save your pocketbook a bit of cash and opt for a solid top and laminate back and sides unless you can really afford to spend extra on an all-solid instrument.
Tuners (tuning machines, not those little devices that tell you when you’re in tune)
Inexpensive beginner guitars tend to have very cheap tuners and this can affect the overall intonation of the instrument. Investing just a bit more for a guitar that has a decent set of tuners on the headstock, like a set of Gotohs or Schallers, will go a long way in the long run.
Many makers of beginner guitars will offer different scale lengths for their instrument. Scale length refers to the entire length of the vibrating string, or, the distance from the nut to the saddle. The traditional standard for scale length on a classical guitar is 650mm, while it’s shorter on acoustics. If you have smaller hands it may make a difference to try out a smaller scale length guitar, so keep that in mind as you shop around.
Give a few a try
Once you have a pretty good idea of what kinds of guitars fit your budget and what you’re looking for it is highly recommended that you go to a store or two and try out several guitars in person. If you are brand new to guitar or haven’t started out yet at all, maybe ask someone at the store to play for you. This will give you a pretty good idea of the kind of sound each guitar can produce. Even if there are two copies of the exact same model guitar sometimes they can sound quite different. It’s always best to try before you buy.
So that’s it. Many different brands fit these specifications and finding a guitar that fits you will be very personal. However, I recommend checking out the Cordoba C5 or C7 for classical guitars, or if you need something even a bit cheaper the Yamaha C40. For acoustic steel strings, the Yamaha FG series guitars are great, but I would avoid the lowest of the line, which has “open gear” tuning machines (it’s always best to go with closed gear tuners for acoustic and electric guitars because dust can get inside the mechanism and cause it to decay quicker). I hope you found this useful. See you next time!