Guitar advice sought

by Harry on April 10, 2020

I have a child who has declared they want to learn the guitar. NOW! And it does seem a rather good time to have him do that. He has an exceptional singing voice and wants to accompany himself because… well, because currently I’m his only accompaniment, and he is gradually realizing that I lack both talent and ability — including, importantly, having no sense of rhythm at all. But. My own guitar is too big for him, and the guitar stores round here seem to be closed for some reason. So, I want to buy him a inexpensive guitar over the internet that will sound ok and, just as importantly, will work with his small hands (he’s about 4 ft 8 inches, with hands that match). What should I get for him? In return for good advice I’ll endeavor to convince him to make some uplifting music recordings for us all….



Declan Kenny 04.10.20 at 1:28 pm

The only advice I would suggest (from someone who’s been playing guitar for about 40 years) is not to buy cheap. Cheap usually means poor quality, and hard to play. For beginners, a nylon string might be an option, and in fairness, these can be relatively inexpensive. But one of the main thing that makes guitars tough for young hands is what guitarists call ‘action’ – the height of the strings off the fretboard. Cheaper guitars are often sold this way. A half-decent guitarist can fix that very easily.

Also, try and get light strings fitted, if you have the choice. There are 3/4 size guitars, though I would probably bite the bullet and get a full size and let him grow into it. Also, consider parlour guitars, or the style that Ed Shearan plays. (Though not the actual Ed model, as made by Lowden: lovely, but expensive!)

I guess you are confined to barracks wherever you are so it will be online. Best of luck. If it works, it’s a lifetime of love!


Sean O'Halloran 04.10.20 at 2:03 pm

Washburn wd7s atbm – it’s a nice beginner guitar from a well known brand (albeit made in China). It’s cheap, sounds good, looks great, and is good for small fingers


Hunter K. 04.10.20 at 2:23 pm

Get him a baritone ukulele. It’s smaller than a guitar and only has 4 strings, but they tune like the 4 highest strings of a guitar, so the fingerings will carry over to a full size guitar.


Andrew Watts 04.10.20 at 2:26 pm

If you have an amp and would consider electric, Fender has a short scale (22.75″ vs standard Fender 25.5″ scale) Stratocaster through their Squier line. It’s effectively a 3/4 size guitar.


uila 04.10.20 at 2:30 pm

If size is the issue, you might consider an ukulele. Four strings is a nice place to start, although the chord fingering is different than guitar. I can’t really speak to quality, but at the 70-100 price range, just buy the one that looks the coolest.

If he is intent on a 6-string and seems like a shredder, he may find an electric guitar easier to play than (I assume) your acoustic. You can find a cheap guitar/amp combo for <200.


Donald Grimm 04.10.20 at 3:04 pm

Many travel guitars are smaller and with shorter scales lengths that full-sized guitars. Martin, Taylor and many others make small travel guitars that would be suitable. The “name-brand” guitars have an added advantage in that they are easily resold if interest flags. There is an acoustic guitar forum at that has many threads on this very topic, with many knowledgeable people involved. Good luck!


John 04.10.20 at 3:12 pm


Ted 04.10.20 at 3:19 pm

Some of the better guitar makers have a line of smaller guitars called “Baby” models that fit smaller people and sound quite good. The Baby Martin and Baby Taylor are both respectable instruments that a kid won’t immediately outgrow (musically). There’s usually a good number of them on EBay or Craigslist.


riffle 04.10.20 at 3:22 pm

I think you’re located in the USA, so I’ll mention a few internet places I would look for a starter guitar (i.e. one that plays more-or-less in tune but will require replacement as one advances). I presume also that he wants an acoustic.

I’ve bought some musical equipment from Monoprice (amps, cables, etc) but I’ve been surprised at the positive reviews for some of their actual musical instruments, though I’ve never bought one. They have a 3/4 size nylon string (“classical”) guitar for under $70 (shipping is additional).

And a steel-string for under $90 + shipping

They also have steel string guitars (and electrics). Search YouTube for Idyllwild Monoprice (Idyllwild is apparently their acoustic instruments “brand” ) to see various guitars reviewed by users. Few say the things are terrible; many say they’re surprisingly good.

If it turns out you don’t need it NOW, look around at sales on Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend, etc. For instance Musician’s Friend has a daily Stupid Deal of the Day which has impressive discounts on new equipment–but is a roulette wheel for when a starter guitar will come up.

Finally the largest website for buying and selling new and used musical gear is

If you have an idea of what you’re looking for you can probably find something decent there for a decent price.

Never having taught beginner guitar I can’t make too many suggestions. Depending on how your child is at fighting through adversity, steel strings require a few days or maybe even weeks to habituate the fingers to pressing down thin pieces of metal onto a flattish surface. It can be painful until they toughen up a bit. Nylon string (aka “classical”) is much easier on the young and tender beginner’s fingers. But many people start out with steel strings and never look back.


riffle 04.10.20 at 4:03 pm

In thinking about your comments again, the 3/4 size nylon string may be just the thing. Smaller without being a toy — if it’s a real guitar.

