If a child shows an inclination towards learning a musical instrument, it is something worth fostering. Playing is a fulfilling endeavour and it has been proven that it helps strengthen dexterity and develop certain mental functions such as concentration, self-confidence and creativity. Not to speak of practical benefits such as developing work ethic, the idea that perseverance leads to rewards, and patience. All key life skills that all children benefit from.
Choosing an instrument for a child is often a problematic situation for many parents who are eager to do the right thing and make sure their child gets the most of the learning experience. Many people will point towards a particular instrument like the piano for example because it simply involves pressing down on a key to create sound, a satisfying process for young children.
Others recommend drums for the primal joy of creating a loud percussive sound. The truth is that children are all different and for that reason there is no ideal starter instrument. It all comes down to the child. It is best to follow their lead.
One of the most counterproductive things you can do as a parent is force an instrument onto your child. They will display a lack interest and go off the idea of playing an instrument, possibly affecting their self-esteem as they may begin to believe they are not good at music.
Experts recommend that you follow their lead and allow them to figure out which instrument suits their personality the most. They will naturally guide you to the instrument that resonates with them the most. Children are very responsive to involvement in choices and if they feel empowered to make a decision about the instrument they will play, the chances are they will stick at it longer and, in the long run, be rewarded for their dedication.
If your child happens to choose the guitar, you are in luck and we are here to help you navigate the sometimes confusing multitude of buying options out there. We’ll focus not only on price, but also quality and appropriateness for smaller hands and bodies.
Types of Children’s Guitar
The guitalele is essentially an amalgamation of the acoustic guitar and the ukulele that closely resembles a sort of miniature guitar. Looking closer it has the size of the ukulele, yet instead of having four strings as traditionally found on this instrument, the guitalele has six strings, just like a normal acoustic guitar. This means that playing techniques and chords mimic those used to play on an ordinary guitar.
The shape and size are ideal for children because the guitalele is about a quarter of the size of a full-sized counterpart, meaning it is very friendly to smaller hands and shorter arm reaches. Your child can also learn on a guitalele then hop onto a guitar will relative ease due to the transferable skills. The use of nylon strings, rather than larger gauge steel alternatives, protect little fingers from blisters and fatigue.
Another factor is that it is visually appealing to children. The small size, cute look and light weight are enticing to children, a great factor in motivating them to play. It looks like it is only for children, creating a kind of exclusivity that children will be attracted to. For parents, the low price is also a real winner as they won’t have to worry about it inevitably getting bashed and bruised as it is dragged around the house.
The only down size of the guitalele is that because of its small size the tuning is somewhat different to the guitar. If it was matched the tuning of a guitar, it would sound bland and sapless. To counter this, manufacturers have opted to raise the tuning by four semitones.
Some might say this may hamper a child’s ability to play a full sized guitar and play with other musicians. In reality, the transfer isn’t all that difficult if the child has gotten to the grips with the basic of playing a string instrument and developed a sense for pitches and their variations. They may encounter a short transitional period where they may struggle a little, but in the end they will come out the end without any lasting issues.
Mini-acoustic: ¾, ½ or ¼ Size Guitar
The mini-acoustic is an all round smaller version of the ordinary acoustic guitar. It comes in sizes determined by the length of the scale, or the length between the body and the headstock. These are generally ¾, ½ and ¼ sized. The reduction in size affects all parts of the guitar and is obtained without changing the habitual tuning of a guitar. Any skills developed on a mini-acoustic can, therefore, be seamlessly carried over to a full-sized guitar.
The mini-acoustic is ideal for children and specifically geared for them. The smaller size is adapted to players with reduced reach and little bodies. Depending on age, certain sizes are better suited. We recommend the following as a basis for determining the appropriate size, though nothing beats letting a child play with a guitar, then get a sense of whether it fits them and feels comfortable.
|Age in Years:||Recommended Size:|
|4 to 6||1/4|
|6 to 9||1/2|
|9 to 12||3/4|
|12 and above||Standard|
The travel guitar, as the name, suggests is an acoustic guitar specifically designed for taking on journeys. Its small size makes it ideal for this, but also for children. The body of the guitar is much smaller than usual and some truly innovative solutions to reduce size can be found. The neck remains normal sized or just slightly smaller than the standard size.
This means a child benefits from learning on a full-scale fretboard with normal spacing between notes and standard tuning. In addition, they won’t strain themselves having to overcome the challenges of an oversized body. The travel guitar’s lightweight and portability are also a plus.
