Apple Valley Guitar and Piano Academy





Guitar Buying Guide for Students

How Much Should You Spend?

The logical approach for someone starting lessons seems to be the least expensive guitar, so the least amount of money is lost if the student quits after a few months. 

Actually, an entry-level guitar, which is made entirely from laminates (plywood), is a poor choice for several reasons. 

First, it has virtually no resale value.  Second, it will have a mediocre sound, discouraging practice and maximizing the chances that the student will quit after a few months.  Third, a certain percentage of entry-level guitars (not all) can develop serious structural problems that cost more to fix than the instrument is worth.    (Our valued local business partners sell quality guitars.)

In all these cases, the guitar purchaser's fear of wasting money are realized.  

Furthermore, entry-level guitars are not fun to play, defeating the entire purpose of taking music lessons in the first place.

Instead, we recommend a modestly-priced, quality instrument with a SOLID TOP

If the student quits after a short time, you can sell a solid top guitar to one of our incoming students, and obtain some financial compensation.  Most importantly, your child (or yourself) has a fair chance at musical success as a result of practice motivation, and far more musical enjoyment on daily basis.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitars

We give lessons exclusively on acoustic guitars, which produce sound through subtle wood vibrations.  These instruments don't require electronics or amplifiers, although they are sometimes added if the guitarist performs in a large venue. 

(If you're interested in electric guitar lessons, we can refer you to teachers outside of Apple Valley Guitar Academy.) 

We specialize in teaching the acoustic guitar because it is an ideal instrument for plucking strings with four right-hand fingers (fingerstyle).  Some fingerstylists play acoustic-electrics, often called "jazz guitars", or nylon-string guitars with electronics.  Fingerstyle on solid-body electrics, the most common type of electric guitar, is rare. 

Fingerstyle technique allows a guitarist to easily to play complete songs or solos, i.e. to sound like a "one-man band".  It also offers the most musical power because non-adjacent strings can be plucked at the same time

As a result, fingerstyle guitarists can play highly entertaining pop/folk music including bass, chords and melody, like "Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond".  Click the link to hear the song arranged by David Russell, and performed by Emmannuel Rossfelder.

(Chord-melody pick playing, seen often in jazz and pop styles, is similar.)

In addition, fingerstyle guitarists can play beautiful works written for piano, violin, cello, choir, and even orchestra, like the beautiful "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by JS Bach.  Click the link to hear a stunning version by Christopher Parkening. 

In comparison, acosutic-electric and solid-body electric guitars are typically played with a pick, and usually perform the separate roles of melody (lead), bass (low notes), or chords (rhythm).  As a result, the most satisfying electric guitar playing occurs in the context of a group or band.  Therefore, students' opportunities for musical fulfillment are based largely on the availability of other musicians to perform with. 

Learning electric guitar is worthwhile for the future professional or serious amateur who wants to play in a group, but most solid-body electric guitar students don't pursue this path.

Nylon (Classical) vs. Steel-String Acoustic Guitars

Nylon-string (classical) acoustic guitars have three strings made of clear nylon (the treble strings) and three strings made from nylon threads wrapped with metal windings (the bass strings).  The term "classical" is somewhat misleading in that any style of music can be played on a nylon-string guitar. 

Steel-string acoustic guitars have two strings made of pure steel and four strings made from a steel core wrapped with metal windings.

Which One Sounds Better?

A parent recently went to a store, played both a steel and nylon-string guitar, and remarked: "The steel string was obviously better."  Actually, the issue is not that simple. 

For example, a nylon-string guitar is meant to be played with the right-hand fingers.  If you play it with a pick, it won't sound very good compared to a steel string, which was designed to be played in that manner.  (Electric classicals sound better with a pick.) 

On the other hand, if you play a steel-string with individual fingers but no right-hand fingernails, the nylon-string will sound better!

Also, a nylon-string guitar will not reach its full tone potential unless the strings are plucked with the fingernails.  In this respect, the nylon-string guitar has a slight advantage over a steel-string in that the amount of pressure required to sound the strings is considerably less of the same amount of volume.  Nonetheless, both instruments sound beautiful when played fingerstyle.

Isn't a Steel-String Better for Strumming Chords?

Most people believe strumming chords is best done with a pick.  Actually, the nylon-string guitar offers a wide variety of strumming possibilities: with the flesh of the thumb, for a warm, smooth sound, with the backs of the fingernails, for a steel-string like sound, Flamenco rasgueado or articulated single-finger sequence strumming, and the Jazz or Latin "comping" style, where 3-4 notes are plucked simultaneously with the right-hand fingers. 

But I Want to Learn on a Steel-String

If this is a strong wish on your part, or you have already bought a steel-string, we will teach you on the instrument you prefer.

In general, our years of experience indicate that starting lessons with a nylon-string eliminates many discouragement factors for beginners (noted below).  It is also easy to switch to steel strings once the basics of classical guitar playing are learned. 

Specifically, we encourage beginning students to learn on classical guitars for the following reasons:

1. Some of the most prestigious guitar programs in the country, including the Hopkins, MN high school music department, teach beginning students on classical guitars.  As cutting-edge guitar instructors, we see the value in paying attention to what nationally-known experts are doing with beginners.

2. We often see students with entry-level steel-string guitars play a classical for the first time and sound considerably, if not amazingly better.  In part, this is because entry-level classical guitars have a better tone than the steel-string counterparts that new students bring to us.  (More expensive steel-string guitars have a good tone, but present other problems for beginners listed below.) 

3. Nylon strings are easier to press down.  In contrast, it takes a considerable amount of time to develop the strength to play chords on steel strings.  In some cases, there is pain in the fingertips during this adaptation process.  (An action setup can lessen this problem, but can cost up to $100.)

4. Classical guitars have the most space between each string, allowing beginner fingers to easily avoid muting adjacent strings. On steel-strings, beginners often produce a thumpy sound when playing chords.  Again, it takes many frustrating months to overcome this difficulty.  For students with large fingertips, it may initially seem impossible.

5. Classical guitars are more sensitive to subtle changes in right-hand finger pressure.  Therefore, it is easier to play expressively compared to a steel string.  In comparison, a steel player simply has to work harder for the same result.

In-store Purchasing Guidelines

Some beginning students feel most comfortable obtaining advice on a new guitar from someone they know.  Others purchase a guitar without expert assistance.  In either case, the guitar they choose is often not suitable for the student's age/body size or desired style of playing, or is of poor quality.


We cooperate with local retail stores to obtain the best prices, and also assess the needs of each student regarding instrument sizes and types.  Therefore, we recommend consulting with us first, as our expert advice is free over the phone.  More detailed information can be provided in a paid, 45-minute introductory lesson.

Standards for Existing Guitars

If the student already owns a guitar that cannot be tuned, is damaged, or produces a poor tone/dynamic range, it must be repaired or replaced before lessons begin.  This policy ensures that the student will:

--  thoroughly enjoy learning the guitar

--  be motivated to practice

--  sound their best and realize their full musical potential

--  develop the tone and volume control required to become a musical artist.


Some students or their parents may feel that their instrument is fine for a beginner, or are unwilling to pay for repairs.  In reality, a poor-sounding or defective instrument represents a substantial learning barrier to the beginning student, and is often the cause of quitting lessons before the beginner phase is completed.

When given a proper instrument which sounds beautiful and is easy to play, they  instantly understand this requirement--especially when the student's playing improves dramatically.

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