Guitar for a Six Year Old?

My daughter wants a guitar for Christmas. She’s already taking violin lessons, and wants to keep doing that. But she’s adament about also wanting to learn how to play a guitar.

Now, she’s only six years old, so I’m not sure how serious she’ll be about it.

I don’t mind buying her a guitar, but I’m a little leery of these cheapo ‘kids guitars’ that cost $69. I know from bitter experience that giving a kid a lousy instrument is a surefire way to kill their desire to learn to play.

So then I was thinking of getting a ‘travel’ guitar that would be sized for her, but which I could still play if she loses interest. Plus, it would be a quality instrument that would stay in tune.

However, I have some misgivings. First, is an adult ‘travel guitar’ going to have string pressures too high for her little fingers? Some of those kids guitars with nylon strings are very, very easy to fret. She’ll drop guitar like a hot rock if it’s really hard for her to press the strings down.

So maybe a kids guitar IS the way to go. I’m really not sure.

Has anyone bought a guitar for a small child? Any recommendations? Brands, styles, etc?

I’ve been playing guitar for over 30 years (and boy are my arms tired). Okay, so much for the cheap humor.

As for a “travel guitar” I’d recommend a Steinberger™. If you’ve never seen a Steinberger™, they are headless and about as small as you can make a full-sized guitar. Yes, they can be used for travel but they are a genuine full-sized guitar. They are sold directly at www.musicyo.com . They have unannounced sales and sometimes you can even pick up a blemished (hardly noticeable) one for about $250. The string pressure (or action) is much the same as any good electric guitar. No I have never had a child play one but I do own 2 Steinbergers and I think this would be your best option.

Just one more thing, Steinberger™ does have headless guitars but with full-sized bodies which I think is idiotic and defeats the purpose of having a compact guitar.

My daughter really needs an acoustic. She needs to be able to take it to school and play it, or carry it to a friend’s, or even just play spontaneously without having to set up a bunch of gear. So the Steinberger is out.

Sam, being a guitar player of many years - honestly, for little gentle fingers like your daughters I strongly recommend a 3/4 size medium quality “classical nylon” string guitar. Honestly, for those little fingers, strength is a big issue and classical guitar strings are the softest and easiest to play. And be sure to ask about a narrow “neck at the nut” - that is, the width of the frets. Little fingers can’t stretch very far too.

To give you an idea that I know what I’m talking about, here’s an mp3 of me playing a 1973 Gibson Hummingbird Custom (one of the most famous accoustics ever made) through a 1965 Neumann U67 mic, doing the famous piece by Led Zeppelin called “The Rain Song”.

(I keep the mp3 up just to give music friends an idea about good mic settings etc on accoustic guitars). I hope you’ll think I’m good enough to be “somewhat” of an authority.

http://202.83.95.2/lkmbws/_Gibson_Hummingbird.mp3

You know, I had typed a long response to this thread, and my computer just seized up and died. I had to reboot and of course lost it. Damn.

Well, I am not going to re-type the damn thing so let me summarize:

  1. Boo Boo Foo is right - 3/4 or travel sized nylon is the way to go.

  2. Taylor is an excellent make and I have seen they are making Baby Taylor nylon strings - definitely worth checking out. Probably somewhat over $200 but a truly great guitar, with attention focused on playability and construction, not appearance/bells and whistles.

  3. Biggest priority when getting a beginner’s guitar is playability. Is the neck straight, is the action (distance between strings and neck) appropriately low without being too low? Does the guitar sound in tune after it has been tuned and chords are played up and down the neck (try a D and a G after tuning - they are obviously giveaways). String Intonation can be adjusted if it sounds off - do NOT leave the store without having it checked and adjusted. (It can vary with changes in temp, too).

Hope this helps,

Scott

The travel guitar is still OK if you get ultra-light strings (eg. 008’s. I think there is even such a thing as .007’s, although these surely wouldn’t be much different from using .010’s on the wrong strings).

In any case, Sam, I would suggest that six is a little early to worry about spending too much on a quality instrument. After learning on an utterly crappy 3/4 nylon I was at 11 years old bought a full size Yamaha which, while still cheap (£180), was a comparable breeze to play and fired my interest anew.

Don’t fret.

Yeah, the 3/4 nylon sounds like the way to go. Thanks very much for the advice.

If I can find a travel guitar set up with really light strings I might try it out just to see how hard it is to fret. Might be an option.

Boo Foo Foo: I like the MP3! Nice stuff.

I have taught beginners around your daughter’s age. Generally kids around that age are not very serious. You can expect her to be as serious with the guitar as she is with the violin. Yamaha and Suzuki both have some very good methods for very young children on the guitar (violin and other strings as well). I used the Yamaha methods for what it is worth and taught classical guitar.

Just as there are 3/4 and 1/2 sized violins there are 3/4 and 1/2 sized guitars. 3/4 sized should be about right assuming she is around the average height for a kindergartner/first grader. My preference is for a classical guitar since the string pressure tends to be a lot lower (and it is the appropriate instrument for the music I like) but if she can finger the violin fine that won’t really be an issue.

