Buying a guitar for a child? This is your Guide to Buying an Acoustic Guitar for Kids
How do I choose a guitar for my child?
Buying an acoustic guitar for kids is a decision that should be made carefully and serious beginners need more than a toy. We’ve picked the best acoustic guitar from a range of classical, acoustic, and short scale options – there’s even one with three strings!
For a kid just learning the instrument, poor sound, terrible tuning stability, stiff strings and poor playability can be discouraging. In severe cases, it can even make them give up altogether. On the flip side, a playable and great-sounding guitar makes learning fun, and your child will be more likely to stick with it.
Most parents likely won’t want to invest a huge amount into a children’s guitar, especially if they aren’t sure their child will stick with it. This is completely understandable. However, for $150 or even less, you can find a well made, decent-sounding first instrument and we look at the pros and cons of some of the best acoustic guitars for kids.
Neck & Body
The body shape and neck profile are two things that really make a difference in terms of playability. Most guitars for kids are smaller-sized dreadnaughts or concert-style guitars, although there are a wealth of body styles to choose from. The most important thing to check is that the body is comfortable to hold. Smaller dreadnaughts and concert-style guitars are typically comfortable for kids, and a thinner body makes handling easier, as can a shorter length.
The neck profile of the guitar is also vitally important. Children have smaller hands, and it can be hard for them to practice individual notes and chords on a very thick neck. It’s a good idea to check out a guitar’s neck profile before committing to purchase it. Look for a model with a neck advertised as “slim taper” or “slim profile.” However, all of the guitars in this guide have easy-playing necks and short scale length that will suit most kids.
Of course, you’ll probably want to make sure guitars you consider are the right size for your child. Generally speaking, 1/4-size guitars are best for 4-6 year olds, 1/2-size guitars are best for 6-9 year olds, and 3/4-size guitars are best for ages 9-12. After that, most kids can comfortably play a full-size guitar.
While you don’t need artisan craftsmanship, a well built unit will last longer.
One of the more important components to look at are the tuning machines. Reliable tuning machines will help prevent your child’s guitar from going out of tune, but poorly-made ones can make it so you need to tune back up every few minutes. This is especially frustrating for kids who may just be learning how to tune a guitar.
However, most listings for children’s guitars don’t say much, if anything, about the tuners. Most are made in-house by the manufacturer, and most hold tune at least reasonably well. However, it’s a good idea to read a few customer reviews before buying – if a guitar’s tuners are egregiously bad, chances are that other buyers have mentioned it.
The nut and saddle are also important. Many cheaper guitars come with a plastic nut and saddle, although plastic doesn’t contribute much to sound quality. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it, but if you want to improve the guitar’s tone, you can always upgrade to Tusq, NuBone, or a similar composite material.
Sound & Tone
There’s a lot that goes into a guitar’s tone, but a lot of it has to do with the manufacturer’s choice of tonewoods. Of course, those who are very new to guitar may not know exactly the type of sound they’re after. Spruce is a common soundboard wood because it has a sparkling, dynamic tone. Mahogany and rosewood are commonly used for the back and sides, although most starter guitars use less-expensive woods like meranti or sapele.
One of the things that’s most important to sound is whether a guitar is made of solid, laminated, or layered wood. Solid-top guitars are ideal in terms of tone — they offer a richer, fuller sound that only improves with time. However, many guitars for kids are made of all laminated wood. This wood doesn’t sound quite as good as solid wood, but plenty of all-laminate guitars have surprisingly good tone. A children’s guitar doesn’t necessarily have to sound amazing, but a guitar with an overly dull or flat tone may discourage children from continuing to play.
Though it’s uncommon, some companies (namely Taylor and Seagull) make guitars with layered wood back and sides. Layered wood tends to have better sound quality than laminate, which often includes plywood, resin, or formica. Of the guitars in this guide, the TSBTe has the best potential for great tone thanks to its solid top. However, all the laminate guitars in the guide are from reputable manufacturers, and they all sound good enough to make great beginners’ guitars.
Action, Fit & Finish
Action simply refers to how high the strings are above the fretboard, but it’s a central part of a guitar’s playability. For most players, and especially for children, lower action makes a guitar much easier to play. Classical guitars tend to have slightly higher action, but that’s offset by the slacker nylon strings which can be kinder on the fingers than steel strings.
The fit and finish may not be the most important thing when selecting a guitar for your child, but it’s a good general indicator of quality. A well-fitted guitar will have a securely, evenly set neck, filed frets with no sharp edges, and securely-installed tuning machines. All of these features are essential to comfort and playability.
Reliability & Durability
For most parents, it’s important that any guitar they buy lasts awhile. This is where all-laminate guitars have an advantage — laminated woods are much less prone to cracking than solid ones.
Another point to consider is whether the guitar has a truss rod. Classical guitars typically do not, but the lower tension on the strings is unlikely to cause neck issues. However, steel string guitars exert much more tension on the neck, and relief issues may develop over time. A quick truss rod adjustment can correct these issues before they become severe.
Most beginner steel-string guitars do have truss rods, and it’s generally wise to choose a guitar that comes with one. The Loog Pro does not, but its shorter scale length and the fact that it only has three strings mean that this isn’t likely to cause any issues.
Well, that’s it – our overall winner is the Yamaha JR1 model.
If you like to do it yourself then you might want to purchase a kit instead. In that case, you may want to check out the Rogue Starter Acoustic Guitar kit (view latest price).
Last update on 2021-05-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API