Let’s face it, guitars can be a little bit cumbersome, especially for younger children. Any common person might assume that guitars come in different sizes, but these guitars aren’t always easy to find.
Guitars do indeed come in different sizes, and this article will help you understand the variety of different offerings available. No matter if you’re purchasing for children or adults, the information that follows should serve as a useful roadmap.
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Understanding Scale Length
One of the most important things to realize with differently sized guitars is that they often have different scale lengths. This is the measurement referring to the distance of the vibrating string between both the nut and saddle.
Increase the scale length and make it longer, and you’ll end up with something like a bass guitar. Similarly, decreasing the scale length and making it smaller will usually make something higher pitched.
The purpose of understanding scale length comes into play when considering the amount of space between each fret. Along with that, scale length can also affect how uniformly symmetrical the fret spacing is.
A guitar with a shorter scale can likely play the same pitches as a normally-scaled guitar. This is achieved by scaling the mathematical symmetry needed to provide the pitches required for Western harmonic music.
When a note is low, a long string is required, thus increasing the distance between each note. A higher note requires less string, with even less space between any adjacent pitches.
Looking at any standard guitar will illustrate this perfectly well. The spaces between the lower frets are much greater than the spaces at the higher frets.
Most average guitars (of standard size) have a scale length of around 25”, with some variation. About half an inch tolerance is allowed on either side of 25” for it to be considered a standard size.
Going lower than this, guitars with scale lengths around 24” will typically still be considered full-size guitars. However, the distinction is usually made that the guitar is a short-scale guitar.
The following will serve as a loose guideline for the scale lengths associated with each guitar size:
- 27” and above (baritone)
- 24.5” to 25.8” (standard)
- 24” to 24.8” (7/8-size)
- 22.5” to 24” (3/4-size, commonly called “Junior-size”)
- 20” to 22.8” (1/2-size)
- 18.9” to 20” (1/4-size)
As you can see, there is a bit of an overlap present in some instances. Manufacturers do not create guitars to have the same measurements, which provides diversity and possibilities for every player.
Do Acoustic Guitars Come In Different Sizes?
Believe it or not, there are more size options available with acoustic guitars compared to electric guitars. Some sizes might be more practical than others, but generally, you’ll be able to find guitars of the following sizes:
- Full-size (standard)
Now, the important thing to remember with these sizes is that everything is being scale-down (or up). That means that the guitar will be either smaller or larger than standard in nearly every aspect.
Nevertheless, it’s also important to remember that even smaller guitars will have a regular fret range. Songs learned with these guitars will allow the fingerings to remain the same on a larger guitar.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the actual design of the acoustic guitar can vary its size. For instance, a dreadnought/jumbo tends to be the largest body size in overall size and depth.
Parlor guitars and travel guitars can often be quite smaller due to usually having less body material overall. Do keep in mind that there is often an overlap between the Parlor/Travel and the 3/4-size.
However, if you wanted a full-size parlor guitar, they are able to be found. It’s just one of those marketing tendencies where one thing falls under 2 different label-based umbrellas.
Do Electric Guitars Come In Different Sizes?
Not everybody has the desire to play an acoustic guitar, but fortunately, electric guitars also come in different sizes. However, there isn’t as much distinction between sizing with electric guitars.
For the most part, there are 3 different sizes of electric guitars to be found at a respectable music shop. These include:
Much of the previously aforementioned scale length generalizations will apply to electric guitars. However, you should be aware that there does tend to be more experimentation with electric guitar designs compared to acoustics.
So, a 3/4-size electric guitar could feel very similar to the size of a 1/2-size acoustic guitar. It really just depends on the model and manufacturer.
What To Look For When Buying A Different Size Guitar
Aside from the scale length, purchasing a different-size guitar requires the same process as any other guitar purchase. You’ll need to have an idea of what kind of guitar you’re looking for, as well as its intended purpose.
Generally, your defined budget will be playing the biggest role in the guitar you're able to purchase. However, more often than not, smaller guitars will tend to be on the inexpensive side.
Fit & Feel
The whole reason for buying a guitar of a different size is (usually) because of fit and feel. Because of this, it’s vitally important that you dedicate the most time and attention to finding the best fit.
A properly fitting guitar that is easy to play will make the experience of playing the guitar far more enjoyable. Any beginner who has to struggle with an improper fit will only have determination to rely on to generate motivation.
Think about it, when something doesn’t feel right or is hard to do, are you motivated to do it? If you’re having to stretch your fingers too far to play basic chords, a smaller guitar might be suitable.
This brings the next point: the feel of the neck and the guitar’s fret spacing. Smaller guitars will generally have smaller spaces between frets, allowing for small-handed individuals to play the instrument.
Take it upon yourself to try out the different sizes to get a feel for them before spending your money.
Intention & Purpose
Something that needs to be explored is the intended purpose you wish this guitar to serve. Is the instrument’s purchase designed to be played for life, or what is your proposed longevity for the guitar?
