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How To Choose The Right Size Guitar For a Child


How to choose the right size guitar for a child

This Article will help you select the right guitar for a beginner of any age, height and ability. The importance of choosing the right style and size guitar for a beginner cannot be over-emphasized. Learning to play on the wrong guitar can lead to frustration with lessons, slow progress and even the development of poor technique. Since the guitar is such an easy instrument to learn to play, there is no reason for this to happen if one practices on the proper guitar.
Click for student guitars
Here is a quick, rough guide

Guitar Student Size Chart
Age Height of Player Size of Guitar
4-6 years old 3'3" to 3'9" 1/4-Size
5-8 years old 3'10" to 4'5" 1/2-Size
8-11 years old 4'6" to 4'11" 3/4-Size
11-Adult 5' or taller 4/4-Size

The overall length of the guitar is not a good indicator of whether it is the correct size for the student. The only way to know the true size of a guitar is to measure it's "scale length". The scale length of a guitar is measured from the "bridge" of the guitar to the "nut" of the guitar. See the example below


As you can see from the picture above, the scale length measures the part of the strings that actually vibrate when you pluck the string. This is the only relevant way to compare guitar sizes. A 38" classical guitar and a 41" steel string guitar can have the exact same "scale length" and both of them can be "full size" guitars. The only way to be certain what size they are is to measure the scale length.

Guitar Scale length Chart - lengths can vary slightly
4/4 full size 24.75" or 25.5"
3/4 size 22.75"
1/2 size 20.5"
1/4 size 19"
Guitar Type Size Chart - (common overall lengths)
scale size Classical (nylon string) Acoustic (steel string) Electric Bass
4/4 full size 38"- 40" 40" - 42" 38"- 40" 43"- 46"
3/4 size 36" 38" 34"- 36" 42"
1/2 size 33" 36" 33" 39"
1/4 size 31" 32" 31" 36"

The overall length of the guitar can vary widely depending on the style and overall design of the guitar. Knowledgeable dealers will list the size of the guitar as 4/4. 3/4, etc. and most will include the actual scale length measurement of the instrument.

Other Factors

If a child is on the border of , for example, a 3/4 and 4/4 guitar in terms of their age or height, it might be a good idea to get the larger guitar. After all, why buy a smaller guitar if you will need to buy a larger one in a few months or even weeks. A child with long arms may also need a larger guitar. While a child can generally learn on a guitar that is larger than recommended, it is much easier for a young child to get his or her hands around the appropriate sized guitar. I learned to play on a full size guitar when I was 8. I did learn to play, but I developed poor posture and left hand position as a result of having to reach my hand underneath the neck in order to fret the lower strings. I play just fine, don't get me wrong, but had I learned early on on the appropriate size guitar, the posture and hand position problem could have been avoided.

Neck Width

This is not essential. It may only confuse matters for the beginner, but it is worth reading if you are truly looking for the "perfect" guitar.
Another factor to consider is the width of the neck at the nut. The nut is the part of the guitar that is identified in the previous picture about scale length. Knowing the width of the neck at the nut will let you compare the fretboard widths of different guitars. A wider fretboard may make it easier to finger notes on the strings precisely because the strings will be farther apart, but it may also be harder for small hands to get around the neck. The radius of the neck is the measurement of the radius of the back of the neck - the side facing you when you play. This measurement will give you an idea of how thick the neck is. If you have small hands, you will probably want a small radius neck. On the 1/4. 1/2, 3/4 size guitars, the necks all have radiuses that are appropriate for the intended player. The width and radius of the neck is usually only a factor in full size guitars where experienced players have a good idea of the size of neck that is comfortable for them. It should be noted that Classical guitars invariably have wider necks than steel string acoustic guitars. However, classical guitars are generally preferred for young students by guitar teachers.

Choosing the Guitar Type

A child or anyone can learn on any style of guitar. If you can play an electric, you can play an acoustic. If you can play a steel string you can play a classical nylon string. If you can play the guitar, you can even play the bass guitar with little effort. The notes on all styles of guitars are all the same. If you can play one, you can play them all.
So what type of guitar should I get?

Guitar teachers usually recommend classical nylon string guitars for young beginners. Classical guitar provides a strong foundation for proper technique and musical theory. The fretboards are wider and it is easier to fret the notes precisely. the bodies are smaller and easier to get your arms around. most notably, the nylon strings do not cut into young beginner fingers like the steel strings on an acoustic or electric guitar. Although this will not be a factor when the beginner develops calluses on their fingers after a few weeks of diligent practice.

Having said that, if a child has his heart set on being a rock star, playing a sizzling hot red electric guitar in front of the cheering masses, it may be such a crushing blow to receive a boring old brown classical guitar for Christmas that he never learns to play. Sometimes the difference between learning to play and quitting after 1 month is just getting the kid interested and passionate about music. I can remember when I first realized what the distortion button was on my amp. I thought I sounded like Eddie Van Halen (hey, I was just a kid) . It sent me into a life-long quest to learn how to play rock guitar solos by all of my favorite players. Listening to the radio for hours and trying to copy every lick. Needless to say, the novelty of the electric guitar and the effects and distortion kept me interested and passionate about the guitar. If your child has her heart set on a certain kind of guitar, it might be a wise move to indulge her.



The cost of a beginner electric vs. steel string electric vs. classical is pretty much the same. Guitar prices vary widely but in general, electric guitars do not cost any more or less than comparable quality acoustics. The thing to consider when buying an electric guitar is the you will also need an amplifier. A small practice amplifier starts at around $30 and up.

Generally beginner guitars are low cost guitars. The only reason a beginner guitar is called a "beginner guitar" is that most beginners don't want to spend too much money on a guitar. Therefore "beginner guitars" tend to be the least expensive guitars. There really is no such thing as a "beginner guitar". You can learn to play on any guitar. One might think that small scale 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 size guitars would automatically be less expensive than full size guitars. The fact is, quality small scale guitars can be even more difficult to manufacture due to tighter production tolerances for smaller instruments. Fortunately, most small scale guitars are marketed for beginners and they are not any more or less expensive than their larger entry level counterparts.

An Electric Guitar is so noisy though!! OR IS IT ???

Many parents I talk to shudder at the idea of their son or daughter wailing on an electric guitar all night. I don't blame them. Some awful sounds can be produced by the aspiring your guitarist. Just visit any music store that is brave enough to leave it's amps on all day and it's guitars lying around to demo. You'll hear dozens of kids who think they're Eddie Van Halen (just like I did) making the most terrible noises.

Just remember this. An acoustic guitar has no volume control. You can NEVER "turn it off". They can be played pretty loud and if someone is playing it moderately in your home, you WILL be able to hear it. That's not a problem per se, but it is something to consider. Conversely, an electric guitar does have a volume control and , more importantly, the amp has a headphone jack. Your child can rock out to his heart's content and you won't hear a thing. Headphones are God's gift to parents of young musicians. An electric guitar that is played while it is not plugged in or while headphones are used makes very little sound.

Bottom line

If your child will be taking structured private or class lessons, look a the size/age chart and buy a classical, nylon string guitar. If your child wants to play the guitar and will be learning on their own, buy them the guitar they want and a guitar lesson DVD or book (or get some from the library or netflix-yes netflix has tons of guitar lesson DVDs ) and give them tons of encouragement.

If you still have questions and you want to contact me, I would love to hear from you. Just visit my store using the link below and go to the "Contact US " page.

Steve Barry
2kool4skool Misical Instruments

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