Whether you’re looking for the best guitar for kids or taking up the instrument yourself, there are a number of factors that are crucial when looking for a top-quality beginner guitar: deciding whether you want to play electric or acoustic, finding the best guitar for the money, and tracking one down that’s easy to play.
Many beginners opt to start with acoustic guitar, and it’s certainly the cheapest option - there’s no need to buy a separate guitar amp, and you can get started right away.
However, acoustic guitars do tend to have thicker necks that can be harder to play for anyone looking for the best guitar for small hands, while they also produce a louder sound when practising compared with an electric guitar running through headphones, which isn’t ideal in shared accommodation.
Electric guitars, however, have more components to get to grips with, but they’re also more versatile, particularly if you want to play rock or metal music.
Plus, as we mentioned previously, they tend to have smaller necks than acoustic guitars, which is good for beginners, and they make the best guitars for kids and small hands - particularly ‘short-scale’ models, where the frets are closer together, making it easier to play chords.
Whether you go for electric or acoustic guitar, we’ve prepared a range of options that hit the mark, all clocking in at under $500/£500 - because you don’t want to go blowing your savings on your very first guitar.
Thankfully, the quality available at this price point is better than ever - some of these guitars could well be friends for life, so it’s worth getting it right first time.
So, without further ado, here are the very best guitars for beginners, starting with acoustic guitars…
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1. Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany
One of the best guitars for beginners, with a low, low price tag
Launch price: $199 / £160 | Type: Dreadnought | Top: Solid Mahogany | Back & sides: Laminated Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 25.3" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Chrome Die-Cast | Electronics: N/A | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Gloss
The entry model of the Classic Design Series is a good reminder of just how much guitar you can get for your money at the more affordable end of the market. Here, we're offered a solid-wood mahogany top, laminated mahogany back/sides and an inviting rolled fretboard edge, which makes playing comfortable for beginners. The CD-60S's action is great out of the box, too. The mid-character of mahogany is certainly here, bringing some meat to a brightness usually associated with spruce tops. The result is something that’s genuinely inspiring to play and chimes in chord work. Why should new players settle for just okay when they need to be comfortable and inspired?
Read the full review: Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany
2. Yamaha FG800M
A low-cost acoustic guitar that punches well above its weight
Launch price: $199 / £219 | Type: Dreadnought | Top: Solid spruce | Back & sides: Nato | Neck: Nato | Scale: 25.6" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Chrome die-cast | Electronics: N/A | Left-handed: No | Finish: Matt
This affordable model from guitar giant Yamaha is a typically classy, clean acoustic build with a matt finish that gives a lived-in working guitar appearance. There's little ornamentation, the fingerboard dots are small and lack contrast but the white side dots are clear and bright - great for beginners. The three-piece neck, with a roomy full C profile, immediately engages. The tuners are quite generic but more than up to the job, while the nut and compensated saddle are well cut with a sensible, get-on-with-the-job string height. Dreadnoughts, of course, come in many different tonal shades but we should expect plenty of roomy lows, a strong thump in the lower mids, crisp highs: a big projecting sound. Well, the FG800M ticks those boxes and some.
Read the full review: Yamaha FG800M
3. Martin LX1E Little Martin
One of the best acoustic guitars for open-mics
Launch price: $439 / £449 | Type: Modified 0-14 Fret | Top: Sitka spruce | Back & sides: High Pressure Laminate | Neck: Stratabond | Scale: 23" | Fingerboard: FSC Certified Richlite | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Gotoh nickel | Electronics: Fishman Sonitone | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Hand Rubbed
The Ed Sheeran-favoured Little Martin has a shorter scale length than many of the other acoustic guitars in this guide, which makes it one of the best guitars for small hands. It does feel a little industrial, but from the first strum its more conventional spruce-top voice will have you captivated. It's serious fun. The material may be man-made, but the fingerboard and bridge look like dense ebony, while the dark-hued HPL back and sides ape a dark, rich mahogany, giving it a classy feel. Like its acoustic voice, the Martin sounds very 'conventional' plugged in and that's no bad thing, especially for beginners. It's really easy to dial in, making it open-mic ready - when the time comes!
