Jazz guitars are every bit as idiosyncratic and multifaceted as the genre they produce, so trying to decide which the ‘best’ jazz guitar is is always going to provoke lively, probably improvised, debate. A definitive verdict is, let’s face it, not going to happen.Advertisement So here, we’ve gathered a selection of the Best Beginner Jazz Guitar and best jazz guitar under 1500 options for your preference and range.
From big bodied guitars, to archtops and classic semi-hollows at a wide range of prices, these have all been vetted and approved by our eagle-eared reviews team, and should deliver years of excellent service, whether you play traditional, fusion or more contemporary forms of jazz.
Here’s a breakdown of the choices available to you, their features, and the pros and cons.
best beginner jazz guitar
Archtop guitars are the large, fat, traditional jazz guitars you’d probably see an old jazz player with in a photograph. An archtop guitar has a hollow body and its top and back are arched, not flat. They’re the most traditional kind of jazz guitar, and certainly do provide a warm mellow jazzy sound and look the part too. There are issues, though: they can be costly, create feedback due to the large hollow space inside, and can be quite a bulky choice, tricky to handle if you’re not already very comfortable with a guitar in your hands.
– The original, authentic, classic jazz guitar tone and look
– Can feel very big and uncomfortable
– Can potentially create lots of unwanted feedback
– Fewer sound/tone possibilities than some other guitar choices
– Can be expensive
I’m aware it may sound like I’m giving archtops a bad rep here, which is not my intention at all. archtops are great and have their place, but they’re not usually the correct choice for the beginner. It can be an uncomfortable guitar to learn how to play, difficult to amplify with control, and can be restrictive in relation to playing other styles. Save this choice for your second jazz guitar, when you’re a little more advanced, knowledgeable and further down the jazz route!
Hollow & Semi-Hollow Guitars
Semi-acoustic (hollow) and semi-hollow bodied guitars are thinner than archtops and have flat (not arched) tops and backs. Semi-acoustics are fully hollow electric guitars, whereas semi-hollows have a block of wood through the middle of the hollow space, so they’re not entirely hollow. You’ll see a lot of modern jazz players using this kind of guitar, but it also has that element of versatility that’s not really present with an archtop. You’ll also see these guitars in blues, funk, indie, soul, and just about every stylistic scenario, except maybe metal, where the lack of absolute power and the potential presence of feedback could again be an issue.
– Thinner body / more comfortable to hold and play
– Still provide a great jazz tone, but more versatile guitar in relation to other styles and genres.
– Can be a more affordable choice of guitar
– Can still feel large at first
This presumes you’re not going to be playing a lot of metal, because if so, the semi-hollow isn’t necessarily going to be so great. Other than that, you have a choice that’s way more versatile than the archtop, more comfortable, but can still produce a great jazz tone, that only a serious jazzer could tell from the archtop sound. The semi-acoustic or semi-hollow are great halfway house options to explore the jazz style and discover and learn more without breaking the bank, your back, or being less able to play some other styles.
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Solid Body Guitars
As they sound, solid body guitars are solid! These guitars are staples of the guitar world, famously like the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster models. There are some excellent quality, very reasonably-priced entry level models in the Fender range and some great copies at even better prices by reputable makers like Yamaha. A good jazz sound is achievable on a solid body guitar, although there can be a lengthy list of styles that they’re arguably better suited to than jazz: rock, blues, funk, indie, country, and more.
– A compact, versatile, inexpensive option
– Good jazz sound is achievable
– Not the authentic jazz sound/look – At times too twangy/rocky
There’s nothing about playing a solid-bodied electric guitar that will hold you back in your jazz development at all, it’s more about having the right dedication, learning the techniques and theory, practicing guitar scales, listening and enjoying. However, given the choice between semi-acoustic/semi-hollow and solid body, an aspiring jazz player would be well advised to choose the semi-acoustic/semi-hollow.
My overall verdict is to go with a semi-acoustic or semi-hollow model. If you’re a jazz fanatic who doesn’t mind the bulkiness of the archtop, then go for it. If stylistic versatility and price are key factors for you, then a solid body may be the way to go. But as a jazz guitar beginner, a semi-acoustic / semi-hollow is a fantastic way to go.