The travel guitar isn’t really designed with children in mind, instead it coincidentally happens to be quite suited to their needs. We do, however, recommend not using a travel guitar for small children, but rather recommend it as a stepping stone to a full sized model or for larger children with longer arms.
The electric guitar is an electrical version of the guitar that uses pickups, or magnetized coils capable of reading the vibration of the strings and converting it into a signal to amplify the sound through the use of an amplifier. They differ from acoustics in the sense that they do not have an open chamber to naturally amplify the sound. They also look different and are generally thinner, but heavier due to a solid wood body.
Electric guitars are equipped with steel strings and may be a harsher on softer hands so it is recommended that you buy small gauge strings to minimize this.
Children’s version of the electrics exist in ¾ scale-size setup with a slimmer neck and thinner body designed to accommodate small hands, bodies and builds. It is possible to get child-friendly versions of the most famous guitars made by the biggest manufacturers such as Fender and Gibson.
A word of warning, stay well clear of toy guitars sold by large chain supermarkets and toy stores. These are, as the name hints, toys and can in no way be considered viable musical instruments fit for learning.
They are often overpriced and poorly built. They will do nothing to help your child get the benefits of playing a real instrument and are essentially a waste of time. Instead, put your money towards a real guitar or buy a toy worthy of the name that will help your child exercise, like a trampoline.
Benefits of Learning the Guitar
Research suggests that playing instruments actives most areas of the brain at the same time, creating a kind of neurological workout that benefits the brain the more you do it, like working out and the effects on muscles.
Many parents are, therefore, keen to introduce their children to an instrument as young as possible. Why is this the case? The main reason is that learning an instrument confers to a child many lifelong benefits that are instrumental in developing them into a well-rounded person with a strong mental and social skills.
It is no wonder that many universities and schools are more inclined to accept children with musical skills as it shows that they better equipped to handle to rigours of hard work and dedication than non musical children.
If you’re not yet convinced of the benefits of playing the guitar, this list should help you understand the wide-reaching positives of doing so.
Learning the layout of the fretboard, remembering where notes are and where their octaves sit, memorizing a song or learning the language of written music all contribute to improving general memory capabilities, notably verbal memory.
Playing the guitar is basically a highly specialized form of hand-eye coordination. On top of having to play in rhythm and get the fingers in the right position, the body must also regulate breathing. The intricate motor functions and the two hands used mean that the body learns to coordinate itself in new ways, thus strengthening its overall capacity to adapt to new movements and to the use of different muscles. In other words, it strengthens spatial reasoning, the capacity to understand the parameters of space and time as well as the physical world around them.
Focus and Concentration
The act of learning the guitar requires a lot of focus for fairly long periods of time. Children develop a sense of focus that often pours over into other activities, by focusing their attention on the task of playing and being totally engrossed in it.
Dedication is also an important factor because the guitar doesn’t provide immediate results. It is something you work at and develop over time. If a child can understand this it does significantly improve their ability to focus on a single task to completion.
Being able to play the guitar is a great way to instil self-confidence in a child. If they understand that they can master something thanks to their own work, they will carry this over into other aspects of their daily lives and allow them to develop a courageous attitude to any situation or problem thrown their way.
Learning the guitar is at first a very personal endeavour that requires hours spent fine tuning the fundamentals over and over again. This takes discipline and if a child is able to dedicate themselves, it encourages self-discipline and a strong work ethic. Both important skills for later life and very prized in the workplace environment.
If a child is involved in choosing and buying their first guitar, it creates a special bond that will encourage them to care for their instrument by keeping it clean, replacing strings and avoiding breaking it. This fosters a form of responsibility that can be carried over into other parts of life, including school work, personal hygiene and relationships with others.
To become proficient at any instrument, the keys are simply time and commitment, and if players persevere the satisfaction of being able to play a particular piece of music or be an overall competent player provides untold levels of satisfaction. A child learning to play who dedicates time and effort will learn that hard work and dedication to a particular task or subject bears fruits in the long run.
Better Academic Performance
In part due to the concentration required, as well as the need to distinguish different notes and pitches involved in playing an instrument, it seems like playing the guitar improves academic performance and literacy skills, as research seems to suggest. The better they perform in school, the more likely they are to further their education, obtain better jobs and overall have a fulfilling life.