Read the full review: Martin LX1E Little Martin
4. Taylor Big Baby
The quintessential Baby electro
Launch price: $449 / £429 / €499 | Type: Small dreadnought | Top: Spruce | Back & sides: Layered sapele (sapele/poplar/sapele) | Neck: Sapele | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Die-cast Chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Natural
For many, the Big Baby remains a near-bombproof working guitar, perfectly fit for purpose, which makes it a solid choice for six-string newcomers. Acoustically, it has quite a hallmark Taylor tonality: strong, clean and quite brightly voiced with a condensed bass end. Its strident projection and trim-for-a-dreadnought low end make it sit very well in a mix, both for practising at home and live. If you appreciate quality but don't like or can't afford a 'posh' guitar, then you should try this Big Baby. It's the best cheap Taylor acoustic guitar you can buy.
Read the full review: Taylor Big Baby Taylor-e
5. Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlor
A parlour guitar with plenty of '30s charm
Launch price: $299 / £290 / €318 | Type: Parlor | Top: Solid Sitka Spruce | Back & sides: Laminated Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 19 | Tuners: Vintage style open back | Electronics: N/A | Left-handed: No | Finish: Thin Gloss Polyester
The G9511 is a parlour guitar, which means it possesses a much smaller body than, say, a dreadnought - good news for kids and smaller-bodied players! Tone-wise, this acoustic guitar is wonderful; airy, bright and sparkling, without any of the harshness you might expect from a spruce and laminate combination. Make no mistake, this is a relatively trebly guitar and the low E string in particular is positively quiet, but that’s no bad thing. It would be easy to act snobbish about the laminate back and sides, but don’t be. Instead, try this guitar for yourself and you’ll find it better than many more expensive rivals, even some of those with all-solid woods.
Read the full review: Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlour
6. Squier Affinity Stratocaster
The cheapest Strat still retains the hallmarks of this classic design
Launch price: $329 / £199 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Laurel or Maple | Frets: 21 | Pickups: Standard Single-Coil Strat | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle Pickup) | Hardware: Chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: 2-Color Sunburst, Black, Brown Sunburst, Competition Orange, Race Red, Slick Silver, Surf Green
How many playing careers have been launched on a Squier Affinity Stratocaster? Perhaps the ultimate beginner guitar, Squier's current incarnation offers the kind of specs that will have you double-taking when you see the price. An alder body, maple neck and laurel fretboard (though you can opt for maple) are paired with single-coil Strat pickups, plus a comfortable 'C'-shaped neck that will help grease the wheels of burgeoning players in a variety of styles. It might not have the bells-and-whistles feature sets and high-spec components of its more expensive brethren, but considering the Affinity costs approximately one-fifth of some of those guitars, we shall leave the cork-sniffing aside and instead praise the accessibility and feature set of what is more than likely the world's most popular first guitar. Beginners have never had it so good.
7. Epiphone Slash ‘AFD’ Les Paul Special-II
A Guns N' Roses approved model that's also the best Les Paul for beginners
Launch price: $249 / £249 | Body: Okoume w/ AAA flame maple veneer | Neck: Okoume | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Epiphone Ceramic Plus humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: 14:1 ratio tuners, Tune-O-Matic bridge and Stopbar tailpiece, Shadow E-Tuner on bridge pickup mounting ring | Left-handed: Regular Les Paul Special II only | Finish: Appetite Amber only
Aimed at guitarists taking their first steps in rock, this Slash-approved beginner model certainly offers the look of the Guns N' Roses guitarist's preferred instrument. It also features two of Epiphone's exceedingly powerful Ceramic Plus humbuckers; plus, built into the bridge pickup ring is a Shadow E-Tuner, activated via a small push- button on the ring - it's incredibly useful for first-timers to have a tuner close to hand at all times. The string height is plenty low for beginners, and the pickups are high-output enough for a decent rock guitar tone, even though the neck pickup is a little dark and underwhelming. However, any misgivings you may have will be more than washed away by the great price.