As for makes and models, I’m keen to make it clear that nothing beats going to a store and trying out a few guitars, especially with a more-knowledgeable friend. Likewise, read some reviews, watch some demo videos, and so on. It’s an important choice. To give you a few pointers on makes though – have a look at Epiphone, Gretsch, Washburn, Ibanez and Vintage. All have some incredibly good semi-acoustics / semi-hollows in the region of $250 – $400.
Common Mistakes When Buying Your First Guitar
Often people get inspired to play guitar and jump straight to purchasing something that might not suit them. Here are seven common mistakes people make when buying their first guitar:
Mistake #1. Getting the wrong sound – Classical, Acoustic or Electric?
You have 3 basic choices of sound when you buy a guitar:
- Nylon String Classical
- Steel String Acoustic
A lot of people believe that the best choice is to start on an Acoustic Guitar and build up to an Electric Guitar. However, I think that your first guitar should be appropriate to the style of music you enjoy listening to.
If you like AC/DC, Green Day, or say the Foo Fighters, you really need an Electric Guitar to get the sound you want. If you like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper or Taylor Swift, an Acoustic Guitar could be a good choice. Nylon String Guitars sound great for flamenco music, classical music and a lot of traditional music.
Having said this, if it’s for a child under 12 we normally do recommend a nylon string as it’s easier for them to press the strings down. Some children can have tougher hands than others, so if you have a rough and tumble child, they mght be able to handle steel strings earlier than usual. Check out our buying guide for Choosing a Guitar for a Child for more information.
If you’re not sure what type of guitar is best for you, then just think of the music that you like to listen to the most, and call or email us. We will give you a personalized recommendation.
Mistake #2. Getting the wrong size
This is something that a lot of people get wrong. Electric Guitars are much smaller than Steel-String Acoustic Guitars and Nylon String Classical Guitars, they can basically be used by most people, but you do need to consider the extra weight. An Electric Guitar can weigh 5-6 Kg which can be difficult for children to handle. We would normally recommend children be at least 13 years before they try an Electric Guitar, but this is a generalisation and some children (sometimes as young as 10) have been ok. Every child is different, and some children may be capable at a younger age, so if you consider your child to be quite strong for their age, then by all means go for an electric. We carry a broad range of sizes in our entry level range. The correct size is most accurately determined by the player’s height, age and in some cases gender. If you can tell us these three details we can give you a personal recommendation.
- Smaller in size than acoustic or classical
- Good for rock, metal, pop and country music
- Has steel strings which can be hard on young fingers
- Can be heavy, depending on the model.
- Recommended for:
- Good for folk, pop, country, slow rock music
- Has steel strings which can be hard on young fingers
- Sounds bright and loud, great for strumming chords
- Light weight but bulky
- Recommended for:
|Age||Height (cm)||Recommended Size|
|5 – 12||100 – 120||3/4 Size – See LSP34|
|12 – 15||120 – 165||Small Body – See LSPS|
|15+||165 +||Full Size – See LSP|
Classical Guitar (Nylon String Guitar):
- Good for classical, flamenco, Spanish music.
- Available in the smallest size – 1/4 size.
- Gentle on finger tips – perfect for young children
- Sounds mellow and soft – not as loud as acoustic
- Recommended for:
|Age||Height (cm)||Recommended Size|
|2 – 5||75 – 100||1/4 Size – See CL14|
|5 – 8||100 – 125||1/2 Size – See CL12|
|8 – 12||125 – 165||3/4 Size – See CL34|
|12+||165 +||Full Size – See CL44*|
* A full size classical guitar has a wider neck than other guitars. If you have small hands we recommend the CL44S slim neck classical guitar.
Mistake #3: Buying a guitar with strings that are too high and hard to play
String action is one of the critical things for getting an easy to play guitar. The easiest way to understand action is that it’s just the measurement of the gap from the bottom of the string, to the top of the fret and it’s measured at the 12th fret (the half way pint of the string).
