Playing Guitar, Choosing the Right One for You

Home / Playing Guitar, Choosing the Right One for You

Everybody that decides to play guitar has to answer the same question, what type of guitar should I play?  You might not know that there are different types of guitars, or that it makes a difference to your playing, however it is an important factor.   I hope this will help you choose your instrument if you are  in doubt.

The two main types of guitars are Electric and Acoustic. An Acoustic guitar is any guitar that makes sound within its body, without  the use of an amplifier.  Within the acoustic guitar  category there are two types, Steel String and Nylon String, sometimes called  a classical or Spanish guitar. The nylon string guitar is a good beginner guitar: the strings are very soft and easy to play, they come in a range of sizes and prices and are very versatile.   If you want to learn a bit of everything, finger picking, strumming, pop, rock, classical, everything in between, they are the best for that. A nylon string guitar is also the type of guitar needed to study Royal Conservatory music, which is classical guitar.

Steel string acoustic guitars are tougher to play, the strings are very tight  and can be a challenge for some  students. They are louder and have a different sound than the nylon string guitars.  Many recording artists use a steel string guitar , like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Niall Horan etc.  Both types of acoustic guitars are good for beginners , however steel strings would be more appropriate for older or adult beginners.

Electric guitars are also very easy to play, their strings are very light and the shape of the body of the guitar allows all notes to be played relatively easily. Electric guitars require an amplifier as the name suggests and this is necessary to increase the volume. A benefit of the amplifier is the ability to change the sound of your guitar by adjusting certain controls or effects which can also be purchased separately.  Electric guitars are commonly used in Rock music but are also found in Jazz, Country, Pop and other styles. Because the electric guitar is very easy to play, they are appropriate for  all ages of beginner.

For guitar in general, I recommend a nylon string guitar for beginners and its important to have a person that will play the guitar try the guitar. They come in a range of sizes, you don’t want a guitar that is too big or way too small.

If none of those guitars have grabbed you so far, what about Ukelele? The Ukulele is a small 4 string instrument, very similar in shape to the guitar. It is related to guitar in many ways, including the order and relative tuning of the strings as well as chord positions. The ukulele generally comes in one type, acoustic nylon string, however there are 4 sizes: Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone. I always recommend  using concert size. It is still very small but easier to tune and play. The ukulele is tuned using re- entrant tuning, meaning the strings are  not in order of pitch from low to high because of this there exists a Low G string. This opens up the ukulele and allows for some very challenging pieces to be played on the instrument, although I recommend using a low G for beginner students as well.

If you’re still stuck and don’t know what instrument to choose, maybe you’d like Bass Guitar?  It’s another 4 string instrument, tuned one octave lower that the guitar.  Bass guitar has been in just about everyone song written since its invention, it may not be the most prominent but it is always there. It can affect the harmony of a song , contribute to the rhythm as well as play melodies and lead in the right situation. The guitar and bass guitar have similar tunings so it will be easy to switch between those instruments or learn them both like some student have.

I always enjoy learning a new instrument. Each new one I learn enhances my skill on my original instrument and gives a whole new perspective to it.  It also helps when playing with other musicians, you can easily hear what they’re playing and how it interacts with your part. Its also one of the best ways to improve in music, learning a new instrument. Although there’s no substitute for practice.


John McDonnell teaches guitar, ukulele and bass.