Perception and Understanding of Emotions
Music is a portal for self expression and conveying emotions that are sometimes hard to put into words. Children develop a stronger sense of a wider range of emotions and learn how to spot these in other people when they learn to play an instrument.
In addition, learning to distinguish notes and pitches allows them to be more aware of fluctuations in the way others speak and the correlation this has with their emotional state of mind. In other words, they will learn to judge an emotion simply by the tone of someone’s voice.
This makes them more compassionate and attuned to the needs and feelings of others, promoting kindness and camaraderie with children their age. This also possibly contributes to negating some behavioural problems and attaining a more distinguished emotional maturity.
Beyond cognitive benefits, playing the guitar is also a very enjoyable activity that stimulates the pleasure zones of the brain. Children respond extremely well to activities that they deem fun. We would all rather see our children playing the guitar than watching a bland TV series. Letting them know that they can do something that is fun as much as they want is also a very satisfying thing to be able to say as a parent, reducing stress and worry on your part.
The trick with music is that learning to play involves work veiled by tons of fun, giving children an opportunity to learn that work doesn’t necessarily have to be an arduous and tedious activity, but something that can be gratifying as well as entertaining.
Involving your Child
Childhood is all about new experiences and discovering the world for the first time. It is this curiosity and unbridled desire to learn that defines a child’s innocence and their sense of wonder. Involving them in the guitar buying process is highly recommended for no other reason that it’s fun for them.
On a more serious note, involving your child ensures they develop a level of ownership in regard to the activity and the instrument itself. If they feel that they have had input into which guitar they are getting, then they are more likely to want to play it.
Research shows that the more a child plays an instrument, the more mental benefits they will reap. In a roundabout way, allowing your child to help you choose a guitar is the best way to encourage them to play. As with any human activity, repetition and practice are the keys to success and mastery. Do everything you can to encourage these and you will be pleasantly surprised by your child’s devotion to the guitar and be amazed at how fast they improve their playing.
Regardless of which model you finally choose with your child, we recommend always visiting a local music shop to get the guitar setup. Basically, this process allows any issues that may have popped up while the guitar was being shipped and handled to be ironed out by a professional guitar technician. It doesn’t cost much and can greatly improve the playability and feel of a guitar.
The setup generally includes checking the intonation, or tuning along the fretboard of the guitar, sorting out any loose screws or hardware, adjusting the height of the strings and ensuring the neck is nicely positioned. They can also replace strings with a smaller gauge to ease a child into playing and offer accessories like metronomes and tuners if these weren’t included when you bought the guitar.
A setup is also an opportunity for a child to ask any questions about the upkeep of the guitar. It also allows them to immerse themselves in an environment devoted to music and guitars, which may help them get even more motivated to play the guitar once back home.
Among the guitaleles on the market, the best at a reasonable price is by far the Yamaha GL1. Yamaha are recognized as a leading brand among beginner guitars and they do not disappoint with their version of the guitalele.
The GL1 has a spruce top, meranti back and sides, nato neck and a rosewood fretboard. These are all fairly common laminated woods for acoustics and offer a decent mix, but nothing spectacular and as expected for the price.
The 17 inch scale is ideally short for children, though the neck is a proportionally little large, but nothing that most small hands cannot work with. The headstock is fairly standard and reliable, as are the roller style tuners. The bridge matches classic acoustic guitars with a tie around string setup.
The GL1 doesn’t sound like a full-sized acoustic and doesn’t pretend to. The sound matches the size and isn’t too loud, a welcome feature for little ones who are taking their first steps and will invariably hit some false notes. This is a blessing for parents who may have to listen to a lot of repetitive practice.
The GL1 ships with an appropriately sized soft gig bag and there is also a value pack that includes a set of nylon strings made by trusted string manufacturer D’Addorio and a clip on tuner. Everything you’ll need to get your child started.
Best Electric Guitar
In terms of electric guitars for children, we were rather impressed with the Squier Mini Strat, a much smaller recreation of the Fender Stratocaster. Squier are a subsidiary of Fender and make use of classic Fender guitar designs in their models. If your child is rather taken with a musician who plays a classic Stratocaster, this is a great ¾ size alternative to a full sized Fender that can cost thousands of dollars. Strats are trustworthy and reliable guitars that cover a wide range of styles. The mini follows suit and looks the part.
The body is made of basswood, with a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard. The neck is thin and well-rounded, accommodating small hands very well. The mix of woods feels well-built and you can’t help feeling that you have a perfect miniature Strat in your hands as a consequence.
