What Size Guitar Should I Get?

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If you’re new to guitars or buying a first guitar, it might seem like size is the most important “playability” factor. However, there are several types of guitars, all of which are of different sizes and weights, which factor into your decision. Within these categories, the different manufacturers make their guitars different sizes. This can impact the way you play and how easy it is for you to learn to play guitar in the first place.

Below, we will take a look at the different types of guitars and how size impacts each of them to help you determine what size (and type) of guitar you should get. So let’s get into it!

What are the Different Types of Guitars?

Classical guitars (or “Spanish guitars”) are popular for beginners because they can be used for any play style. They have six nylon strings and a small sound hole that amplifies vibrations, giving it a mellower sound than traditional acoustic guitars. They are also light and small (available in ½ and ¼ sizes), and entry-level instruments are relatively cheap.

Acoustic guitars are like classical guitars with steel strings that make a louder sound. They are built bigger to hold the sound, and they come in various shapes like dreadnought, jumbo, and others. Bob Dylan and other famous musicians who perform acoustic songs typically use acoustic guitars.

Electro-acoustic guitars are exactly like acoustic guitars, but they can be connected to an amplifier and other electronic equipment. Therefore, they are perfect for performing. For example, Ed Sheeran plugs his loop FX pedal into an electro-acoustic guitar. They sometimes have a cutaway towards the guitar’s body, allowing higher frets to be played more easily.

Electric guitars don’t have a sound hole at all – the string vibrations are converted into electrical audio signals. If you want an electric guitar, you also need an amplifier. They are smaller than acoustic guitars, making it easy for even children to play them, but they can be much heavier.

In What Sizes Do Guitars Come?

Guitars are manufactured as ¼, ½, ¾, or full-sized guitars. Although much rarer, ⅛ and ⅞ instruments can also be found. Within these categories, the sizes can vary, but average measurements and age appropriateness are as follows:

  • ¼ guitar – 31” (Classical and Electric), 32” (Acoustic), 36” (Bass); recommended for 2 – 5yrs
  • ½ guitar – 33” (Classical and Electric), 36” (Acoustic), 39” (Bass); recommended for 5 – 8yrs
  • ¾ guitar – 36” (Classical), 35” (Electrical), 38” (Acoustic), 42” (Bass); recommended for 8 – 12yrs and small-framed adults
  • Full-size guitar – 38-40” (Classical and Electric), 40-42” (Acoustic), 43-46” (Bass); recommended for adults
    ¾ guitars have become popular with adults because they are easy to travel with and are no longer considered “toy” guitars. Ed Sheeran most often plays on a ¾ guitar, so they really can compete professionally.

Note – these measurements are total length measurements. See below for an explanation of total versus scale length measurement.

Buying Guitars for Children

The guides above indicate buying a scaled-down guitar for children. However, many instructors believe that a child can learn as easily on a full-size guitar, which has the added benefit of potentially lasting them a lifetime. Very young children will need help carrying a full-sized guitar, though.

If you want to encourage your child to stick to the instrument, then let him or her take part in deciding which one to buy. Their choice might surprise you. However, it might be wise to steer them towards nylon strings, as steel strings can be painful for beginners.

How Do You Measure a Guitar?

Before we look at how to measure a guitar, you must know that a guitar has three main parts:

  • The headstock, which is where you’ll find the pegging mechanism holding the strings
  • The neck, which is where the fretboard is found
  • The body

The only exception to this is a particular type of electric guitar that doesn’t have a headstock (called a headless guitar).

There are two different ways of measuring a guitar. Measuring total length requires measuring from the tip of the headstock to the body’s base, with the measure in line with the strings. Measuring scale length means measuring from the nut to the 12th fret. The nut is the thin strip at the join of the headstock and neck. It contains grooves that hold the strings in place before they are connected to their pegs on the headstock.

Note – Sometimes scale length is measured from the nut to the bridge (where the other ends of the strings are attached to the guitar’s body). The strings end at different points for intonation, though, so it can be tricky to tell where to stop measuring.

Total Length vs. Scale Length

Total length is a common way of measuring a guitar, but it is relatively meaningless. That’s because the different makes of guitars all have different sized headstocks and differently shaped bodies. These differences don’t necessarily make the guitar feel any different when playing.

Scale length does make a difference in how the guitar feels to play, though. As scale length increases, so does the distance between frets, and the wider you will need to splay your fingers for the same chords. For guitarists with either very small or very big hands, a guitar’s scale length could be significant.

The length of the scale also affects the tension of the strings. The longer the scale length, the tighter the strings must be to reach their pitch. Also, string tension has a big impact on playability. Using the same gauge strings and tuning, it’s easier to perform bends and vibrato on a guitar with a shorter scale length, and the strings will feel tighter on a longer scale guitar when you strum chords or play rhythm parts. To feel the difference between a long-scale guitar, try playing a baritone guitar.

In Summary

So, what size guitar should I get? As an adult beginner player, a ¾ or full-size classical guitar are both excellent choices. A ¾ guitar is more versatile as a shared family guitar because kids can play it. Plus, it’s lighter for traveling. As you progress, the more nuanced differences brought about by the guitar’s scale length will become more significant.