Guitar for a 5-year old. Which one? Where to buy?
July 28, 2011 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Planning a birthday present for my daughter, who will be 5 soon. She's been interested in guitars, and I'd love to get her one to mess around on. Ideally it would be small, not too expensive, but good enough to feel 'real'. I don't know much about guitars. What's a good one to buy? Is there an online outlet for such things you would recommend?
posted by feckless to Shopping (25 answers total)
Best answer: a ukelele
posted by asockpuppet at 8:14 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: i've considered a ukelele but really, she likes guitars. (I might get a ukelele.)
posted by feckless at 8:16 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is something that a local music store should be able to help with. Growing up, I was lucky to have such a place that was owned by a guy who also gave lessons to kids (including me). He recommended a great (and inexpensive!) guitar that I still favor to this day. So good, in fact, that I wonder if he cut my parents a deal without telling them.

Five is pretty young, so you'll need at least 1/2 size, maybe 1/4 size--but I'm not a luthier, and a knowledgeable sales person will have a good idea.
posted by smirkette at 8:22 PM on July 28, 2011

Best answer: I don't think a guitar that a 5 year old can get her hands around is going to be as good as a ukelele. Guitars that small are going to be cheap and crappy. At least I think so.

Ukelele is made for the task and if you get the right one, they are cute and indestructable.
posted by sully75 at 8:22 PM on July 28, 2011

there are great 1/2 size guitars, but you'll pay for it. for instance, taylor makes a $500 dollar "baby" guitar. martin makes a 2-300 mini. for around a hundred bucks you start finding yamahas and takamine. i'm sure the more knowledgeable mefites will be in soon to give better model/brand suggestions.
posted by nadawi at 8:31 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

1/4 size is suitable for most average 4 - 6 year olds. Nylon strings are most forgiving. You can get "real" guitars for kids that are well made for around $80.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:33 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

My niece got a kids' acoustic guitar last Christmas that was so poorly made as to be unplayable, even for someone like me who's been noodling around on guitars for over fifteen years. I think you'll find that's probably the case for most acoustic guitars on the lower end of the price range, unless some comes along with a specific brand recommendation.

I think the Fender Squier 3/4-size electrics may be a better bet for quality. (Among other things, electrics don't depend on the actual resonant qualities of the materials the guitar is constructed out of.) Epiphone may have some 3/4-size guitars that are acceptable.

I'd recommend going to look at the actual guitars in person rather than buying on the internet. As some rough guidance, if you strum the strings, they shouldn't buzz or rattle against the fretboard, but they also shouldn't be too far away from the fretboard. It shouldn't be difficult to push them down so that the string contacts the frets.

With the cheapie acoustics I've seen, the number one thing that makes them unplayable is that the action (distance between the strings and the fretboard) is way too high at the top of the neck (the end with the tuning pegs). Most intro books or lessons are going to teach chords that are fingered at that end of the neck, so if it's difficult she's going to hate it after five minutes.

Can you give us some guidance about what you mean by "not too expensive" ?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:35 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

there's some terrible advice in this link but it has awesome pictures of kids of various sizes with guitars of various sizes. should help you decide on 1/4 or 1/2 (unless you're from an exceptionally tall family, 3/4 is probably too big).
posted by nadawi at 8:38 PM on July 28, 2011

My husband is a guitar player and he was impressed with the First Act guitar that you can get at Wal Mart or Target. At five they really aren't going to be doing much real playing with it and I'd rather they have one they can bang around without me saying, "be careful with that!" every five minutes.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:51 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, they have a smallish acoustic guitar at Best Buy for $79. Ukuleles were $35 at Guitar Center last time I was there. I'd go with the ukulele and use it to bribe/encourage her to practice and do good. If she does this, you can get her a guitar when her fingers are the right size.
posted by gjc at 8:51 PM on July 28, 2011

Shit, dawkins_7 is right. It wasn't Best Buy, it was Target.
posted by gjc at 8:52 PM on July 28, 2011

Does anyone have experience with Daisy Rock Guitars...which are made specifically for girls and women? They come in really cool colors, of course. Their website lists Guitar Center and other retailers across the country that carry them.

"...our guitars have slim neck profile. This makes for easier playing for people with smaller hands. Our guitars are also lightweight so they won't overpower you if you have a small build. Another really great feature of our guitars is the contour in the body design... Overall, Daisy Rock guitars are designed specifically for girls and are a perfect fit for female guitarists"
posted by calgirl at 9:13 PM on July 28, 2011

My local very good guitar store sells some small inexpensive guitars that actually work. They have the "Mahalo" brand on the headstock, are about the side of a baritone ukulele, and have six classical guitar strings. They come in bright colors, play ok, and cost about $50.

