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The 10 best guitars for beginners 2020: cheap acoustic and electric guitars to get you started

The 10 best guitars for beginners 2020: cheap acoustic and electric guitars to get you started
(Image credit: Getty/John Fedele)

Choosing your very first acoustic or electric guitar is an extremely exciting moment, but it can a pretty daunting process, too. You don’t want to waste your money on a beginner guitar that isn’t suited to you, or that you'll grow out of quickly. That's where we come in: in this handy guide we've rounded up our pick of the best guitars for beginners – whether you're going down the route of acoustic or electric – that are the perfect match for new players.

Many players just starting out prefer to kick off with an acoustic guitar. It’s certainly cheaper than going electric as there's no need to buy a separate guitar amp and you can get playing straight away.

Electric guitars have more components to get to grips with, but they’re also more versatile than acoustics, particularly if you want to start playing rock, blues or metal styles – so they're great guitars for beginners too.

Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to get into playing the electric guitar; you can pick up a good quality guitar amp for under $100/£100 these days, or even plug directly into your Mac/PC or smartphone with the right audio interface.

Whether you go for electric or acoustic guitar, we’ve prepared a range of the best beginner guitar options that hit the mark in terms of sound, build quality and playability. They all clock in at under $500/£500 (some come in well under that figure). Spend any more than this and you’re into ‘serious guitar’ territory, and you may not appreciate the smaller details that make expensive guitars what they are.

Thankfully, the quality available at this price point is better than ever – some of these beginner guitars could well be friends for life, so it’s worth getting it right first time. 

But before we get into the full rundown of beginner-worthy guitars, we've also provided more advice to help you zero in on the right beginner guitar for you.

With Amazon Prime Day on the horizon, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new beginner guitar until the Prime Day music deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers right through to Prime Day itself.

Top picks

What are the best guitars for beginners?

While every guitar featured here is more than worthy of its place, there are a couple that truly stand out above the rest. In terms of acoustic guitars, the Martin LX1E is one of the best guitars for beginners and an outstanding instrument for players of any age or ability. Its smaller size makes it portable, yet this guitar still pumps out some impressive volume. The craftsmanship from Martin is excellent too, meaning the LX1E could easily last your entire playing career. Yes, it’s slightly more expensive than your usual beginner guitar, but in terms of pure value the Martin LX1E is peerless.

If you're looking for a great starter electric guitar, we’d happily recommend the Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Stratocaster. At the very entry-level sits Squier’s Affinity range, which are decent guitars, but just above that sits the Classic Vibe range which is streets ahead in terms of value. The combination of superb build quality, excellent tones and stunning looks make for an enticing package, and one which you're unlikely to grow out of any time soon.

Buying advice

Best guitars for beginners: what you should know

Man shows boy how to play the acoustic guitar

(Image credit: Getty/South_agency)

It can be hard to know what to look for when first investigating the best guitars for beginners. It’s may be helpful, therefore, to look at some of the options you have and examine how they’ll best suit your needs.

Acoustic vs electric guitar?
First and foremost, the choice you need to make when choosing a beginner guitar is whether you want to go acoustic or electric. While both will offer the experience you’re looking for, there are some fundamental differences. Most obvious is the sound; acoustic guitars are designed to work without amplification. This means they are much louder, and require no extra peripherals to work.

Electric guitars, on the other hand, will play without being amplified but you’ll find them much quieter. Plug one into an amplifier, however, and everything changes. Playing-wise, you’ll probably find electric guitars easier to handle on account of their thinner necks and smaller form-factor. 

Everything you need to know about beginner guitars: acoustic
If it’s a beginner acoustic guitar you’re looking for, you’ll want to consider a few factors. Body shape is perhaps the most important. Larger body guitars produce a much fuller, rounder sound with pronounced bass tones. These are great for strummers or anyone looking to fit in with a band. The downside is that they can be cumbersome, particularly to less experienced players.

Smaller-bodied acoustics are easier to handle but don’t project their tone as well. This, however, may not be a problem if you’re playing fingerstyle, for example. The famous dreadnought shape – arguably the most common – offers a good balance between size and projection, and is a good place for most beginners to start. 

Away from body shape, you’ll want to look at the guitar’s neck and fingerboard, and the distance between the strings and frets. We’ve heard countless examples of people who want to learn the guitar but have been put off after playing acoustic guitar strings that feel like cheese wire. For this reason, electrics are often a better bet for many learners, particularly those with smaller hands.

Man with acoustic guitar teaches another man with an electric guitar

(Image credit: Getty/John Fedele)

Everything you need to know about beginner guitars: electric
If you’ve decided to start with an electric guitar, the choices are far wider and more varied. Electric guitars come in many different shapes and sizes, but there are a few fundamental points which are common across every guitar. Assuming you want to play plugged in, you’ll want to look at the guitar’s pickups. These are the devices which translate your playing into an electrical signal that an amplifier turns into sound. Single coil pickups are versatile, and suit many different playing styles like rock, jazz and blues. Humbuckers, on the other hand, produce a fatter, rounder sound which works well for heavier styles or music.

Electrics also 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.