I looked at the monoprice page again and they have free shipping for that guitar as well as a free gig bag, which is nice to have. Also they have a month of free guitar lessons, about which I have no clue but at least it’s something.

A reverb search for 3/4 acoustic guitar turns up scores of hits

Many have free shipping and some may be geographically closer to you which will reduce delivery time.

I’d probably get a nylon string small guitar and in a year or several he can move to whatever type guitar he wants.


JohnB 04.10.20 at 4:08 pm

I’ve a Martin LXM (acoustic) which seems to suit childrens’ hands. It’s discontinued now but the LX line of guitars, which are of the same size, starts at $429 US. There are certainly cheaper guitars, but I’m sure this one will be rewarding to play.


Greg Ratzel 04.10.20 at 5:41 pm

What’s your price range? You can go as low as US$80-90 and still get a playable instrument, but I would aim for $130-$200. I got my 10yo son a 3/4 scale guitar. Here’s a pretty nice electro-acoustic from Yamaha.

For electric, the Squire Strat is a popular option.

Stick to names like Yamaha and Squire and you can’t go wrong.


Greg Ratzel 04.10.20 at 5:42 pm

Lost the link for the Squire somehow.


Greg Stone 04.10.20 at 6:18 pm

I kept a 60’s Gibson LG-0 for my kids but they weren’t interested and I eventually traded it. All mahogany, narrow neck, small body, not very loud. Checking ebay they go for about $700 now.


JCM 04.10.20 at 7:25 pm

Just to add to the chorus here: the cheapest guitars will cut corners in ways that make your son’s life substantially more difficult, and probably discourage him from playing at all. Idk prices in the US, but in Ireland, I would advise not looking to spend less than €200 for guitar + small amp (incl. tax). Light strings would be good too, as they’re easier to press to the neck; go for 0.009, aka nine-gauge, strings.

That’s all for electric. If he wants a nylon-string guitar, though, I would say you actually need to spend a bit more, because it’s a harder (because less mechanical? idk why) instrument to make. I would recommend not spending less than €300. I speak as a classical player here.


Adam Hammond 04.10.20 at 7:37 pm

I have a buddy who is a luthier and his kids play guitar. His reply:

“I actually recommend starting on a 3/4 electric guitar. Acoustic guitars are very tough for kids to start with. The steel strings are a heavier gauge, and the action is usually higher than on electric guitars. Thus, they take more finger strength to fret. This often means the kids fingers hurt more when starting on, as the strings cut more into their finger tips. And because they are harder to fret, it is more work to get a good note, which is discouraging when you are starting out.

Squire makes a good 3/4 size electric guitar that I think is a real bargain for the money. They are well constructed, so well in fact that some people replace the pickups with higher end pickups, and keep playing them when they are well past the beginner stage.

Just my $0.02. “


mNovak 04.11.20 at 12:26 am

start with nylon but graduate to steel. And buy quality based on his style. I’m 68 and I still play my guitar I bought at 15, and the investment was very, very sound. (some pun intended.)


Basomatic 04.11.20 at 12:39 am

3/4 size is definitely the way to go. 3/4 Squier if electric, and if acoustic I’d go with a Yamaha or Cordoba Protege 3/4 classical/nylon string. You can’t get a great sound out of those guitars, but you can get a passable sound and they’re relatively easy for small uncalloused hands to play.


William S Berry 04.11.20 at 4:37 am

Start out with the real thing; trying to make it easy with a 3/4, or with nylon (WTF?) strings, is a cheat that will result in the student settling into a low plateau.

Get a decent Gibson or Alvarez six-string acoustic. Both of these are great fingering instruments. Flat-wound strings are not the best acoustically (they are most at home on the solid-body electric), but they are easier on the youthful fingers, and, therefore, excellent for the beginning player.

Starting out, forget books that work with melody by note (that can come later: much later); use the chord books and let the student learn accompaniment. The classic Mel Bay chord book is still the gold standard (IMNSHO).

You have to get through the calluses. There is no short-cut.*

*Well, there sorta is: let the blisters heal a few days, then start again. After several cycles the calluses will form. Never mind the music; the actual playing is EASY after that!

(This is from an old guy who no longer plays ((except for occasional piano)) but, as a hillbilly kid with a fire-and-brimstone, holy-roller, fundy preacher for a dad, played rhythm guitar in church from around age twelve until he finally escaped to college at eighteen. I detest the hateful “religious” bit, but I still love a great deal of the music.)


Dipper 04.11.20 at 10:11 am

I’m not sure that being small is an impediment. If you look at deppwaswho on youtube, for example, she seems to me to be quite small with small hands (by caucasian standards) but gets round a bass guitar fret board (which is bigger than a normal guitar) fairly effectively.


