So, your kid wants an acoustic guitar. Or you want to gift them one. Either way, it’s a big world of guitars out there, with hundreds of models to choose from. That’s why we sought out Bill Swick. As chair for the Clark County School District Guitar Task Force in Nevada, Swick oversees the guitar curriculum of 60 guitar teachers and approximately 5,700 guitar students. In other words, he’s the guitar sheriff, the dean of strum, the chief justice of rock. And we asked him to recommend the best acoustic guitar for kids.
First off, you might think Swick is all rah-rah for getting guitars into the hands of children as soon as possible. But you’d be wrong. “For many years, I’ve felt that a child shouldn’t start playing guitar until about 12 years old,” he says. “The percentage of kids who succeed before age 12 is about zero.”
Playing guitar, per Swick, is “horrifically difficult.” Not only do both hands have to function separately — which demands intense cognitive ability and motor skills that a 5-year-old just doesn’t have — but a child’s hand has a hard time wrapping around a guitar neck to form the chords.
Nevertheless, Swick knows that parents will still buy their little kids guitars in hopes that they love playing. And if they do, he says the Yamaha CGS102A 1/2 Size Classical Guitar is the best starter guitar for kids.
According to Swick, this Yamaha is ideal in a few ways. First of all, it has nylon strings which, he says, is one of the most important factors. “A steel string is really difficult for the right hand as much as it is for the left hand.” he says, “it’s much easier to get a sound out of a nylon guitar.”
Secondly, it has a natural finish. “You want to avoid colored guitars,” he says, “they might look cool but the stain often covers inferior wood.” This Yamaha is made with spruce which, along with cedar, is one of the best woods for a guitar and has a natural finish.
Thirdly, Yamaha’s children’s guitars are actual guitars, with pegs and other components of the same quality they do for their full-size guitars. (If you’ve ever gotten your kid a cheapo guitar, you’ll know the frustration of cheap tuning pegs, which constantly slip out of tune.)
Finally, the size. As it’s a 1/2 size guitar which fits snugly under your kid’s arm. “There are 1/4 sizes too,” says Swick, “but they’re hard to find and tend to be more expensive.”
Now, in terms of other guitars for children under 12, Swick recommends the Cordoba C1M, another half-size guitar which at $119 is slightly more expensive than the Yamaha and boasts many of the same features. And a step up above that, no longer so cheap, is what’s called a requinto guitar, a type of miniature guitar popular in the 1800s. These guitars are dead-ass. The Paracho Elite Del Rio, for instance, boasts a solid cedar top, back, and sides with a rosewood neck. Happy strumming.