What kind of guitar should a beginner get? Should I rent or buy?

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

About Glenn Sutton

As a professional guitar teacher with 25 years of experience (see guitarlessonspoway.com), one of the most common questions people ask me is: what kind of guitar to start lessons with, and how should I acquire that guitar? Should I buy or should I rent?

Types of Guitar

Basically, there are three types of guitars ( I am not including steel guitars or bass guitars in this discussion).

acoustic nylon string classical guitar

Acoustic nylon string classical guitar

The first is the acoustic nylon string guitar, which is considered the Spanish or Classical guitar and that is played with your fingers (as opposed to a ‘pick’). This sort of guitar comes in half-size, three-quarter-size for the younger student and full size. With a nylon stringed guitar it’s a easier to press down on the fret board (compared to a steel stringed instrument), although it does have a wider neck, so the hand reach could be a little more difficult for the younger students.

steel string acoustic guitar

Steel string acoustic guitar

The second sort of guitar is the acoustic, steel string guitar. This guitar is used for pop, rock, country, blues, jazz, and other styles of music. It is also available in half-size, three-quarter and full size. This guitar might be a bit harder for a beginner to play because it is harder to press down on the fret board. On the positive side, the neck is narrower requiring less ‘reach.’

The third main type of guitar is the electric guitar, which is used for a wide variety of styles, from rock, pop, country, blues, metal, punk. To use an electric guitar you will need an amplifier. Small amplifiers are available that are ideal for practicing at home. It is also possible to listen to yourself practicing through head phones if noise is an issue. It is generally easier to press down the strings on the fret board of an electric guitar when compared to a steel string acoustic guitar. The fret board is also narrower than that of a Spanish-style guitar.

Buy or Rent an Instrument?

electric guitars

Electric guitars

In the San Diego area you can rent acoustic guitar (nylon or steel string) for about 20 to 25 dollars per month. Prices to buy an acoustic guitar start at about 100 dollars.

An electric guitar can be rented starting from about 25 to 30 dollars a month, including an amplifier. You can purchase an electric guitar starting at around 100 dollars and going up to many thousands of dollars. If you decide to take the purchase option, you will also need to budget for an amplifier. A small practice amplifier starts at around 80 dollars. There are electric guitar ‘packages’, that include the electric guitar, amplifier, and even a gig bag. These start around 200 dollars.

Renting an instrument means that you (or your student) can try out a guitar before committing to buy it. If a student subsequently decides that they want to play another type of guitar or even another instrument then a rented instrument has an advantage because it can be returned to the music shop (subject to your specific agreement, of course). In addition, by renting an instrument you will probably end up with a better quality guitar then you would get if you purchased one of the lower priced ‘beginner’ guitars. Another major advantage is that a reputable rental arrangement will, subject to certain conditions, cover you for accidental damage, regular maintenance and if the instrument is stolen.

The major advantage of buying an instrument is that there is no need to pay recurring fees, which can soon add up and could be put towards buying a quality instrument. Also be careful not to buy a very inexpensive guitar as it may present the student with difficulty in achieving a good sound and handicap the student’s learning experience.

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