Bob 04.11.20 at 12:50 pm

Any guitar with Martin or Taylor on the head isn’t going to be “inexpensive”, which was the request- while their lower end/beginner models (and my son has Martin backpacker guitar he picked up for under $300) won’t run into 4 figures, you’re probably going to pay 4 or 5 hundred dollars. You can probably pick up a lower end Alvarez for a little less money.
It’s going to be impossible to feel the action without going into a store and playing, so buying over the internet is a bit of a gamble.My suggestion for a steel string acoustic
would be Yamaha (my wife’s first guitar many years ago, and still hanging around our house). You didn’t say how old your son is, but assuming he’s a bit younger, this would be worth checking out:
Electric guitars are easier on the fingers and fun to play for kids. This was my son’s first guitar from nearly 30 years ago- he still has it, although it’s been changed significantly since then:
Of course, you’ll need an amp with an electric guitar. Something like this can get him up and running:


Bob 04.11.20 at 12:57 pm

Sorry- on my previous comment, I meant to link to this (although that Alvarez acoustic although looks like a good buy). This bundle comes with a case, etc, not absolutely necessary, but nice to have:


Jon M 04.11.20 at 2:01 pm

I’d go with a 3/4 scale Recording King. They are cheap ($100-200), made in SE Asia, and eminently playable. They sound downright good.

A second option, for a little more money, is to get one of the Silvertone (Sears) 3/4-scale acoustics made in the ’60s. These were actually pretty good, just poorly designed. A fair number of modern luthiers (in the US at least) are re-doing the bracing, refretting them, and selling them for cheap-ish as quite decent small-body guitars. ~$500. Highly recommended.


JimV 04.11.20 at 3:12 pm

Get a good capo. A capo shortens the reach for short arms, and lowers the action. Also of course performs its standard function of letting you play any song with the chord progression you are most comfortable with (provided your voice has the necessary range).

A friend had a small electric slide guitar (aka steel guitar). Very easy to play. Very easy on the fingers (you use a bar over the strings). Probably the easiest instrument to play ever, at a basic rhythm-and-chords level; or maybe tied with the kazoo, but sounds better.

I started with a baritone uke, so I second that motion. Guitar was a step up but not a huge step. (The A-chords are identical and the rest just add a finger or two.) Keeping the uke I had in tune was what made me switch.


David J. Littleboy 04.12.20 at 4:41 pm

Nylon-string guitars tend to have a wider neck, which would be harder for small hands. They’re for classical players, and those guys take macho to new levels.

The Yamaha APX series have a smaller body and a more electric-guitar shaped (narrower and thinner) neck than most steel string acoustics. Unless he’s really small and the body is still too big, the narrower/thinner neck should be the right thing. I’ve owned a couple of them* and they’re fine acoustically and great if you need to amplify.

Get a set of _extra light_ gage (.010 to .047) strings.

*: I bought the cheapest one as a joke, and it sounded better amplified than my Martin D-21. So I bought the high-end APX and sold both the Martin and the low-end APX.


Eli Rabett 04.13.20 at 12:02 am

Music on the Hill in DC is doing lessons on Zoom as well as delivering


Flubber 04.14.20 at 2:17 am

Hi. I have bought the 3/4 travel acoustic guitar mentioned above (a Martin LX1 or LX1E, the Ed Sheeran version), and it’s perfectly fine (for a smaller guitar). It basically sounds like his actual guitar sound, a little thin maybe a little noisy, percussive. The notes aren’t deep and resonant, but I think that’s probably out of the question for a 3/4 scale unless you spend 4 figures (and not sure even then). I’m not sure a beginner would notice the difference, and if 3/4 is the constraint, it’s perfectly good. Guitar Center can send you one in 48 hours for about $350. One hundred more gets you the version with a pickup that you can plug into an amp if so inclined.

I’ve also played the Baby Taylor and it’s about the same thing. Good and fun, $350.

As for electric vs acoustic, of course the electric will be much easier on the fingers, much easier to get a clean note (no fret buzz, lower action). Easy thin bendable strings. Skinny neck. The Fender Squire mentioned above is good, cheap, ubiquitous. For electrics in general though, I would wonder about the ease of making very loud sounds in the hands of a beginner… Shrug.

As for acoustic (steel strings) vs classical (nylon strings) I’ve always had a preference for the classical guitar, even though I don’t play classical music. The strings are quieter, easier to control volume, less tension, easier on fingers. (Less sustain though, harder to tune by ear). The neck is wider true, but the easier action I think more than compensated for it. I *think* smaller hands can accommodate a wider neck easier than long fret length. The existence of thousands of 10 year old classical guitar virtuosos sez it can be done.

If what he imagines is big, strummy rhythmic, ringing then acoustic, if something more quiet and subtle, moody, classical is a good buy. I’ve bought 3 Yamaha classical guitars over the years, two were the cheapest $129.00 versions and one of those was the best sounding guitar I think I’ve ever played. Somehow.

I remember spending months researching, to come to a decision, but in the end, it’s not worth the effort. If someone wants one, buy it now! Buy one of each type of cheap guitar (classical and acoustic), you can always find someone who’ll have fun with it.

And if classical guitar is good enough for Willie Nelson it’s good enough for anyone.

Comments on this entry are closed.