What makes an acoustic guitar easy to play? What makes an acoustic guitar difficult to handle? What is the Easiest Playing Acoustic Guitar? Not all guitars are made equal, and while there are factors that come down to personal preference, there are some guidelines as to what can enhance or deter a playing experience.
Here we are going to provide suggestions on where to start when looking for easy-to-play acoustic guitars that also won’t drain your bank account. Then, we are going to discuss some of the nitty-gritty variables that affect the playability of an acoustic guitar: string action, neck width, neck profile, scale length, and difference between steel strings and nylon strings.
While it would be nice to have a concrete answer to what guitar one should buy, it is never that simple. As a rule, this author never buys a guitar without playing it first, and neither should you! However, this author also has his own recommendations on some tried and true options for those hoping to get started: Taylor Academy 10, Taylor Academy 12, Yamaha FG800, Yamaha FS800, Córdoba C5, and CórdobaProtégé C1.
Easiest Playing Acoustic Guitar
Steel-String Options – Taylor Academy 10/12 and Yamaha FG800/FS800
When it comes down to steel-string acoustic guitar manufacturers, the list is long: Taylor, Martin, Yamaha, Seagull, Ovation, and even electric guitar juggernauts Fender and Gibson just to name a few.
Different guitarists will give you different answers on which one plays best,sounds best, or feels best. When it comes down to steel-string acoustic guitar manufacturers, Taylor guitars have a well-deserved reputation for being playable right off the rack, without special maintenance.
In particular, Taylor offers a series of guitars known as Academy, an entry level line of guitars designed to be accessible to the beginner. In particular, the Academy series offers two flagship models that are reputable and approachable, Academy 10 and Academy 12.
These are one of the best acoustic guitars for blues out there.
Functionally, these two guitars are identical. Both sport a 1 11/16” (43mm) wide neck and relatively short string scale length of 24.87” (631mm). These sizes are perfect for the growing beginner, or really anyone who might be on the smaller side.
The only real difference is the shape, as the Academy 12 has a more pronounced hourglass figure compared to the Academy 10 (this hourglass shape is known as Grand Concert). In contrast, the Academy 10 shape is called a Dreadnought shape, which has a less pronounced curve.
The option of choosing the shape allows more customization in terms of personal preference. Both options can be found on Amazon for somewhere around $500, which may be steeper than the average beginner guitar, but you truly get what you pay for when you buy cheap.
A more affordable option that is absolutely worth mentioning is the Yamaha FG800 (Dreadnought) and FS800 (Grand Concert). Part of Yamaha’s 800 series of acoustic guitars, these options are well known for being simultaneously pleasant to play and pleasant to hear, for a lower price.
Both of these guitars have a 1 11/16” (43mm) wide neck, but the scale lengths vary slightly. The FG800 has a scale length of 25 9/16” (650mm) and the FS800 is 25” (634mm), making them both longer than the Taylor Academy guitars.
Classical Options – Córdoba C5 and Córdoba Protégé C1
Once again, there is no shortage of classical guitar manufacturers, and frankly most of the brand listed before also have classical options. However, some brands are more dedicated to the classical trade than other brands, such as Córdoba.
Looking into nylon options, Córdoba offers great classical guitars for beginners. In particular, the Córdoba C5 model, part of the Iberia series, is a popular model. This guitar is larger than the the Taylor models, with a 52mm wide, ovular shaped neck, and 25.5” (650mm) scale length. This model is also more affordable, usually goes between $325 – $390 or so on Amazon.
If on a tighter budget, Córdoba has a more affordable option in the Protege C1 here.
This guitar is not only available in the same size and specifications as the C5, but is also available in a ¾ scale model as well. This is perfect for the very young beginner, or even an adult player who just prefers have a smaller guitar. The sound may not be quite as rich as the C5, but there are not as many options that can give you quite the value for your dollar the same way Córdoba can.
What To Look For When Choosing a Guitar
A well made guitar should be set up in a fashion that accounts for the variables mentioned in the paragraphs above, but what exactly do those terms refer to?
String action on a guitar is the space between the strings and the frets on the fingerboard. Ideally, string action should be low enough to comfortably depress a string against a fret, yet high enough to prevent vibrating strings from buzzing against the frets.
A properly set up guitar should have variable, tapered string action that gradually gets lower the closer it gets to the nut of the guitar (also known as ‘fret zero’).
This is because by design, there is going more string tension at the nut compared to, say, the twelfth fret. The greater the string tension, the greater force required to depress the string, so string action needs to be lower to promote comfortable fretting.
At the twelfth fret, there is less tension, therefore the string action needs to compensate a little higher to prevent unwanted buzzing. It’s important to note that the difference in string action between the nut and the twelfth fret is ultimately miniscule, maybe two millimeters, but the difference can have a large effect on ease of playing the instrument.
The width of a guitar’s neck affects the spacing between each string relative to one another. Intuitively, one can expect that a wider fretboards demands more space between each string, which obviously translates to a greater distance that needs to be traveled by the fingers.
