How to Play Guitar Part 1 – ‘What Will I Need?’

Marina MR-09 headstock

When learning how to play guitar, picking an instrument can be a challenge- here’s a brief guide

So, you’ve decided to learn how to play guitar? This is a very good thing. If you’re a ‘newbie’, so to speak, you might be wondering exactly you’re going to need. Well, you’ll need a guitar for sure. Here, we outline the main differences between the two most common types of beginner’s *acoustic guitar.

* In this blog post, we’re focusing on those who are learning to play acoustic guitar (we’ll cover electric guitar in a later post).

Epiphone AJ-220 SCE Robot Acoustic Guitar

Which Guitar?

When learning how to play guitar, picking your first instrument can seem a bit of a minefield. There are thousands upon thousands of different models available, some wildly different, some, on appearances, the same. Here, we are discussing learning to play an acoustic guitar. Put simply, an acoustic guitar is one that does not need to be plugged into an amplifier to hear it.

The types of instrument that are most commonly used by beginners when learning how to play guitar are steel-strung guitars, and classical, or nylon strung guitars.

Marina MC-09NS Classical Guitar

Classical/ Spanish/ Nylon strung Guitars

A classical or nylon strung guitar is often the recommended choice for a beginner. Sometimes referred to as a Spanish guitar, it has a smaller body and is strung with nylon strings (surprising, eh?). The thickest three strings are wound with metal, however (this metallic appearance sometimes causes confusion). The classical guitar has a soft, but dynamic tone that is warmer, but less bright than a steel string guitar. Also, they are often the least expensive option.

The reason that these are often recommended to beginners is that nylon strings tend to be a bit easier on the fingertips when learning how to play. However, the trade off is that classical guitars tend to have wider fingerboards (that’s the bit on the guitar neck on which you hold the strings down), and higher playing action (the distance between the strings and the fingerboard) which can make the learning process more difficult.

Plus points

  • Often inexpensive – not a huge financial commitment should you decide to stop playing
  • Nylon strings are easier on the fingertips
  • Smaller body is easier to manage –classical guitars are also available in ¾ size, and ½ size for children and smaller players.

Minus points

  • The nylon string guitar is less frequently used in contemporary music (pop, rock blues etc) than the steel string guitar
  • The necks are generally wider on a classical guitar, with a higher playing action, which can make learning to play more difficult
  • Though they’re sometimes cheaper, a cheaper instrument can sometimes be more difficult (and thus, less fun) to play.

Farida D8-X OP Steel Strung Acoustic Guitar

Steel Strung Guitars

A steel strung guitar is one that has steel strings (duh…). That is, all of its strings are made from steel. It is a slightly more modern version of the acoustic guitar than the classical, and often used in modern pop and rock music.

The tone is bright, zingy, resonant, and incredibly versatile. The necks featured on steel-strung acoustics are generally far slimmer than those on classical guitars, and with lower playing action. The strings can cause the soft pads of the fingertips a little bit of discomfort when you first start to learn to how play guitar, however, but this doesn’t last long.

Plus points

  • Huge variety of styles and sizes available
  • Often used in pop, rock and other modern musical styles – when learning how to play guitar, this may be the type of guitar that you ultimately are aiming to play
  • Generally have slimmer necks and lower playing action, making fretting easier

Minus points

  • Steel strings are harder on the fingertips, when learning how to play guitar
  • Steel strung guitars are usually a little bit more expensive than classical guitars.

So which should I choose?

Well, only you can make that choice. Ideally you should try the two types out for yourself. It is also well worth bearing in mind that simply taking the cheapest option is not always the best economy. An instrument that poses extra obstacles when learning to play will only discourage the beginner.

Spending a little extra often buy a guitar that is far more inspiring to play, and will encourage you to stick at it, and practice. If you really want to learn how to play guitar, the instrument should not discourage you. Ask just about any guitarist, and they’re likely to own a guitar that they feel inspires them to play better, or practice harder. What this means to you is that you’ll become a better player, faster.

In the next episode of ‘How to Play Guitar’, we’ll talk about the other bits and pieces you’re likely to need.

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