Buying or Renting a Guitar

Archived Q&A and Reviews

See also: Guitar Lessons
Nov 2005

My son, 11 years old, wants to play the electic guitar or electric bass. Can anyone recommend a particular brand or model for a beginner, that is good enough to sound good and be encouraging, but not too expensive, since I don't know how serious he is about playing?

Music Works on San Pablo avenue in El Cerrito is a great store to get info/lease/buy guitars for beginners. My son took lessons there a few years ago. At first we rented his electric guitar and amp for 3 months and then the rental price was applied to the price to buy. Later on I bought an acoustic guitar there. Both times they were really great helping me decide what was best for my son who was likely not to persue guitar, but maybe for a little while, and for me a novice guitar player who wanted something nice with a good sound but not outrageously expensive. Good luck, anon
(I am a guitar teacher in Berkeley). The best place to buy a guitar for a beginner is at Guitar Center. It is located on San Pablo Av. in El Cerrito. They have a wide selection of guitars, and many are under $200. The great advantage of buying at Guitar Center is that they offer a 30-day return for any reason. Sometimes they will extend that longer. If you would like further information about choosing instruments, please contact me at (510) 524-2055, or at the e-mail address, below. Ernie Mansfield ernie AT
March 2003

Full-sized Guitar for 2-year-old?

My two-and-a-half-year old loves guitar music and becomes mesmerized whenever he sees someone playing one. He's told me that we need one for him. I played years ago in college, and would welcome the chance to pick up a few chords again. But I mostly want to find something that will work for my son and keep his interest in playing music. So my question is, should I get an inexpensive full-sized guitar that we can both play ( and that I would not mind too much if he dropped small trucks inside), or should I start him out on one of those kid-sized guitars? Would such a thing keep both of our interests long enough to learn to play? Would it be better for him to see me playing too? Carolyn

It seems that a regular size guitar would be mighty big for a little tike and the finger strength needed for the strings isn't there yet. As far as you playing so that he will play. Absolutely! I would say that my son ALWAYS would pick up his guitar to play when I was practicing - he was older though - 9 or so. But kids learn through imitation and, when you hear famous musicians talking about their upbringings, there was inevitably someone older doing music in their homes. Joan
You might want to try a Baby Taylor, a 3/4 size acoustic guitar known to have very good sound for its size (see Many adult players use them as travel guitars, but the small size and easy action make them good for kids too. I think you could find one new at a place like Guitar Center for around $250, but I've also seen them auctioned on E-bay for less than $200. Morris
I would (and did) get my child a good quality child size guitar. If you want to learn guitar, you can learn on a half sized guitar. When your child has the guitar, I would also tune the guitar so that when he strums he is playing a chord-- and making music. It is also easiest for him to play the guitar with it sitting in his lap. When he is a little older, you can get him a slide, under $5, so he can really make music. Good luck and happy strumming. Nick
For the person looking for a kid-size toy guitar, I just saw one at Heartfelt on college Ave. near the intersection of Claremont. It had a cowboy theme and design on it. They're at 6309 College Ave, Tel 655-9806. www.

Guitar Rental

July 2000

Subway Guitar in Berkeley might rent guitars. They would also be able to recommend a hip, but patient teacher. Hope this helps, Jamie

From: Dan (12/98)

-- Is Guitar Center the best place to ask and look, or -- do they push the new, expensive equipment?

They do tend to push new, expensive stuff; worse, prices are negotiable and you have to go through an annoying ritual of haggling as in buying a used car.

I suggest you try either Univibe (corner of Adeline and Alcatraz) or Subway (Cedar Street, a couple blocks West of MLK). You'll be treated with more respect. Subway, a Berkeley landmark, has to be seen to be believed: around 10,000 guitars in a room the size of a living room! Both have lots of used equipment (not necessarily cheaper than new Asian-made instruments, but with more substance, history and style).

From: Beth (12/09)

This is from my husband, who is a jazz guitarist and elementary school teacher, and has a lot of experience teaching guitar to children - A good place to find a used electric guitar is Subway Guitars on Cedar. Expect to spend $170-300 on a used electric guitar which will be good enough quality that your son won't be frustrated. It's better to spend a little more on a decent quality instrument then to buy a super-cheap instrument which will frustrate him to the point where he either gives up, or you need to buy the better instrument anyway.

From: Jon (12/98)

I started playing guitar as a teenager and made many mistakes along the way. My first mistake was getting an inferior quality guitar. When you're first learning it's very important to have a guitar that's easy to play (i.e. the strings aren't too high off the neck) and stays in tune. Many cheap guitars suffer from one or both of these problems. Another mistake was being influenced by how a guitar looks. If you go into Guitar Center there are literally walls full of scary-looking guitars made to attract teenagers.

My advice would be to try to find a used guitar. In addition to a lower price, the chances are greater that any built-in problems will have become obvious. Guitar Center isn't too bad, and the one in El Cerrito isn't too high pressure, but you will be at a disadvantage no matter where you buy from. For used guitars you might try Subway Guitars on Cedar. It's a messy small place full of all kind of interesting guitars. They're lower pressure than Guitar Center and you could probably rely on them to select a good used guitar for a beginner.