Ah, this looks like them. They really aren't bad playing or sounding. I was thinking of betting one for myself next time they have hot pink. The brand also has similarly bright colored ukes, if that is a consideration.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:37 PM on July 28, 2011

Best answer: Your minimum requirement: it must make her happy to hold it, and it must be able to be tuned, and it must have nylon strings.
posted by davejay at 9:39 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

A quick search shows those small Mahalo brand guitars seem to be called "uke-guitars" or "ukulele-guitars", and can be found from about $30 to $100. I can't vouch for something purchased online, but I can say the ones sold from the local brick and mortar are set up to be playable and seem to work fine.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:50 PM on July 28, 2011

As a ukulele player, I'd recommend you steer clear of anything by Mahalo. They're notorious for being very poor quality and having terrible intonation.

Nthing the recommendations to do this in person rather than online. Keep in mind that for a beginner, a quality instrument is going to make a difference. Many cheap instruments are hard to tune, hard to play, and just don't sound good to begin with, and this really is not good for keeping a learner motivated. Also, an instrument from a local music store is more likely to be "set up" professionally; instruments that come from online and big-box stores usually aren't and sometimes are not really playable right out of the box.
posted by chez shoes at 10:03 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Strumstick. It's a 3-string instrument that's tuned to an open major chord and fretted like a mountain dulcimer.

It's an excellent instrument to start beginners. With a guitar, she's got 6 months of doing drills before she starts coming close to making music. Can be frustrating. With a strumstsick, you can play a melody with one finger on 1 string and the other strings play in tune.

By way of example, here's a folked-up version of Don't Stop Believin' on strumstick. Not a beginner's song, but it shows you what you can do with it.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:24 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

OK, I think some people are over-thinking this plate of beans. She's turning 5. She needs a birthday present she can open and clap over, not a trip to a store to pick out the perfect instrument. It needs to be the right size, not hurt her hands to play, and look exactly like the "real" guitar she's interested in or she won't be interested in it.

If you want to get all serious about pedagogy for a potential future player or performer, a 1/4 or 1/2 size classical guitar is the instrument tens of thousands of small children have learned Suzuki guitar on for decades. A guitar close to the $100 is still going to be a suitable instrument to take lessons on because, again, tens of thousands of small children indeed take lessons, practice and perform on those guitars.

If you don't want to just pick one, call your local Suzuki music school and ask them where they source their Suzuki I guitars for parents to buy and rent. They will point you to a dealer of "real" instruments and that dealer can help you in your price range, whatever that is.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:23 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got my (older) daughter a baritone ukulele a few months ago. I'm very happy with the sound--much more resonant than a similarly-sized guitar, perhaps due to better materials. But DarlingBri may be correct--anything other than a six-string may disappoint. And, oh my yes, contact the girls rock camp--my daughter did that for three years, and it was the greatest thing ever.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:01 AM on July 29, 2011

The Loog guitars (customizable, 3-string guitars, to be built by children with their parents) look great, but sadly they won't be shipping for a while yet...
posted by progosk at 7:46 AM on July 29, 2011

I got my 6-year-old niece a 3/4-scale Strat clone, and it was way too big for her. I'd look at some of the smaller instruments others have suggested, which will require special strings, but which will be much easier for her to hold. (Many solid-body electrics even at 1/2 and 3/4-scale can be quite heavy.)

If you do go electric, as much as it pains me to say this, the Hannah Montana headphone amp is actually fairly decent, it's cheap, and because it doesn't have a speaker it may save you some headaches.
posted by dilettanti at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2011

We have friends who got their 5 year old daughter a guitar, and she is very happy with it - it has a black chalkboard? markerboard? surface on the front side so she can draw on it and customize its look in different ways, over and over.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:42 PM on July 29, 2011

I think it's this one: Luna Aurora Imagine Children's 3/4 size acoustic guitar, black surface which can be decorated and re-decorated with wet-erase markers.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:54 PM on July 29, 2011

Get a mini guitar. The ukulele is a different instrument, and a very irritating one. Avoid. Also, she'll soon be old enough for full-size guitar. It's hard work for small hands, but that only means she'll be extra-awesome when she gets older.
posted by Decani at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: So I resisted mightily, but the ukelele arguments won out. The gift has been given and there is 5 year old happily strumming along.
posted by feckless at 3:28 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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