Best Beginner Guitar
The Fender FA-125 was the most fun to play and felt inspiring right out of the box. It's beautiful and lightweight with a full, balanced sound. This guitar had the cleanest articulation of all the ones we tried, meaning you can hear every single string with great clarity as you strum chords or fingerpick. This kit included some of the best accessories and scored extra points for having one of the only gig bags with padding. Another standout of the accessory kit was the instructional DVD, which wasn't the highest quality but was thorough, easy to follow, and full of really helpful information for anyone new to guitar playing. This is a budget guitar that will actually last you a long time.
While this guitar was our favorite of the group, it is still a bargain price in the world of instruments, and it wasn't free of short-comings. There was some minor "fret buzz" on the lower strings indicating that it may still need to go in for a setup at the guitar shop. The intonation was pretty good, but not perfect, meaning that, even when in tune, not all of the pitches on the fretboard will be perfectly accurate. While we liked it for its even balance between low and higher-pitched sounds, it may be a little lacking in character to someone with a more discerning ear. The gig bag, while padded, had no pockets for your accessories. It's also helpful to note that a full-size guitar with steel strings such as this is always challenging for beginners' hands at first, and might not be the right choice for small children.
The Jasmine S35 was a very close runner-up to the Fender for Best Overall Kit. Both guitars come with the same awesome accessory bundle and instructional DVD, and the Jasmine's kit even includes an additional music book. We liked the Jasmine for its softer strings, which make for smooth playing that is easier on your hands (and thus more gratifying for new players). It's a great looking guitar that produced the loudest, boomiest sound of the bunch and has a lovely, lasting resonance.
We found the pale wood, black trimmings, and matte finish on the Jasmine to be less aesthetically exciting than the warmer, polished look, and the wooden details of the Fender. We also found the sound to be slightly less balanced and a little more bass-heavy. Though, it's worth keeping in mind that sound is very subjective, and this boomy tone might be what you like most about the Jasmine. This guitar's intonation across the fretboard was also not perfect, but it still sounded great for this price point.
We tested out four child-size guitars for this review, and the Yamaha JR1 was by far the best. With its classic spruce top and sturdy craftsmanship, it looks great and is the perfect compact size for a young player or for a travel guitar. We were also pleasantly surprised by the fullness and clarity of the sound achieved from its smaller body. Steel strings will inevitably come with a bit of a learning curve for small hands, but the Yamaha's strings felt soft and pliable compared to the full-sized guitars we tested, and will make for a great first guitar experience. This little guy came with the most accessories of any kit, including all of the standard tools, plus a capo, a pick holder, and a string winder-- all very useful gadgets. The case also had some padding.
We found in our testing that all of the miniature guitars had pretty glaring intonation problems. The Yamaha was not an exception to this rule, but it was more accurate than the rest, and we found that when it was tuned to itself rather than to the e-tuner, the intonation sounded more spot-on. This may just be an inconsistency that comes along with the shortened neck and shrunken body of mini-guitars. This guitar case also did not have backpack straps, which detracts sightly from the convenience factor.
The AmazonBasics Beginner Full-Size Acoustic Guitar was a surprise winner. It's a budget guitar, but for a beginner, you won't be disappointed with what you get at this price. It looks just as attractive as our top pick, the Fender FA-125 and with its large dreadnought body, is capable of a big, booming sound. The construction seems sturdy enough, and the intonation was not perfect but was totally passable. The kit includes 6 good picks, which is great because picks are easily lost. The included e-tuner has a nice, bright display and a flexible head; it was our favorite tuner that we encountered.
This guitar had a decent sound, but when compared to the other full-sized guitars we tested, the tone was less balanced, more bass-heavy, and more thin and metallic. This guitar did fall out of tune a little more easily, and had some accuracy issues with tuning, but once the strings are worn in and stretched, this problem should resolve. Speaking of the strings, these seem to be the cheapest of all of the full-sized guitars we tried. They feel thicker and harder to press down, which could be discouraging for new players. They sound ok, but we recommend re-stringing this guitar with some higher-quality, light gauge steel strings for the best playing experience.
Despite the miniature body, the Ibanez ¾ Mini Dreadnought Acoustic guitar is made with an arched back, making it possible for this mini guitar to ring out with a fuller sound. With its all-maple construction and unique, dark color, it's a beautiful, eye-catching guitar. The size is perfect for a child or for a travel guitar. It also scored major points for customer service with a lifetime warranty from Ibanez.
While it had a solid look and sound, this guitar still came with some pretty glaring issues. Most notably, the intonation is nowhere near perfect. Even when the guitar is freshly tuned, many open chords still sounded out-of-tune because the fretboard was not accurately pitched. This is a construction issue, and, along with the thick, steel strings (tougher to play), could be discouraging for a young beginner trying to achieve a beautiful sound. Similarly to the Yamaha JR 1, when we tuned this guitar to itself rather than perfectly to the tuner, the intonation sounded closer to consistent, so we hypothesize that this may be an inherent issue for all ¾ sized guitars, at least at this price point. Also of note, while it's a bargain price, you don't receive any accessories aside from a thin gig bag, so you will have to spend more money on picks, a strap, a tuner, etc. We thought the popular brand name and lack of accessories at this price would mean that it was a higher quality instrument, but it ended up having a tinnier sound, worse intonation, and more visible defects than the Yamaha JR 1.
The ADM Beginner Classical 30-Inch Kit is a top-selling guitar kit. Through testing however, we found that this guitar is only the right choice for a very specific subset of shoppers: those shopping for a toy for a very young child. If your child just wants something to play with and isn't intent on actually learning, this is a fun, affordable choice that comes in bold colors like blue and pink. The sound is warm and pleasant in a plastic-y, ukulele-esque way. If you want to entertain as opposed to invest, this will make a fun present, but it might not last you very long.
We found several dings and scuffs around joints, some glue spots, surface scratches, gapping under the bridge, and wood chips inside the body of the guitar, all of which indicate careless construction. The fretboard lacked any fret dots, which are important markers for beginners and should come standard on all guitars. When playing open chords, there was a loud, internal buzzing on the high E string, which made it pretty annoying to listen to. The fret action was too high, which, despite the soft nylon strings, made it difficult to play. We also found several problems with the accessories, including picks that are far too large and too sharp, a strap that looked more like a cheap duffel bag strap than a guitar strap, and a thin gig bag with no pocket and no backpack straps. The gig bag also only opened on the bottom and not the sides (it was like putting a foot into a long, skinny, awkward sock).
The Pyle Beginner 30" Classical 6-String is another option if you are simply looking for a toy for young kids. It is cheap, has soft nylon strings that are easy on small hands, and has a similar cute, ukulele-like sound to the ADM Beginner Classical guitar. It could serve as a gift for a very young child who is not actually interested in learning, but just wants to play.
If you're looking to play more seriously or frequently, we don't recommend this option. It was frustratingly difficult to tune and had major intonation issues across the fretboard, causing all open chords to sound out-of-tune. We also noticed plenty of scuffs, chipping, dried glue spots, and gapping under the tuning hardware, as well as some internal rattling on certain open strings, and short, uneven frets. The action was way too high, making it hard to play without accidentally muting some of the strings with your fingers. This guitar also came with cheap accessories. While the picks were usable, the gig bag had a zipper with no zip tab and could not be opened.
The Best Choice Products 38-inch Starter Kit is a best-seller with a rock-bottom price, so we were curious to see if it really brought value to a beginner guitarist. After testing it out, we found that you get what you pay for. This guitar would only really be useful as a toy or a prop, but, as it is a full-size, will be too large for most young children.
This guitar is a full-size classical guitar. Classical guitars usually have a thicker neck and wider frets than acoustic guitars like the Fender FA-125 or the Jasmine 35S. This can sometimes present new players with the challenge of having to stretch their fingers farther to make different chord shapes. These difficulties are usually counteracted by classical nylon strings, which are much softer and easier to press down than acoustic steel strings. The makers of this guitar, however, have incorrectly strung a classical guitar with steel strings, combining the more challenging aspects of both guitars. In fact, these strings were the sharpest we tried, even feeling tough on experienced players' calloused fingers. This mistake could also cause the plastic bridge to eventually snap off of the guitar's body, as steel strings have too much tension for a classical body and bridge to withstand. This is one inconsistency we found among many, including a long list of physical defects and blemishes, action that is too high, and an annoying buzz on the low E string. This guitar had our least favorite sound quality with the worst intonation problems of the bunch, and a thin, rattly, metallic tambour that was too bass-heavy. On top of all this, two of its accessories, the picks and the pitch pipe, were unusable and would likely go straight into the trash. We didn't find that this kit brought any value for the low price.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by Carli Naff, a professional singer-songwriter and guitar player living in Brooklyn, NY. Carli has studied guitar rigorously for the last 4 years, and has a lifetime of musical training prior. Having studied music in different forms since age 9, she eventually received her BFA from the University of Arizona. She is currently recording and performing with her band, Carli & the Dark, where she plays acoustic and electric guitar and sings onstage and in recording studios. She has taken guitar lessons from several highly skilled teachers in NYC, and she also teaches voice and songwriting lessons. Because she has a highly trained ear, but only a few, very dedicated years of guitar training, Carli brought the perfect balance of expertise with empathy for beginners. We consulted a few professional guitar teachers with years of training as well as some professional musicians in the Brooklyn Indie Rock scene to ask what they check for when purchasing a new guitar, and to borrow their methods for inspecting each instrument.
For our testing, we checked for defects, evaluated construction and craftsmanship, and looked to see whether or not the guitars had had a proper setup. We then tested the tuning and intonation of each guitar against an electronic tuner. We strummed, fingerpicked, and arpeggiated our way through the same songs on each guitar to run the full gamut of sound capability in several different playing styles. We spent over an hour evaluating each guitar individually and testing out every single accessory in its kit to see which ones truly added to the value of the purchase. We then compared similar guitars side-by-side to note the subtle differences in tone and in feel.
