Best Beginner Guitar of 2021
The Fender FA-125 was the most fun to play and felt inspiring right out of the box. This beautiful and lightweight guitar has full and balanced sound, providing the cleanest articulation out of the entire test fleet. This means you can hear every single string with great clarity as you strum chords or fingerpick. This guitar comes with a padded gig bag, a rarity amongst beginner kits, and it also includes a lot of great accessories. Although the production quality isn't the highest, the video on the instructional DVD was thorough, easy to follow, and full of really helpful information for anyone new to the guitar. This budget guitar will stand up to the test of time for your learning years.
Even though we liked this guitar the best out of all of those we tested, it is still a budget buy for the instrument market, and it does have a couple of potential drawbacks. There was some minor "fret buzz" on the lower strings suggesting that it may still need to go in for a setup at a guitar shop. The intonation was pretty good but not perfect, meaning that even when in tune, not all the pitches on the fretboard will be perfectly accurate. We liked it for its even balance between low and higher-pitched sounds, but it may be a little lacking in character to someone with a more discerning ear. Even though we appreciated that the gig bag came padded, it doesn't include and storage pockets for accessories. Also, if you're looking to buy this for a small child's first guitar, this full-size instrument's steel strings will be a challenge for small hands, so it might be an important consideration if that is a factor.
We tested out four child-size guitars for this review, and the Yamaha JR1 was our favorite by far. Featuring a classic spruce top and sturdy craftsmanship, it's attractive and is the perfect compact size for a young player or even 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. Included with this petite guitar was the most robust accessory kit of all, including all the standard tools, plus a capo, a pick holder, and a string winder-- all handy gadgets. There was also some padding on the included case.
In our testing, we found that all 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 an 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 case also isn't as convenient to carry because it lacks backpack straps.
The Amazon Basics Beginner Full-Size Acoustic Guitar was a surprise winner. At this price, beginners won't be disappointed with the budget guitar they will receive. It's just as good-looking as our favorite choice, the Fender FA-125, and with its large dreadnought body, it's capable of a big, booming sound. The intonation, though not impeccable, was absolutely passable. It also seems to have a pretty solid structure to it. Picks like to disappear, but you won't have to worry about purchasing extra since this kit includes six good-quality ones. The included e-tuner was our favorite tuner we encountered, with a nice, bright display and a flexible head.
Although this guitar has a decent sound, when compared to the other full-sized guitars we tested, the tone was less balanced, more bass-heavy, and thinner and more metallic. This guitar did fall out of tune a little easier and had some accuracy issues with tuning, but once the strings were worn in and stretched, these problems seemed to resolve. Of all the full-sized guitars we tested, the strings on this one felt the cheapest; they were thicker and hard to depress, which can be discouraging to beginners. They sound fine, but for a better sense when playing, we recommend re-stringing this guitar with light-gauge strings of a higher quality.
The Jasmine S35 was a very close runner-up to the Fender for Best Overall Kit. Both of these instrument kits include a stellar bundle of accessories and instructional DVDs, while the Jasmine kit has the bonus of a music book as well. We liked the Jasmine for its softer strings that make for smooth playing and are easier on your hands (and thus more gratifying for new players). It's also a great-looking guitar that produced the loudest, boomiest sound of the bunch with a lovely, lasting resonance.
We found the pale wood, black trimmings, and matte finish on the Jasmine to be less aesthetically exciting than the wooden details and warmer, polished look of the Fender. We also found the sound to be slightly less balanced and a little more bass-heavy. However, 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.
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 good customer service.
Although this guitar has a solid look and sound, it 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), it could be discouraging for a young beginner trying to achieve a beautiful sound. Similar to the Yamaha JR 1, when we tuned this guitar to itself rather than perfectly to a tuner, the intonation sounded closer to consistent, so we suspect this may be an inherent issue for all ¾ sized guitars, at least at this price point. Also worth noting is that 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 hoped the popular brand name and lack of accessories at this price would mean that this guitar 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 a good 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 rather than invest, this could make a fun present, but it might not last you very long.
