Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!
Tips for Buying your Child’s First Guitar
I’ve done an article before on buying your first guitar, however, recently a friend asked for tips on buying a guitar for their son. While some of the things carry over, I thought there were enough specifics in play to make a separate article on buying a child’s first guitar useful.
At this point I’m making 2 key assumptions, firstly, if you’re reading this then you’re not a musician, if you are, I’m sorry, a lot of this is going to be super obvious. The second assumption is that your kid is serious about music. I’m going to be basing the advice on the music being something your child wants to pursue and won’t drop after a month. The reason I say this is that I advise spending a bit of cash. If this isn’t something you think your child is going to stick with, obviously don’t spend loads.
It’s been a pleasure to see Logan’s musical tastes and ability develop. Our decision was based around wanting him to have something other than school in his life and the positive experiences Laura and I have had with music. Both of us were lucky enough to have loan instruments from school, but that’s not so common these days. As we knew we’d have to buy an instrument, we wanted one he’d connect with, Laura wanted piano, I hoped he’d go for guitar and he went with the 6 string (because it’s loads cooler, obviously)
So, here are the tips:
Get Electric Not Acoustic as a First Guitar
This is true for any first guitar but especially for kids. Most kids will want to play an electric because that will be what they have seen their idols play and that’s important, kids like to be cool (don’t we all?). There are also sound practical reasons for this. Electrics use thinner nickel/steel strings than an acoustic which will have (generally) thicker phosphor bronze covered steel strings. This makes the strings easier to hold down over the frets. Additionally, the ‘action’ of an electric, which is the distance you press the string down to fret the note, is lower on an electric. This means it requires less strength to press the strings down.
Playing guitar is, at first, painful as the tips of your fingers hurt and so do the muscles in your hand. An electric minimises this. The traditional view of non-guitarists is that you start on acoustic and graduate to electric and, frankly, this is just nonsense with no-logical basis. You want your child to get into making useful sounds as quickly as they can so that their interest holds. Finally, for a given some of money, at the cheaper end of the market you’ll get a better electric than you will acoustic, don’t know why, you just will.
Try Them Out
Go along to your local music shop (I’m lucky, mine is the Aladdin’s cave of loveliness that is Andertons in Guildford) and get the child to see and play the guitars. Guitars are a tactile thing and they have to feel comfortable. You can also get the benefit of in store deals. If you’re not a musician (see assumptions above) you also don’t have to worry about the set up of the guitar, a store will do this for you, online may not and it can affect how easy the instrument is to play. Furthermore, it’s great fun to go along to a music store and try a load of different guitars knowing you’re going to leave with one at the end of the day, especially if the child can manage a full size instrument.
Get the Right Size
For older kids who can manage a full size guitar this is not really much of an issue. For Logan, he couldn’t really hold a full size guitar or reach the end of the fretboard and so a full size guitar would have been difficult and frustrating for him to play. We got him a Squier 3/4 size guitar which is much more suited to his size. Again, it’s all about making it as easy a proposition to play as possible. It’s intrinsically hard to play any instrument without fighting thick strings, high actions and an unwieldy form factor. Kids over about 12 should be fine with full size gear.
Quality of Instrument is Important
Cheap instruments sound bad and are unpleasant to play. I don’t for a minute advocate getting your child a Fender Custom Shop for north of £3k. I am saying, if you have decided to spend the money, get them something usable. If it comes out of a high street catalogue, the chances of it being usable are lessened, I’m not sorry if that sounds snobby. Instruments are things of beauty and I love all of my guitars. I know for a fact that Logan loves his guitar to bits. It’s worth remembering that kids will drop and ding their instruments, so be realistic, but don’t go for the cheapest thing possible because you get what you pay for.
Looks of the Instrument are Important
When I look behind me I see my lovely Sigma acoustic hanging on the wall. The mahogany sides seem to glow, the rosette detail is simple, understated and gorgeous, the ebony fretboard looks like someone poured shadows all over it. As I walk in each morning I see it and I’m reminded that I need to make time to do my practise. Likewise, when I get my Chapman guitar out of its case I feel lucky to get to play an instrument so beautiful and it makes me value the time I get doing so. I’m sure Logan just looks at his guitar and thinks ‘Man that looks cool’ but I do see him catching glimpses of himself in the window and admiring how awesome he looks while playing. It’s important because it keeps us playing and practising and gets us through the hard times when we can’t seem to get a single note right.
Try and Find Something to Develop the Interest
I think it’s really important to put goals and development into playing. As well as sorting the instrument (and an amp if you’re going electric) you need to help a child develop. I’m 42 and I’m ok following a youtube based guitar course (Justin Sandercoe if you’re interested) but forget that for a 6 year old. I was lucky in that my friend Harmeet runs our local Rock Project franchise where kids get together once a week and learn rock songs as a band as well as having some fun and games in there. From playing a few times a week to a solid 15-20 minutes practise every day is the simple difference the Rock Project has made to Logan. It’s a UK wide thing and if you can get your child into that, or something similar then I would do so. I have to be honest, there may have been just the slightest hint of a tear in my eye when I saw Logan do his first solo on stage in the summer concert last year.
So, I hope some of that has helped. If anyone wants any specific advice or tips please feel free to contact me via this Blog and I’ll be happy to help. Playing guitar is one of the true joys in my life and playing with Logan (which we do pretty regularly as part of his band ‘Warcat’) is just the best thing ever. Just do be aware that exposure to high levels of rock music may take your child from this:
To this… (check out his rock star look).
I literally could not be more proud.