Picking out your first acoustic guitar can be daunting for a beginner. It almost feels like you’re making a life decision, with all these different options on the market. What if you’ve picked the wrong guitar, what then?


There are two areas you’ll need to be aware of when picking out your first acoustic guitar. The size (shape) of the guitar needs to fit your body to make playing comfortable. The width of the neck needs to be narrow at the nut (about 42mm) so you can easily form chord shapes on the fretboard.


Though picking the wrong guitar is not the end of the world, but if you took care of the above two points, then any other problems that might surface are easy to fix. Let’s go through them below.



What Shape & Size Should Your First Acoustic Guitar Be


Generally, acoustic guitars can be viewed by either their shapes or their sizes. As a beginner guitarist, your primary concern for size and shape is to find one that fits your body. 


If the guitar is too big, you’ll feel like you’re ‘climbing’ over the guitar to get to the strings. And if the guitar is too small, you may end up crouching over it and end up with back pain after long practices.



As an adult, you would typically choose a full-size 4/4 (scale length = 25.4”/650mm) guitar, measuring 41” in total length. The most common acoustic guitar in this range is the Dreadnought.


With a full-size guitar, like the Dreadnought or Jumbo, you’ll get a much thicker sound due to its bigger body, which provides more room for resonance. But the drawback is it’s often too big for adults with smaller builds or some female guitarists, and it’s hard to get your arms around the guitar.


If size is not a problem for you, you should definitely consider the full-size guitar for its thicker, fuller sound. But if you have a smaller build and you’re in the learning stages, this can be a problem, consider getting a parlor guitar or a 3/4 size guitar.


When considering smaller-sized acoustic guitars, the parlor guitar can be a very good option. It has a smaller, narrower body, but retains a full-scale length of 4/4 (scale length = 25.4”/650mm) of a full-size guitar. 




Alternatively, you can get something like Jason Mraz, who’s known to play on a full-scale guitar that too has a smaller body.


A 3/4 size guitar is a smaller guitar by default, due to its shorter scale length. 3/4 guitars also have a thinner body, which makes them easier to handle by players with a smaller build. They’re also lighter, which makes them easy to carry around in a gig bag. 


Popular examples of a 3/4 size guitar are Baby Taylor or Martin’s LX-1, used by Ed Sheeran. Though convenient and fun to play, there’re drawbacks to the 3/4 size guitars. 


Due to their shorter scale length, they tend to go out of tune much easier than full-scale guitars. Their smaller bodies also produce a brighter, sharper sound, with slightly less sustain.


But as your first acoustic guitar during the learning stages, in my honest opinion, I’ll not be too concerned about the brighter sound or lesser sustain of a 3/4 guitar. If needs to be, you can always change to a set of nylon acoustic strings and get a mellower, softer sound on your 3/4 guitar.


What is important is that you’re getting a guitar that fits you and has good playability. This brings us to the next point, neck with and string actions.



Proper Guitar Necks and String Heights Are Vital to Beginners


One of the biggest culprits for a guitar not being playable is poorly made neck and high string actions.


A common problem with most cheaply-made guitars is a bad neck. They’re often rough on the edges, uneven on their surface, and tend to warp easily. This can be very counter-productive for beginner guitarists as you’ll not be able to produce proper sound and can get hurt easily.


The other problem that’s commonly seen on cheap guitars is the string actions (height from the fretboard) are often too high. This is will create tremendous difficulty for beginners to hold down on a chord shape properly.


For the above reasons, this is also why it is not advisable for beginner guitarists to learn using a classical guitar. Due to its playing style, and not due to poor manufacturing issues, classical guitars have wider necks (typically 52mm) and higher actions.


Hence, when picking out your first acoustic guitar, apart from choosing the right size for your body type, be very sure that you’re not sacrificing playability for cheaper pricing. Otherwise, you’ll only end up with a guitar that’s not playable and won’t get you anywhere.



What Strings Can You Use on Your Acoustic Guitar


In most cases, an acoustic folk guitar would come equipped with a set of steel strings. On a full-scale (4/4) guitar, the tension of the steel strings can be quite high, causing it to be difficult to hold down on them.


You may choose to change to lower gauge (thinner) strings, which are slightly softer when strung, and easier to hold down on. But be aware that you’ll also lose some sound quality, especially if you’re using a bigger-bodied guitar like the dreadnought.


For a smaller size guitar, you may also consider using a set of nylon strings for acoustic guitars. They’re softer than steel strings, hence easier to play on. Especially when equipped on a 3/4 size guitar, it’ll help bring the brightness of the sound down to a more pleasant tone.



Should Your Acoustic Guitar Have a Preamp EQ


One thing you’ll come across when picking your first acoustic guitar is you’ll find that some guitars come with a built-in preamp option. The sole purpose of a preamp is to allow you to hook your guitar up to an amplifier.


In my opinion, preamps are not necessary for a beginner guitar, regardless of what the salesperson tells you (wink). Acoustic guitars with Preamps are only useful in situations where you need to perform to a crowd, and hence the need to hook up to an amp.


All you need at the learning phase is a guitar that fits your size, has a decent playable neck and string action.



What Other Accessories Would a Beginner Guitarist Need


When it comes to guitarist accessories, the sky is the limit. Or should I say the depth of your pocket. But in all seriousness, the accessories that can make a difference are a capo, a digital chromatic tuner, and guitar picks.


A capo is especially useful when you’re first starting because it can help you play higher up the frets without having to hold a barre chord.


A digital tuner is useful in the sense that it allows you to tune each string perfectly without any guess works. It’s important for a guitarist to develop a good ear, but first, you’ll need to know you’re in the right pitch, right?


Using a guitar pick is one of those skills that you want to start out early with. It’s more of an exploration than a must. You can always get accustomed to finger-picking, but using a pick can be useful in some scenarios, especially if you intend to switch over to an electric guitar.


For more learning to use a guitar pick, here’s an article you can read 'When Should You Use A Guitar Pick?'


If you're interested in learning more about finger-picking related topics, please refer to our article on Can A Beginner Start Learning Guitar With Fingerstyle?


Hope the above information proves useful in your quest for your first acoustic guitar.

Rock On lnnl,