Want to get into playing the guitar but have no idea where to start? In this post we look to answer the question what is the best guitar for beginners? We’ll take a look at 3 of the best electric and 3 of the best acoustic guitars available for beginners.
We’ll take a look at their features, their tone and possibly most importantly value for money. Whilst it’s wise not to spend too little on your first guitar, there’s no point in spending too much either. Read on to find out more.
Electric guitars are solid body and so need to be plugged into an amplifier to produce sound. There are a ton of different shapes, from Startocasters to Telecasters, Les Paul’s to Flying V’s. It’s not too important to think about shape, just go with something you like the look of.
Many beginner guitars mimic the shape of big name guitars. Two of the electric guitars below take the shape of the Fender Stratocaster with one taking the shape of a Gibson Les Paul. One thing to consider is pickups. These are the electronics that take the vibrations of the strings and turn them into sound.
We’ll talk a little more about pickups as we go along but it’s worth making a conscious decision about whether or not you want humbucking pickups or not. More on that later. Although not a major concern for beginners, some guitars are more suited for certain styles than others.
For example a Telecaster is great for classic rock and blues styles whereas something like an Ibanez is going to be better for higher gain styles like heavy rock and metal. It’s not something to be too concerned about now as beginner guitars rarely specialize in terms of their tone. Let’s talk about the guitars shall we?
Squier Bullet Stratocaster
Squier guitars are the beginner’s range produced by Fender. There’s a series of Squer guitars but we’re focusing on the Bullet Stratocaster, which is the entry level Squier. One of the great things about the Bullet is how light it is. The body is made from Basswood, which is a traditionally light tonewood found on lower end guitars.
The Bullet also benefits from a slim body, which further reduces the weight. Though the density of the wood can affect the resonance of the guitar, it’s not that noticeable in the Bullet. It’s much more beneficial to the beginner for the guitar to be lightweight, making it much easier to play.
The maple neck is bolted onto the body, which is a common feature even in high end American Fender guitars. The guitar is full size (25.5″ scale) featuring 21 medium jumbo frets on an Indian Laurel Fingerboard.
To decode that for you medium jumbo frets are fairly standard frets found on many modern guitars. They’re slightly wider, making it a little easier to fret notes. They’re also not so raised, making it easier to slide between notes.
Indian Laurel is has similar tonal properties to Rosewood, but is more sustainable. Rosewood produces warm, mellow tones and is a favorite of many guitarists. The neck profile is “C Shaped”, which means it’s not too thick and reasonably rounded. That makes it suitable for a wide variety of styles and of course makes fretting that little bit easier for beginners.
The neck has a gloss finish, which can make it feel a little sticky. Satin finish necks are preferable to make moving around the neck easier when playing.
The die cast tuning machines, which help to keep the guitar in tune, are pretty good for a guitar in this price range. The Bullet comes in two pickup configurations. There’s the SSS (Single coil, single coil, single coil) or HSS (Humbucker, single coil, single coil).
The pictured model is the HSS version. I’d advise opting for the model with the humbucker pickup because it gives you more room to explore different tones. Humbuckers are effectively two single coils put together so that the tone “bucks” over the two coils.
You can read more about humbucker pickups here. For our purposes a humbucker produces a much beefier tone that and allows for playing higher gain styles such as heavy rock and metal. The Bullet has three control knobs. Two to control tone and one to control volume.
Pickup selection is controlled by a 5-way pickup switch. The furthest position down (position 1) uses the bridge humbucker pickup exclusively. The next position up (position 2) uses a combination of the humbucker and the middle pickup. The next position uses the middle pickup only. The next a combination of the middle and neck pickup and the last position uses the neck pickup only.
The neck pickup is often used for blues or classic rock styles, whereas the middle pickup is usually used for a cleaner tone. The 5-way switch allows for plenty of tonal dynamism.
The Bullet is produced in Fender’s Indonesia factory. The QA is usually pretty good but the odd guitar produced here has sharper fret edges than is desirable. Your local guitar shop will be able to file those for you easily enough, but it’s something to look out for.
