As a beginner choosing your first guitar is daunting. You want the best instrument, obviously. But with little or no experience how do you know which is right for you.
After playing for more 20 years and having tried almost every type of guitar I feel well placed to recommend the best first guitars for those just starting out.
So if you are struggling to decide on a first guitar then the following recommendations will help you find the right one. I’ve looked at guitars for those with tight budgets, specific genres like metal, rock and blues and my overall top pick.
I’m sure one of these will be perfect for you as you begin your guitar journey.
Best Electric Guitars for Beginners
- Best Overall: Yamaha Pacifica – Affordable, sounds great, easy to play and will last as long as you need. Whatever style of music you want to play a Yamaha Pacifica will serve you well.
- Best on a Budget: Squier Affinity Stratocaster – A proper bargain, the Affinity series of guitars are fantastic value for money. A very comfortable neck, classic Stratocater sound and all for one of the lowest prices you’ll find.
- Best for Metal: Jackson Dinky JS22 – A real metal monster, the Jackson Dinky JS22 is the ideal choice for heavy riffs and shredding. With a fast neck, high output pickups and low price tag it’s the ideal way to start playing metal.
- Best for Blues: Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster – The jewel in Squiers crown. The Classic Vibe series is as good a value for money as any guitar. For blues you could choose the Stratocaster or Telecaster without going wrong. Either way you’ll be getting a guitar that not only excels at blues but could easily be gigged with.
- Best for Rock: Epiphone SG – The SG has an iconic look and even more iconic sound. With its light body and punchy pickups it’s a great choice for those wanting to simply rock.
Yamaha Pacifica – Best Overall
- Very affordable
- Good build quality
- Very durable
- Possibly awkward tremolo
The Yamaha Pacifica is the perfect beginner guitar. It’s affordable, well made, sounds great and is very versatile.
Yamaha may not be as well known for guitars when compared to the likes of Fender, Gibson, Ibanez etc. but don’t let that fool you. The Pacifica has been around for decades and is known as being a guitar that punches well above its weight.
You get a quality guitar that will last for as long as you need. It’s got a comfortable neck that’s ideal for newbies, decent pickups, a comfortably contoured body, even a tremolo (whammy bar)!
The more affordable and entry level versions of the Pacifica – the 012 and 112 – come with HSS pickup configurations. This means a Humbucker pickup at the bridge and single coil pickups in the middle and neck positions (read this guide if you don’t understand that).
Why that’s so useful is it’s versatility. The humbucker pickup is suited to heavier styles of music like hard rock and metal. But you can use the single coils for blues, pop, rock etc. So you’re getting a guitar that is comfortable at doing mostly everything.
The Pacifica 112 costs a little more than both the Pacifica 012 and my budget pick of the Squier Affinity series (see below). The differences between the 012 and 112 are small – they use different wood for the body of the guitar and the tuners on 112 are a little better.
I think the 112 looks better, and if that’s important to you then go for it. But in terms of how they will sound and play there’s virtually no difference. Body wood makes no difference to the tone so it’s all purely cosmetic.
Squier Affinity Stratocaster – Best Budget
- Great price
- Comfortable Neck
- Hardware not the highest quality
Squier are made by Fender. They’re Fender’s budget line of guitars although many of them perform far better than that.
The Squier Affinity series is the perfect mix of affordability and quality. A step up from the cheapest Squiers – the Sonic series – but not as pricey as the likes of the Classic Vibe or Contemporary series.
Any of the Affinity models would make great first guitars. In fact my first guitar was a Squier Affinity Stratocaster, and over 20 years later I still have it.
The Stratocaster is the style most people associate and think of when it comes to electric guitars. And for good reason – it’s iconic. If you want to play rock, pop, blues, R&B, jazz etc. it can do it all.
If you prefer heavier music then get the HSS or HH pickup configuration – that’s the one with the humbucker pickup at the bridge or in both positions.
The other Squier models are just as good too. The Telecaster options are similar in that you can get humbucker and single coil versions.
The Affinity Jazzmaster with its dual humbuckers can get nice and heavy too and is a real looker. And the Affinity Jaguar is great for indie and alternative.
You won’t go wrong with any of the Affinity Series.
Jackson Dinky JS22 – Best for Metal
- Fast Neck
- Good pickups
- Looks great
- Not versatile
- Tremolo may be less durable
Jackson are known for guitars suited to metal. With fast playing necks and high output pickups they’re setup precisely for those who want to play heavier music.
