Guitar as a Gift
I just received my first email about giving a guitar as a gift. The most common situation is an adult buying a guitar for a child. This post contains my thoughts, as a guitar teacher, about what instruments young, beginning students should use.
Most kids have trouble with two things: (1) the strings hurt their left hand fingers (no calluses!), and (2) they struggle to get a good sound with even the simplest of chords.
Obviously, I’m a big fan of classical guitar, but I really think the best overall choice for an instrument is a nylon string, classical guitar. The strings are easier to work with, and the wider neck actually helps students get a bit better sound — I can’t tell you how many students get really frustrated when they can’t get the first string to ring while holding down another string. The wider neck on a classical guitar lets the student have a bit more room to play with.
Another thing to consider is that a child is very much influenced by their instrument. If it’s easy to play and sounds good in their hands, they are going to be more motivated. If it looks the way they want it to look, that might help too.
Before you get that old guitar out from the closet, think about whether or not it’s the guitar the child wants. Will it inspire them to play? Will it be easy to use? My biggest pet peeve as a teacher is seeing a student with a guitar that’s hard to use. If you do want to give a used guitar, take it to a music store and ask them to set the guitar up.
There’s a lot of really great beginner instruments. I don’t really think you can go wrong with a Yamaha C40. If the student is younger, half-sized or 3/4-sized guitars should be used. This largely depends on how big the kid is. Middle school and high school age students are usually find with full sized guitars.
I like my students to have a few things.
- A foot stool. Even my electric/rock guitar students sit classical style.
- A tuner.
- Lessons. Guitar classes (group lessons) are also a possibility. Ask around and see who the go-to teacher in town is.
- A method book (optional). I use the Mel Bay Classical Guitar method with most young students. If a student wants to do rock-style guitar, I have a little booklet I give out along with other materials.
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This is a great primer. I’m also glad you put lessons in there (obviously you’re a guitar teacher). I’ve wanted to pick up the guitar years before I did, but I was always intimidated by guys that were really good. They all said that they teach themselves guitar, but I found it nearly impossible until I received guitar lessons for my birthday one year. Learning the fundamentals is crucial in sustaining interest.
I really didn’t pay attention to the musicality of playing with my steel string acoustic. I really fell in love with the CG when I found the variety of tone color and musical phrasing which the nylon string can achieve. I remember thinking “Now this is playing the guitar!” Of course, I also thought that when I saw Phil Keaggy in concert.
You can count me among those who think the C40 is a good choice.
I bought my mother a Yamaha C40 when she wanted to take guitar lessons. I played it quite a bit after setting it up and was impressed with its tone given how little it cost. I wound-up buying one for myself to use for travel and camping; but I find myself playing it as much as my other guitars while at home. There’s a certain amusement and enjoyment that comes from drawing a lovely tone from such an inexpensive guitar.
I upgraded the tuners and the plastic saddle with one of bone. I and and a friend think the tone improved with the bone saddle.
Great points; I started out on a nylon string classical acoustic and agree that the key to keeping kids going with guitar is giving them an early sense of progress. If their early guitar playing experiences are primarily painful then it becomes easier to practice less often and ultimately quit altogether.
While the gift of a guitar is an excellent choice for a child I believe the gift of a guitar is a wonderful choice for an adult, particularly an intimate partner. My wife gave me a vintage Gibson SG for Christmas last year (it had a PAF in it that no one realized until I had some restoration work done)! I, in turn, am giving her a vintage Gibson J45 I purchased from a seller on Craigslist recently. Both gifts are symbolic of our love for music and for each other and while guitars can be pricey as gifts I can’t think of a more meaningful expression of love and thoughtfulness.
Although hand drums make nice gifts too, but that’s another story!