Read the full review: Epiphone Slash 'AFD' Les Paul Special-II
8. Squier Bullet Mustang HH
This affordable short-scale model is one of the best electric guitars for beginners
Launch price: $149 / £120 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24" | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x high-output humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Modern hardtail bridge, standard tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Imperial Blue, Black
The original Fender Mustang is something of a cult classic. It was loved by alternative bands and players - including Kurt Cobain - in the '90s for its short scale, affordability and potential for modding. The Bullet Mustang is the most affordable version of the model yet. In keeping with Squier’s other entry-level models, it features a basswood body, which gives it an incredibly lithe, lightweight feel. This, combined with its 24-inch scale length, makes it a great choice for beginners. The two humbuckers are the most obvious departure from the original, providing angular grit in the bridge position and a pleasing, earthy warmth in the neck. The bolt-on maple neck and six saddle hardtail bridge feel reassuringly rigid, while the tuners did a sterling job in our tests of holding their pitch without too much hassle. The volume and tone knobs, often a clear indicator of quality control in budget guitars, are installed firmly enough with no evident wobble, while the pickup selector switch is angled so it won’t get knocked if your playing becomes too, ahem, enthusiastic. Meanwhile, the 12-inch radius, rosewood ’board is pancake flat and makes string bends simple for even the most sausage-fingered player. The C profile neck is also extremely comfortable to hold, while the satin finish makes fretboard-spanning licks a doddle.
Read the full review: Squier Bullet Mustang HH
9. Gretsch G2622 Streamliner
The budget semi-hollow with authentic Gretsch vibe
Launch price: $749 / £350 | Body: Laminated maple, semi-hollow | Neck: Nato | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Broad'Tron humbuckers | Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: Adjusto-Matic bridge, 'V' stoptail tailpiece | Left-handed: Yes: G2622LH | Finish: Walnut Stain, Black
The Streamliner concept is simple: to create more affordable Gretsch guitars without losing their specific DNA. This particular example is a semi-hollow design, which means it puts out more volume when unplugged and offers an earthier, less aggressive tone than a solidbody design when plugged into an amp, which is great for blues and country music. It does, however, have a slightly thicker neck than the other electric guitars in our guide, so it's not one of the best guitars for small hands. The G2622's construction gives a different response and resonance to other new releases from Gretsch and, with these pickups, moves further from the Gretsch sound, approaching the character of Gibson's classic ES-335 design. The beefier Broad'Tron humbucker pickups broaden the sonic potential, while staying close to the classic iconography. If you want a great-value semi-hollow, this is among the best electric guitars for under $500.
Read the full review: Gretsch G2622 Streamliner
10. Yamaha Pacifica 112V
One of the best beginner electric guitars with long-lasting appeal
Launch price: $299 / £199 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Alnico V bridge humbucker 2x Alnico V single coils | Controls: Volume, tone (with push-pull coil-split), 5-way selector switch | Hardware: Vintage-style vibrato with block saddle | Left-handed: Yes (Pacifica 112J) | Finish: Natural Satin, Old Violin Sunburst, Raspberry Red, Sonic Blue, Black, Silver Metallic
The Yamaha Pacifica has long proved a benchmark for quality and specification, and the 112V remains one of the best guitars for beginners. The 112 is far from fancy and simply concentrates on the bare necessities. Yet the construction is of excellent quality. Trust us, if looked after, this will be a guitar for life. By design, it's an altogether more modern, brighter and lighter take on a hot-rod Strat. But when we say brighter that doesn't mean overly shrill. In fact the bridge humbucker will surprise some; it's beefy without being too midrange heavy, and features a coil-split - which essentially transforms its bridge humbucker into a single coil - for increased versatility. The solo single-coils impress - there's plenty of percussion and with a little mid-range beef added from an amp, these get you to the correct Texas toneland. Neck and middle combined produces a fine modern Strat-like mix - the added brightness will cut through a multi-FX patch nicely.
Read the full review: Yamaha Pacifica 112V review