Hardware is standard issue with die-cast tuners and a classic Stratocaster hardtail shortened bridge. Both of these keep the strings in tune well. The pickups are three classic single coils hooked up to one control knob and one volume knob, as well as a five way toggle for a range of tones.
The sound is classic, with a clear, bright tone with a balanced range of frequencies from rich lows to precise higher notes. The versatility is great for children too as they experiment with different genres of music and techniques.
Overall, an honourable homage to the Strat and it also comes with a bunch of useful accessories including a clip on tuner, a set of picks, a strap, cleaning cloth and instructional DVD to get a child started. It comes in a number of colors, including olympic white and the classic sunburst.
Another good option is the Ibanez GRGM21BKN. The look is a little more contemporary and gives off a rock vibe. Ibanez are respected for building beginner guitars so you can’t go wrong in terms of the manufacturer. They know what they are doing.
The ¾ size comes with a mahogany body, maple neck and rosewood fretboard. A great mix given the inclusion of mahogany, a wood usually found in higher range models. Surprisingly the GRGM has 24 frets, an impressive accomplishment given the small size of the neck, which is, as expected with Ibanez, very thin, light and child-friendly. They won’t have trouble wrapping their hands around it to reach notes. The 24 frets also offer extra playability into higher notes at the bottom of the fretboard.
The hardware includes a hardtail styled bridge, a space saving measure, and standard Ibanez tuners sitting on a stylish headstock. The pickups are two beefy humbuckers that seem out of place on such a small guitar, yet they do their magic creating a punchy sound especially when a little overdrive is applied. Connected to the pickups are a tone knob and volume knob as well as a three option toggle switch giving an acceptable amount of tone options.
In terms of sound, the GRGM is stunning for the price in part thanks to the choice of tonewoods, coupled with the punch of the humbuckers that provide a balance of frequencies with rich lows, filling mids and clear high notes. The guitar feels well-built and stays nicely in tune across the breadth of the fretboard.
The GRGM slightly exceeds the Mini Strat in terms of build and is definitely a great option for a child whose musical sensitivities veer towards heavier styles of music. We were very impressed and cannot recommend it enough as a cost-effective child’s guitar full of features usually found on better models at up to two times the price available here.
Best Acoustic Guitar
For children venturing into the world of guitars for the first time, accepted wisdom is that the acoustic guitar is the way to go, though we recommend running this past your little one first to make sure you get something that entices them. There are quite a few child acoustics on the market with some manufacturers offering expensive, yet poorly made models. We hope the suggestions below will put you on the right path to avoid such pitfalls.
Among the selection of acoustic guitars geared toward children, we came across the Fender MA-1 and it stood out for us for the quality of the build and child-friendly features. Having a Fender as a first guitar gets a child on the right foot and provides them with an instrument that should last for years until their graduate to a full sized guitar. Fender have a long history of making quality guitars, which is a reassuring feature with this particular model.
The MA-1 offers a standard acoustic style with a ¾ length scale, appropriate for children, with an agathis top, sapele back and sides, nato neck and rosewood fretboard. These are by no means exceptional woods and a sensible way for Fender to lower the price without sacrificing too much quality. The construction feels comfortable and reliable. The neck is thin thanks to a c-shape design with 18 frets so little hands won’t have any trouble reaching the strings. On the contrary it feels smooth and easy to navigate.
The bridge saddle holds strings firmly in place and the Fender style tuners keep them nicely in tune. The presence of the Fender logo on the headstock is welcomed and should be a point of pride for any owner of this guitar.
Sound wise, the MA-1 sounds like a quieter version of a full-sized Fender, a feat given the cost and size. The tone is a nice equilibrium of frequencies with well-defined highs and a warm veneer to the low end. The volume isn’t something to write home about and we can’t hold this against the MA-1 given the size. Parents won’t want something too loud either so this is a benefit if anything.
Overall the MA-1 looks and feels more expensive that it is. It also shines in terms of its playability and the Fender name should encourage novice players to no end. This particular model also comes with a soft gig bag.
We mentioned the Yamaha guitalele above and the manufacturer makes another appearance here with the Yamaha JR1 for many of the same reasons, notably its ability to offer affordable, well built beginner guitars. The Yamaha JR1 is technically a travel guitar, yet works perfectly as a child’s guitar as well.
