when choosing a first guitar for your child the first thing you would need to decide is if you want an acoustic or an electric guitar, and if an acoustic guitar whether a steel or nylon strings acoustic guitar. Steel strings and nylon strings acoustic guitar are built somewhat differently and you will not be able to use nylon strings on a steel strings guitar and vice versa. Nylon string guitar are also called classical or traditional guitars. They are the more traditional kind, have a softer and warmer sound, and are used mainly for classical or Spanish music. Steel strings have a sharper, more metallic sound and are used more in contemporary music such as rock, country and folk music. I will discuss the question of which is better for a child later on.
So lets first discuss the question of whether acoustic or electric guitar is the best first guitar for a child? This may comes as a surprise to many but electric guitars are in fact much easier to play than acoustic guitars. This is due to their relatively narrow nut width (basically the width of the fretboard at the nut at the far edge of the fretboard), and the fact that they use lighter gauge strings.
So if what your child really wants is an electric guitar you should strongly consider getting him one even as a first guitar. One reason for that is the one mentioned above that electric guitar is actually easier to play for the beginner than acoustic guitar. Another reason is that the sound of, the technique, and the kind of music that is played on an electric guitar is going to be somewhat different from the sound of, the technique and the kind of music that is played on an acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitar is best used for melodic chord strumming and finger picking. Electric guitars are better for more rhythmical strumming, guitar riffs, and guitar solos, especially those that involve techniques like bending and tremolo (vibrato). The difference between electric and acoustic guitars could be compared to the difference between en electric piano and an acoustic piano. They are similar, but different, and each is better for a different kind of sound and music.
The main drawback of having an electric guitar as a first guitar is that it needs to be hooked to an amplifier, which makes it a little more cumbersome. The way electric guitars are designed they are not meant to be heard without amplification. The strings of an electric guitar create a magnetic field that is picked up by the guitar’s pickups and are sent through the cable to the amplifier, which translate the signal into an audible sound. So the electric sound you hear is really created by the amplifier. You can play an electric guitar without an amplifier and hear what you play, but the unamplified sound you hear is going to be much more quiet and will not have the same tonal quality as the sound that will come out of an amplifier, because what you will be hearing is the acoustic sound waves created by the guitar rather than the amplified magnetic signal. An acoustic guitar, on the other hand, is very accessible, you just pick it up and play.
Another drawback of electric guitar relative to acoustic guitars is that they are heavier since thy are built with solid wood body in contrast to the hollow body of acoustic guitars. So when you are looking for an electric guitar guitar for a small child you should pay careful attention to its weight. A standard full size electric guitar would weigh anywhere between 7 to 9 lbs – too heavy for a kid’s shoulders. You should be looking for a guitar that is not heavier than 6 lbs. This may sound as a small difference but it is quite noticeable when you put the guitar on your shoulder in the standing position.
In the end, if your child is serious about guitar playing you would probably need both an acoustic and an electric guitar. So the bottom line is, if what your child specifically wants is an electric guitar, you should get him or her one, even as the first only guitar. If they are indifferent than probably acoustic will make the best first guitar. If your child is into metal, blues, rock, guitar solos, etc. than what he or she needs is definitely an electric guitar. If what they are into is singing along with the guitar, country, folk, etc. than acoustic would be the way to go.