I’m getting a guitar, and my friend said that I should get one with lower strings since then I can move my fingers faster. Thoughts?
You don’t say if you are just learning, but I gather that you are, from the way you worded your question. So, going from that assumption, (yes, I DO know how to break down that word!) here goes:
You are asking about the “action” of a guitar- how easy or difficult it is to press the strings down against the frets. Yes, lower strings- lower action- will make it easier to press the strings down, something attractive to beginners. Generally, a solid-body electric guitar will have, or be adjustable to, the lowest action.
But there is more to the issue:
NECK/FRETBOARD WIDTH: How wide the neck, and fretboard, are. A narrow neck/fretboard makes reaching to the strings on the top easier, but be careful- a narrow fretboard puts the strings closer together, so if you have fat-ish fingers, you will have difficulty keeping your fingers off the strings adjacent to the string you are trying to fret. If a narrow neck will benefit you, solid-body electrics and accoustic guitars will help.
NECK THICKNESS OR FATNESS: How “fat” the neck is, from the front of the fretboard to the back of the neck where your thumb rest to give you leverage to press down the strings. This is largely a personal preference- I find I love the feel of fat Gibson necks which do feel a bit like half a baseball bat, but some players prefer the thinner profile of a Fender “D” shaped neck. If you have smaller hands, a thinner neck will probably be easier for you to play.
“SCALE” LENGTH, which also determines NECK LENGTH: How far it is from the nut to the bridge. A longer scale means a longer neck (duh!) and if you are smallish (with shorter arms) you may find reaching “all the way” to the end of a long-scale guitar uncomfortable. In this case, a “student” guitar like the Fender Mustang might suit you well. If you are under about 12, a 3/4 sized guitar might be best, but you will outgrow it in a few years. A shorter scale length also puts the frets closer together, so if you have fat fingers, you will have difficulty getting all your fingers crunched together to make some chords.
STRING CONSTRUCTION AND SIZE: Beginners are often started on nylon-string guitars, with the belief that the nylon strings being softer, make for easier playing. Only to a point: the necks are quite wide, making reaching the top stings difficult. Better to deal with steel strings and narrow necks. Smaller gauge strings are easier to push down than bigger gauges, but the smallest wire strings can cut into new player fingers.
PLAYING TECHNIQUE: Really, the most important part. From the beginning, learn to push the strings down ONLY AS HARD AS NEEDED TO GET THE NOTE TO RING, INSTEAD OF THUMP. Learning this early will make you a better, faster and more musical guitarist, and will allow you to play longer without your fingers getting fatigued. Other proper techniques, like elevating the neck of the guitar a little (like classical players do) instead of holding it horizontal (like folk players do when sitting) will make for more comfy playing, too.
So to sum up:
If you have small hands: A small-body steel string accoustic or most solid-body Stratocaster type electric.
If you have large hands and/or fat fingers: Wide-neck steel string accoustic (Seagull S6 Folk, for instance) or Gibson-type electric, or nylon-string accoustic.
If you have a smaller body and/or shorter arms: Student sized guitar like a Fender Mustang.
IF THE GUITAR SEEMS HARD TO PLAY, ESPECIALLY IN REGARDS TO PUSHING THE STRINGS DOWN, ask a guitar technician if he can lower the action.
One last word of advise: GET A GUITAR INSTRUCTOR. Sure, you can teach yourself guitar, or your friends can, but guitar is such a technical (reliant on technique) activity, you can easily develop “bad” habits that will slow down your progress and/or playing. A good instructor earns every penny of his or her pay every time he or she helps you develop good playing habits, like minimal finger pressure on the stings/fretboard, holding the guitar, etc.
on: 12th March 09