There can be reasons for a guitar to not be purchased with the intention of lasting a lifetime. We will explore a little more of this topic when we focus on different sizes for children and adults.
How Big Are The Guitar Sizes And How Do They Feel To Play?
Aside from price, the way a guitar feels and sounds help determine the guitar that you decide to take home. Nobody wants to spend their money on something that is uncomfortable to play or is harsh on the ears.
As you might guess, each guitar size carries with it a unique set of characteristics. Let’s take a closer look at how these guitar sizes might feel and sound.
Starting off with the smallest body size is this example of a 1/4-size acoustic guitar. You’ll notice immediately how small it is in comparison to a standard full-size guitar.
Not only is the length of the neck smaller, but the overall body size appears to be smaller as well. Despite this, the guitar still offers the same note range as a full-size guitar.
One of the things you’ll notice with the guitar’s sound is that it has a very bright timbre. In a way, it has a sort of boxiness that resembles the sound of a ukulele.
With this example of a 1/2-size acoustic, you’ll notice there isn't much difference between this and the 1/4-size. Part of this, I would have to believe, is related to different manufacturers and guitar designs.
However, you might notice that the guitar’s body is just a little bit larger than the 1/4-size example. The neck scale appears to be somewhat similar to that of the 1/4-size.
Again, this model has its own sort of sound that is tinged with a bright, trebly boxiness. It’s not quite a ukulele as it has more of a jangle to its sound.
Where we start to see the biggest difference in guitar size is with the 3/4 sizing. With this specific example, you’ll see that the body and neck are both notably larger than in the previous examples.
As far as sound goes, the 3/4-size acoustic has quite a bit of presence and body to its tone. It isn’t super deep in the bass, but it has a nice mid-range punch without being boxy or trebly.
In general, 3/4-size acoustics are perhaps the ideal fulcrum of balancing decreased size with minimal tonal consequence. Some compromise does have to be made, but it isn't as extreme as the smaller sizes.
Everybody is familiar with how a full-size acoustic guitar looks on the surface level. After all, it’s the image we commonly associate with an acoustic guitar.
But, for the sake of clarity and illustration, an example of a full-size acoustic guitar has been provided. Notice how extended the player’s picking arm is when engaged in playing position.
Compared to the smaller sizes, the body of the full-size acoustic guitar requires such physical accommodation. Any person of smaller stature could easily find these physical requirements to be uncomfortable or impossible.
Because of the nature of its design, baritone acoustic guitars are going to be a bit larger than average. In the given example, the neck is slightly extended, with the body showing signs of increased width and depth.
The result of this is a guitar that has an extremely rich depth and presence in the bass EQ frequencies. These are about the closest thing to being a bass guitar without being a bass.
In a way, baritones are the ideal bridge between both standard acoustic tones with a hint of bass range. They are perfect for lower alternate tunings when some deep, smoky-throated tones are needed.
The most common smaller guitar size you’ll find with electric guitars is the 3/4-size. As you can see, the electric version is fairly comparable to the aforementioned acoustic 3/4-size example.
Compared to the adult guitarist in the video, the 3/4-size guitars in this video are pretty small. It’s tough to say how tall the guitarist in the video is, but it does illustrate what you can expect.
The tone doesn’t matter as much here because you can easily change the pickups if you so desired.
Now, let’s take a look at a standard full-size electric guitar that you will commonly find out in the wild. At a quick glance, you’ll notice that the guitar’s size is fairly proportionate to the guitarist’s size.
The guitarist doesn’t appear to need to accommodate in a physical manner in order to play the guitar. If the guitarist was standing, the guitar would likely be even more physically compatible.
This kind of fit is what you’re essentially looking for when you buy a guitar. If the guitar requires too much physical accommodation (arm/finger/hand stretching), a smaller size might be appropriate.
As you might guess, the electric baritone is larger than the average guitar. However, the guitar in the provided example appears to only be slightly larger than full-size.
Despite the longer scale length, the fret spacing still appears to be comfortable spaced along the neck. Despite its looks, the baritone nature is especially noticeable in the guitar’s tone.
With electric guitars, the baritone size affects the sound much more than that of a 3/4-size version. These are optimal for lower tunings.
What Guitar Size Is Best For Kids?
Buying a guitar for a child can feel like buying them a pair of shoes or jeans. What is right for right now might not be a proper fit in even 3 months' time.
Kids really do grow at unbelievably fast rates, often with a little bit of unpredictability thrown in for good measure. Their brain plasticity allows them to absorb new concepts and capabilities like a sponge.
When buying them a guitar, it’s best first to take stock of where they are in their development. From there, we can dial things in a little more to find the best solution for any scenario.
Are they 4 or 5 years old with plenty of growth left? Something like a 1/2-size guitar might be the most practical.