Simplicity is the name of the game here, with a standard dreadnought shape and ¾ length scale. This continues with the spruce top, meranti back and sides, nato neck and rosewood fretboard. These tonewoods are a standard mix that works well here providing an easy to use neck that feels smooth.
The hardware is simple as well with nothing remarkable about the bridge saddle, tuners or other parts. Here, Yamaha haven’t gone for cost-cutting shoddy parts, so though they aren’t phenomenal, they do their job decently keeping the guitar in tune. The look is classic and to the point with no thrills. The guitar isn’t much of a looker, rather a workhorse that should stand the test of time and fare well even if it is thrown about a bit.
The tone is precise and to the point in the highs, the low end is lovely and warm, adequately backed up with punchy mids for a nice overall mix. The volume is as expected, low in keeping with its label as a travel guitar, but nothing out of the ordinary, rather the body shape gives it a little more power than similar counterparts.
Overall, an affordable travel/children’s guitar crossover that honors the Yamaha name with a reliable build and good sound without anything remarkable. Children will find hours of fun in this model and the accessibility factor is also an attractive benefit of this particular model.
Best Bass Guitar
A bass guitar is the low end favouring brother of the six string guitar. In music it acts as the bridge between the drums and guitars so is an important component. If your child has shown an inclination toward picking up the bass, encourage them as much as you can because the bass is a great way to get involved in playing instruments and offers a truly unique feel and sound.
There is really only one option when it comes to child-friendly bass guitars and these are short scale basses. Among these, we found the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar SS to be a front runner among a select few viable options. Squier uses the Fender Jaguar design and shrinks it down into a sweet little package aimed at smaller hand and novice bassists.
The body adopts the curvy and unique Jaguar shape with an agathis body, maple neck and rosewood fretboard. The size of the 20 fret neck is where the Modified Jaguar caters for children with the reduced 30 inch short scale (the SS from the name) and thin width that facilitates movement up and down to reach all the notes quite easily. Put together, these parts make for a robust instrument that feels solid and tough.
Hardware is standard Squier issue with large tuners and a big through bridge that keeps things nice and in tune. The Modified Jaguar is equipped with a Fender Jazz bass style single coil and a Fender Precision bass inspired split coil. This allows a mix of tones that replicate the sound of two of Fender’s most iconic basses. These are controlled by a tone control per pickup and an overall volume knob for tone shaping possibilities.
In terms of tone, the Modified Jaguar offers options thanks to the two pickups with very different qualities. If you need deep lows or punchy highs, it can cater with a twist of the tone knobs. The range will give a beginning child a lot of options as they narrow down the sound that corresponds to them the most.
By no means the best bass money can buy, the Modified Jaguar’s overall performance matches the price and as a child is never looking for a top of the line model, it proves perfect for the needs of a beginner. It also comes in a variety of appealing colours, including a deep black and candy apple red.
Another contender is the Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro. A short scale bass with attitude, Ibanez have once again proven their worth as the main source of beginner models and with this one they have set their sights on offering something that suits the needs of children learning to play the bass.
The body shape oozes Ibanez appeal. Tonewoods are agathis for the body, maple for the neck and a rosewood fretboard. A common mix similar to the models above. The scale is very short at 28.60 inches, one of the smallest available. The neck is signature-Ibanez thin and the hand glides with ease.
For the pickups, we have one split-coil and one single coil for a fairly standard P/J configuration that offers possibilities. These are linked up to one volume knob per pickup and one master volume control knob. These offer some sound manipulation options that can provide another layer of interest for a child who is experimenting. Standard hardware rounds things off with a through bridge and chunky machine heads that do a decent job of keeping tuning under control.
The tone of GSRM20 offers reasonable quality due to the combination of pickups that can create nice, percussive highs and rich lows, thanks to the short scale, if required. Overall, the sound is generally balanced and responsive to different playing styles.
To round it up, the GSRM20 is a nice alternative to the Modified Jazz in terms of the body shape and is very playable for small hands thanks to the scale size and simple, but effective features. The starlight blue color is also quite attractive and should catch the eye of your young one, though other more classic colors are available.
The guitars above are what we consider the best affordable models on the market today, but as a word of caution we would recommend trusting your child’s instincts when it comes to choosing a guitar. At a young age, sound does not matter much given the untrained ear. However, look and feel play a more crucial role and we cannot stress how important it is to find a guitar that suits them, within your budget of course.