The strings that come with the Bullet are very basic. You might want to swap them for something a little better such as some Ernie Ball Slinky’s, but they’ll cope in the short-term.
Yamaha Pacifica 012
You’ll probably look at the Yamaha Pacifica and wonder what the difference is between it and the Bullet Stratrocaster. They’re both styled in the shape of a Stratocaster, but there are some differences that warrant consideration.
The Pacifica guitar ranges from the 012 we’re looking at right up to the 612 guitar, which comes in at around $965. Yamaha have a long history of making good quality instruments and the Pacifica series has been around since the 1990’s.
This guitar has a mahogany body, which is going to be a little heavier than the Bullet. The resonance may be improved a little, but you should be expect it to be a little heavier when playing standing up. The maple neck is bolted onto the body, a feature that’s quite common in lower end guitars.
In contrast with the Bullet Stratocaster the neck on the Pacifica 012 has a satin finish, which makes it easier to play. There are 22 medium frets resting on a Rosewood fingerboard.
The Pacifica 012 has a fingerboard radius of 13 and 3/4 inches, which is quite flat. That will make it easier to play at the higher frets, but may make fretting chords a little more difficult than on the Bullet Stratocaster.
The Pacifica 012 has standard tuning machines, which are by no means high end but do the job of holding tune adequately. The Pacifica has the same pickup configuration as the Bullet Stratocaster and the same 5-way switching system. There are only two control knobs, one master volume and one master tone to keep things simpler.
The Pacifica 012 comes with a set of light string (.009 gauge). The string gauge that works for you will be personal preference, but a set of .009’s is as good a place to start as any. The tonal range is similar to the Bullet thanks to it’s pickup configuration, so you’ll find a wide range of tones.
The Pacifica 012 is cheaper copy of my Mexican Fender Stratocaster, which cost around $600. Apart from the pickups there’s not too much difference. It’s definitely a decent choice for a beginner. It’ll cost a little more than the Bullet Stratocaster.
Epiphone Les Paul Player Pack
Let’s step away from the Stratocaster and take a look as something different. You’ll probably recognize the iconic Les Paul shaped guitar. The Gibson variation of these guitars sell for thousands of dollars, but like Fender there’s a lower end brand made in the same factories as the Gibson guitars.
Epiphone guitars are very good. In fact sometimes it’s a struggle to tell them apart from their much more expensive cousins. Not only are we talking about a very good guitar for beginners, the player pack includes everything you’ll need to get started!
Let’s talk about the guitar some more. The body is laminated Alder with a laminated maple top. That means it’s lots of layers of thin wood stuck together rather than a solid piece of wood. That helps to keep the cost down and I wouldn’t worry about the effect on resonance for a beginner’s guitar.
The mahogany neck is bolted onto the body, again common in lower end guitars and not something I’d be concerned about. It’s a full size guitar, but slightly shorter scale at 24.75″. There are 22 frets on top of a rosewood fingerboard.
There are standard tuning machines, which do an adequate job of keeping the guitar in tune. Unlike the two Stratocasters this Les Paul comes with two humbucking pickups. These tend to be good for more vintage tones, but paired with a decent amp you can get some mileage for higher gain styles.
There’s a three way pickup selector switch, which allows you to select between bridge and neck pickup or both pickups split at the middle position. A master tone and master volume knob keep the controls nice and simple.
The bridge configuration is the same found on more expensive Epiphone models and is certainly more than adequate for a beginner’s guitar. It’s great that this comes with everything you need to get started, but a word of warning about the amp. The 10 watt practice amp is pretty bad. It’ll do, but if you get into playing you will want to upgrade.
Fortunately you can buy some really good practice amps for not a lot of money these days. Take a look at my Amplifiers page for more on that. The bag is good to cover the guitar, but it won’t protect it against heavy knocks as there’s no padding. Something else to consider if you’re planning on travelling with it.