More often than not, the 3/4-size is going to be the most practical purchase when it comes to children. This sizing is the perfect transition between being too small and being too large.
As such, a 3/4-size guitar can easily be played whether they are young or after they advance into adulthood. This size does tend to have the most availability with a scaling range of overall quality.
Can Adults Benefit From Smaller Guitars?
Now that we’ve established how a smaller guitar can benefit children, can it benefit adults in the same way? The answer to this is, yes, as there are no rules to say what you cannot play as an adult.
If you’re somebody with smaller hands, or who has a smaller physique in general, a smaller size might be suitable. Much of this just depends on your own personal needs and preferences.
As an adult, you have the benefit of knowing that your physical growth has likely reached its ceiling. If you find standard-size guitars burdensome, moving to a 3/4-size guitar is totally appropriate and logical.
Some adults and professionals actually prefer guitars of smaller sizes. Ed Sheeran is a notable example, with Martin even producing a signature line of 3/4-size guitars in his name.
Many people find the slightly thinner sound of a smaller acoustic guitar to be quite desirable. Others opt for 1/2-size guitars when they want that distinct boxy tone, perfect for folk-pop music.
And really, that’s the beauty of being an adult guitar player. You can be confident in understanding the physical attributes you might need a guitar to have.
But even if you don’t physically need a smaller guitar, you could benefit from the different tones available. That’s practically the whole reason baritone guitars exist in the first place.
Plus, it’s important to note that smaller guitars can help if you have arthritis in the hands or fingers. The smaller scale length can be more accommodating by requiring taxing hand and finger movements.
Things To Avoid When Buying Guitars Of Different Sizes
If you’ve never played the guitar and are buying for a child, you need to pay attention. When a child expresses an interest in playing the guitar, buy them an actual guitar.
The default thing for parents to do is buy their children a toy that resembles a guitar. This allows the child to act like they can play, but doesn’t offer anything beyond pretend.
If you think about it, this is a little bit of a slap in the face to the interest your child might have. Why wouldn't you get something that they could at least learn the basics with?
It might seem like a counterintuitive thing to do, especially because they might treat it like a toy initially. But with some proper guidance, the guitar transitions from being a toy into a musical instrument.
This is one of the main reasons that smaller guitars are so inexpensive. They are designed for children with the intention of being used for a short period of time.
With that being said, do be aware that the distinction between toy and instrument can be hard to identify. Buying a 1/2 size guitar, for instance, might result in accidentally buying the equivalent of a toy.
In general, with smaller guitars specifically, it’s best to stick with name-brand instruments. At least this way you’ll be able to trust that it was manufactured with the intention of performance in mind.
Toys can be a measurement of interest, but if the interest exists, why not just foster that instead? This way, you’re making 1 purchase instead of 2.
Plus, many toys can cost just about the same amount of money as a guitar that’s actually playable.
As a parent, you’re likely going to make several guitar-related purchases throughout a child’s life if they stick with it. Getting them started early on the right foot can make the difference between a passing whim and a lifelong passion.
If a 1/4-size guitar is too large, something like a ukulele might be more appropriate. Ukuleles make for great transitionary instruments to the guitar.
Going this route will introduce a child to the mechanics of playing a stringed instrument. The chord fingerings will be different, but the actual playing mechanics can easily be translated to the guitar.
Why Are There More Sizes With Acoustic Guitars Compared To Electric Guitars?
You might be wondering why more variation exists with acoustic guitars compared to the selection of electric guitars available. One would have to assume that, after the 1980s, the electric guitar has been more popular than the acoustic.
To understand this, it’s important to look at the construction of both guitar variations from a generalized point of view. At first glance, the solidbody electric guitar would seem like the easiest thing to put together.
Take the Fender Telecaster, for instance, which has commonly been referred to as a “cutting board” due to its shape. It’s essentially just a slab of wood with some routing done for the installation of electronics.
Compared with the likes of any acoustic guitar, it would seem as if there is more involved with an acoustic. After all, some craftsmanship has to go into creating the boxed design that acoustic guitars have.
However, once the shell of the guitar is built, the acoustic guitar is essentially completed sans any extra features. If you think about it like that, the acoustic guitar becomes somewhat more simplistic than an electric guitar.
Plus, acoustic guitar bodies can be built from thin wood laminate, with the possibility of synthetic materials if necessary. This can help to keep the costs down, as it isn't especially ideal to make an expensive 1/2-size guitar.
Wondering why that is? Think about it, as a professional, a 1/2-size guitar probably isn’t at the top of your gear list.
Are Guitars Different Sizes? Final Thoughts
Remember, the best way to find the right guitar for you is to go to a shop and try them. Measurements online with some descriptive wording attached are completely arbitrary to your own experience.
Think about it, you can dedicate a whole day to going to guitar shops and trying out different guitars. Don’t feel rushed to make a decision, this is a process that you really should savor and enjoy!