Oh, boy. You’ve gone and done it, haven’t you? You introduced your kid(s) to some excellent tunes while they rock out in their highway-approved carseat in the back of your station wagon or minivan next to the soccer ball, cleats and family dog.
Well, if you’ve got a few more years before your child is out the house, then that means that you’ve got a few special considerations to make if you want to buy your kid an electric guitar.
This article is designed to walk you through the different options that would be appropriate given the special shape, size and desires of your child or children. For those of you reading that even dream of your kid one day forming a band, this article will help you learn a little bit about what required accessories you’ll need—all without dipping into their college savings.
In fact, to better help you, we’ve provided a table below that shows off some of our favorite electric guitars (many of which will be discussed in-depth in today’s article).
|Ibanez GRGA120||Electric||$||Start-up Guitar|
|Epiphone SG Special VE||Electric||$||Fingerboard w/ pearloid dot inlays|
What Makes Your Kid Tick
The electric guitar is a great first instrument for your kid. It’s a fine alternative to the piano, albeit a lot tougher to get started.
Why? Well, pianos are inherently easier to play. Adults and kids alike see all the notes directly in front of their fingers. This lends itself well to a “seek and destroy” mentality in that sound is produced by the press of a button.
That’s right, anybody who knows how to work an iPad can play the piano.
Notice, I did not say they can play a piano “well,” but consider this: anybody who wants to learn to play an instrument will start with the basics, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Hot Cross Buns.” We all played the recorder in elementary school, and were taught simply nursery rhymes to get started and learn the basics. If all one had to do was place one hand on the instrument and see the keys to press them, we would all be able to learn these simple songs in minutes.
I’m here to tell you that guitar it is not that easy. This is due to the fact that your hands are not in front of your vision. Furthermore, the player’s fretting hand is pressing on thin strings made of steel. It can be exhaustive and a little painful at first before the player develops calluses. Even further, that string don’t buzz without your strumming hand coordinating with your fretting hand. It always takes two hands to tango with the guitar.
This is, in my eyes, it’s complete benefit. Hand to hand coordination – once achieved – is easily transferred to other instruments. There are even several health benefits related to balance, helpful later on in life.
Why Can’t My Kid Start on an Acoustic?
Well, do they want to? Probably not. Unless your kid is rocking out to John Mayer’s acoustic works (I hope that’s not the case) before cuing up Slash, they are most likely turned on by the cool effects and versatility of the electric guitar.
I mean, who can blame them? I often write about how electric guitar is the second-most versatile instrument ever created, next to the synthesizer. That being said, it’s still the coolest.
On the other hand, you may prefer to get your kid an acoustic if you are afraid of blowing the roof off and p’d off neighbors. You’ll find my workaround to this below. The only downside to going electric first, in my eyes, is the upfront cost. But rest assured, it isn’t that bad. Read on.
Electrics are easier to play than acoustics, hands down. Their strings are normally of a smaller diameter, or gauge, than acoustics. This makes them easier on the fretting hand, as they are then easier to press down on the fretboard. The neck profiles are typically smaller, thus easier to wrap the fretting hand around.
This is important given that your kid is of course is not an adult. Yet. Electrics are also setup in such a way as to force the strings to be closer to the frets, meaning our fingers are already halfway home before we even press.
My recommendation is this: if your kid gets serious about playing guitar, get them an acoustic after they’ve proven progress on the electric. Make sure they work on finger style works on the acoustic to improve their well-roundedness as a guitar player. When I’m working with students and counseling their parents on why their kid isn’t practicing, I normally tell them that their kids become frustrated that they were given acoustics rather than electrics. Younger players will become easily discouraged with the toughness and relatively-low payback of an acoustic when they are first starting out. They are working harder for less, essentially.
- You May Want to Read: What is the Best Acoustic Guitar Under $500?
Playing the electric guitar is not exactly the cheapest hobby a child can pick up. This is due to the accessories that are unfortunately not optional, such as:
Electric Guitar Amplifier – Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars sound pretty nonexistent without the use of an amp. As its name implies, an amplifier “amplifies” the sound of the guitar. Electric guitars use magnets called “pickups” to translate the steel string’s mechanical energy into electrical signals. Think of it like your old turntable: set the vinyl on the table and apply the needle without turning your speakers on, and you can hear it…if you put your ear right up to it. You need to turn on your receiver, which then connects to your speakers, which translates that small mouse-squeak into roof-rocking musical goodness. The receiver is the amplifier in this case. Electric guitar amplifiers in the price range you’ll start your kid at are the receiver and speaker all in one. Combined, we call this an amplifier. You can find great starter amplifiers for as cheap as $100, many of which come jam-packed with neat effects that alter the sound of the guitar.
Headphones – Don’t want upset neighbors? Want to help contain the sound while you’re watching tv? Hopefully your kid’s amplifier has a headphone jack. If it does, you’ll need a set of headphones that will fit inside the 1/4” jack. To keep your kid happy, I would recommend purchasing a set of around-ear headphones. They will also protect your kid’s ears, as the sound isn’t being injected directly into the eardrum as would be the case with in-ear headphones. If the pair you buy doesn’t have a 1/4” jack on the end, they do sell cheap adapters. This means the guitar won’t play through the amplifier itself, but rather the headphones. Therefore, your kid won’t have to stop practicing. That also means they won’t hear you when you yell for them to do the dishes, either. You’ve been warned.
