How to Choose, Tune, & Play Your First Guitar: Beginner Tips

If you're a beginner, this article is for you! We're here to help you find, tune, and play your first guitar.


Although it takes many instruments to create the music we love to listen to, the guitar may be one of the most important. From rock and roll to blues to jazz to country and more, the guitar is “instrumental” in producing the sound that is characteristic of most genres. Whereas some instruments require some technique or training to make a sound, you don’t need special tools to learn how to play guitar.

When it comes to learning music, the guitar has a lot going for it as an entry point. It’s polyphonic, meaning that it can play more than one tone at a time. The guitar’s range goes from very low notes to high notes. Similar to a piano, solo guitar music can present a melody as well as an accompaniment. Unlike the piano, the guitar is portable. You can carry it almost anywhere to practice and play.

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How To Choose Your First Guitar

Now that you’ve decided to learn the guitar, you need to know which instrument to buy. Should you spend a lot of money on your first instrument or go with something much more affordable? There are also various types of guitars, primarily electric or acoustic. Does guitar type matter with respect to how to learn guitar for beginners? Consider these details as you decide.

The electric guitar offers the following advantages for new players:

  • Most popular
  • Easier to play: Because electric guitars have lighter strings and thinner necks, novices find them easier than other types for producing sound.
  • Variety of sizes: These guitars come in a variety of sizes, accommodating learners with different arm lengths and hand sizes. 
  • Versatile: Electric guitars can be heard in most types of popular music, serving as inspiration and motivation for learners of every stripe. These guitars can also produce different tones. 
  • Volume control: When connected to an amp, you can turn the volume up or down to accommodate various practice and performance environments.

Acoustic guitars offer these advantages for novices:

  • Amp-free
  • Low cost: Acoustic guitars are generally less expensive and don’t require accessories for practice or performance.
  • Learning chords: Acoustic options are well-suited for those wanting to learn how to play a chord on guitar and other fundamentals.
  • Ease of use: If you value simplicity, acoustic guitars are less complicated than their electric counterparts.

Guitar Brands To Choose From: Where To Begin?

Some popular brands for budding guitarists include Fender, Epiphone, and Gibson. Each of these brands has a long legacy in luthiery, the craft of making stringed instruments that are not in the violin family. Electric and acoustic guitars, including bass guitars, are available from each of these brands.

The wrong guitar can take the wind out of your sails when it comes to learning how to play. High-quality instruments also have superior options when it comes to components and accessories. Consider these brands for your first instrument:

  • Gretsch: Great choice for students that are into country or blues.
  • Ibanez:  Ideal for heavier styles such as heavy metal.
  • Schecter: Also suited for rock and metal genres.

You can find a good “starter guitar” in the $150 to $200 price range. This is a good starting point for an initial investment, especially if you have to buy other accessories. As someone who is learning how to play guitar, you shouldn’t spend more than $500 for your first instrument.

What To Look For

Whether you’re interested in learning how to play bass guitar, electric guitar, or other types, inspect your new instrument for the following:

  • Check for a straight neck: You want to buy an instrument with a straight neck. Straight necks are generally easier to play for beginners. Curved or bowed necks can also lead to a buzzing sound from the fret and tuning issues.
  • Check that it stays in tune: A guitar that doesn’t stay in tune will be difficult to play. When shopping, have a potential instrument checked by someone who knows how to tune the guitar.
  • Check the fretboard: The action is the distance between the fretboard and the strings. Check the action to make sure the guitar doesn’t have a warped neck or other issues.
  • Check the amp and connection: If you’re buying an electric guitar, plug it into an amp and adjust the knobs and settings, listening for problems. A new instrument should have no issues.
  • Buy new or used: A used guitar of higher quality threads the needle on performance and price. A new guitar comes with a warranty and the latest tech features, but cheap materials mean a shorter life.
  • Guitar sizing for your age: You should be able to comfortably reach all parts of the fretboard. Check to see if you can feel the ends of the frets on either side of the neck.

