Recommended guitar sizes for children
- ¼ size: 5 – 7-year-olds
- ½ size: 7 – 9-year-olds
- ¾ size: 9 – 11-year-olds
- ⅞ and full size: 11 years +
What size guitar should I buy for my child?
Want to give your kid the best introduction to the guitar possible?
Getting them started, on the right foot starts with buying the right size guitar. Get it wrong and your child has an instrument that may lead to frustration.
Getting Off On the Right Foot
Learning an instrument has shown many positive benefits for children but those first few weeks make or break. I know, when playing the role of guitar teacher how frustrating it can be teaching a child their first open chords, only for their hands to be too small to fret the required notes.
This is especially the case when teaching chords, for example, C Major. Both the B and A strings must be fretted. This requires a stretch between the index, middle, and ring fingers.
Because of this, hand span is the most important consideration when it comes to choosing a guitar for a child.
Age and height are indicators because they correlate with hand size. But ideally, the guitar you choose for your child will match their hand size and allow them to reach every string.
The chart below shows guitar size recommendations based on age.
I’ve also added a column for hand length and span. If unsure, check your child’s measurements against the recommended size column. If your child has a smaller or larger handspan or hand length I’d recommend basing your decision on this metric more than their age.
|Age||Avg. Hand Span||Avg. Hand Length||Recommended Size||Scale Length (average. only)|
|1 – 4||NA – 4.75”||4.75 – 5″||Toy guitar||NA|
|5 – 7||5.75” – 6.25”||5 – 7″||1/4||18.50” – 19”|
|7 – 9||6.25” – 6.75”||6 – 8″||1/2||20.8” – 21.5”|
|9 – 11||6.75” – 7.25”||7 – 8″ +||3/4||23.4” – 24.1”|
|11 +||7.25” +||8″ +||7/8||24.4” – 24.8”|
|Full-size guitar||24.75” – 25.4”|
Avg. handspan data sourced from:
Pianist hand spans: Gender and ethnic differences and implications for piano playing
(Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference, At Melbourne, Australia Conference Paper)
Hand length sourced from:
What is a handspan?
Handspan is the distance between the tip of the thumb and little finger when the hand is outstretched. It is a reliable indicator when it comes to a child’s ability to reach all strings and play open chord shapes.
Understanding Scale Length
1/2 and 1/4 size guitars
You might be thinking, a 1/2 or 1/4 size guitar doesn’t look exactly half or quarter the distance between the nut and bridge as a full-size guitar, and you would be correct. These numbers aren’t based on the overall length and are simply used to differentiate between available sizes.
Why Does Scale Length Matter?
Aside from a child’s ability to reach all of the strings and play comfortably, scale length also governs the tension of the strings.
The longer the scale length the more tension placed on a guitar string, making it harder to press against the fretboard. So in the case of a guitar with a shorter scale length, the strings are easier to play.
The term neck profile refers to the shape of the back of the neck which plays a large role in how easily a person can wrap their hands around the guitar’s neck. Typical options include C, V, and U-shaped necks with C being the narrowest of the three and as a result more ideally suited to smaller hands.
Classical guitars tend to have wider fingerboards than steel-string and electric guitars. One of the reasons for this is nylon strings are played with the fingers and require more space between strings than electric guitars. Because of this, the neck profile should be narrow to compensate.
While ‘neck profile’ is a consideration for adult-sized guitars, in the case of children’s guitars this is less likely to be listed as a specification. In this case, I’d recommend (if ordering sight unseen) that you check with the retailer that the neck profile is a thin C shape. If your child has the opportunity to play the guitar before buying, check the neck profile is comfortable.
Other Considerations when Buying a guitar for Your Child
Electric Guitar or Acoustic Guitar?
For younger children, I’d recommend starting on an acoustic guitar. Many people will tell you to be guided by the music you are most interested in, and this is a good idea for older kids, but far less of a consideration when it comes to children who have not yet developed strong musical tastes.
Additional advantages for children starting on acoustic include:
- Lighter in weight ( an electric guitar such as a Les Paul copy will be too heavy for a young child).
- Less equipment required
- More options in smaller sizes
- Less expensive
All things considered, while an electric guitar may get your child more excited about playing guitar, particularly if they prefer rock (a valid consideration) there are advantages to starting out on acoustic that will allow the young guitarist to develop better technique.
The acoustic guitar is less forgiving. This simply means acoustic guitars offer less dynamic range e.g. less variance between low and high volume as the guitar isn’t amplified.
When learning it is important to hear mistakes as they are being made to allow you to correct mistakes in your playing and improve your technique. Additionally, as acoustic guitars tend to require heavier gauge strings and the action is typically higher than on an electric guitar the child will develop the required hand strength to play guitar faster.
Lastly, as guitarists, we improve the longer the guitar is in our hands. Electric guitars require additional equipment, making them less accessible and less likely to be played compared to an acoustic guitar.