It’s more expensive than the other two guitars, but it comes with everything you need to start playing and the guitar will serve you for years until you have the inclination and the budget to upgrade to something else.
Acoustic guitars are hollow body and primarily produce a natural unplugged sound. It is possible to get electric-acoustic guitars that enable you to plug them into amplifiers, but it’s an additional feature rather than a necessity.
There are a variety of woods that can be used to make a guitar. The wood can have an effect on the type of tone produced. You can read more about tonewoods in my post here. Most beginners guitars use laminated construction, which is thin layers of wood glued together.
One of the guitars listed below has a solid top and we’ll talk more about that later. For now I wouldn’t worry too much about tonewood. Indeed some say that the difference between tonewoods is a myth!
Another thing that bears some consideration is the shape of the guitar. There are a number of different body shapes, all of which have an effect on the tone produced by the guitar. Two of the guitars listed are dreadnought shaped.
These guitars have a larger body, especially the bottom end. They’re great for accentuated mid and low ends. When I play in an acoustic duo I use a dreadnought shaped guitar and it does a great job of bass for rhythm parts.
You can actually get bigger than the dreadnought in the jumbo shape. These have a very bulbous bottom. They’re all about sustain and volume, but they do take some getting use to due to their size! Next there’s the parlour guitar. These are much smaller but still resonant. They’re good for punchy strumming styles and finger-styles such as folk.
Finally we have Auditorium and Concert guitars, which sit between the dreadnought and parlour shapes. They’re more balanced in terms of their tone and good for a wide range of styles. Most beginners guitars will be dreadnought shaped, but you can find other shapes like one listed below. Let’s talk more about the guitars!
We’ve already mentioned the quality of Epiphone guitars above. Fortunately that also applies to their acoustic guitars. The DR-100 is a dreadnought style guitar for good low and mid tones. The back and sides are laminated Mahogany and the top is laminated select Spruce.
Whilst it’s better to have a solid top, for the price of this guitar it’s a fair compromise. The neck is made from mahogany with a slim taper profile making it easier to play. The guitar is full scale at 25.5″. The fingerboard is made from Rosewood with pearloid inalys marking out the key fret positions.
There are 22 medium frets so plenty of room for fretting chords. The DR-100 doesn’t have any pickups so is a purely acoustic guitar. The truss rod can be adjusted to make alterations to the action if required. Your local guitar shop will be able to help you if you’re not sure what to do.
The DR-100 has die cast premium tuners, which do a great job of keeping the guitar in tune. The guitar comes with a set of .013’s, which are medium strings. They’re pretty good for stock strings, especially on a beginner’s guitar.
The guitar doesn’t have a cutaway, so you won’t be able to reach the higher frets. However that’s not usually an issue for most beginner guitarists and I don’t know too many guitarist ripping out solos on acoustic guitars!
The guitar produces a lovely resonance with the mid and low ends that you’d expect from a dreadnought guitar. The “E” on the pick guard is a particularly nice touch. This is another one of those Epiphone guitars that punches well above it’s weight, sounding like it should be much more expensive than it is.
Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy
I’m a massive fan of Gretsch guitars and until recently I thought that they only made guitars $500 and above. When I came across the G9500 Jim Dandy I was astonished at the price.
The Jim Dandy is a 3/4 scale guitar, which means it’s 3/4 the size of a full scale guitar. It’s commonly known as a parlour guitar. The body is made from Agathis, which is similar to basswood. The top of the guitar is laminate Agathis, but somehow Gretsch has managed to get some decent natural sustain out of the guitar. The body has a white binding, adding more style points.
The neck is made from Nato, which is a cheap alternative to mahogany. It’s widely used in higher end Gretsch models as well as in some Epiphone guitars. The guitar has a semi-matte finish, but to the naked eye it looks more matte than anything else.
The guitar has a vintage style to it, harking back to the parlour guitars of the 1930’s. The neck is a modern C shaped profile making it slim and comfortable to play. The fingerboard radius is 12″ making it quite flat in keeping with it’s vintage feel.
