Category Archives: How to: buy a stringed instrument – guitar, mandolin, bass, ukulele

Articles about purchasing a stringed instrument – electric guitar or acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass, ukulele, and so on.

How To Buy a Guitar For Your Child

Buying A Kid A Guitar

Related Articles:

• How to buy a cheap beginner’s guitar
• How to buy kid’s guitar
• How to buy strings
• Recommended Music Stores and Shops in Portland Oregon: Where musicians in the know buy their instruments, get them repaired, and have them customized

When it’s time to go guitar shopping for a child, parents are often confused about what to buy. This is a guide for how to save money and make sure that your child enjoys his or her time on the guitar.

I recommend printing this list and bringing it to the store with you. If you can’t buy a guitar before your lesson, it doesn’t matter, because I have a ton of awesome guitars that you are welcome to use! 

If you’re in Portland Oregon, I recommend buying at:

  • Trade Up Music, located at SE Division and SE 47th in SE Portland. Tell them Amanda of Whirling Squirrel sent you! 503.236.8800
  • Old Town Music on SE 11th. Talk to Hank. 503.295.6808
  • Showcase Music and Sound at SE 34th and Hawthorne 503.231.7027

Purchasing Options: Ages 3-6

  • Buy the child a small, very inexpensive acoustic guitar, ukulele, or other instrument of deadly unintonated cacophony, and let them pound away at it, making noise. If you’re in Portland Oregon, I recommend signing the child up for Music Together: inexpensive group kids’ music classes at Community Music Center on SE Francis and 33rd in Portland Oregon. I wouldn’t spend time on private lessons until the age of 6. Joy in music is important. Do not expect much of the kid with practice at this time.

Purchasing Options: Ages 6-10

New/Used Small “Child’s Size” Acoustic Guitar: Inexpensive $100-$200, expensive $500-$5,000+

  • PROS: Cheap, easy to buy, no hassle in the store, so things “seem” okay at first purchase.
  • CONS: Much, much harder to play. Much less cool sounds. Kids tend to give up more easily when their instrument is an inexpensive acoustic guitar. You’ll end up replacing it anyway down the road. Kids will be very impressed by my electric guitars and their weird sounds. Inexpensive acoustic guitars are just about the most physically difficult situation a beginner could be placed in.

New Small “Child’s Size” Electric Guitar and Amp Package: $100-$200

  • PROS: Super easy to play! Inexpensive. The electric guitar can make weird sounds, and kids love cacophony.
  • CONS:  He/she will outgrow it. I do not generally recommend child size electric guitars. They have loads and loads of problems, including staying in tune. However, if price is a serious issue, take this option. Just remember that these packages are often new, and the guitar and amp that you just bought for $200 decrease in resale value by about $125 or more as soon as you leave the store. If you went to Guitar Center to buy this package, the price you’ll pay for these packages also goes to corporations that don’t support local musicians. You’ll also get terrible customer service, and chances are, that Guitar Center deal you got doesn’t include the guitar being intonated, so it won’t play in tune, so you’ll need to take it to another repair shop and spend more money and time.

RECOMMENDED: Used Regular Size Electric Guitar and Amp Package: $150-$250 on up

  • PROS: Super easy to play! Inexpensive. The electric guitar can make weird sounds, and kids love cacophony. The child will never outgrow it. It will not have intonation “tuning” issues like the smaller guitars do. The resale value will be great, because you bought used.
  • CONS:  You’ll spend $50-$100 more at the beginning. The child may simply be too small for the guitar (but this usually changes in about 2 months). Thankfully, Trade Up Music has a great refund policy and you can get another instrument at Trade Up for the same value within 1 week.


Once you buy the guitar, you’ll need to know a good “luthier.” A luthier is someone who repairs and/or builds instruments. You’ll need to bring in your guitar to a luthier about once every three months for “intonation” and “adjustments” to keep the truss rod in shape. YOUR GUITAR WON’T PLAY IN TUNE UNLESS YOU TAKE IT TO A LUTHIER EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE. I recommend:

  • 12th Fret Custom Guitar Shop 2402 SE Belmont, since 1979. 503.231.1912. I used to work at the 12th Fret for many years. They are fantastic people and luthiers, nationally renowned experts. >>website

  • Ryan Lynn’s EastSide Guitar Repair at 34th and Hawthorne. I have known Ryan for 10 years or more when he was the master luthier at Trade Up. Ryan runs a great shop and he’s a good guy. >>website
-Amanda Machina
503 577 2311 cell

How To Buy A Cheap Beginning Guitar

Related Articles:

• How to buy a cheap beginner’s guitar
• How to buy kid’s guitar
• How to buy strings
• Recommended Music Stores and Shops in Portland Oregon: Where musicians in the know buy their instruments, get them repaired, and have them customized

How to Buy a Cheap Guitar For A Beginner

1 – Avoid High Action – but not so low that it buzzes. This is the most important issue for all guitars, but especially cheap ones.

