What Instrument Should I Buy?

Many of our customers ask if they should buy a digital piano or a guitar they found on the Internet. In most cases, we have never evaluated their selection, and can’t recommend it. Instead, we have spent many hours evaluating instruments locally, and have listed our top picks for beginners below.


A student’s success–especially in the case of beginners–requires a home instrument that rises to an reasonable standard of tone quality, volume range, pitch accuracy (intonation) and essential functions.  Below is a list of the least expensive, entry-level models that qualify.


A digital piano acceptable for productive lessons must have 88 full-sized keys that allow changing the volume of individual notes, a damper pedal, stand/legs and a music desk.

Our minimum recommendation is a Casio PX-870 console digital piano (~$900) with an attachable frame and pedals.

It also has a half and full damper pedal functions.

This pedal allows blends the sound of multiple notes that can’t be sustained by the fingers alone, and makes the piano sound louder and more resonant. In the case of the half pedal feature, the intensity of the resonance effect can be decreased limiting how far the pedal is moved downward. In terms of mechanical functionality, this is similar to how an acoustic damper pedal works.

Musically, “half pedaling” is very important, as full pedaling often sounds too washed out or hazy, decreases clarity, and reduces the purity of tone of individual un-dampered notes. Technically, it allows learning how to pedal “by ear”, or according to what sounds good in the music at any given moment. essentially, it’s a indispensable aspect of piano competency that should not be neglected beyond the beginner level.


An acoustic piano or digital with an acoustic action (hybrid) is are better than basic digitals, regardless of the student’s level.

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Cordoba C-5 (full size) for mid-teens to adults (~$300)
Cordoba Dolce (7/8) (~$300)
Cordoba Cadete (3/4) (~$300)
Cordoba Requinto (1/2) (~$300)

SOLID TOP STEEL-STRING (“Acoustic”) Guitars

Fender CD-60S solid top steel string guitar, large dreadnought body, mid-teen to adult ($200)
Fender CC-60S solid top steel string guitar, smaller “concert” body, tweener/small teen or adult ($200)
We also recommend any Martin steel-string with a solid top, as long as its the appropriate size for the student.

Note: Fractional size steel-string guitars (e.g. 1/2, 3/4)–even among name-brand models–typically have a thin, wiry tone. A similar-size solid-top Cordoba classical typically sounds better, and is a more practice-motivating choice for a beginner. It’s also significantly less expensive.


These include guitars with plywood (laminated) tops, department store toys, and old hand-me-downs with darkened/corroded strings, warped necks, etc. They often have poor tone, and those in the latter two categories may buzzing notes or won’t tune up properly.  In some cases, older guitars can be “set up” by a technician, a process that can correct most problems.  However, the cost of this work is usually $100+. 


Nylon strings: Savarez Corum-New Cristal, high tension*
Steel strings: Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze light gauge
* Essential for child-size classical guitars.

What are the Differences between Steel and Nylon-String Guitars?

Steel string guitars have two strings made of plain steel and four with a steel core wound with metal. Classical guitars have three plain nylon strings and three made from nylon filaments with metal windings.

The tension of steel strings is about double that of nylon, and thus, they can be hard to play for new beginners. At best, steel-string guitars usually delay the point where these students can play the instrument comfortably and fluently. In this respect, our view is to eliminate as many barriers as possible to achieving musical satisfaction in the early stages of lessons. Otherwise, many students quit before their guitar talent is evident. Therefore, we strongly suggest a classical guitar for a new beginner.

In addition, young beginners using a classical are able to produce a much sweeter and more beautiful tone with minimal effort. In contrast, as noted above, steel string guitars in child sizes usually have a thin, wiry sound that’s fairly hard on the ears.

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