If you are thinking about buying a guitar and know nothing about them, there are a few things you should consider. Firstly they come in different sizes. This is an important issue if you are buying for a child. Nothing will put a child off a guitar quicker than not even being able to hold it because it is too big.
I am just going to deal with guitar sizes here, but you should also consider the weight. A guitar that is too heavy is just as bad as one that is too big. Just because a guitar looks small doesn’t mean it is not heavy. Having considered that, let’s move on to Everything You Need to Know About Guitar Sizes…
Before we start…
It will be useful to understand a little guitar terminology. That way, you will immediately know what I am talking about.
A guitar has three basic elements. The headstock, the neck, and the body. The body is quite self-explanatory; it is physically the main part of the instrument. Likewise, the neck is quite obvious. It extends from the body and can be attached in several ways. But that isn’t important here.
Finally, the headstock. This is the area that holds the tuners or machine heads up at the top end. It runs from where the neck ends a few inches to the tip of the guitar. Some guitars are designed without headstocks. These are called ‘Headless.’ You won’t see too many of those.
What size is “full-size”?
Using the term ‘full-size’ can sometimes cause confusion. A full-size Dreadnought-style acoustic guitar bears no relation to a full-size Fender Telecaster. And to add further confusion, manufacturers often build their guitars to different sizes.
Bear in mind, none of this includes bass guitars. The full-size versions of those can go up to 45 inches in length.
So, how big is a full size guitar? Typically, it will be about 38 inches long. It will have a scale length of about 25 inches. We will deal with the difference between full length and scale length later. So if you want a quick way to find out if a guitar is full-size, check the scale length. If it is about 25 inches, it will be full-size.
If the scale length is around 20 inches or less, it will be a scaled-down guitar. There are various types of what we call scaled-down guitars. They are made that way for specific purposes. It is worth having a quick look.
You can get ½-size and ¾-size. Designed especially for younger players who can’t handle the full-size version yet. You might reasonably expect a ½-size guitar to be half the size. It isn’t. Unfortunately, the way they name guitar sizes can be misleading.
Likewise, a ¼ or ¾-size guitar is not ¼ or ¾ of the size of a full-size. Typically, the ¼-size guitar scale length is about 19-20 inches. The ¾-size guitar scale length is 22-23 inches. They are designed to be better for children or even adults who may have small hands.
There is another type of scaled-down guitar that is popular, that is the travel guitar. These are designed principally, as the name suggests, for people who might travel a lot who want to take a guitar with them. They usually have a scale length of 20-23 inches, depending on the manufacturer. They have some surprising users.
Taylor Swift uses her ‘Baby Taylor’ for carrying around with her to write songs. But, she doesn’t perform with it. And she isn’t the only one. Tommy Shaw of Styx and jazz legend John McLaughlin are also known to use them.
They feel different…
Everything is made a little smaller for convenience. This can also affect the sound, of course. Nevertheless, the scaled-down guitar is an asset. Whether it is a travel guitar or just a smaller version, it is always worth looking at.
A great example of a scaled-down guitar is the…
The important point is…
As we have said, there is no standard size that can be called ‘full-size.’ If you are choosing a guitar, the best advice is that it needs to fit the player.
The Size for a Child
You will see in various places these young prodigies playing their full-size instruments and playing them very well. That isn’t the norm, and very few are capable of that at ages eight or nine or even younger.
The size you choose is going to have an impact. They have to be able to sit and feel comfortable with it. And be able to reach everywhere they need to easily. Get a body that is too big, and it will overwhelm the child. Then the guitar ends up in the cupboard collecting dust.
Size rather than age…
It is difficult to say what size guitar will suit what age. Children are all different sizes and shapes. Two different ten-year-olds can have a huge difference in size. But as a general rule, the following might help.
- Up to 5 years old – 1/4 size or even possibly a ukulele.
- 5-7 years – ½ size.
- 7-10 years – ¾ size.
- 10 and up – full size.
The only thing we would ask you to consider is that children can grow quickly. What fits them today is too small tomorrow. Therefore, buying a little bit larger won’t hurt. That way, they can grow into it, and you won’t be down the guitar shop every six months.
Here is an excellent option for a half-size guitar…
Buying full-size at a younger age…
Of course, you can. Providing they can hold it. The advantage is that it is going to last a long time, and they won’t ‘grow’ out of it. And of course, it is going to sound better.
The rule is to take them down to the shop and just watch. If they can’t even hold it, let alone play it, it is too big. Then you can go smaller.
Measuring a Guitar
Let’s go back to measuring your guitar and the difference between scale length and total length. When it comes to Everything You Need to Know About Guitar Sizes, understanding how to measure it, as I am sure you have realized, is quite important.
It allows you to compare sizes. There are two ways to measure the guitar, by scale length or by total length. Knowing the full length can be useful. But knowing the scale length, in my view, is more important.
The Scale Length
This will have an impact on how the guitar feels when you play it. Small differences might seem insignificant, but they can make a guitar feel different.
So, how do you measure scale length? By taking a tape measure and measuring from the guitar bridge to the nut. The bridge you will see easily as the strings pass over it on the body. The nut is usually a small white or cream-colored bar which the strings pass over. This is located where the neck joins the headstock.
The Total Length
To find this is as it suggests. Measuring from the top of the headstock, passing over the strings, to the end of the body in a straight line.
When you consider the shapes of different guitars, you can see why total length measures vary so much. Some have longer headstocks. It doesn’t alter the way the guitar feels. But it throws out the measurements.
Looking for some superb Guitars for beginners?
We have reviewed a great selection of beginner guitars, kids guitars, and travel guitars over the years. Both acoustic and electric. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners, the Best Electric Guitar for Beginners, the Best Guitars for Toddlers, the Best Electric Guitar for Kids, and the Best Acoustic Guitars for Kids you can buy in 2023.
You might also like our comprehensive reviews of the Best Beginner Electric Guitar Packages, the Best Acoustic Travel Guitars, the Best Travel Electric Guitars, and the Best Guitars for Small Hands currently on the market.
And, if you want a recommendation, we really love the Martin LX1 Little Martin, great to play, superb sound, and excellent value for money from a legendary guitar brand.
Everything You Need to Know About Guitar Sizes – Final Thoughts
When choosing your guitar, whether for yourself or a child, these are some things to consider. There are no hard and fast rules, just guidelines that may help. I wasn’t put off at a reasonably young age by a full-size guitar when I finally got one. I just wanted to learn.
I suspect most kids will be the same. If you are buying an electric guitar, the measurement criteria remain the same. But as we mentioned earlier, consider the weight. Some are very heavy. There are some great guitar options out there. But taking note of the size and knowing how to gauge it will make your guitar buying a success.
So, until next time, here’s to happy strumming.