When you’re a kid, receiving a guitar as a gift is truly a life-changing experience. And while that might sound like hyperbole, and yes we are biased, we speak from experience – it changes everything.
The beauty of the guitar is that it is portable and immediate. Piano lessons are great, sure, but you can play the guitar anywhere. The clarinet is great, too, but it is less accessible – the gains are harder to come by. With the guitar, you can make progress quickly. Once you learn three chords, you are a more or less a functioning guitarist.
As a child adds to their knowledge and abilities it's not just musical possibilities that open up but all kinds of benefits. Some are social, such as the joy of playing in a band with friends at school. Others are more academic - the discipline of chasing that next level of ability so you can play your favorite songs. The feeling of achievement and discovery you get when you achieve it is profoundly rewarding.
With more terrific instruments and resources for beginners and young players than ever before, there has never been a better time to start your journey as a guitarist. Here we have four electric guitars and four acoustic guitars that would be ideal for a beginner or a young player, but first, let’s look at some of the things to consider before buying a guitar for your child.
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- Need more options? These are the best acoustic guitars for beginners
- ...and the best beginner electric guitars
- Acoustic vs electric guitar: which is best for beginners?
What makes a good guitar for kids?
Well, the easy answer is: any that keeps them playing and enthused about the instrument! What that looks like in practice will vary depending on a number of factors. How old is your child? How much growing have they got to do? Have they been playing for a while now? Do they seem serious about the instrument? What inspires them to play guitar?
One of the biggest challenges when playing guitar as a kid is dealing with sore fingertips and wrestling with full-size, full-scale guitars. Young hands with a bit of growing to do might benefit from shorter-scale guitars – that is the length from the guitar’s nut to the bridge is shorter, typically below 25”, and even as low as 21.25”.
The benefits of a short-scale guitar is that the string tension is looser. The strings are easier to bend. The ergonomics of the instrument might be more suited to smaller frames. For the under 12s, a short-scale guitar, and one with maybe a 3/4-sized body would be more appropriate.
But that's not to say that a full-scale guitar is not right for your child. There's no age minimum for a full-scale guitar - what's more important is what feels right. The benefits of learning on a full-scale guitar is that there's no sizing up after they're grown.
Many of us learned on full-scale instruments in our early teens, and if there was a struggle it was more that those instruments were not that playable in the first place – even as adults we’d find some of those hand-me-down firewood acoustics intimidating!
Electric or acoustic guitar?
This is a difficult one, but ultimately it comes back to what we are looking for in any instrument for children: what's going to keep them enthused and keep them playing the longest.
If your child’s interest in guitar was sparked by heavy metal, it’s best to lead them down the path of least resistance towards an electric guitar. The answer would be the same if it was blues, rock or punk or whatever. It’s vital that the guitar itself inspires the player.
There are, however, practical considerations. The acoustic guitar is the most immediate and portable guitar. You don't need an amplifier and a cable, just a guitar pick – or even your fingers. Indeed, your child might be inspired by someone like Ed Sheeran, and you don’t want an electric guitar for that. Far better to pick one of the smaller-bodied acoustics we recommend below.
And if your child is yet to really form any strong opinions on musical taste, the acoustic guitar’s immediacy makes it an ideal blank-slate for budding young players.
How much should you pay for a guitar for kids?
The big fear is that children will fall out of love with the guitar and pick up something else. It happens. There is so much else to do! If you're unsure that your child will stick it out – and you know best – we would advise against spending north of 200 bucks. For that money, you can get a more than decent beginner’s guitar.
But say they’ve had a few lessons on an old guitar, and their passion is evident, we’d maybe spring to $350 or thereabouts. For that money, you'll be getting a guitar that will definitely last them through into adulthood, and one that will offer a better playing experience.
There's an economic trade-off here. With a guitar such as the Epiphone SG below, you won’t be under pressure to upgrade it a few years later, but it does cost a little more.
What else do I need to get them started?
Once you've chosen a guitar, you're going to need some picks, a spare set of strings, a strap, a tuner, a gig-bag for carrying it around, and if you get an electric guitar you'll need an amplifier and a guitar cable.
For those crucial items, we've included links to some handy buying guides below.
As with electric guitars, there is a huge array of entry-level guitar amplifiers – many with a host of smart tech features – at a similar $200 price point. The other essentials will set you back around $50 to $70.
Lessons are another consideration. Good guitar teachers are hard to find but there is no substitute for an excellent one-on-one tuition. That said, there is a wealth of online learning platforms to help steer your child in the right direction.
- Our complete guide to the best acoustic guitar strings
- And the best electric guitar strings
- The best guitar cables
- The best guitar straps for boosting playing comfort
- Tune up with the best guitar tuners
- Beginner guitar gear essentials and accessories
- Need an amplifier? These are the best guitar amps under $500
Four awesome acoustic guitars for kids
One attractive option is to go for a starter pack. It's something that the bigger brands – Fender and Gibson especially – are quite good at. Fender's CC-60S Concert Pack, in particular, is an excellent bundle.
