These days, more and more kids are reaching for instruments and for many reasons, learning to play guitar is one of the more prominent choices. It seems that in the past few years, we’re seeing a bit of a return of guitar to popular culture. We’re seeing it more and more in popular music and it’s got many younger folks more interested in playing. Not to mention our friend Covid, who kept many of us cooped up in our homes looking for new and rewarding ways to pass time, making the guitar a great hobby to turn to.
Not only is learning to play the guitar an immensely enjoyable hobby for kids, it can also teach a plethora of great lessons and values like patience, persistence, dedication, and more. Learning any instrument can instill a great sense of accomplishment when you learn a new song, or a new technique and learn to apply it. Learning guitar can be a challenging endeavor, but will provide unlimited amounts of joy for those who stick with it and keep learning and getting better.
I remember picking up my dad’s old acoustic as a kid and begging him to teach me a song or two. After many hours and some very sore fingers, I was able to finally play the first handful of licks that actually sounded somewhat like a song, and it was probably the proudest moment of my young life at that point. It was great to see my hard work begin to pay off and know that if I kept at it, I’d continue to get better over time.
Today, we’re going to cover everything you may need to know to help you get a young person in your life started on guitar. We’ll cover the benefits and drawbacks of different types of guitars, what size and type of guitar would be best for a wide range of ages, and a few other things.
Electric vs Acoustic Guitars for a Child
As you’re probably aware, there are two main types of guitar styles: acoustic, and electric.
Acoustic guitars are typically large hollow-bodied guitars with a sound hole between the neck and bridge which outputs a reasonable volume without the need for any use of electronics or amplification. For kids, the simplicity of being able to pick up an instrument and immediately start playing is invaluable. Kids, much like myself, tend to have a pretty short attention span, so anything that requires a lot of setup or configuration to start playing, could add an unnecessary level of difficulty.
In the acoustic world there are two types of strings as well; nylon or steel based strings. The most common acoustic guitars will all come equipped with steel strings, which are much brighter and typically louder than nylon string guitars. The benefit of nylon strings, which we associate with Spanish or classical guitar, are much softer on the soft fingertips which could be very helpful for young folks.
Electric guitars rely on magnetic pickups under the strings that turn the vibration into sound waves and travel through the electronics into an amplifier to be heard clearly. While tweaking knobs and adding some overdrive can be a ton of fun, the added complication of knobs and tweaking could prove to be daunting to those just starting out. For others, changing settings and experimenting with different sounds could add an extra layer of sound exploration which could be a ton of fun. An added benefit of electric guitar is that there are tons of headphone based solutions for playing, which can be nice for kids to use for practicing without driving the rest of your household crazy.
A big difference between acoustics and electrics that I would also like to mention is the ease of playing. It is usually recommended to start on acoustic, as the strings are a bit thicker and this will help build up finger strength and calluses on the fingertips which will eventually make playing for long periods of time a lot more comfortable.
Children’s Guitar Size Guide
These days there are lots of different sizes available to kids just starting out. While not impossible, it can be pretty challenging for the smaller kids to try learning on a full size guitar. There’s a good chance that a full size acoustic is just too large for them to be able to strum and reach down the neck comfortably.
Let’s dig into some of the sizes that are available these days and provide a loose guideline for what might work best for each of the different age groups.
Check out our full guide on Guitar Sizes
Guitar for a 5 Year Old
For kids in the 3-5 age range, a great place to start would be with what we call a “guitalele.” As you might have guessed by the name, this is essentially just a slightly larger ukulele type guitar that has 6 strings just like a traditional guitar. These guitaleles are one of the smallest 6 string guitars on the market that feels like more than a toy, and can tune up properly and play great.
The guitaleles on the market usually come in around 27-28” long which seems to be a great size for this age range. Additionally, the strings are made of nylon just like they would be on a typical ukulele, which makes playing easy to navigate for their small hands and fingers.
Guitaleles are tuned 5 steps up (ADGCEA) from standard 6 string guitar tuning (EADGBE) but you can still use the same chord shapes and eventually translate them to a full size guitar when you decide to make that step up.
There are not a ton of options for this size guitar in the market, and the vast majority of them will be acoustic. There are a handful of electric options out there, but they are few and far between.
Guitar for a 6-8 Year Old
The next size up from the guitalele size is what we call ½ size guitars. These smaller ½ size guitars are aimed at players from ages 5-8 and come in around 34” top to bottom. This half-size range should be comfortable to play, while feeling a bit more substantial and durable.
When we start looking at this size guitar, we have a lot more options as far as shapes and styles. You’ll be able to find these in both acoustic and electric, nylon string and steel string.
Some of these guitars can be made really well and last a long time. Some of the biggest guitar brands in the world offer half size options such as Squier, Epiphone, Ibanez, Yamaha, and more.