At the start of your playing career, some factors that more experienced players favour – like different woods for bodies and necks – are less of a concern when it comes to choosing the best beginner guitar for you. The important thing when starting is to find a guitar which is comfortable, sounds good and has that all-important lure to keep you coming back to it. As with anything, you get what you pay for, but with the list of the best guitars for beginners we believe we’ve found the sweet spot between price, performance and playability. 

Beginner guitar gear essentials

Once you've decided on the best beginner guitar for you, you may need to pick up a few extras. These guides should help:

These are the best guitars for beginners right now

Electric guitars

Best guitars for beginners: Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Stratocaster

(Image credit: Fender)

1. Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Stratocaster

The best beginner electric guitar – style, sound and sophistication

Launch price: $399/£299/€379 | Body: Pine | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 21 | Pickups: Fender Designed Alnico Single Coils | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle Pickup) | Hardware: Chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: 2-Color Sunburst, Black, Fiesta Red, White Blonde

The affordable Strat experience
Excellent value for money
Authentic looks
Not much at this price

The Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Stratocaster is a sight to behold. It sits above Squier’s entry-level Affinity range but boasts far superior build quality, hardware and tone. We particularly liked the vintage tuners and tinted slim-profile neck, while the range of sounds produced by the Fender-designed single coil pickups are superb.

There is a slight leap in price above the Affinity guitars, but the accompanying leap in overall quality makes this a guitar that shouts value for money. We’d even go as far as to say the Classic Vibe range in its entirety gives many higher priced guitars - including Fender’s own Mexican range - a run for their money. Highly recommended.

Read the Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Stratocaster review

Best guitars for beginners: Epiphone Slash ‘AFD’ Les Paul Special-II

(Image credit: Amazon)

2. Epiphone Slash ‘AFD’ Les Paul Special-II

The best Les Paul for beginners – Guns N' Roses approved

Launch price: $249/£249/€279 | 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

Excellent value for money
Simple control system will suit beginners
Built-in tuner!
Dark-sounding neck pickup

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 Epiphone Slash 'AFD' Les Paul Special-II review

Best guitars for beginners: Squier Bullet Mustang HH

(Image credit: Fender)

3. Squier Bullet Mustang HH

This affordable short-scale model is one of the best electric guitars for beginners

Launch price: $179/£120/€115 | 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

Short scale length is great for beginners
Lightweight body
Comfortable neck and fingerboard
Pickups will need upgrading eventually

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. 

Read the full Squier Bullet Mustang HH review

Best guitars for beginners: Gretsch G2622 Streamliner

(Image credit: Gretsch)

4. Gretsch G2622 Streamliner

The budget semi-hollow with authentic Gretsch vibe

Launch price: $449/£350/€459 | 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

Build-to-price ratio is very high
Hotter pickups broaden sonic potential
Centre block widens use at higher gains/volumes
Slightly sponge-y tuners

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 sub-$500 electrics around.

Read the full Gretsch G2622 Streamliner review

Best guitars for beginners: Yamaha Pacifica 112V

(Image credit: Yamaha)

5. Yamaha Pacifica 112V

One of the best beginner electric guitars with long-lasting appeal

Launch price: $299/£199/€259 | 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

Ideal for beginners
Impressive build quality
Modern sounds
Vibrato could be better

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 Yamaha Pacifica 112V review

Acoustic guitars

Best guitars for beginners: Martin LX1E Little Martin

(Image credit: Martin)

1. Martin LX1E Little Martin

A great beginner acoustic for open-mics

Launch price: $449/£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

Solid build and neat finish
Impressive electro performance
Good value
Not as wide-sounding as rivals

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 Martin LX1E Little Martin review

Best guitars for beginners: Fender CD-60S

(Image credit: Fender)

2. Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany

One of the best guitars for beginners, with a low, low price tag

Launch price: $229/£160/€189 | 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

Superb value for money
Great intonation
Excellent for beginners
Looks may put some off

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 Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany review

Best guitars for beginners: Taylor GS Mini

(Image credit: Taylor)

3. Taylor GS Mini

Serious quality at a very good price

Launch price: $499/£459/€599 | Body: Layered sapele with sitka spruce top | Neck: Sapele | Scale: 23.5" (597 mm) | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Chrome | Electronics: N/A | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Satin

Compact size
Superb build quality
Supremely playable
Nothing

As one of the ‘big two’ in acoustic guitars - along with Martin - there is a level of quality and excellence that can be reasonably expected from Taylor. This is, after all, a brand which produces guitars that cost as much as a family car. Yet with the Taylor GS Mini, they’ve produced a guitar which packs in all that high-end know how and experience for a price that sits a shade under $500. 

The GS Mini is small enough for anyone to feel comfortable with, yet produces the kind of tone that will make your knees go weak. Build quality and overall playability is superb, making this the perfect guitar for anyone, no matter where they are in their playing career.

Read the Taylor GS Mini review

Best guitars for beginners: Yamaha FG800M

(Image credit: Yamaha)

4. Yamaha FG800M

A low-cost beginner acoustic guitar that punches above its weight

Launch price: $199/£219/€222 | 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

Great dreadnought sound
Lived-in look
Won't get outgrown in a hurry
Not the best choice for younger players

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 Yamaha FG800M review

Best guitars for beginners: Gretsch G9511

(Image credit: Gretsch)

5. Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlor

A fantastic 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

Fantastic tone
Great looks
Really nice player
Needs more punch from the low E

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 Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlour review