Un-supersize it, please!
March 4, 2009 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Yet another recommend-a-good-starter-guitar question. Criteria: acoustic, fairly cheap, suitable for small (adult) hands with stubby fingers, and ideally an easy action.

I know the conventional wisdom is that any sized person can play any guitar, and that technique matters more than hand size. Having given up learning guitar in the past because of the havoc all the stretching and straining wreaked on my RSI-prone hands and wrists, though, I'm looking to start out with a model that's better proportioned to my size, at least until I can work up some momentum and skill. Additional details:
  • I've been looking mostly at 3/4-size guitars, but I'd be open to a smaller-bodied regular guitar, as well, I guess.
  • Easy action would be nice, although I understand it's possible to lower the action yourself?
  • Looking to spend about $150 tops, ideally less. Either used or new is fine.
  • And of course the nicer the sound, the better, although I'll probably have to make some concessions on that front given the price range.
  • I'm 5'4" and have about an octave reach on the piano, if that helps. I was originally thinking about Daisy Rocks, but they're aesthetically less than delightful, plus there seems to be some question of whether they have a rough action/horrible sound. Any other ideas?
posted by yersinia to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I never learned to play it really, but my dad (who plays bass) got me an Ovation acoustic/electric because it has a thinner body and it's easier to reach around for the right hand. I believe the action is pretty low for an acoustic, as well.
posted by fructose at 6:12 PM on March 4, 2009

I don't want to just sidetrack you but you might also consider a tenor ukulele. They don't require a lot of reach, yet have lots more room for fat fingers than a soprano. They have nylon strings, so don't require much hand strength. Also, they can be strung to match the tuning of the top 4 strings of a guitar, so you can use the chord symbols common to most sheet music.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:25 PM on March 4, 2009

Check info like this for short scale length guitars.
posted by canoehead at 6:45 PM on March 4, 2009

At your price range, Yamaha has some good ones, Takamine has one (Jasmine?) that would work, and you might look at the low-end Squier (Fender) and Epiphone (Gibson) models. They're probably all better than Daisy.

As for action, lowering action on an acoustic is not easy to do right. I'd have a professional do it or you risk making the guitar unplayable.

I'd go to a store, try as many (used or new) as you can, and find the one with the easiest action. It varies between individual guitars quite a bit at that price range.

Also, you might change to smaller-gauge strings - 9s or 10s - to lower the string tension. It would make a big difference to your RSI, probably more difference than low action.
posted by mmoncur at 6:55 PM on March 4, 2009

I got one of the Gretsch Americana series guitars when overstock.com had them for $29. I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out to be a great little guitar at an unbelievable price. They're a little hard to find now, but this site appears to have two of the styles available for $99.95. I don't know anything about that particular website, but I do know that I'd recommend the guitars to anyone at that price. They are 3/4 size, easy to play, have a truss rod so the neck is adjustable, sound great, and they look pretty snazzy too.
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:10 PM on March 4, 2009

I've said it before, I'll say it again: buy it used. I have never once in my entire life seen a new guitar priced under $200 that was worth owning, much less learning on.

Go to pawn shops - they will likely have a good guitar that'll help you out. And anything they have at that price is much more likely worth learning on.
posted by koeselitz at 8:00 PM on March 4, 2009

Seconding koeselitz's advice - get a used guitar. There should be a lot of nice instruments out there at the moment, thanks to the current economic climate.

The single best thing you can do is sit down in a guitar shop and play as many as possible that are in your price range. You will find one that's right for you. If you don't, try another shop.
posted by awfurby at 8:24 PM on March 4, 2009

General advice on musical instruments (I have way way way too many of them): Buy as good as you can afford, and bring someone along who can check it out, if it's not new.

My advice for a short scale guitar is the Martin LXM. This is a really quite excellent little guitar, short scale, absolutely bombproof (it's made of High Pressure Laminate, which is kind of like countertop material), plays and sounds great for a small guitar of its sort. Everyone who plays mine is surprised by the sound, and several have gone out and bought them after fifteen minutes with it.

If you wanted a wood top, the LX1's about twenty bucks extra.

It's outside your range, but if you could find one used, it would likely be right in range. Action is beautiful, and it's not a guitar you'll want to get rid of in two years.

If you go cheaper, don't buy a guitar with bad action unless you're willing to slap thirty to fifty bucks down to get it fixed (and at the $150 price point, that might not be worth it). Make sure it plays in tune up and down the neck and you can fret it at the 12th fret, and that the tuners move smoothly and don't slip.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:35 PM on March 4, 2009

I've rethought (and gone back through my Big Room of Guitars). If a small nylon strung guitar is in your future, I'd second mmoncur: The Yamaha CGS102 is not bad at all. Very small, with a surprisingly decent sound (though nowhere near as nice as the Martin), and generally made to good tolerances. Also: absolutely dirt cheap for what is. A wider fretboard, but a smaller instrument overall.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:52 PM on March 4, 2009

The cheap Chinese guitars being made are surprisingly good. This is one I have among others. Spend a few extra bucks and get free shipping.
posted by snowjoe at 6:31 AM on March 5, 2009


Electric guitars are normally easier to play, smaller necks etc. You can get sets (guitar & amp etc) very cheaply. A cheap electric is probably easier to play and sounds better than a cheap acoustic now days.
posted by lamby at 8:09 AM on March 5, 2009

Baby Taylors are about 200 dollars and pretty darn sweet, imo.
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 11:45 AM on March 5, 2009

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