Analysis and Test Results
In our search for a great Beginner's Acoustic Guitar Kit, we evaluated each set based on 4 main metrics: Construction & Craftsmanship, Ease of Playing, Quality of Sound, and Quality of Accessories. Each guitar underwent an individual visual inspection followed by thorough tests of each accessory, and then hours of playing the guitars individually and side-by-side to evaluate sound and playability.
Construction & Craftsmanship
Our first step with each guitar was a thorough visual inspection to evaluate construction, craftsmanship, and whether or not the guitars had had a proper setup. We looked for any obvious defects and conducted some standard tests to check for construction issues. We took a look at the string action (how high or low the strings sit above the fingerboard). Then we tuned each guitar and moved chromatically up the fingerboard, meticulously checking each fret's pitch to see if the construction lent itself to accurate intonation.
The three full-sized guitars, the Fender FA-125, the Jasmine S35, and the AmazonBasics Beginner Full-Size had the best-looking construction and no defects that we could detect. They also had fairly accurate intonation, though we found that none of these three had perfect pitch accuracy, which might be something that is only achievable at a higher price point. The AmazonBasics Beginner Full-Size had the most fret buzz on the lower strings and might need a proper setup at a guitar shop.
Ease of Playing
We wanted to rate these guitars based on their playability right out of the box. Were they easy to tune, and did they stay in tune after some playing? We played songs in several different styles on each guitar and addressed the effect of the string action and the softness or pliability of the strings.
The Jasmine S35 and the Yamaha JR 1 FG by far had the softest steel strings. Some of the lowest-scoring models, like the ADM beginner classical guitar and the PYLE Beginner 30" Classical used nylon strings, which are much softer and easier for beginners to play. However, due to other problems like their tune-ability, action height, and construction, they did not turn out to be easier to play, or at least to play well. Better performing models like the Fender, the AmazonBasics, and the Ibanez sounded great, but did have tougher strings as well as some fret buzz on the low strings, indicating the action was too low for the weight of the strings. Low scorers in this category tended to fall out of tune easily and have action so high that it hindered hand positions and caused strings to be muted.
Quality of Sound
To be able to evaluate the quality of sound, we played and listened. We tried out the same songs in several playing styles on each instrument back-to-back to compare and contrast tone, volume, and resonance. Tone has to do with the balance of wave frequencies supported by each instrument. Tone is usually broken up into three regions: highs, mids, and lows. Resonance is how long the sound lingers (reverberating inside the guitar's body) before it disappears. Tone can be a subjective category, but we tried to keep the beginner in mind, and looked for a beautiful sound that would motivate a new player to stick with the instrument. We know all too well that learning guitar is difficult enough, and that an unpleasant or lifeless sound will only be more discouraging.
We found that the highest scorers for quality of sound were the Fender FA-125 the Jasmine S35 and the Yamaha JR1 FG. The Fender FA-125 had the most balance between highs, mids, and lows, and a clean articulation that allowed each string to ring out without being overpowered by the others. This really lent itself to bright strumming as well as beautiful, even fingerstyle playing. We gave the Jasmine S35 an equal rating. While it was more heavily weighted towards the "lows" or bass region, it did surpass the Fender in volume and resonance and was more fun for rock-and-roll styles and louder playing. The Yamaha JR1 FG had as impressive of a balance as the Fender with less volume and resonance due to the smaller body size.
Putting the guitars aside, we also wanted to determine the usefulness and value of the accessory kits included with each instrument. Frequently online retailers try to convince us that more is better, and we don't want you to be fooled by unnecessary add-ons. We thoroughly tested each individual tool, cross-checking them with (our own) accessories of a higher price point to see how they held up. We gave points for higher-quality accessories that will actually be used often, and took points away for cheap add-ons that were sure to end up in the trash before long.
Most guitars came with the following standard items: a gig bag, a strap, an extra set of strings, and some picks. So, any additional add-ons that were worth the trouble of shipping counted as more points. The Yamaha JR1 FG took the cake for accessory bundles, including all of the standard items we mentioned, as well as some very important, but overlooked accessories like a capo (incredibly useful) a string winder, used when changing strings, and a pick holder, which is great for keeping picks in one handy place or for performing onstage. Second place for best accessories goes to the Fender FA-125. All of the standard items were Fender brand, like the strap and the picks, which is something you would pay extra for in the store. These brand-name versions were well-made and seemed more durable than their off-brand counterparts. On top of that, this kit included an instructional DVD full of helpful tips for beginners. The Jasmine S35 was tied for second place, as it came with an identical bundle from Austin Bazaar, full of Fender-brand accessories. Though we preferred the included Martin strings as well as the addition of a music book for further learning, the gig bag for this guitar was cheaper and thinner than the Fender's.
We know firsthand that learning to play the guitar is not about instant gratification. It takes a lot of patience and hard work before you are able to produce a beautiful sound. Your guitar and all of the gear you buy to use with it should inspire you so that this challenge is an exciting one. All of our testing was carried out by life-long musicians with highly trained ears and with your first experience in mind. We hope that our research helps you to make an informed purchase and end up with a guitar that you'll love for a lifetime.
— Carli Naff