Whether you’re looking at buying a instrument for yourself or your kids, here are some things to keep in mind.
The number one thing I always hear parents say when looking for an instrument for their kids is this: “I don’t want to spend too much, in case they don’t stick at it”. As a parent myself, I definitely understand! But I have a few practical thoughts about that.
1: You want to set your kids up for a win!
Don’t set them up to fail. Not everything that looks like a guitar and is sold as a ‘guitar’ is a playable musical instrument. If you buy your child a poor quality instrument that can’t be tuned properly, won’t stay in tune, has ‘high action’ (this is when the strings are too far away from the neck on a guitar, making it really hard to push them down), etc etc, well of course they’re not going to stick at it! If it doesn’t sound good no matter what they do, if it hurts to play, if it makes noises it shouldn’t, if they’re getting tetanus from the rusty strings, yes, they’re going to quit! Getting a reasonable quality instrument ensures that they have everything they need to sound good and enjoy the experience. If they’re succeeding, they’re more likely to keep at it.
2: Quitting isn’t forever.
When a child is learning music, their enthusiasm may well come in bursts. They may love it one week, but want to do something else the next week. But this doesn’t have to be the end. You don’t have to sell the guitar, or whatever musical instrument it happens to be. I started learning guitar when I was 10, and hardly played at all between the ages of 10 and 14. But when a friend lent me a Pink Floyd album I became a musician for life, and I had a head start, and a guitar, thanks to those early lessons. Your child may never become a professional musician, but it will always be something they can go back to, as long as the process is enjoyable for them. I still have the guitar I learned on when I was a kid! I still play this guitar professionally from time to time. It wasn’t an expensive guitar, but it was a decent guitar. (Edit, I just passed that guitar on to my own 14 year old son!)
3: There’s no reason why you shouldn’t play a nice one.
A lot of people say ‘I won’t get a good one yet, because I’m not that good at it’. The thing is, the nicer guitars aren’t just for ‘better players’, in fact the more expensive ones are generally EASIER to play. Not harder. And they sound better! That’s only going to HELP you! I tell people ‘get the nicest one you can afford’. There are no ‘guitar police’ wandering around checking that your ability justifies the quality of your instrument. Who ever says ‘I don’t want a nice car because I’m not a great driver’? You get the nicest car you can afford right? OK, fair enough, you might get your teenager a cheap car when they’re learning, but they’re not likely to drive a guitar into a lamp post!
4: Get it right first time.
A lot of parents come in to the store wanting us to make the $50 guitar they bought off Trade Me or from the Warehouse (or worse, a toy shop!) work properly. The thing is, while we’re pretty good at setting up guitars, we can’t change the wood, we can’t change the way the guitar was designed, and we can’t make a toy into a proper musical instrument. Our advice is going to be throw it away or give it to the toddler to play with, and buy a good one. Come in and got some good advice first time, and save yourself that $50. Trade Me is great if you know exactly what you’re looking for (even then, you can be stuck with a lemon!). A musical instrument is not a toy. Get the right advice. Get one that suits your size, your style of music, your tastes, your ability, and your budget. Come to a dedicated musical instrument store and talk to a specialist who can help you get something that will make learning a musical instrument a pleasure!
I hope this helps. Happy hunting!