Your son or daughter wants a guitar for Christmas. You reach for earplugs, clutch your wallet, and hope they change their mind.
If they ask you again in a week, face it – they have guitar fever.
Here are some good guidelines when looking for that perfect first ax:
Never Start Fancy
No one deserves a high-end guitar right off the bat. No one. Even if you can swing $5,000 for a solid-gold ax, don’t do it. The first couple years of a guitarist’s life are experimental, and saddling them with a Les Paul when they discover they’re more a Fender fan will lead to the biggest crime of all: a guitar collecting dust.
Learning on an average-at-best instrument will make your child appreciate an upgrade in a few years. Plus, your child is more likely to be sneered at if he walks into band practice with a fancy instrument. They’ll think he didn’t earn it – and they would be right. You want something less than $500.
Most kids with guitar fever don’t care what they get – they just want a hunk of wood with six strings.
Starting on an acoustic guitar will help develop your child’s finger strength, as acoustic strings are thicker and generally harder to press down. Fingertip callouses, crucial for any guitarist, will develop faster. When they make the leap to an electric guitar, playing will be a breeze.
An acoustic is also quieter, reducing the horrible squalls of noise that a beginning musician will probably produce.
If You Have to Go Electric, Look for Combo Packs
If your child is already wearing leather pants and wants to skip straight to playing guitar with his teeth, you may have no choice but to buy an electric guitar.
Companies such as Squier and Ibanez produce guitar combo packs, which generally throw in a practice amp, strap, strings, picks, and gig bag for a pretty reasonable price. Buying a guitar and amp separately can be expensive, and combo packs take away a lot of the guesswork. No beginner should be sitting in a music shop, endlessly trying this guitar with that amp. Beginners should be playing – nothing else matters.
(Warning: The square-foot practice amp you pull out of the box might look harmless, but these little beasts can compete with a full drum kit – a fact that your child will happily discover in about 10 seconds.)
The money you save buying from an online retailer doesn’t add up to the incentives you might receive from retailers in your own town. Many stores offer free setups (think of them as guitar tune-ups) for life if you buy a guitar from them. While you’re stopping by to pick out your perfect instrument, ask them about music lessons too. Your ears will thank you.