How To Tune a Guitar

Playing in tune means making sure that your instrument produces accurate pitches. This is especially true since guitars produce several notes at once. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are. No one sounds good playing out of tune, so you must learn how to tune a guitar with a tuner. This involves turning the machine heads for each individual string, either lowering or raising the pitch to match the tone or frequency from a tuner.

Electronic Tuner

Electronic tuners are some of the easiest devices to use. They are usually one of three types:

  • Vibration-based: These devices clip onto your guitar and detect pitch variations through vibrations. They’re great for use in noisy environments.
  • Microphone-based: These tuners don’t attach to your instrument. Rather, they listen for pitch variations, so it’s important to use these in a quiet area. Smartphone tuner apps work like microphone-based tuners.
  • Plug-in and pedal: These tuners connect directly to your instrument using a jack lead. They are very accurate for tuning, but also quite expensive. Pedal tuners work similarly, but they’re activated by pressing a pedal.

Manual Tuning

Skilled guitarists should also know how to tune a guitar without a tuner. To manually tune your guitar, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Tune the 6th string (thickest) to a low E based on your memory of what that note should sound like. The other strings will be tuned relative to this one.
  • Step 2: To tune the 5th string, place your first finger on the fifth fret of the thickest string. This will produce an A note. Match the 5th string to this note.
  • Step 3: To tune the 4th string, place your first finger on the fifth fret of the 5th string. This makes a D note. Pluck the 4th string and adjust its head until it matches the D produced by the 5th string.
  • Step 4: You’ll tune the 3rd string, by placing your first finger on the fifth fret of the 4th string. This makes a G note. Pluck the 3rd string and make adjustments so that it matches the 4th string.
  • Step 5: Here is where you deviate from what you’ve been doing. Tuning the 2nd string starts by placing your first finger on the FOURTH fret of the 3rd string. This makes a B. Adjust the head of the 2nd string until it matches the pressed 3rd string.
  • Step 6: To tune the last string, place your first finger on the fifth fret of the 2nd string. This produces an E. Match the 1st string to this note.

For those learning how to tune a 12 string guitar, this method will work as the extra strings are based on the same notes as a 6-string guitar (E, A, D, G, B, and E).

Tuning Tips

Keep these tips in mind for guitar tuning:

  • Mind the temperature: Hot and cold environments can throw your instrument out of tune.
  • Store wisely: It’s best to store your guitar somewhere that is dry and cool. Loosen your strings before placing your instrument in storage or transport.
  • Replace your strings regularly: Older strings can become brittle from dirt, corrosion, and over-tensioning. Switch out your strings every 6 to 8 weeks.

How To Read Guitar Sheet Music

As you learn how to play the guitar, you’ll need to learn how to read guitar sheet music or guitar tab.

How To Read Chords

Most guitar parts involve playing chords, or groups of notes played simultaneously.  You’ll need to remember these basic rules for reading chord tabs, which are miniature diagrams of the fretboard:

  • Vertical lines from left to right are the strings.
  • The horizontal lines from top to bottom are the fret bars.
  • Dots indicate finger placement.
  • The numbers correspond to your fingers with 1 being your index finger, and 4 being your pinkie (“T” stands for thumb).
  • “O” means to play the string open (no fingers pressed).
  • “X” means the string is not to be played.

Chords are also indicated by letters and numbers (e.g. C major, F min 7, etc). With practice, you’ll be able to produce these chords without the tabs.

Best Guitar Sheet Music for Beginners

Part of the fun of learning a new instrument is the ability to start learning songs that you know and love. You don’t have to be a seasoned guitarist to play songs of various genres. Look for songs with “Easy Guitar TAB” scoring in our extensive library of sheet music. These sheets feature guitar tabs for all the song’s chords on the first sheet.

With all these tips for learning how to play and tune the guitar, you’re ready to start making beautiful music. Whether you’re getting private instruction from a teacher or watching videos online, embrace the journey of learning how to play guitar. Keep things fun with guitar sheet music for songs at every skill level for every occasion.