We noticed 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 lacks 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, and despite soft nylon strings, it 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 resembled a cheap duffel bag strap more than a guitar strap, and a thin gig bag with no pockets or backpack straps. The gig bag also only opens on the bottom, and not the sides, which means using it feels like putting a foot into a long, skinny, awkward sock.
The Pyle Beginner 30" Classical 6-String is another option if you're simply looking for a toy for young kids. It is cheap, with soft nylon strings that are easy on small hands, and a similar cute, ukulele-like sound to the ADM Beginner Classical. It could serve as a gift for a very young child who is not particularly interested in learning but just wants to play.
If you're hoping to play more seriously or frequently, we don't recommend this option. It was frustratingly difficult to tune and showed 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. The picks were usable, but the gig bag's zipper lacked a 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 offered real value to a beginner guitarist. After testing it out, we concluded that you get what you pay for with this kit. The guitar would only really be useful as a toy or a prop, but because it is a full-size instrument, it would 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 stretching 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 mistakenly 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 for experienced players with calloused fingers. This mistake might also cause the plastic bridge to eventually snap off the guitar's body because steel strings supply too much tension for a classical body and bridge to withstand. This is just 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. Despite the low price, we don't think this kit provides any value.
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 four years, on top of a lifetime of musical training. 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 on stage and in recording studios. She has taken guitar lessons from several highly skilled teachers in NYC, and she also teaches voice and songwriting lessons. With a highly trained ear but only a few very dedicated years of guitar training, Carli brings the perfect balance of expertise paired 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 look for when purchasing a new guitar, and their methods for inspecting entry-level instruments.
For our testing, we checked for defects, evaluated construction and craftsmanship, and looked to see whether the guitars had a proper setup. We then tested the tuning and intonation of each guitar using an electronic tuner. We strummed, fingerpicked, and arpeggiated our way through the same songs on each instrument to explore the full gamut of their sound capability in several different playing styles. We also evaluated each guitar individually and tested 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 identify the subtle differences in tone and feel.
Analysis and Test Results
In our search for a great beginner's acoustic guitar kit, we chose to evaluate each set based on four primary 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
The first step with each guitar was a thorough visual inspection to evaluate construction, craftsmanship, and whether the guitars had a proper setup. We checked for any obvious defects and conducted some standard tests to check for construction issues. We looked 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 Amazon Basics Beginner Full-Size — all showed the best-looking construction and no defects that we could detect. They also had fairly accurate intonation, though we found that none of them had perfect pitch accuracy, which might be something that is only attainable at a higher price point. The Amazon Basics Beginner Full-Size created 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 assessed the effect of the string action and the softness or pliability of the strings.
The Jasmine S35 and the Yamaha JR 1 FG had the softest steel strings by far. Some of the lowest-scoring models, like the ADM Beginner Classical 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 seem trickier to play overall, or at least to play well. Better performing models like the Fender, the Amazon Basics, and the Ibanez sounded great but had tougher strings and some fret buzz on the low strings, indicating the action is too low for the weight of the strings. The lowest scorers in this category tend to fall out of tune easily and have action so high that it hinders hand positions and can cause strings to be muted.
Quality of Sound
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 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 understand that learning guitar is difficult enough and that an unpleasant or lifeless sound can make doing so even more challenging.
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 offered 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. Although it was more heavily weighted towards the "lows" or bass region, it surpassed the Fender in volume and resonance and was more fun for rock-and-roll styles and louder playing. The Yamaha JR1 FG supplied an impressive balance like the Fender, but with less volume and resonance due to the smaller body size.
Setting the guitars aside, we also wanted to determine the value and usefulness of the accessory kits that come with each instrument. Frequently online retailers try to persuade 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 premium accessories to see how they compared. 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 for some 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 for 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 the standard items were Fender brand, like the strap and the picks, which is something you would have to 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 includes an instructional DVD full of helpful tips for beginners. The Jasmine S35 tied for second place because 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 is cheaper and thinner than the Fender's.
We know firsthand that learning to play the guitar can be a long, frustrating process. It takes a lot of patience and hard work before you can produce a beautiful sound. We think your guitar and all 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, so you end up with a guitar that you'll love.
— Carli Naff
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