Learner guitars

I have both a Tanglewood crossroads OE and a Stretton Paynne Dreadnought, both budget end guitars. I am interested to know if I should have gone for a more high end guitar. I am not made of money. What is your thoughts?

Any guitar can be a good learner guitar, as long as it is set up properly.

As a general rule, you should not hear any “buzzing” when gently picking each string while fretting anywhere on the neck.

Also, the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of a string should be about 2mm or less.

Finally, put a capo on the neck (or press the strings down) between the 2nd and 3rd fret, then press down on each string right over the 1st fret. There should be a little bit of a gap (less than 0.2mm) between the top of the 1st fret and the bottom of each string.

These are general guidelines to determine if you need an adjustment to the guitar. If in doubt, find a reputable guitar tech (Luthier) in your area and have him/her do a basic set-up on your guitar.




Do the guitars you have play OK? Sound OK?

Generally when leaning don’t worry about it unless it’s holding you back and by then you’ll know what you want

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Guitars are subject to the law of diminishing returns.

I’m not going to comment on your particular guitars at the moment as I’ve not researched them. So this is speaking in general terms. Your mileage may vary as some models will be better than others for a given cost.

At the low end, some guitars are truly dreadful and will hold back your learning. This is especially true of cheap acoustic guitars sold as “beginner” guitars, often in a pack.

Often these guitars are hard to play, even for a seasoned player. The good news is, with a set up, these guitars can usually be made much more playable. In some cases the setup will cost as much as the guitar originally cost.

There are some guitars that I have seen in toy shops sold to unsuspecting parents whose child wants a guitar. All the ones I have seen are, literally, junk.

At this level, spending $50 can mean the difference between junk and a usable guitar, although it may need a setup. Spending another $50 more will give you something that is probably playable out of the box.

The more you spend, the better, easier to play, nicer sounding, etc. instrument you will get, and I would say the benefits increase substantially for every dollar/euro/pound (etc.) that you spend up to around $250-300.

At this level, you can get some really decent, playable guitars.

After this, the benefit you are getting from each additional $ spent starts decreasing a little. The typical “break points” are at around $250-300, then at $500-600, then at $800-1,000.

Above about $1,000, the main differences start to diminish quite rapidly. That’s not to say there aren’t any, but a guitar costing (say) $1,200 is generally not going to be massively “better” than one costing $1,000. Obviously there are exceptions, especially between brands.

Of course, we are not all made of money, and I wouldn’t recommend any beginner to spend money they could not afford or justify. In general I would pitch $250-300 to be the sweet-spot price point for a beginner guitar if that can be stretched to.

Of course some people will be lucky enough to be able to afford more than this and there is no problem with those people spending more.

If you are on a budget (and who amongst us is not) then consider the second hand market where there are often many bargains to be found.

I hope that helps.




The ideal, I should add, is to own a guitar that you love to play, that inspires you to pick it up, irrespective of how much it cost.




Thank you

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Hi Mark.
Both of those are budget end guitars and I would urge caution on spending £30-40 on any setup work.
Unless you have very good reason to have two £100 acoustic guitars (for example you keep one in standard tuning and one permanently in an altered tuning or one is a small size easier for travel etc.) then I would argue that you are much better off spending the same money on a single guitar worth twice as much as those two.
For approximately £200 you can improve your guitar and if you consider the 2nd hand market (I strongly encourage this - a good condition used guitar represents a massive bargain vs new) you will do even better.


Can anyone recommend a good guitar?

If you are brave and a bit handy, there is a lot you can do to set up and improve the guitars you have. If you were in Denver, I would offer to help.

Learning about setting up a guitar is not too hard. The first level of truss rod and minor saddle adjustments is very doable.

Nut slots less so, but may or may not be needed. Fret leveling also isn’t that hard and can be done with home tools if you aren’t too particular and the guitar isn’t worth much.

Personally, I would read up on it, go over both guitars, pick the one that seems to need complicated stuff less (nut slots, bigger fret jobs) and go for it before purchasing a new instrument. Why not? You probably can make one pretty good without too much trouble and will learn things that will serve you well in maintaining a higher end instrument in the future.

This article can get you started and has links. Do additional research as well.

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If your current guitars play well enough for you, then you’re set. Play, learn, enjoy, and maybe upgrade a year or more down the line if you want to.

If you’re struggling because your guitars are too hard to play, and it’s not just the newness of it and having to develop calluses, then it may be worth upgrading now. A guitar you have to fight against is no fun to learn on - I know, I’ve been there, and that guitar ended up collecting dust in the corner when I gave up on it.

Acoustic guitars don’t have the adjustability of electric guitars, so you may not be able to fix a poorly made acoustic guitar. I would not recommend trying advanced repairs like filing the nut slots or leveling the frets. First, the tools are expensive - decent nut slot files are $100 for a set, and everything I’ve seen that’s much cheaper is complete junk. Second, it takes knowledge and experience to do it well, and you’re likely to mess it up on your first attempt (and maybe subsequent attempts too). And that’s to say nothing of the time it takes to learn what to do and actually do it. Is your problem the nut, the frets, the bridge, or some combination of the above? Just figuring out the problem takes time and knowledge.

In general, good beginner guitars can be found in the $200-300 range. You might be able to find a deal on a used guitar, but that’s a YMMV situation, and I’ve seen some really overpriced and/or terrible condition used guitars. I’ve heard good things about Monoprice guitars, and those start at $100 or $130(?), but I have my doubts. I’ve heard good things about their ukuleles too, and so I got one as a gift, and the neck on it was installed incorrectly. I had it replaced, and the replacement had a nut that was installed incorrectly. I was able to take off and reinstall the nut, but it makes me wonder how many people are playing jacked up Monoprice instruments because they just don’t know any better.


Cheap guitars and guitar players hang out in closets because playing is difficult. Spend your money or initial time learning to do a setup or ask a friend. Follow the previous link or check what Taylor recommends for their acoustic setup or go electric.

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