Guitar for an 8-10 Year Old
Depending on their size around this age, it may be time to step up into the next size of guitar which would be ¾ scale guitars. As you might have guessed, these are pretty close to the size of a full sized guitar, but about a ¼ smaller. It’s worth noting that even some adults prefer the size of a ¾ scale guitar because of how easy they can be to play. Famously, Ed Sheeran prefers the feel of this, and his signature guitar through Martin Guitars is only available in the ¾ size.
With this choice, we see a much larger range of choices in guitars available in both acoustic and electric. At ¾ scale you can find an acoustic of almost any body shape, and even some very respectable full-featured electric guitars from brands like Squier.
This is a great transition period to switch kids who may have been playing mostly nylon strings on their smaller instruments, to using full size steel strings to build up that endurance and finger strength.
Guitar for 12+ Year Old
At around 12, it’s time to start considering the full size guitar. While it is viable to stick with ¾ scale for as long as you’d like, the options available in the full size market are unbeatable. In today’s market, we can purchase guitars with any feature, finish, sound, and playability level that your wildest dreams couldn’t even keep up with.
The space between the frets on full size guitars, also called scale length, can be the most challenging thing for young players to get used to. Reaching multiple frets apart to play a chord can take some time to do comfortably, but when they do eventually adjust to this, it will open the door to playing like the pros.
It’s at this age that venturing into the electric guitar world full of effects and different types of pickups and amplifiers may be a reasonable choice. If your child guitarist is into a certain style of music or has a favorite band, it can be extremely fun to try and find a sound similar to what they may hear in those songs. Many guitar teachers will tell you that a mixture of practicing technique and theory along with encouraging them to learn some of their favorite songs can be a great way to keep kids engaged. Learning scales isn’t always that fun, but learning the opening riffs to your favorite song and playing along with it can make it worth all of that time and energy.
What is the Best Age to Start Learning Guitar?
I’m sure many of us have all seen a video or two of some child prodigy 4 year old playing like an absolute pro on Youtube, but it’s fair to say that this is definitely not typical.
The age in which a child can pickup an instrument and find some enjoyment and be able to focus on learning very basic ideas is really the right time to start, and every kid is a bit different. Most kids will reach this point somewhere between 8 and 12 years old, which is a period of rapid development in many ways. At this age, they get better at the ever important skill of listening. Being able to have the focus to listen to a series of notes, and work out how to replicate that, is where getting a grasp on guitar really starts to make the most sense.
One major thing that will help kids stay engaged and focused is feeling that sense of reward that we all get when we learn something new. Taking small bite sized lessons that are easy to work through can give them that feeling of accomplishment that will keep them wanting to come back to it day after day.
Another important component is really going to be how comfortable the guitar is to hold. Stopping by your local music store and allowing them to try different sized and different style guitars to see what feels the best to them can go a long way. Along with this, having the guitar setup by a professional to ensure that it is playing and sounding its best is crucial. If you’re learning to play, but the strings are too high above the fretboard and it’s making it unenjoyable to play, there’s a good chance you’re not going to want to play very much.
How Much Should You Spend on a Children’s Guitar?
Should you buy an expensive guitar for your child? You certainly can, but it’s not really necessary. Kids change their mind pretty quick, so try not to get stuck with an instrument that they don’t want to play.
Most childrens guitars fall into the $100 on the entry level end, up to around $200+ on the high end. If you look hard enough, you can definitely find more expensive options, but until you’re sure that they are truly interested and want to stick with it, it may not be a great idea to spend a fortune.
Focusing on finding a guitar that is comfortable for them to play at their size is probably the most important thing. For guitars smaller than full size, make sure you choose a guitar that can stay in tune pretty well, and something that has a truss rod so that it can be adjusted to ensure the best playability possible.
Check out our full guide on how much a guitar costs
Ukulele vs Acoustic Guitar for Children
Ukulele, while small in size, does not offer the same range that guitars do. They can be a great place to start, but if the end goal is to eventually switch to guitar it can be a bit confusing. Although they may look similar, with the way the fretboard is laid out, they are quite different instruments.
The typical ukulele tuning is set to gCEA, while standard guitar tuning is EADGBE. Because of this, any chords or songs that they’ve learned to play on ukulele will not translate perfectly to guitar. In addition to this, the range of notes on a guitar is much larger, typically spanning 4 full octaves while the ukulele has a very small range of around 1 octave.
Both guitar and ukulele can be a rewarding experiences to learn, though the note and tonal options on a guitar are much more vast.
Check out our full guide on Guitar vs Ukulele
When it comes to choosing the right guitar for any player, especially children, it can be a bit tough to look through the thousands of available options and decide what might work best for you or someone you love. Between all of the different brands, body types, string types, and other factors, it’s easy to get lost.
Today we covered a wide range of the different guitar sizes available to kids, as well as different guitar types, and more to help make the process a bit easier for you.
With a ton of young folks dipping their toes into the guitar world these days, we hope that this guide has been helpful and will help you get the budding young musician in your life on their way to becoming the next great guitar hero!