This is how luthiers check the action on a guitar.
This is how luthiers check the action on a guitar.
this photo is courtesy of – a fantastic guitar and lutherie site

High Action can be assessed relatively easily, visually. Play the guitar – if you like an electric guitar but it seems a bit hard to play, ask the store to adjust the action. If it’s an acoustic guitar, you’ll have to pay to have the action lowered. Don’t be overly picky in the store about action before purchasing; skill still matters. If the luthier tells you “it can’t get any lower without buzzing,” then believe them, and take a few lessons so you learn about how to avoid buzz.

2 – Don’t Buy at Guitar Center

A deal from Guitar Center is not a deal, it is a waste of time and money. If you’re buying a NEW guitar, you just spent $300 on something that would have cost $100 otherwise.

If you don’t play in bands,  being in a music store may seem intimidating; but you won’t learn how to interact in a music store by going to Guitar Center. Go to the local shop first. Even if you don’t buy anything. You’ll save thousands in the long run.

3 – Great shops often have no sign

Unmarked recording studios and shops are a hallmark of music industry tradition. Nondescript, small shops are generally the higher quality, better reputation places for guitar purchase and repair.

4 – Great shops employ musicians, not “sales pros”

The best shops are the quieter, local shops. The quiet, local, cool shops attract quiet, cool people who know their stuff. They are there to build a good reputation. 

5 – Salespeople on commission are more aggressive. Great shops are where you get left alone.

Don’t interpret a salesperson bothering you as “customer service.” They want to spend your money.

6 – Ask Your Guitar Teacher To Go With You

I offer this service for free to my students; owners of music shops love when I bring in customers who buy things. It’s symbiotic, there would be no reason for me to charge students in helping them buy guitars. Contact me to make an appointment. Good teachers generally accompany their students to guitar shops, because a teacher would rather spend an hour helping a student, instead of helping that student deal with a low quality instrument for years.

7 – Avoid A Heavy Guitar

only hulk can haz a tele.
only hulk can haz a tele.

This is a picture of an oak Telecaster. By the way – if you’re starting out, don’t buy a Telecaster.

Again, if you like it buy it, but try to avoid the Les Pauls and heavier guitars at first.


 8 – If You’re Not Deliberately Seeking Obstruction, Don’t Buy A Telecaster


Keith Richards has attacked people onstage with his Telecasters, and won the fight.  Jack White intentionally picks guitars that are hard to play – so he includes Teles in his arsenal. They’re cranky, tough guitars.  Keef is a well known Tele person, but Muddy Waters, Jimmy Page, James Burton, Jack White, and Curtis Mayfield play(ed) Telecasters. I had a Tele for 15 years.

Almost anything else that you pick, will be easier to play than a Telecaster.

Recommended Music Stores & Repair Shops In Portland

There are a lot of great shops, here are the shops run by my good friends (they also happen to be the best). 🙂

Trade Up Music

oodles of great, cheap, mostly used gear, with some new – guitars, amps, basses, synthesizers, pedals, ukuleles, PA systems, drum parts, drum kits, melodicas, harmonicas… friendly service, right next door to Stumptown Coffee. >>website

Trade Up Music 4701 SE Division St., Portland, OR 97206  *503-236-8800* 11:00 am – 7:00 pm daily Google Map
Trade Up Music 1834 NE Alberta St., Portland, OR 97211 *503-335-8800* 11:00 am – 7:00 pm daily Google Map

12th Fret Custom Guitar Shop

nationally renowned lutherie and repairs of stringed instruments of all sorts, serving the general public and prominent artists since 1979… friendly service, wonderful people who really go the extra mile. >>website

12th Fret Custom Guitar Shop 2402 SE Belmont St., Portland, OR 97214 *503-231-1912* 11:00 am – 6:00 pm Tue-Fri and 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm Saturday Google Map

East Side Guitar Repair

Guitar repair, amplifier repair, custom instruments >>website

East Side Guitar Repair 3341 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214  *503-232-0838* 11:00 am – 6:00 pm daily Google Map

Portland Custom Shop and Sour Sound

Amplifier repair, synthesizer repair and synth restoration; PA system repair, Pro Audio repair facility   >>Custom Shop Website  ::   >>Sour Sound Website

Portland Custom Shop + Sour Sound 1115 SE Morrison St. Portland, OR 97214 *503.227.9260* 11:00 am – 7:00 pm Mon-Fri and 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm Sat-Sun Google Map
Related Articles:• How to buy an inexpensive guitar
• How to buy a child a beginning guitar
• How to buy strings

-Amanda Machina

squirrel at whirling squirrel dot com