Buying a Guitar - Part 3 - What Size?

If you are thinking of buying a guitar, what size do you need?

Guitars, like most other stringed instruments such as the violin and cello can be purchased in different sizes. The most common is obviously the full sized guitar, or 4/4, then 3/4, 1/2, and even in 1/4 size. Most major manufacturers will offer guitars down to at least 3/4 size with only a few offering the 1/2 and 1/4 sizes. Fender for example offer a 3/4 size model of the Squier Stratocaster which I have found ideal for some of the smaller kids in school (and in fact, the tutors love them too, the smaller dimensions of the neck seem to make playability a breeze).

Beware though when buying a guitar in 1/2 size or 1/4 size that most are merely toys, and are more likely to put a beginner off, some of these I have seen and they are nightmare to tune let alone play.

But which size do you need? Basically, it's down to comfort and the available stretch, or reach of the player, and involves evaluating:

  • The length of the guitar

  • The size or depth of the body (and in some cases the shape) and

  • The width and shape of the neck

    While sitting or standing the player should be able to comfortably reach the top nut to be able to form chords at the open end of the neck and preferably reach the tuning pegs. The size of the body should not cause the player discomfort in trying to reach round it. I have seen children trying to play a full bodied guitar and the only way they can cope with the size is by laying it flat on their lap, this is definitely not recommended as it will cause problems (and pain) at the fretting hand with the wrist being bent abnormally to compensate for the neck laying flat.

    Most adults, big or small, and older kids will require a full size guitar, while the 3/4, 1/2, and 1/4 sizes are more suited to kids.

    Full size guitars, being the most common, also offer a wider choice of brands, models, and shapes, especially with electric guitar models. Acoustic or electro-acoustic guitars in Parlour, Folk size, or Roundback (also known as Bowlback) style can be more comfortable to play as they are slightly more compact than the traditional, full size (Dreadnought) guitars in both depth and width.

    My personal recommendation when buying a guitar, and this comes from working in a guitar store for many years and running the music school, is to opt for either the full size or 3/4 size guitars. I have had 7 to 11 year old kids learning to play guitar on 3/4 size quite competently, but had they bought a smaller size it may have only lasted them for a year meaning an expensive return to the music store to buy the next size up when they outgrew the smaller model. Guitars are a bit more expensive than shoes!!

    So, from age 7 to possibly 10 or 11, go for a 3/4 size, and from 11 upwards aim for the full size models.

    Return From - Buying a Guitar - Part 3 - What Size

    Buying a Guitar - Part 2 - Budget

    Buying an Acoustic Guitar

    Buying an Electric Guitar