As acoustic guitars are typically used as instruments of rhythmic accompaniment, too wide a neck can create ergonomical complications for certain chord shapes, namely bar chords.
Of course, having too narrow a neck can make playing difficult as well, especially those with larger hands, as the fretboard can start to feel crowded.
Also, a general rule of thumb is that a wider neck is ideal for fingerstyle guitar playing, as the extra space gives the fingers more room for ample follow through.
This is why classical guitars have wider fretboards than steel-string guitars, because classical and flamenco guitars are almost exclusively played with fingers and not with picks.
Neck profile refers to the depth and shape of the neck. Variations here can be more subtle than action or neck width, but it is still a factor. Too deep of a neck can restrict the motion of the left hand, with valuable real estate of the hand being taken up by the size of the neck.
Too shallow a neck can make the hand feel unsupported and uncomfortable, having to pinch the neck just to depress the strings. When measured at the nut and including the fingerboard, most major acoustic guitar manufacturers maintain a neck depth of about 20mm, give or take a few millimeters.
There are a multitude of shapes a guitar neck can take, but most can be categorized into a version of either the ovular C shape, the thicker D shape, or the pointed V shape.
The C shape is arguably the most common kind of neck, and a flattened C shape is perhaps the most neutral, and agreeable neck shape to a new player. That said, since not every player has the same size hands, these slight variations in neck profile are very much a matter of personal preference.
Finally, scale length refers to the distance between the nut and the guitar saddle. The longer the scale, the longer the neck. The longer the neck, the larger the frets, and the greater the string tension required to keep the instrument in tune.
It does not take a big stretch to see that shorter scale guitars generally work better for smaller people with shorter limbs. Again, this is a matter of personal comfort. Typical acoustic guitar scale lengths are around 24 to 25.5 inches (610 to 648 millimeters).
Of course, when most people think of acoustic guitars, they think of steel-string acoustic guitars. In fact, most of the dimensions given above are for steel-string acoustic guitars.
What cannot be overlooked, however, is that there is another option: nylon-string classical guitars. While both are acoustic guitars, the difference in strings (and subtle changes in the aforementioned variables) can make a world of difference.
Steel String vs. Nylon String
What’s the difference between a steel-string acoustic guitar and a nylon-string classical guitar?
The most obvious answer is in their namesake strings. Steel-string guitars get their from the fact that the inside of the string is literally made of steel, but it is wrapped in brass or bronze.
Characterized by its bright, percussive tone, steel-string guitars are well suited for (but not limited to) rock, country, and blues. Nylon strings contain no steel, but the lowest three strings are still wound in brass or bronze.
Nylon strings are far more mellow than steel strings and carry less tension, so by design they are suited for classical genres played fingerstyle on a classical or flamenco guitar.
So, what guitar is easiest to play? This is more than a simple black-and-white question considering how many factors there are to consider.
By comparison, nylon strings are lighter and have less tension than steel strings, which can make it easier for a complete beginner to pick up and fret.
Before the inevitable calluses develop, high-tension steel strings can feel sharp on the fingertips, so a classical guitar can help bridge the gap between a total newcomer and a knowledged player. Also, despite the name, classical music is the only genre a classical guitar can play.
It can still be used to develop the fine-motor functions that go into guitar playing of any genre.
Of course, this does not necessarily mean that a classical guitar is inherently easier to play than a steel-string guitar. Classical guitars have flatter, wider necks than their steel-string cousins.
While typical steel-string acoustic guitar neck widths are around 44 millimeters, classical guitar widths sit closer to 2 inches, or 51 millimeters. The greater space between strings allows more control over the player’s ability to fingerpick and produce a wider variety of tone colors and dynamics, as opposed to a steel-string guitar being used to strum chords with a pick.
On the other hand, the wider neck makes certain techniques, such as barring, more difficult on the fingers due to the greater spread required.
As well, modern classical guitars have a larger scale length compared to steel-string acoustic guitars, closer to 26 inches (660 millimeters). Typically, classical guitars lack the cutaway that is frequently found on steel-string guitars, which limits access to the upper frets when playing.
Classical guitars also lack a pickguard, as picks are rarely used on nylon strings, which leaves classical guitars slightly more damage prone.
Also absent on classical types of guitars are strap buttons and string pegs on the bridge, so you are limited to sitting while playing, and you will need to know how to tie strings to a bridge to change them properly. The short answer to this question is this answer: it depends on what you want.
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
Ultimately, even with these suggestions of Taylor, Yamaha, or Córdoba, the most important takeaway should be that personal preference is the biggest factor is choosing a guitar to play.
Objectivity is quite thin in this scenario, and a guitar that one person loves can be a guitar that someone else despises. The best way to learn is to try out as many as you can. Visit your local guitar shop and test them side by side to really feel the difference, otherwise it’s just guesswork.