The fingerboard is made from Rosewood and features 18 frets, though only 12 are accessible as there’s no cutaway. The frets are vintage size, which makes them narrower than medium or medium jumbo frets. However it does make playing barre chords easier.
There’s a difference in the tuning machines, again due to it’s vintage design. On the Jim Dandy we find open backed tuning machines. These are a little tight, but they hold the tune brilliantly. Gretsch hasn’t cut any corners with the bridge, opting for rosewood. You usually find Rosewood bridges on guitars four times the price.
They preserve the vintage look by opting for a string through bridge rather than using pegs to anchor the strings. The Jim Dandy comes with a set of D’Addario Phosphor Bronze .012’s, which are good quality strings.
The Jim Dandy produces a plucky, punchy tone. Due to it’s size you won’t get the deep mid and bass that you find in dreadnought guitars, but it’s great for playing chords and for blues styles. Due to it’s size it’s also convenient to pick up and play, or to take on the road with you.
It’s fully acoustic so you’d need some external pickups if you wanted to showcase it at an open mic night. It’s around $20 more than the DR-100, but it plays like it should be much more expensive! The truss rod is adjustable and the guitar comes with a hex wrench to make that easier to accomplish.
The Fender CD-60s is the most expensive of the three acoustic guitars, but it’s still under $200. The body is a dreadnought shape with laminated mahogany sides. Crucially the CD-60S has a solid Spruce top. Solid tops provide more punch and get better as the guitar ages.
The neck is also made from Mahogany and features Fender’s easy to play profile with rolled fingerboard edges. That means it’s easier to fret chords as the fingerboard profile is more sympathetic. Unfortunately Fender opted for a gloss finish to the neck, which can feel a little sticky sometimes.
The CD-60S has scalloped X-bracing in the body which gives a boost to the bass produced by the guitar. The fingerboard is made from walnut, which shares tonal characteristics with Rosewood but isn’t as hard wearing. Generally it doesn’t make that much difference.
There are 20 vintage frets, but there’s no cutaway to reach the higher register. As with the Jim Dandy the vintage frets make fretting barre chords easier. It’ll make bending the strings a little tougher however. Pearloid inlays mark the key fret positions. Tuning is handled by chrome die-cast tuning machines, which do an adequate job of keeping the guitar in tune.
The CD-60S allows for truss rod adjustment in case you need to make an alterations to the action. The guitar comes with a set of Fender Dura-Tone .012’s. They’re pretty good for stock strings. This version is fully acoustic, but you can get the electric-acoustic version for around $130 more.
The X-bracing combines well with the dreadnought design to provide very decent resonance with an emphasis on the mid and low end. It’s a different sort of guitar than the Gretsch but is similar to the Epiphone DR-100. The solid Spruce top and X-bracing sets it apart from the DR-100, however you’ll be paying around $70 more for the CD-60S, something that might not be worthwhile for a beginners guitar.
Buying your first guitar can be fraught with danger. Firstly you have to avoid the un-named bargain basement guitars that are frankly horrible. It’s much better to pay over $100 for a guitar to get something that’ll play well and will remain suitable as you progress.
Secondly there’s so much choice, and so many terms to get your head around. In reality a lot of this doesn’t matter when you’re starting out. How will you know if you prefer vintage or medium frets until you develop your play style? Does tonewood really matter that much when you have no experience? Not really!
Despite some issues with the amp and the gig bag, the Epiphone Les Paul pack represents great quality and value if you can spend a little more, but the Yamaha Pacifica has been a stalwart among beginners for nearly 30 years too. In terms of the acoustic guitars, the Epiphone DR-100 represents the best value versus quality and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to anyone.
I hope you’ve found this post useful. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Alternatively you can get in touch using my contact page.
Note:As an Amazon Associate I earn a commission from qualifying purchases, which helps to keep the site going. When you click a link on this page it may go to a supplier with whom I have an affiliate relationship. This won’t increase the price you pay. I don’t recommend any product that I haven’t used myself or thoroughly researched.