Guitar Cable – This is the cord that connects the electric guitar to the amplifier. These don’t have to be too expensive. However, I recommend buying a guitar cable that is at or around 20’ long. Even if your kid is playing solely in their bedroom, you don’t want to risk any tugs on the ends of the cable. First off, it’s really loud and damaging when the fall out of the plug, Secondly, wear and tear make for frequent trips to the music store when the fall apart and fray. I recommend purchasing a guitar cable that fuses the insulation to the actual jack itself, as they tend to hold up over time a lot longer. Ever since I started spending the extra $10 or so, I haven’t had to replace any of my guitar cables in over 5 years.
Guitar Picks – Obviously, right? I recommend buying a mix of heavy and light picks based on thickness. Your kid can try out all the different sizes of plastic and find out for themselves which size they prefer. Best of all, picks really can be a dime a dozen. Don’t go too crazy.
Guitar Strap – Guitar straps are essential so your kid can learn to stand and play. One day, they will make little rock star friends and jam out in your garage. Or hopefully for you, their bassist’s garage. It’s always handy to have one around, and electric guitars can sometimes be a bit difficult to lay on the player’s lap. I recommend setting up your kid’s guitar to have the strap seating the guitar at about diaphragm level, which also improves technique as it allows the guitar to sit up a bit higher. It makes playing the thing a lot more ergonomic.
A Note About Size
Guitars specifically made for kids are generally referred to as a “three-quarter sized guitar” or a junior electric guitar. As the name implies, the entire guitar is scaled down to 75% the size of a “full sized guitar.”
This means that – according to the idea behind it – the kiddos will have a much easier time playing the thing, as they can access every single fret without much of an issue. The strings are also closer together so their strumming/picking hand doesn’t cramp up as easily.
There are many schools of thought behind proper sizing of a guitar. The good news is that there are many different shapes and sizes of guitars out there for your kid to try out. If a full-sized guitar doesn’t swallow a child, I’d say go for it to save you the headache and money spent just a few years later when they outgrow their 3/4 sized instrument.
Which size is right for your bundle of joy? Best way to find out is to take them shopping with you. If it looks like an appropriate size, it is. Bigger kiddos may actually benefit from a full sized guitar.
I chose to play and review several electric guitars that I think would be suitable for kids in mind. In general, I hope you and your little rockstar will find these selections to be lightweight, easy to play and all-around ergonomic. I will be reviewing all sizes of “starter-model” guitars, 3/4 and full.
The Fender Stratocaster is what your child imagines when the words “electric guitar” come to mind. Heck, it’s probably what you imagine as well. It’s a classic guitar. Keep in mind that Squire is Fender’s child company, just like Epiphone is to Gibson. Squire and Epiphone offer players options that are still killer quality but cheaper. That being said, you can expect a Squire Stratocaster to look just like a Fender Stratocaster. The differences between the two? Your kid shouldn’t have the palate yet to worry about them.
What more can I say? The Squire Mini-Strat is an excellent option for a children’s guitar. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, it’s ergonomic. Chances are, your kid can handle a full-sized Strat, but Squire offers the Mini-Strat to you just in case. It’s scaled down so even your littlest rockstar can feel comfortable playing it. As a fully grown adult, I still turn to Strats when I’m looking for a comfortable, affordable and killer guitar. These guys come in a variety of different color options as well, so it’ll be sure to please. Just ask your kid their favorite color, chances are, it’s available.
Is your kid a little edgy? In a good way, of course…they should check out the GRGM21. This guitar is available in blue, black, purple and white. The fretboard inlays make this guitar scream “look at me,” which could be a look your kids love. It features a shorter scale, medium gauge frets and 1-sided headpiece. All of these features make this guitar much easier for the little ones to play.
What I like about this guitar is that it features 2 humbucker pickups. This reduces feedback when played through an amplifier (feedback=bad for you/neighbors). Furthermore, it provides the player with a totally rocking sound with applications found in all genres, from pop to rock. I found the white model to be particularly stunning, but again, ask them their favorite color!
Again, this is a scaled-down version of one of Gibson’s hallmark instruments, and it delivers. Perhaps not as flashy as the Ibanez, the SG features the twin horns and dual hum bucking pickups one would find in its bigger brother. This guitar is insanely easy to play, no matter the size of one’s hands.
The only drawback may be this guitar’s weight, but I am told by the store rep that depending on the color/wood variation each guitar weighs a bit different. Out of all the guitars reviewed today, I would choose the SG as the best-looking guitar. I’ve never had a qualm with an Epiphone finish.
First Act – Various Models
Whether you walk into a Target, Walmart or Guitar Center, chances are you will find neat, colorful boxes of First Act instruments that seem perfectly tailored to suit the needs of your little one. Often they are sold as an “all-complete” package. Let me tell you, I am reviewing their work only to try and convince you to steer clear.
Us kids don’t always want our parents to choose our back to school outfits. These guys take the prize of ugliest Christmas sweater for the annual family photo. In my admittedly limited experience with these toys, the hardware has a life of maybe a few months. Think about it: can these parts withstand the trials and errors of your little one?
Do your dishes? I think these are cheaply made, cheaply sold instruments that are not worthy of anyone other than actors for movie props. You will be purchasing replacement parts for the life of the instrument, and your child may lose interest due to the overall dull tone of the guitar. Please, please stay away from these. While they may look like an all-in-one helluva good deal, I assure you, they are not.
I am truly excited for that special kid in your life. They are about to embark on one of life’s most amazing journeys. It will be filled with all things wonderful and frustrating, to them and to you as the listener.
But I encourage you to take your kid guitar shopping. More likely than not, they will not go running to the wall of $1,000+ guitars and scream that they want one of those. There are so many options available in a kid’s price range that they (and you) will ultimately find something they will have for a long time…until they outgrow it, that is.
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