What are the best guitars for kids?

Why buy a guitar for a kid, anyway? I mean, they’re just going to trash and ruin it, right? They’ll probably get tired of it after a few months – or a few minutes – and never touch it again, no matter how much money you spent on it. You’ve probably seen it time and time again – maybe you’ve even been that kid – so is it really worth it to buy a guitar for a child?

Yes! Starting kids on music as early as possible is great for developing their creativity, confidence, and a whole host of other essential life skills. And the sooner a child gets started on an instrument, the more time they have to build up their abilities. Compared to those who don’t get started playing guitar until later in life, it’s like having a huge head-start.

Part of the process of becoming a musician is learning to respect your instruments. This is rarely something that’s intuitively discovered – someone has to teach them, whether it’s a parent or a music teacher. It’s also helpful to supply the child with a case or stand – a home for their instrument – and everything else they’ll need to properly care for and develop a relationship with their guitar.

The Best Guitars for Kids: My Recommendations

Finding the Right Fit

Discovering the perfect instrument often takes plenty of experimentation, which means trying out as many different guitars as possible. It’s good to take your time before buying one, allowing your child to get their hands on as many as possible to try them out.

If possible, renting is a great option because it allows for more time for the player to become acquainted with the instrument. And any chance to borrow a friend’s instrument – particularly for free – is an opportunity to jump on. This is often a convenient way for a kid to find out for themselves which guitars feel best in their hands.

Size and Type

For beginners, especially younger ones, a full-size guitar can very easily be overwhelming and offputting – sometimes enough so to make the child avoid guitar for the rest of their life. Sadly, this causes many to miss out on a critical time when they could be honing their strumming and shredding skills.

There are plenty of guitars out there that are specifically designed with smaller hands in mind. Size has a lot to do with what makes a guitar comfortable and playable for a child, but the shape and style also have a significant bearing.

The main types of acoustic guitar are:

  • Dreadnought
  • Parlor
  • Jumbo
  • Dreadnought Variants
  • Auditorium
  • Grand Auditorium
  • Classical

Parlor

The parlor size is known for being more compact with a narrower waist. It’s usually even smaller than the single “0” size on Martin’s scale. The origins of the name date back to the room of the same name, commonly found in 19th-century homes. This was the place where you were most likely to find someone strumming away during that time period, ergo the parlor guitar.

Although it’s on the smaller side, it is still considered a full-sized guitar. In fact, it’s the smallest guitar that’s still technically considered full-sized. It’s slightly bigger than a 3/4 and 7/8 guitar, but not by much. Parlor guitars are generally at least 36 inches in length, but most that you’ll find are around 38 inches

A parlor guitar is a great way to transition from 3/4. Some younger players – and even a good portion of the older ones – find dreadnoughts and jumbos – to be a little unwieldy and awkward to hold. In some cases, these guitars are just not suited for their body type – as is often the case with the small humans known as children.

Parlor guitars are generally 20% smaller than a full-sized guitar, with a neck that’s about 2 inches shorter. These are great not just for children but also for adults with short arms.

3/4 Size Guitars

These are perfect for music students who are about 8 to 11 years old – but their use doesn’t have to be limited to just that small age group. It all depends on what feels best in your hands.

These are sometimes referred to as 36-inch guitars – because that’s how long they are from the bridge to the headstock. It’s a bit confusing if you actually break out the measuring tape and do the math; just keep in mind that the 3/4 size option is really only a simplification to make it easier for buyers. In actuality, guitars that say they’re 3/4 sized are closer to 7/8 the size of a standard guitar.

Dreadnought

The full-sized Dreadnought measures in at 41 inches. This is a favorite among guitarists young and old for its superior bass, volume, and overall power. You’ll likely only be comfortable while practicing and performing on this type of guitar if you’re a fairly seasoned player with a fully grown body.

That’s why there are plenty of variations, spins on the classic dreadnought style, that makes it more playable for younger musicians. Although there are always some sacrifices made when altering the size and shape, these spinoffs of the iconic dreadnought design still produce amazing sound quality, putting that power in the hands of aspiring guitar legends.

Orchestra Model

Often shortened to “OM,” the orchestra model is typically 40 inches in length. This is still only about 15% the size of a standard guitar, so you’re getting closer to the real deal but still not quite there. The body is thinner, making it easier to reach over and wrap your arms around. It doesn’t feel quite so bulky against your torso, and the hourglass shape is narrower.

Consequently, the sound quality that you’ll get from these kinds of guitars is thinner – but only slightly. This tradeoff is generally more than worth it if it gets a youngster hooked on this instrument. It paves the way for them to one day graduate to a bigger, fuller-sounding guitar.

