Finding the Right Guitar for a Young Player
Your young child has just told you he or she wants to learn guitar. When you visit your local music store or guitar website, you are met with a stunning array of children’s guitars. Some have familiar name brands, many do not. They come in novelty colors and traditional woods. They range from almost-ukulele size to almost-but-not-quite-full size. With such a wide variety of options available, how do you make a smart choice? Here are several things to consider.
To begin with, what type of guitar does your child want to play? Does an acoustic appeal more, or an electric? If he or she doesn’t have a strong opinion or simply can’t decide, consider this: Acoustics are lighter and more portable, as they don’t need an amplifier. They are also much easier to break. Electrics are more solidly built and create a wider variety of tones. They are also heavier and require an amplifier. As a parent, bear in mind that electric guitars are also much, much louder.
Most children start on an acoustic for the reasons of portability and weight. They are also generally less expensive than electrics. But consider your son or daughter’s opinion. If they get the type of guitar they really want, they are more likely to continue playing after the novelty wears off.
Size is a critical factor in making your choice. If the size is off, it can be very difficult or even impossible for your child to reach the frets or properly pluck the strings. This can be true whether the guitar is too big or too small. Generally speaking, these are the recommended guitar sizes or children:
Age Height of Player Size of Guitar
4-6 years old 3’3″ to 3’9″ 1/4-Size
5-8 years old 3’10” to 4’5″ 1/2-Size
8-11 years old 4’6″ to 4’11” 3/4-Size
11-Adult 5′ or taller 4/4-Size
The overall length of the guitar is not a good indicator of whether it is the correct size for your boy or girl. The only way to know the true size of a guitar is to measure its “scale length”. The scale length of a guitar is measured from the “bridge” of the guitar to the “nut” of the guitar.
This area, of course, is where the strings are fretted and played, so it is the most important area for your child’s comfort.
For your information, here are the sizes and their corresponding scales:
4/4 full size 24.75″ or 25.5″
3/4 size 22.75″
1/2 size 20.5″
1/4 size 19″
If your child is just on the verge of moving from one height range to the other, or if their arms are longer than average, it is a good idea to go up one size when making your purchase.
What Else to Look For
You do not necessarily have to buy a major brand guitar for your child’s first, although that would be a fine choice. It’s more important that the new guitar is properly adjusted and set up for the easiest play possible. If the guitar is difficult or painful to play, your child will quickly lose interest. Best to give your child every advantage possible so they will want to continue to learn.
You will note that price has not been mentioned until almost at the end of the article. It is important not to waste money, and there is no guarantee that Junior will continue to play the instrument. But please understand that a cheap guitar will not be as easily adjustable and will likely be harder to play. Also remember that a better guitar will have a higher resale value once your child moves up to the next size of guitar. Do your research! Talk to a guitar shop or two, or to a music instructor. Check out a few websites for advice.