Hi,
I’m glad you’ve chosen to learn to play guitar. It has added joy to my life and over the years has led me on a musical path which began with learning to strum a few chords and progressed to my becoming a professional musician in both Europe and Australia. I’m sure, whatever your aims, playing guitar will add something extra to your life. 
These Stepping Stone Courses are designed to get you playing guitar in the shortest possible time, and to introduce you to a variety of musical styles. But of course it all starts with buying a guitar. So 

‘What’s the best guitar for a beginner?’

This is a tricky one because, like cars and boats, they’re built for different purposes, budgets and people’s tastes. Since certain types of guitar are better suited to particular styles of music we'll need to establish what type of music you’d like to play. Generally this would be the style of music you like listening to.  If you’d love to play Classical or Flamenco music your choice is simple: A Classical Guitar. This is an instrument with nylon strings. They come in full size, half and three-quarter size.  If your musical taste runs to traditional or popular music you’re most probably looking for a steel-strung acoustic guitar of some sort.  Should you want to play blues or rock music you’ll eventually end up buying a solid body electric guitar and an amplifier; but I'd advise you to start on a steel strung acoustic guitar since they're a lot easier to learn on. 

Many guitar teachers recommend starting on a nylon-stringed instrument because they are a bit softer for student’s fingertips – but quite frankly, you’re better off getting an instrument which suits the style of music you’d like to play since, on either type of acoustic guitar, your fingertips will quickly harden as you practice.

Size is an important factor, as you'll need to be able to hold the instrument comfortably and be able to stretch your fingers the width of the neck. If you’re slight of build a Parlour sized guitar could well be the perfect instrument. (Parlour guitars have a smaller body and neck than most guitars)

Left handed players have the additional decision of either learning on a left or right-handed guitar. This is a difficult decision since both have advantages and disadvantages:
The advantages for a left-handed player learning on a right-handed guitar are: 

They have a far wider selection of instruments to choose from (this is particularly important when you later go on to buy a professional instrument and unfortunately it isn’t as simple as changing the strings around to change a right-handed guitar to left-handed) 

Nearly all tutor books and music is written for right-handed players

They’ll have less initial problems fingering the notes on the guitar neck 

The advantages for a left-handed player learning on a left-handed guitar are: 

Using a plectrum fluidly is far easier and the guitar feels more natural to play and hold

 

IN THE MUSIC STORE
Let’s first state that while it’s possible to pick up a bargain from the local second-hand dealer or on the internet, unless you can tell a good instrument from a dud, you could end up wasting your money. There are plenty of unplayable ‘bargain’ guitars out there. Most music stores have suitable instruments and knowledgeable staff.

As a rough price guide: Well-made plywood guitars costs about $150 - $250; whilst a solid wood top guitar with superior fittings, starts at around $100 more.  I suggest you buy the best possible instrument you can comfortably afford.  For a small difference in price you can get a better guitar that won’t need to be upgraded as your playing skills advance, be easier to play, stay in tune, and sound like a real instrument should.

As well as purchasing your guitar and a protective case or padded gig-bag, you’ll also need to buy a spare set of strings a ‘soft’ plectrum or two and an electronic tuner. (The type of tuner you'll need is either: one that's built-in to the guitar or the clip-on variety.  The electronic tuners which rely on a microphone to 'hear' your guitar are a waste of money since they're too easily affected by background music and sounds.


DON'T BUY: Special cleaning liquids, cloths, chord charts, tutor books, string winders, pitch pipes, or any other gadgets.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN INSTRUMENT
• It should have a low action. (‘action’ refers to the gap between the strings and the neck. The less the gap – the easier the guitar is to play)
• The neck should be straight.  You can check this by sighting along the neck to check if it’s straight or bowed (Music Store Staff can usually straighten a bowed neck, and adjust the action while you wait; and for a new instrument this should be at no additional cost to you) 
• See how it feels for size
• Strum the strings and listen to the tone of the instrument (Does it have good sustain? or do the notes die off quickly? Is the tone pleasant to your ear? )
• Ignore sales-talk like: Future trade-in values or limited sales offers that force you to make a hasty decision.
• Try a few instruments. (You’ll find one that you prefer over the others. If you don’t; go to another store and try out their range of instruments)


If your budget allows, the IDEAL instrument for you would:

Have a solid timber top (good tone woods for tops are: Spruces, particularly Sitka Spruce and Engelmann Spruce.  Cedar is also an excellent choice for tops.  If you can stretch to it the top-of-the line tone woods are European Spruce and the gold standard is Adirondack Spruce)

The backs of the guitars are 'balanced' to the soundboard (the top) and whilst there are loads of combinations of backs that balance with the tops the manufacturer will have chosen the correct tone wood for the back which matches the properties of the top. 

Have a bone nut and bridge saddle (a bridge saddle is the inset in the bridge which the strings run over)

It should also have a hard case or padded gig-bag.

As you progress in your playing you'll become more knowledgeable about the various types of tone woods and fittings, but for now it's sufficient to trust in the luthier who created your guitar.  there are so many variations in guitar materials, sizes, scale length, frets and fittings you could get bogged down in worrying about finding them all on a single guitar. (I've yet to find one store-bought instrument that has everything). 

Just remember, this is your first instrument.  It's only if you have the spare cash (a few thousand dollars), or want to be a professional musician that you'll eventually learn about the best materials for your ideal guitar.


All the best, 
Colin