The ‘Dinky’ series may not have a name that sounds very metal but don’t let that you fool you. With 2 high output ceramic pickups that get you that heavy distorted tone you want for metal, a maple speed neck for flying fingers across the fretboard and 24 jumbo frets the JS22 is a shredding-machine.
On top of that they look amazing!
Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster – Best for Blues
- Comfortable Neck
- Vintage style hardware
- Great value compared to Fender models
- Iconic style/looks
- Not good for high gain
We’ve already had one Squier but it’s impossible not to include the Classic Vibe. It’s such a great guitar for the money.
A step up in quality and sound from the Squier Affinity series. The Classic Vibe range are known for going well beyond their ‘entry level’ label. You could easily gig with one, not just learn as a beginner.
The improvements from the lower level Squiers will be noticeable. You get better hardware including tuners (so it stays in tune longer), a bone nut rather than plastic and stronger sounding pickups.
A Classic Vibe Stratocaster or Telecaster would be a great choice for blues or blues rock. And for blues you could go with either an SSS or HSS pickup configuration. The HSS will be more versatile for playing other styles and the SSS more traditional.
Admittedly you are paying a bit more for a Classic Vibe. But it’ll allow you to grow with it, you won’t really need to upgrade any time soon (or at all) and it’ll just feel like a better instrument.
Epiphone SG – Best for Rock
- Powerful and gritty pickups
- Slim, comfortable body
- Slim taper neck
- Prone to neck dive
Epiphone are much like Squier, in that they’re Gibsons more budget friendly range. But while they may not be as good as a $2000 Gibson you still get a quality guitar that
The Epiphone SG is based on the Gibson SG, an iconic guitar in the world of rock music. The bat wing look is legendary and helps make SG’s body super lightweight too.
It has a shorter scale length which means the frets are closer together (if you need to know more read this guide to scale length). This makes those big stretches is easier. Although if you have larger hands you may find it a little more cramped compared to other models with a larger scale length.
The humbucker pickups on the SG give a nice bite and growl that’s perfect for those big rock riffs. The access to the upper frets is easy too thanks to the design. So you can quickly move to the high frets for playing those killer solos.
If you’re looking to play straightforward rock – think AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith etc. – as well as punk and maybe even some metal, then the Epiphone SG is a fantastic choice.
I really like what Harley Benton are doing. They have some guitars that punch well above their weight for great prices.
And if you want to go super budget then a Squier Sonic is probably the best ‘cheapest’ guitar you can get. A Squier Sonic Stratocaster is going to be very basic and bare bones but will be good enough for most beginners.
What to Avoid
There are some mistakes you can make when choosing a guitar, especially as a beginner.
I wouldn’t get a starter pack. I understand it’s convenient getting everything in one bundle – guitar, picks, strap, amp etc. But while the guitar in those packs is usually fine the amp is generally awful. And the amp is arguably more important than the guitar. Especially when you’re first starting.
As long as the guitar plays well it doesn’t matter all that much which you get as a beginner. Chances are if you stick with it you’ll upgrade at some point.
But a poor quality amp will sound dreadful and put you off playing. If you can’t get it to sound anything like the music you want to play you’ll loose motivation.
I know this from firsthand experience. My first guitar, a Squier Affinity Stratocaster, was part of a Squier pack.
The guitar was fine. As I mentioned earlier I’ve still got it. The amp that came with it was a Fender Frontman 10G, and it was then and still is now, rubbish.
It can’t do anything other than a very bland and boring clean tone. The gain/distortion is appalling. There’s very little you can get from it. I couldn’t wait to replace the thing.
So my recommendation is to buy the guitar and amp separately. You’ll get a much better amp that will last you far longer.
No Name Brands
Stick with a brand name. You can buy cheap guitars online from brands you’ve never heard of.
They’ll come from China and will be awful. Poorly made, they play terribly, sound bad.
You can’t guarantee a guitar from a well known brand will be good. But the quality control will be higher and the chances of it being unplayable are much smaller. Whereas the no-name garbage from China is almost certainly going to be shockingly bad.
Some beginners think starting on a mini or 3/4 size guitar will be easier. But actually you’ll only make things more difficult for yourself in the long run.
Mini guitars are mostly just toys. They sound terrible and play even worse. And if you do start with one you will eventually move up to a full size. And at that point you’ll encounter issues with stretching for chords, not being used to the larger neck and body, and generally it will feel odd.
Unless you’re a very small child there’s no need to begin with a 3/4 size guitar. Yes at first it will be difficult but everyone goes through the same struggles. You won’t be doing yourself any favors bu getting a mini guitar.