You get a Concert-sized Fender acoustic whose smaller body is more manageable for younger players but won’t feel like a toy when they are grown - plus there's a gigbag for carrying to and from lessons, an extra pack of strings and a three-month subscription to Fender’s fantastic learning platform, Fender Play.
The build quality of the guitar is incredibly impressive, and it’s refreshing to see a solid-wood top at this price. It’s everything you need to get started.
The Little Martin is a little pricier but you are getting an exceptional build and an exceptional instrument. Despite its short 23” scale and compact Modified O-14 body it has a bold, punchy and well-balanced voice.
The playability is stellar, too. It's a guitar that adults would embrace as a great travel guitar, and that kids wouldn't grow out of.
The fingerboard is made out of Richlite – a sustainable synthesis of resins and pulps that behaves a bit like ebony – while the top is made from a high-pressure Sitka spruce pattern laminate. Meanwhile, the back and sides are made from HPL mahogany, which can - with its resistance to temperature changes - definitely make for a more consistent, reliable instrument.
With its onboard preamp and tuner, the PN12E electro-acoustic offers a quick route to the stage for any young player. Just having the option of plugging in and delivering a performance on a guitar at this price is incredible.
Now, the pickup/preamp might not deliver the sound quality of an LR Baggs, but that's not an issue for beginners. The main thing is they can be amplified should they wish. The onboard tuner is also hugely valuable, as learning how to tune and (stay in tune) is one of the most important lessons a young guitarist can learn.
Unplugged, the PN12E has a warm tone, an ever-so slightly shorter scale, and a parlor-sized body that’s perfect for children to get to grips with.
The JR1 does well to provide some of a dreadnought’s famous booming mids without the significant bulk of the body. We love this short-scale version; it is far less intimidating for beginners.
The build is pretty great too. There is a classic spruce top with Yamaha opting for meranti – a cheaper material – on the back and sides. Meranti might not be as desirable as mahogany but it's hard-wearing and helps give the JR1 its incredibly attractive looks. Besides, the spruce top is resonant enough to get some good tones from the guitar.
Elsewhere, you’ve got a sturdy nato (eastern mahogany) neck, a rosewood fingerboard, and an all-important gigbag included.
Four great electric guitars for kids
The Yamaha Pacifica is a guitar that enters the conversation when talking about the pound-for-pound, dollar-for-dollar best guitar of all time. When you factor in the price, the build, the variety of finish options and the quality of the tone, it’s easy to see why it’s a ubiquitous presence in school music departments.
We love its HSS pickup configuration, especially for new players. With a humbucker in the bridge position, they’ll have access to thicker, higher-output tones that are ideal for rock and metal, while the two single coils offer some trebly snap and precision.
This is a guitar to learn on, but not only to learn to play. With the HSS pickup configuration players can learn about tone, too, and learn what type of player they might like to be. A tremolo bar is always a good option, too – nothing like a bit of wobble to show off once you’ve learned a piece.
The miKro GRGM21 is a serious choice for aspiring young shredders with a bit of growing yet to do. It's a small-bodied, short-scale guitar with a thin neck and smooth feel that should forgiving for small hands and fingertips yet to be hardened with fretboard miles.
With two humbucking pickups, it's ideal for those whose interest in the electric guitar was piqued by heavy metal.
They're not super high-output but they do offer plenty of crunch. You can also play a wide variety of other styles on the miKro GRGM21, so it shouldn't inhibit a diverse musical curriculum for wide-eyed novices just starting to make their way in the six-string world.
Squier’s Bullet Series is a hardy perennial in any list of beginner electrics, and for good reason. It mines parent brand Fender’s design catalog for inspiration, scales down some of the more expensive components and offers playable electrics that do a decent job of replicating their more expensive siblings’ tone.
Take this Strat. We’ve got the iconic Seafoam Green finish, a vintage-style tremolo for whammy bar wobble, and three single coil pickups that have heaps of twang and attitude.
While the guitar is a full Fender-sized 25.5” scale, it's still a more than approachable beginner electric guitar, and you won’t find young players outgrowing it as they take a growth spurt in their teens.
Okay, this is a little more expensive than the others in our recommendations but here is why this might not matter for you: if your child is super-serious about the guitar, and maybe has been playing for a few months on a hand-me-down cheapo electric, this SG from Gibson’s sub-brand Epiphone might present better value, as it is still south of 400 bucks and is good enough to play into adulthood.
What you get is a guitar based on Gibson’s SG, in two classic finishes (Worn Inverness Green, Worn Cherry), with two excellent-sounding pickups, a thin mahogany body that’s ideal for players with a bit of growing to do, and, ultimately, an instrument they won’t want to put down.