It’s never too early to get your kids excited about music, and what better way than putting an instrument in their hands? Learning (and teaching) guitar can seem intimidating at first, but there are plenty of small, short-scale models that make it much more approachable for beginners and kids. For our money, the Martin LX1 “Little Martin” is a nearly perfect acoustic guitar for kids, but there are plenty of cheaper options out there.
Best Overall: Martin LX1 Little Martin
The Little Martin isn’t the cheapest guitar when it comes to getting started, but it offers everything you could ask for in a simple acoustic, and brandishes the famous Martin name. The Little Martin is a 3/4 scale guitar with a 23-inch scale length, meaning it’s smaller and easier to play than most acoustics, making it perfect for young musicians still building calluses in their fingers.
The HPL mahogany back and sides of the guitar give the LX1 the warm tones that Martin is legendary for, and the sitka spruce top helps it look as nice as it feels and sounds.
The only potential downside to the Little Martin is that it lacks the electronics found in some other acoustic guitars, meaning you won’t be able to plug this one directly into an amp or find an onboard tuner. Of course, being an acoustic guitar, the sound hole naturally projects your playing, but you’ll need to mic up the LX1 to record audio.
- Short scale for convenience and comfort
- Great build and design
- Naturally warm sound
- Includes a padded case
- No electronics
- Expensive for a first guitar
Martin LX1 Little Martin
- $349 at Amazon
A nearly perfect short-scale acoustic
Martin is one of the most revered acoustic brands, and the LX1 is an excellent short-scale guitar that’s easy on the eyes and ears.
Best Nylon Acoustic: Yamaha CGS103All
Nylon-stringed acoustic guitars are a whole different ball game than steel-stringed ones, and while the wider neck can be intimidating for some, the payoff is well worth it for fans of the unique sounds that a classical-style guitar can offer. Nylon acoustics are an excellent option, particularly for finger picking styles.
Yamaha’s CGS103 is another 3/4 scale acoustic, helping make the neck more easily approachable. The neck profile is surprisingly comfortable, and the pearloid tuners keep the strings from slipping out of tune. Like the Little Martin, the CGS103 has a spruce top, though the back and sides are made of meranti. This is an overall fantastic introduction to classical guitars.
- Excellent for finger picking
- Comfortable neck profile
- Warm, dark sound
- No electronics
- Wider neck could be a difficult adjustment
Best Nylon Acoustic
- $140 at Amazon
Flamenco is back
Nylon strings and finger picking are a match made in heaven. The CGS103 is a great way to get a first taste of classical guitar.
Best Starter Kit: Squier Mini Strat
Fender is among the most iconic guitar brands in the world, and its subsidiary Squier offers a pretty great bundle for kids looking to learn the electric guitar for the first time. With the Mini Strat kit, you get a 3/4 scale Stratocaster in your choice of a variety of finishes, with a compact 22.75-inch scale length.
Of course, the bundle doesn’t stop at just the guitar. You get a 10W practice amp, along with the cable you’ll need to hook it up to your guitar, a strap to play while standing up, a clip-on tuner, a handful of guitar picks, and even online lessons through Fender’s site.
- Comes with everything you need to get started
- Strat comes in a variety of colors
- Short scale is easier to play
- Bundled items aren’t the highest quality
- Single-coil pickups can be noisy
Best Starter Kit
Squier Mini Strat
- $240 at Amazon
The Mini Strat comes with everything you need to get started, including an amp, a strap, a tuner, picks, and a training DVD.
Best Electric Guitar: Epiphone Les Paul Special I P90
You can’t get much more classic than a Les Paul, and Epiphone brings that decades-old design to an affordable price point with the Special I. It’s available in a few different colors (I’m quite partial to the TV Yellow finish, myself), and this particular version of the Special I includes P90 pickups — Gibson’s long-held single-coil design known for its smooth, warm tones.
The Les Paul Special I is an excellent starter guitar. While it’s the only guitar on this list that isn’t a 3/4 scale, it’s still fairly small, holding true to Gibson’s 24.75-inch scale length. It’s also slim and lightweight, making it comfortable to play while either sitting or standing, and the pickups sound tremendous.
- Great smooth tone with P90 pickups
- Available in eye-catching finishes
- Lightweight and comfortable
- No case included
- P90s can feedback with high gain
Best Electric Guitar
Epiphone Les Paul Special I P90
- $249 at Amazon
A timeless design done justice
The Les Paul Special I comes in great-looking finishes and features smooth-sounding P90 pickups for versatile tones.
No matter what guitar you pick up for your kids, the important thing is that they’re building a musical foundation. Who knows — this could be the start of a career (or at least, lead to a few small gigs and gatherings)! Don’t stress too much about finding the perfect guitar at first; your kid will eventually learn what they do and don’t like in a guitar, and you’ll be able to make a more informed purchase next time.
If you do want to get them started with something great, though, the Little Martin is a fantastic acoustic guitar with a beautiful sound and easy playability. You’ll need to look elsewhere if you want to plug the guitar directly into an amp or PA, but for all other purposes, this is an excellent short-scale guitar not just for beginners and kids, but for travelers, as well.
If you want more great entry level options that aren’t necessarily kid-oriented and focused on being as small as possible, there are also great beginner’s electric and beginner’s acoustic guitars.
Credits — The staff that worked on this guide
Hayato Huseman has been playing Midwest emo tunes, prog metal, and math rock (poorly) for over a decade, and obsesses over inconsequential gear like it’s his job. Well, maybe it is, in some way. If you end up buying a guitar from one of his guides, tweet him some photos at @hayatohuseman!