Yamaha has some decent guitars in the lower end price range. Typically, you can find a decent playable instrument in the $150-200 price range. Get the best instrument you can afford. Don’t worry about going much over $200 though at this stage. She will outgrow a 3/4 sized guitar by around 4th or 5th grade so it is a decent investment if she plays it for a while.

Another vote for a 3/4 nylon. Choose low action over sound quality (though the two are often hand-in-hand.) Get her playing a full size as soon as she can handle it.

and Sam, sorry for my electric guitar advice. Yes I have been playing guitar for over 30 years but it has always been an electric guitar, hence my rather narrow view.
However, I think most would agree that a Steinberger would probably be a good choice for a child’s electric guitar.

You can definately stick nylong strings on a travel guitar. Also remember that the pressure required to push down the strings is more a function of what strings you use and how you set the bridge, not so much the guitar. The guitar DOES matter to the low action, but it’s really the quality of the neck and the fretboard that matters most (because the better it’s made, and the straighter the neck, the lower you can take the strings without horrid buzz). Don’t base you decision of string pressure just on whatever the guitar happens to be set to in the store: that’s almost totally random. If you find an axe you like, with a good quality body and board, ask the clerk if they’d adjust the bridge to bring the action down for you, and see if it still sounds good.

Travel guitars tend to have low tension but fairly sturdy necks, due to the fact that they have to survive a lot of trauma hanging off a backpack. This isn’t necessarily the greatest thing for getting good sound quality out of a low action, but it’s definately workable, and I’ve tried travel guitars that have felt pretty decent in the ease-of-play department.

One thing to consider with nylon strings and classical guitars in general, however, is that they aren’t the most satisfying of things if what you’re after is Beatles tunes. Obviously, they are great for classical pieces with deft fingerwork, but they usually don’t strum in a satisfying way. I can see how this could turn off a budding guitarist if what they really want to do is acoustic pop and rock.

Of course, I started playing on a HORRID Korean miniguitar that was more wall decoration than guitar, and it didn’t turn me off. But then, I was a moody, obsessive teenager: six year olds are going to be much more fickle.

Oh, and you can put nylon strings on a travel guitar, of course. It might be a bit harder to string, depending on what sort of pegs they use, but it’ll work fine soundwise (obviously not professional waulity great, but what you can expect from a travel guitar). I once had a guitar with two bass strings, two nylons, and a double high E setup (i.e. cut an extra notch so that the top string was like it is on a twelve string guitar). It didn’t last long since I didn’t keep up with adjusting the neck like it needed, but boy, was that fun to play.

Stringing an electric guitar with nylons is just going to sound horrible.

Sam Stone, I agree with the other posters who have recommended a 3/4 classical for your daughter. You’ll be able to play it to, but some of the higher notes will be a bit trickey for big adult fingers.

Good on you for encouraging your daughter’s music.

Thanks for the suggestions, guys. I bought her a Jasmine by Takamine 3/4 classical guitar today. Is anyone familiar with this guitar?

I’m a little concerned that the neck doesn’t seem all that narrow - about as narrow as my steel acoustic, but a little narrower than a full-size classical guitar. Hope she can get her little fingers around it.

I have not held that particular guitar, SS, but Jasmine, AFAIK, is Takamine’s less-expensive line. That is a good thing for them - it usually means they leave off fancy finishing stuff, but don’t scrimp on materials or manufacture.

In terms of neck width - well, one thing none of us experienced guitar types mentioned is that the key difference between nylon and steel string guitars - besides the strings used, that is - is that a classical guitar has a “wider and flatter” neck than a steel string. Classical guitars are meant to be played with the thumb on the back of the neck at all times, enabling much better reach with the fretting fingers. Steel string guitars can be played that way, but it is more common to hook the thumb over the top of the neck, because it is comfortable, sometimes to fret notes on the low E string, and often to mute the lower strings when strumming hard (something that you do much less on a nylon string guitar) - when you play a D chord, for instance, it is appropriate to mute the low E and A strings so only the D string and above sound…

If you and your daughter want her to learn more typical steel-string style (i.e., thumb hooked over the top) it really shouldn’t be a problem, just a little inconvenient at the beginning…

This is the biggest piece of misinformation I have ever read on the boards. A classical guitar’s closest relative is the flamenco guitar. The only real difference is that there is a golpe guard (a clear plastic sheet that allows you to thump around the sound board with your ring finger and not damage the finish). No one I know would ever say that a guitar played in the flamenco style is not worthy of strumming.

I am familiar with the guitar you mention. One of my students played on Jasmine’s. They are decent guitars to learn on and it should last her until she outgrows it. At that time, if she maintains interest you should upgrade not only to a full sized guitar but probably something that is the next quality level up. (I think that is about $150 at least when I last was pricing instruments for my students. There is a very large noticeable difference when you hit the $500 mark. Guitars in the $500-1500 range tend to have about an equivalent sound. You will start paying for the name on it after around $800. Guitars over $2000 are more top of the line but the price from there just goes on up.)