Steel-String or Nylon String Classical Guitar?
The obvious choice is nylon as it is far less painful on the fingers to play. It’s been said that kids give up on an instrument within the first three weeks. I’d be fairly confident that most of the time kids quit guitar due to the strings hurting their fingers.
The difference between a nylon and steel string guitar
Aside from the strings themselves, there are differences between steel and nylon string guitars (classical or flamenco guitars).
For example, you may notice nylon string guitars don’t include a pickguard. This is because nylon string guitars are not designed to be played with picks.
This will be much less of a problem for a child’s guitar and I personally recommend children begin playing guitar using a pick from the beginning so they do not have to adjust to using picks further along.
You may be tempted to put nylon strings on a steel-string guitar. There’s no harm in doing this but the guitar won’t sound ideal. Steel-string guitars have thicker tops and additional bracing to counter the tension created by steel strings. If you restring with nylon strings, the guitar itself will be fine but won’t resonate as strongly, meaning it will project less volume.
How much to spend?
This comes back to if your child wants an instrument or a toy?
If your child is 7 or under, I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money. There’s definitely an argument to be made regarding quality (which we’ll touch on shortly), and that’s important if you want your child to be inspired to play but it’s also a fact that children grow very fast at this age and you are unlikely to sell used children’s guitars easily.
Should children Start on the ukulele?
A ukulele is not simply a small guitar. Learning any musical instrument is of benefit when switching to guitar at a later age but ukuleles have just the four strings and are tuned quite differently. Because of this, the chord shapes and scales a child learns won’t transfer easily to guitar.
So while there are some benefits in starting your child on the ukulele, it’s best to start them on the instrument they intend to play long term.
What to look for in a child’s guitar?
Action refers to the height of the strings from the fingerboard. If this is particularly high, it will be more difficult to press down on the strings making the guitar more difficult to play. If too low, fret buzz will be more of a concern.
Steel-string and electric guitars have truss rods. Truss rods are tension rods that run through the wood of the neck and allow the neck to be adjusted to counter the neck having too much relief or backward bowing. If a guitar neck has too much relief the action around the 12th fret will be too high and make the guitar difficult to play. If the neck doesn’t have sufficient relief the strings will hit the frets when vibrating causing ‘fret buzz’.
Most nylon-string guitars (this will almost always be the case for children’s guitars) will not include a truss rod. Because of this, it is important you check the straightness of the neck prior to purchasing the guitar as it won’t be able to be adjusted later. If the neck has too much relief or a backward bow I’d recommend moving on to the next guitar.
Intonation describes the guitar’s ability to be in tune with itself. E.g. do the notes played higher up the neck correspond with the tuning of the notes closer to the nut of the guitar? Most children learning guitar will mostly be concerned with the first three frets as this is where the majority of open chords they learn first will be played but it is something to consider, especially if your child progresses quickly.
Your last consideration when purchasing a guitar for your child will be accessories. For the most part, I’d recommend three accessories with one being non-negotiable.
Tuner: You simply must have a tuner if you want your child to learn guitar.
Providing your child with a tool that will ensure the guitar is in tune is essential. There are several options, from microphone-based tuners to contact tuners that measure the frequency of vibrations from the strings. I would recommend a clip-on contact tuner.
Metronome: Learning to play in time is essential. A metronome provides a steady rhythm for the young guitarist to play along to and ensure they are keeping the correct time. A traditional metronome can be purchased from your local musical instrument retailer or there are many apps now available that are simple to use to do a solid job.
Chord Chart/ Book: Beginner guitarists require reference material as they will not always be able to ask for advice, or expect a parent to pay for a guitar lesson. A chord chartbook is a relatively inexpensive item that can be kept in a guitar case or gig bag and used as needed if your child forgets a specific chord shape or wants to learn something new.
Final Thoughts: Guitars and Kids
Keep in mind, that any smaller guitar you buy for your child will have an expiry date. Children grow, and this presents another challenge, in transitioning to a larger guitar while keeping costs reasonable. A cheap kids’ guitar will be challenging to play, as inexpensive guitars lack the quality control of more expensive models, and sound and (more importantly) play badly.
However, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out and spending money on a Baby Taylor or Martin lx1 (aka little Martin) either, if unsure the guitar is something your child will persevere with. In my opinion, the best acoustic guitar for your child will be affordable but of sufficient quality that it makes learning guitar enjoyable.
In my experience, one such guitar is the Yamaha JR1 3/4-Size Dreadnought (pictured above). Yamaha is a trusted name when it comes to student models. Featuring a solid spruce top and 21.25” scale length it is a perfect combination of quality/affordability/and comfort. It’s the guitar I chose for my son when he began playing guitar at the age of 7 and while he has since upgraded to a larger guitar, it still makes an excellent travel guitar.
I hope the information above helps you if you are wondering what size of guitar to get for your child when starting out on guitar.