For a beginner we recommend an action of:
- Electric Guitars 2-2.3mm
- Acoustic Guitars 2-2.7mm
- Nylon String Guitars 3-3.6mm
A common issue with most entry level nylon string guitars is that the necks are usually made in a very traditional manner using a section of metal bar a few mm thick to keep the neck straight (you can’t see this bar it is built into the neck).
We started finding that this type of construction leads to the neck bending (or bowing) after about 6 months. Unfortunately with the traditional method there is not an easy way to adjust it back to normal – once it is bent it’s time to get a new guitar! This lead us to re design our classical guitars to use a truss rod. A truss rod is a much stronger example of the bar used in traditional manufacturing, but its main advantage is that it is adjustable. So if in the future you neck begins to bend it can easily be adjusted back into correct shape. Here’s our guide to adjusting your truss rod.
Mistake #4: Getting stuck with bad machine heads guitar that don’t stay in tune
Here is an example of a basic covered machine head:
These are made out of gears and pressed metal, it used to be the only way to make machine heads (so a lot of vintage guitars use this type). While it can look cool and retro, these vintage style tuners are often very hard to tune and to keep in tune.
Now there is a modern way to get a much better guitar – the die-cast machine head:
Made from a mould these machine heads are much smoother and more accurate than a covered machine head.
Mistake #5: Choosing a popular brand name because you think you’re getting a superior product
Most popular brand name guitars are indeed very good quality at the higher levels but their entry level guitars, in our experience, are not such a great deal.
In the entry-level market, brand-name guitar companies are usually forced to make their guitars with cheaper materials. There is a simple reason for this. Most major brand-name companies have a brand owner (sometimes an American company). That company buys from a factory in China, and in Australia they will have a distributor who will sell to a retailer (your local music store). It’s pretty easy to see why they can be forced to use cheaper materials. There is a lot of price pressure to get a guitar manufactured at a low enough price for everybody to take their cut of the profit down the chain.
At Artist Guitars we manufacture our Australian designed guitars at our trusted factory in China and sell direct to you. There is no need for us to choose inferior components because we don’t have the pressure of keeping the costs low.
Mistake #6: Buying a guitar without any support materials
When most people buy their first guitar they can be a little confused about what to do. A guitar can be a confusing purchase and most guitars don’t even come with a manual explaining how to use them. That becomes a problem because most people then have to search for the information (which
can be hard to find).
Unfortunately it’s during this critical time that a lot of people get discouraged and may even give up on playing altogether. The first 6 months of learning guitar are critical, statistics show that if someone can still be playing at 6 months they will be much more likely to go on to play guitar for life, so the first 6 months are actually the most important time.
Mistake #7: Paying for features you just don’t need
At the beginner level, you need a good quality instrument, but having a more expensive instrument generally doesn’t make your playing any easier. Higher level instruments are designed for high-level players who want the ultimate in sound.
As a beginner most people are not very sure of the sound, style or type of guitar that they would ultimately like to play, but after playing for 6 months or so I’m sure you will know a lot more about guitars and when it comes time to choose your next guitar it will be an easy choice. The key features a beginner needs is a guitar that is well set-up and easy to play, but you don’t really need to spend too much money on getting a better quality of sound. Higher level guitars will only sound better when your playing has progressed to the level that you can play quite well.
Most beginners find that during the process of learning (after a year or so) you will figure out your own sound. You will naturally be drawn to music that features guitar in it, and great guitar parts. So what usually happens is that your own musical tastes will change and with this change the type of instrument that suits your sound the best will also change. So when you’re ready to take the next step, you will have a much better idea of what you really want.
So in summary…
The 7 key mistakes when buying a beginner guitar are :
- Getting the wrong sound
- Getting the wrong size
- Buying a guitar with strings that are too high and hard to play
- Getting stuck with bad machine heads guitar that don’t stay in tune
- Buying a brand name and thinking you will be getting a better guitar.
- Buying a guitar without any support materials
- Paying for features you just don’t need
Good luck on your jazz quest. Enjoy!