A close friend called me the other day asking about beginner guitars. Apparently his oldest son, now 12, had decided that he wanted a guitar for Christmas.
“I don’t want to spend too much money” he said. “I’m afraid this is just a fad and he’ll just end up giving up on the guitar like he did with the piano.“
I completely understand his predicament. Whether you’re looking to buy a guitar for someone else or give it a try yourself, you’re having to balance your budget with your expectations. You’re not quite ready to invest too much money but you also don’t want to buy a piece of junk. The terrible quality of the guitar may push you to give it up sooner.
The good news is that guitar manufacturing has made significant improvements over the past decade and even beginner guitars can be affordable without being “cheap”. I’ll share with you here what I told my friend: even with a budget under $300, you can still get a nice quality beginner guitar.
These were the top 5 suggestions I gave him:
Squier Fender Strat HSS – $249
One of the best options for a beginner guitar has always been the Squier by Fender Stratocaster. There are quite a few different versions of this guitar such as the Bullet Strat or Mini Strat but the best bang for your buck is going to be the Squier Fender Strat HSS.
Why? There are a couple reasons. First is that the HHS comes with a humbucker pickup instead of three single coils, offering a better sound and more options to play around with.
Second is that instead of a small little 10-watt amp. The Squier Strat HSS comes with a slightly more powerful 15-watt amp. It’s something you’ll be thankful for a couple months down the road.
I’m a fan of the Squier Affinity Series of electric guitars as starter guitars not just because they play well and sound good, but also because they’re easily upgradable.
The body is well built and the neck join is solid, so when you’re ready to upgrade the pickups it’s actually quite a simple process.
Shop the Squier Fender Strat HSS on:
Taylor Guitar’s Baby Taylor – $299
There are numerous full-size acoustic beginner guitars that you can find for under $300 at your guitar store and most of them probably aren’t that bad. They might come equipped with electronics and a fancy sunburst top. But a lot of that hides one simple but important fact–these other guitars just aren’t made with good materials.
This is why I recommend the Baby Taylor to many beginner guitarists despite the fact that it’s not a full-size guitar: not only are the materials top-notch, the construction quality is superb.
Taylor Guitars is well-known for creating high-quality, often expensive acoustic and electric guitars. Their standard of quality means that when they created the Baby Taylor, they made sure that they used a solid Spruce top (instead of the laminate you’ll find in 95% of the other acoustic guitars at this price point). The tone of the Baby Taylor is excellent, even if the volume is lacking.
Bottom line: this is a guitar you’ll keep long after you’ve decided to upgrade to something else. And on the off chance you or your loved one decides to give up on guitar altogether, the Taylor name has great resale value.
Shop the Baby Taylor Acoustic Guitar on:
Cordoba C5 Classical Guitar – $299
Modeled after the traditional Spanish style, these guitars feature solid Canadian cedar tops with a beautiful rosette and mahogany back/sides. It also comes with a gig bag.
The advantage of learning on a classical guitar is that nylon strings are often easier on the fingers. Classical guitars promote learning a more traditional finger style approach, proper posture, and better finger placement.
The flip side is that it’s not quite as “trendy” as an electric or acoustic guitar.
A nylon-string classical guitar isn’t for everybody. However, if you’ve tried various acoustic and electric models without much luck, the classical is certainly worth a try.
Personally, I love the tone of a classical guitar.
Shop the Cordoba C5 Classical Guitar on:
Epiphone LP-100 Les Paul – $249
As you can see here, it’s an absolutely beautiful guitar and it plays quite well, both acoustically and plugged into an amplifier.
The classic design is complimented by two Alnico V humbucker pickups that provide the amazing tone. It’s an easy-to-play guitar and looks like it’s worth twice its value.
Unfortunately this guitar doesn’t come with extras like a guitar case, amplifier or cables – hence the lower price for a great guitar. You’ll need to buy each of these separately. Doing so, of course, will add to the overall cost. But, if you already have an amp or a good gig bag, that won’t be a problem.
Overall, I love the Epiphone LP-100 Les Paul as an option for those guitarists who prefer jazz over rock and who want to explore stretch chords over power chords.
Shop the Epiphone LP-100 Les Paul on:
Yamaha APX 500II – $298
Finally, if you’re looking for an acoustic guitar that sounds good and has the option to plug into a sound system, I recommend the Yamaha APX500II. It does use the laminate materials I warned against earlier. However, Yamaha does a commendable job of providing a solid tone without a solid wood.
The APX500II is known as a “Thinline” guitar. This means it has a thin body. So, it is a great choice for a younger player who finds the regular body depth too much to handle.
It’s important to note, however, that a thin body does affect the overall tone of the guitar, taking away what makes a guitar sound “big”.
That doesn’t matter much if you’re plugging your guitar into a sound system, though. And this Yamaha guitar comes equipped with the A.R.T. system – an excellent pickup system and onboard EQ.
Best of all, this guitar comes in multiple colors including sunburst, black, natural, vintage white, and oriental blue.
Shop the Yamaha APX500ii on:
Are there cheaper beginner guitars on the market? Of course there are. But you want something that sounds good, will grow with you, and would have some amount of resale value. These 5 guitars are excellent choices.
What do you think? Are there any other beginner guitars you would recommend for a beginner guitarist that won’t break the bank?