When you’re a kid, receiving a guitar as a gift is a life-changing experience. And sure, that might sound like hyperbole, and of course we are biased, but we speak from experience – it changes everything.
The beauty of the guitar is that it is portable and immediate. Piano lessons are great 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 is 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 a question of a sort of academic discipline, of chasing that next level of ability so you can play your favorite songs, and that feeling of achievement and of discovery is profoundly rewarding.
With the wider guitar world offering all kinds of excellent instruments and resources for beginners and young players, 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.
- 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?
The simple answer is any that keeps them playing and keeps them 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. And 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”, though 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 is not to say that a full-scale guitar is not right for your child. There is no age limit but rather what feels right. The benefits of learning on a full-scale guitar is that there is no sizing up after they are 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 is 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 the guitar itself inspires the player.
But there are practical considerations. The acoustic guitar is the most immediate and portable guitar. You do not need an amplifier and a cable, just a guitar pick – or even your fingers. Indeed, your child might be inspired by Ed Sheeran and the likes 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 are 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 will be getting a guitar that will definitely last them through into adulthood, and one that will offer a better playing experience. There is 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 have chosen a guitar you are 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 will need an amplifier and a guitar cable. We 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
Fender CC-60S Concert Pack
A great value, all-inclusive package for beginners
Price: $199.99 | Key Features: Solid spruce top with mahogany HPL back and sides, nato neck, 25.3” scale, walnut fingerboard, gig-bag included plus extra pack of strings, and 3-month Fender Play Subscription
One attractive option is to go for a starter pack. It is something that the bigger brands – Fender and Gibson especially – have been good at. This CC-60S Concert Pack is an excellent bundle.
You get a Concert-sized Fender acoustic whose smaller body is a bit more manageable for younger players but won’t feel like a toy when they are grown, plus there is a gigbag for carrying to and from lessons, an extra pack of strings and a three-month subscription to Fender’s superlative learning platform, Fender Play.
Not only that but the build quality is very impressive, and it’s great to see a solid-wood top at this price. It’s everything you need to get started.
Martin LX1 Little Martin
A quality short-scale acoustic for kids of all ages
Price: $349 | Key Features: Sitka spruce pattern HPL on top, mahogany pattern HPL back and sides, Modified O-14 body, 23” scale, Richlite fingerboard, inlaid Boltaron rosette with red fiber, gigbag included
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.
Playability is great, too. This is a guitar that adults would look on as a great travel guitar, and that kids would not grow out of.
The fingerboard is made out of Richlite – a sustainable synthesis of resins and pulps that behaves a little like ebony – while there is high-pressure Sitka spruce pattern laminate on the top, with HPL mahogany on the back and sides, which you could argue makes for a more consistent instrument in its resistance to temperature changes.
Ibanez PN12E Mahogany electro-acoustic
A small, affordable option for budding performers
Price: $199.99 | Key Features: Mahogany top, mahogany back and sides, parlor-sized body, 24.41” scale, 18 frets, rosewood fingerboard, AEQ-2T pickup and preamp, onboard tuner
With its onboard preamp and tuner, the PN12E electro-acoustic offers a quick route to the stage for any young player. To have 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 doesn’t matter for beginners. The main thing is they can be amplified should they wish. The onboard tuner is also hugely valuable, as learning to tune and stay in tune is perhaps the most important lesson to learn.
Unplugged, the PN12E has a nice warm tone, an ever-so slightly shorter scale, and a parlor-sized body that’s perfect for children to get to grips with.
Yamaha JR1 3/4-Size Dreadnought
A more manageable introduction to the classic dreadnought shape
Price: $149.99 | Key Features: Spruce top, meranti back and sides, 3/4-size dreadnought, 21.25” scale, 18 frets, nato neck, rosewood fingerboard, gig-bag
The JR1 does well to provide some of a dreadnought’s famous booming mids without the bulk of the body. We love this short-scale version; it is far less intimidating for beginners.
The build is pretty neat too. There is a classic spruce top with Yamaha opting for meranti – more budget material – on the back and sides. Meranti might not be as desirable as mahogany but it is hard-wearing and helps make the JR1 such a good price. 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 there is an all-important gigbag included.
Four great electric guitars for kids
Yamaha Pacifica PAC112J
First electric guitars don’t get any better
Price: $199.99 | Key Features: Alder body, bolt-on maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, 25.5” scale, 1x Yamaha Ceramic Humbucker (bridge) 2x Yamaha Ceramic Singlecoils (middle and neck), master volume, master tone, five-way blade pickup selector, vintage-style tremolo
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.
Ibanez miKro GRGM21
An entry-level shred guitar that’s great for small hands
Price: $149.99 | Key Features: Poplar body, bolt-on maple neck, treated pine fingerboard, 22.2” scale, 2x Ibanez PSND humbuckers (neck and bridge), master volume, master tone, three-way blade pickup selector, six-saddle hard-tail bridge
The miKro GRGM21 is a serious choice for aspiring young shredders with a bit of growing yet to do. It is a small-bodied, short-scale guitar with a thin neck and smooth feel that should be kind to small hands and fingertips yet to be hardened with fretboard miles.
With two humbucking pickups, it is ideal for those whose interest in the electric guitar was piqued by heavy metal.
They are not super high-output but they are hot enough to offer plenty of crunch.
That said, you can play all kinds of styles on the miKro GRGM21, so it should not inhibit a healthy curriculum for wide-eyed novices making their way in the six-string world.
Squier Special Edition Bullet Stratocaster
Classic Fender looks, timeless Fender design, ever-affordable
Price: $149.99 | Key Features: Basswood body, bolt-on maple neck, Indian laurel fingerboard, 25.5” scale, 3x Squier Standard Singlecoils), master volume, 2x tone, five-way blade pickup selector, vintage-style tremolo
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 is 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.
Epiphone SG Classic Worn P-90s
A quality doublecut inspired by the Gibson US range
Price: $379.99 | Key Features: Basswood body, bolt-on maple neck, Indian laurel fingerboard, 25.5” scale, 3x Squier Standard Singlecoils), master volume, 2x tone, five-way blade pickup selector, vintage-style tremolo
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.