This lesson and the next one are intended for those of you who still need to buy a guitar. If you've already got one, or you're planning on getting an electric, and you're hell-bent on learning how to play it, you may want to skip this lesson.

Product Recommendations

Acoustic Guitars
For laminate-tops: There are so many inexpensive makes and models, I'd recommend going to a store and see what you're drawn to. If you're interested in a solid-top, the two biggest manufacturers are Martin and Taylor. Martins tend to sound better strummed, and Taylors sound better played fingerstyle (picking individual notes). I lean more toward Martins.
Celluloid Picks made by Fender and many other companies are standard. They're fine but the thin ones break easily. I have a slight preference for Dunlop Ultex .73 picks when playing an acoustic. They provide a little more friction when striking the string, creating a pleasing chime sound. If you struggle with holding on to your pick, Cat Tongue Picks are the grippiest I've found.
The Kyser Quick-Change capo is my favorite because I can stow it on my headstock.
If you have a smartphone, get GuitarToolkit. By far the most accurate tuning app I've tested. If you want a dedicated tuner you can carry in your guitar case, the Snark is accurate, easy, and popular. Like the Kyser capo, you can stow it on your headstock, and since it works by sensing vibrations in the wood, you can use it in noisy environments.

So you're ready to buy your first guitar. You don't want a piece of junk, but you don't need a really expensive guitar either. And there are so many different kinds of guitars. This video will help you choose the perfect one.

There are basically three kinds of guitars: Classical, Acoustic, and Electric. There are lots of choices when buying electrics, so I'll cover that in a separate video.

Let's start with the difference between acoustic and classical guitars. They look similar: Here's how you tell them apart. Classical guitars have nylon strings. Some of them will be wound with metal wire, but three will be pure nylon, so if you see any black or clear plastic strings, you're looking at a classical guitar. Their strings are also farther apart to facilitate fingerpicking, and they have wider necks, and no pick guard. You probably don't want a classical guitar, unless you're going to be playing a lot of Bach etudes, or you're Willie Nelson. Now that's a guitar begging for a pick guard.

Acoustic guitars are also called steel-string guitars for obvious reasons. This is probably the kind of guitar you want--whenever your favorite rock or folk or country or blues guitarist isn't playing an electric guitar, they're probably playing one of these.

Things to consider when buying an acoustic guitar are:

Size and shape?
Solid or laminated top?

Size and Shape: Buying a guitar is like buying a jacket--no matter what you get, you need one that fits your body. The most common size is a dreadnaught--think of it as a size Large. It has a loud, full sound with a big bass response. It tends to fit men well, but it's often too bulky if you have a smaller body. A lot of women will prefer a Grand Auditorium, which is like a "Medium", or a Grand Concert, which is like a "Small." The smaller the guitar, the less bass response it tends to have, and they tend to be more geared toward quiet finger style playing than loud strumming, but these are subtle distinctions that you really don't need to worry about. Fit is most important. There are actually a lot of different sizes of guitar, so ask your salesperson to show you a variety. You'll know the guitar fits when it's easy to reach this part of the neck, and you can drape your strumming arm over the body comfortably.

Solid or Laminate Top: This is the top of the guitar. You can actually make the back and sides of a guitar out of poster board and as long as the top is a nice piece of spruce, it still sounds pretty good. Most cheap guitars have a laminate top, which is like plywood, while expensive ones have solid wood tops. The laminate tops are strong, but you can imagine what that glue does to the top's ability to vibrate and produce sound. Solid tops tend to be louder and have nicer tone. What's tone you ask? This. [play one note several times, tweak in post] You may not want to invest in a solid-top guitar--they tend to start at about $500, and for your first year or two of playing you're not going to notice the difference that much anyway.

Electro-acoustic: Some acoustic guitars are equipped with what's called a pickup so that you can plug into an amp or PA system. It's a lot more expensive to get a pickup installed after the fact--it costs about $200--so if you'd like the guitar to last you five years or so, and you think you might like to play at open mikes or with a band eventually, consider getting an electro-acoustic guitar now.

Cutaways: A cutaway is a guitar body style where this part looks like it's been cut away to give better access to the higher frets. That's probably not you for at least a few years. On the other hand, having a cutaway doesn't significantly influence the tone. Up to you.

Playability: The main factor in a guitar's playability is its action, which is the gap between the strings and the fretboard. Guitars are easier to play when they have low action. But not too low--that causes fret buzz. When it's too high, it's even harder to press the strings to the fretboard, and as you may know, fretting strings when you're a beginner is a pain in the keister as it is. Why make it harder on yourself? The good news is, factories that have gotten very good at mass-producing cheap guitars that are quite playable--you should never have to play a guitar with high action. The bad news is, to keep sales prices down, manufacturers don't go through the last step of adjusting the guitar so that its action is perfect. This is called giving the guitar a "setup", and involves cutting the grooves in the nut a little deeper, changing the angle of the neck by tightening or loosening the long screw that runs along the inside of the neck called the truss rod, maybe lowering the bridge a little bit. Sometimes guitar shops do this to their whole guitar inventory, but more often than not, this is going to be an additional $40 that you'll need to spend beyond the sales price. I know it's a bummer having to repair something you just bought new, but hey, your guitar is your baby. Give that baby a bath before you take it home.

Price: You can get a new acoustic guitar for as little as $70, but it's going to sound like it's made of rubber. I think $300 gets a beginner the most value--a decent-sounding guitar that won't break the bank. If you want something nicer, a lower-end solid-top guitar will probably sound better. Once you get past $1000 or so, only experienced guitarists will notice a difference in sound. If you're buying your guitar at a brick and mortar store, the price on the tag is usually higher than what what they're willing to sell it for, so be sure to ask the salesperson how low they can go.


Most acoustic guitarists play with a pick. They come in different thicknesses. Thin picks are easier to hold when you're strumming, but make a clickety-clackety sound when the strike the strings. I recommend getting five thins and five mediums because you'll lose some, and one or two thick picks. Play play with them all and see which ones you prefer. Consider the thins "training-wheels picks"--you'll probably want to graduate to mediums when you can. And every once in a while try your thick pick to see if you can hold onto it while you strum. Thick picks are usually what the pros end up using because they sound the best and eventually give you the most control.

[shoot stage shenanigans to display first part of this section]
You'll want a guitar strap if you ever want to play standing up. Playing standing up is fun, it's better for your back and arms than sitting down, and it looks better when you're on stage. The strap connects to the strap button back here, and to either another button at the neck joint, or if your guitar doesn't have one you use a shoelace to tie it to your headstock like so. Get a cheesy nylon strap if you're watching your pocket book, get the widest strap you can find if you're into comfort, or get a chain if you are awesome!

Once you've learned how to actually strum songs, you're going to want a capo. This is a clamp that enables you to change keys easily, for instance to match the song to your voice. I like Kaiser capos because you can stick 'em here when you're not using them.

And then you'll need some way of tuning your guitar. If you have smartphone, just use a tuning app. They work great. Otherwise, one of these is a good choice.


So in summary, for the best value, go get yourself

$300 Laminate-top Acoustic
$40 Setup
$20 nylon strap
$3 picks
$20 Kaiser capo
$10 GuitarToolkit Tuning App

Total: $383 plus tax

I’d say that’s a well-spend $400. "But Rob," you might say, "Can guitars really make me awesome?" Yes! that's exactly how they work. So have fun shopping.

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