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Different Types of Guitars
Beginner guitar students have the option of different types of guitars. Classical (or nylon-string) guitars, steel-string (acoustic) guitars and electric guitars. Students and parents without musical experience are often uncertain about which style of guitar to choose for their first guitar lesson. There is no single answer that works for every student, so it is best to discuss in depth with the teacher prior to starting.
Here are some general guidelines than can help you narrow down the choices. First, to clear up some common misconceptions: Any genre of music can be played on any style of guitar. For instance, you can find plenty of videos online where people are playing classical music on an electric guitar or heavy metal on a classical guitar. No type of guitar is necessarily “easier” or “harder” than others. Each type and style of guitar presents its own unique challenges and requires years or even decades of consistent daily practice to learn to play at an advanced level.
Similarly, no style of guitar is more “fun” than any other. If you put in the effort required to learn, then playing any style of guitar will be rewarding. On the other hand, no matter which style of guitar you have, if you fail to practice regularly, it will not be an enjoyable experience.
All types of guitar are available in smaller sizes for younger students. Choosing the correct size is essential. No matter which style you choose, trying to learn on a guitar that is too large or too small will not produce the desired results. Check with the teacher to be sure you have the proper size.
Pros of Classical Guitars
- Starting with classical guitar provides a good foundation in proper technique that can then be applied to other styles of guitar without much difficulty. It’s possible but much more challenging and time-consuming to learn to play classically after starting on another style of guitar.
- Students will learn to play solo polyphonic music (music with multiple simultaneous parts, usually melody and accompaniment) a lot sooner than they will on other styles of guitar.
- Studying classically first generally leads to a much better understanding of music and notation.
Cons of Classical Guitars
- Wider neck makes it more difficult to learn to play chords.
- Difficult to learn to play at louder volumes.
- Requires a substantial commitment to practicing somewhat tedious exercises at first in order to develop proper technique.
- Will require significant attention to detail to read and play music properly. Even early on, students will need to read their music carefully to play multiple notes simultaneously with the correct fingering. You can achieve some degree of success on other styles of guitar even while struggling to read notation, but learning to read notation correctly is an essential part of learning classical guitar.
- Not a good choice for students that want to see quick results in the short term. Requires a substantial amount of patience and the ability to delay gratification for years.
- To play at advanced levels, students will need to spend a lot of time maintaining their nails at the proper length and shape.
Steel-String Acoustic Guitars
Pros of Steel-String Acoustic Guitars
- Easier to play at louder volumes without amplification.
- Can be played virtually anywhere.
- Can be played standing with a strap or even sitting on the ground in situations where you can’t find a suitable chair. This is the guitar you probably want if you plan to strum some chords while singing around a campfire.
Cons of Steel-String Acoustic Guitars
- Practicing will cause more soreness compared to other styles of guitar until the player develops calluses on their fingertips.
- Steel-string guitars generally have larger bodies compared to other styles of guitar, so they can be harder to hold for younger students.
Pros of Electric Guitars
- Player can set the volume to any desired level.
- Can be practiced through headphones.
- The thinner strings are easier to play for beginners.
Cons of Electric Guitars
- Usually more expensive (requires purchasing both a guitar and an amplifier).
- Easier to damage due to all the electrical components.
- Generally requires more frequent tuning and maintenance than other styles of guitar.
Questions to help determine which type of guitar may be a good fit:
- Is the student involved in several other activities throughout the week?
- If “yes” — Start with a steel-string acoustic or electric. Classical guitar requires much more substantial daily practice.
- Are you unwilling to extend the lesson beyond 30 minutes at the teacher’s recommendation?
- If “yes” — Start with a steel-string acoustic. Shorter set-up time than an electric, much less time required on technique than a classical.
- Will the student be watching online videos or using an app to practice rather than committing to practice as directed by the teacher?
- If “yes” — Start with a steel-string acoustic or electric. Classical guitar requires substantial attention to playing with proper technique.
- Does the student have a long attention span? Is the student able to put consistent sustained effort into improving the technical aspects of their playing? Is the student willing to spend a significant amount of daily practice time to achieve the best results in the long run?
- If “yes” — Start with a classical guitar. Students who are serious about learning to play fluently at an advanced level should spend at least a few years playing each style of guitar. It is recommended that serious students start with classical guitar, then steel string and finally electric guitar. Best results will be achieved if students continue to practice each style of guitar even as they learn new styles.
We hope you find this information useful. This was written by one of our longtime music teachers, Stephen Agnew. With us since ’10 and part of our award-winning staff.