Kids love the orchestra model because it allows them to pull it in close and really feel connected to the instrument. It’s a perfect compromise between playability and comfort.

Do Whatever it Takes to Engage

The most important thing is that an instrument engages your child and makes them want to play it. Whether that’s a flashy color or a unique design, if that’s what it takes to get them interested in the guitar, then it doesn’t matter quite so much how good the quality is (or how tacky it may or may not look to non-children).

Whether it’s a unique color or shape, novelty decals from their favorite Disney cartoon – whatever gets the aspiring child musician in your life over that initial hump of growing pains in the learning process is likely a worthy compromise.

Still, it’s nice to find an instrument that’s high in quality and still kid-friendly. Here are some excellent picks if you’re looking for something that sounds good and that your child will love to play.

Going electric or acoustic are the two most basic options. You might have a budding young 12-string player on your hands, or the world’s next great shredder, or a prolific classical guitarist, but it’s never a bad idea to start out with the basics. And you can get a start in all of these skills with a standard, regular old acoustic guitar.

Ibanez PN12E

  • Top, body, and back: Mahogany
  • Type: Parlor
  • Frets: 18
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Pickup/preamp: AEQ-2T
  • Onboard tuner

This mahogany electro-acoustic beauty is an Ibanez product, one of the most trusted brands of guitar makers. The vintage mahogany sunburst gives it a unique touch and a bit of personal flair. At the same time, the mahogany that makes up the body produces a rich and warm tone

Playing on one of these makes it easy to transition into performing, giving you everything you need to get show-ready right there on the guitar. The ability to plug into any sound system and have the experience of being amplified and hearing that amount of power behind your instrument is an amazing feeling that every kid musician should get the opportunity to have.

The only reason you’d want to steer clear of this instrument is if your child has already outgrown the parlor size.

Fender CP-60S

  • Top: Solid spruce
  • Sides and back: Laminated mahogany
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Walnut
  • Frets: 20
  • Scale: 24.75″

This model is perfect for fingerpickers, which should interest those playing in folk or country genres. On the other hand, this may not be the ideal “pick” for those focused on strumming.

The tone of this guitar is extremely warm. The instrument sound and overall quality is everything you’d expect from a Fender instrument. Combined with the excellent form factor – the shape of the instrument – this is a guitar that feels and sounds great for most young musicians.

Fender CC-60S

  • Size: Concert
  • Scale: 25.3″
  • Top: Solid spruce
  • Sides and back: Mahogany HPL
  • Fingerboard: Walnut
  • Gigbag and extra strings included
  • Plus a 3-month subscription to Fender Play

This is an overall great pick for beginners of all kinds. The body is quite compact, and it features an attractive solid-wood top. It’s hard to find anything negative about this guitar between its great value, excellent quality, and unbeatable price.

The CC-60S is definitely among the most popular choices for kids. A bonus for many parents is that it’s a guitar that will endure the ages: As your child improves and advances into a more intermediate playing level, you won’t have to go out and buy a whole new guitar at every stage.

This guitar is a perfect size – new players will appreciate the compactness – but at the same time, it’s bigger than a 3/4 guitar, so it’s less likely to be regarded as a toy as the child grows up. It has quite an impressive tone thanks to the solid spruce top. You’ll get a full, warm, sound with enough bottom end to help every chord sound full and resonant.

Yamaha JR1 3/4-Size Dreadnought

  • Top: Spruce
  • Sides and back: Meranti
  • Type: 3/4 dreadnought
  • Scale: 21.25″
  • Frets: 18
  • Neck: Nato
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Gigbag included

Here’s a guitar that’s a great way to get your youngster conditioned for one day handling a full-sized dreadnought – while maintaining all the great tone quality that musicians expect from this iconic type of guitar.

You can tell just by looking at this instrument – but especially when you hold it in your hands, play it, and hear it – that it’s been well-built. It’s extremely easy to learn on and fun to play, and the price is just a joy.

However, some might consider upgrading since there are somewhat better tonewoods out there. This may be worth it if your child truly does seem in the guitar game for the long haul and you’re willing to spend a bit extra.

Still, the JR1 beautifully captures the coveted “booming mids” of the dreadnaught shape that it’s most famous for. But, importantly, it accomplishes this without the need for so bulky of a body.

It features an excellent build with a spruce top that gives it a classic look and feel. Meranti is used for the rest of the instrument, which saves you money and comes with minimal drawbacks. Meranti is still a sturdy, hardy wood – not quite what you’d get from a mahogany, but for beginners, it more than does the job.