You know which style of guitar appeals to you and have some general suggestions. Now we will into the logistics.
Rent or Buy?
Many music stores offer rentals, especially for student-grade instruments during the school year. This is more common for orchestral instruments like the violin or cello, but sometimes you will see it for guitar.
The rationale is that there is less of an upfront cost and if you don’t like that particular style of guitar, you won’t be stuck with it.
The economics of renting a starter instrument, though, just don’t work. Guitar rentals often start at $20 a month, or over $200 a year. For the price of a yearly rental, you could have bought your own. Most places will even work out some kind of payment plan.
As for making sure it’s the “right” guitar for you, remember: they are all the same instrument. Let’s say that you get an electric guitar but you find that you enjoy playing classical music the most. Bach can sound pretty awesome on electric guitar. Make your next guitar a classical! But enjoy playing with your own voice until then.
New or Old?
There is also the question of whether to buy a new or used guitar. I would suggest that as a first-time buyer you buy a new guitar. There is less that can go wrong.
Once you get a better idea of what makes a good guitar, then you can try buying online or at an estate sale. You could find a great deal here.
But if you want to try buying an old guitar, it is essential to find a good guitar repairman. If you cannot find one on Google, then try contacting a classical guitar instructor at a local college.
Buying a new guitar will decrease the likelihood of having issues. And if there are, the new guitar is at least probably covered under warranty.
Self-taught or Teacher?
You can put this part off until after buying the guitar, but I would encourage thinking about it now. The majority of guitarists are self-taught. In fact, some of the best guitarists of all time never took a formal lesson or even learned how to read music. But many great guitarists did learn through formal lessons.
Taking lessons has its advantages. You will progress more rapidly with less effort. A teacher can show you where you are going wrong and help correct before you develop bad habits. I would suggest contacting a local community college or conservatory and asking if lessons are offered. If money is an issue, ask whether group lessons are available – these are usually cheaper. If guitar lessons are not available at this particular school, ask another faculty member for recommendations.
It is a good idea to contract a guitar teacher before buying a guitar. The instructor can point you toward the right guitar shop in town, or give you other tips on what guitar may be best for you. If you decide a teacher isn’t best for you for scheduling, financial, or artistic reasons, that’s fine too.
General Thoughts on a First Guitar Budget
The budgets I suggest may seem steep to you. I will suggest spending at least $150. Yes, you can find instruments for less. But you get what you pay for. A good guitar is a crafted work of art, not a toy. Spend extra if you can.
Budget: $200 – $400 (or more)
Recommended: Yamaha student guitar
This is going to be the costliest one to buy – but it holds its value the best.
Yamaha applied industrial methods to making a good classical guitar, bringing the price down dramatically. Don’t buy the cheapest Yamaha available. You will notice a difference in sound with just an additional $100.
My first guitar was a Yamaha classical guitar that cost about $300. They are now selling for around the same price in eBay.
Budget: $200 – $250
Recommended: Alvarez Artist series
Although you can plan to spend less, you still do not want to skimp. Make sure that your guitar has a solid top, not laminate, which has compressed layers of wood. These layers are of poorer-quality, more brittle wood with a lesser sound.
Alvarez has been making guitars since the 1960s. The Artist Series, a broad range of styles and price points, are well-made, solid-top guitars. They start in the $200 range.
Budget: $200 – $250
Recommended: Squire Strat Kit
A kit will come with a guitar, amp, and all the other accessories you need to start out.
Fender’s Stratocaster is the most famous electric guitar of all time. It is also probably the most versatile of electric guitars – you will see a Strat in almost any kind of musical group.
Squire is the lower-end brand name of Fender, the original Stratocaster manufacturer. A Squire kit usually runs about $200, depending on what comes with it.
If you do plan to play in a group, you will need a bigger amp. The included amp is meant for solo practice only.