So, you’ve been bitten by the guitar bug, and now you’re on the hunt for your very first axe, how exciting!
The 6-string will completely change how you experience and interact with music, it will expand your social circles and knowledge base, and, ultimately, alter the direction of your life.
But before you can set your new musical course, you first have to decide what sort of guitar is right for beginners, and, more importantly, you.
There are a million things to think about, but one of them you may be paying particular attention to is the size of your prospective 6-string. Should you go for 38 or 41 inches?
The general idea is that if you’re a shorter player (we’re talking 5.2 or below), then you’ll benefit from a smaller 38” instrument, whereas, if you’re of average or above-average height, you’re better off choosing something a little larger, but the matter is slightly more complex than this “rule” suggests.
Total guitar length isn’t always a suitable metric for deciding what sort of instrument you should start out with. Let’s discuss why.
38 VS 41” Guitars — Is Total Guitar Length Significant
I’m going to go into more details about the differences between 38 and 41” guitars a bit later on, but first, I want to explain why total guitar length isn’t as helpful as we may first imagine.
What Is Total Guitar Length?
The total length of the guitar is the combined length of all its discrete sections… the body, the neck, and the headstock. This, I’m sure you’re already aware of, but what you may not have realized is just how vague these figures are.
I mean, sure… they give you some very basic information, but they give no clues as to the dimensions of the individual sections of the instrument, and those are the measurements you need to determine how a guitar will feel.
Most guitar designs are unique, even if they share the same total length.
For example, you could have two 41” guitars in front of you, but they’ll feel completely different, because one might have a longer neck but shorter body, and the other might have a larger body and a shorter neck.
A third 41” guitar might even have an alarmingly big headstock.
What I’m getting at here is that total length alone does not provide the details you need to decide on a beginner guitar.
A much more important consideration would be scale length, which is the distance between the nut and the saddle, or in other words, the playable area.
Having said that, the larger the guitar, the higher the likelihood that the individual parts will all be slightly bigger than any of the parts that make up a smaller guitar, so it does sort of matter… a bit.
I Can’t Find the Total Length Of A Guitar Online, Why?
Most manufacturers won’t even bother listing the overall length of a guitar for precisely the reasons we’ve just discussed.
It translates some very basic information quickly, but most guitarists are after more specific details, especially those who’ve been playing for a while.
What you’ll see instead of numerical measurements are labels such as “Jumbo” or “Dreadnought”, and what these names do is imply an approximate overall size.
If a guitarist sees the word dreadnought in the description, they’ll know that it’s a pretty hefty instrument, and that’s all the info most will need in this very general department.
Choosing Between A 38 And 41” Guitar: What Should You Do?
Okay, so I know that, thus far, I’ve been pretty hard on the old total length measurements, but there are a few fairly concrete differences to speak of that will help you make your decision.
Reasons to Choose a 38″ Guitar
Let’s begin with the practical reasons for choosing a smaller guitar.
- You’re quite small — if you feel that your size is going to make playing a larger guitar more difficult, then by all means go for a 38-incher, but make sure to check the measurements of individual parts of the guitar before buying it. It could be that the neck is too long, or the body is too chunky.
- Portability — Unless they’re made out of particularly dense wood, 38s are typically a fair bit lighter than 41s, so if you’re looking for an instrument that’s easy on the back, or you have to walk quite a distance to practice or school, a 38 is a wise choice.
- Thinner fretboard — A thinner fretboard means that, even if you have quite dainty hands, you won’t struggle to spread your fingers across the whole thing, so you’ll be able to nail any chords that come your way.
- Closer frets — A smaller neck means that each fret is also smaller and closer together, so when you start learning those big stretchy chords, you won’t suffer quite as badly from the dreaded hand cramps and wrist pains common to our craft.
Now let’s consider some sonic reasons for picking a more diminutive instrument.
- They’re quieter — This may seem like more of a drawback than a benefit, but that’s not the case. What they don’t tell you when you first pick up a guitar is that you’re going to get on everybody’s nerves.
Practicing is great for us musicians, but the constant repetition of a musical phrase is maddening to the casual listener. If you can keep your practice sessions hush-hush, it will make things much easier for everyone involved.
Besides, you don’t want people to hear your works in progress, you want them to hear the polished result.
- They have a sweeter sound — Most 38s have a smaller resonating chamber than 41s, which means they don’t produce as many bass frequencies, amounting to a lighter, sweeter sound.
- Cutting through the mix — Another benefit of absentee bass frequencies is that mid and treble frequencies stand out more in busy mixes, which means you’ll be able to hear yourself during noisy jam sessions, while everybody else sinks into a muddy musical mess.
Reasons To Choose A 41” Guitar
Again, I’ll start with the practical side of 41” guitars.
- You’re quite tall — Smaller guitars may feel a little too toy-like to the longer human beings out there, and the fretboard may not give your fingers enough room to really stretch out and perform.
- Larger frets — Smaller frets may make things easier when it comes to wrist-snapping chords, but they require a precise touch. With larger frets, you don’t have to be quite as accurate with your fretting.
- You won’t outgrow it — If you’re a young learner, you should consider the fact that you’re still growing, so even though a 38 might seem more appropriate now, a couple of years down the line, you might be wishing you settled on a 41.
Now for the sonic reasons to pick a 41.
- Volume — If you want to play loud and proud, then a 41 is the only way to go.
- You’re a bit of a bass nut — If you like your tones rich, deep, and warm, then you need the larger, booming resonance chamber of a 41.
- You’re a rhythm player — 41s may not be as prominent in the mix as 38s, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your big sound is going to fill a lot of sonic space and give your fellow musicians a stable foundation to build on.
How Big Is A Full-Size Guitar?
“Full-size guitar” is probably one of the most misleading terms in the entire guitar world. You may be worried that a 38 or 41 isn’t a full-size guitar, but the truth of the matter is, they’re both full-size guitars. That’s right, people! There is no standardized full guitar measurement. As long as the scale length measures 25” or above, it’s considered a full guitar.
Should Beginners Start With A 38 Or 41” Guitar — Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What’s The Best Guitar Size For Beginners?
A: There is no one best guitar size for beginners. It all comes down to your build and your personal preferences; however, young children or particularly small adults may benefit from starting out on ¾ size guitar.
Q: How Old Should You Be To Play A 38” Guitar?
A: 38” instruments are typically recommended for players ages 10 and up.
Q: How Do You Pick A Beginner Guitar?
A: There are four primary factors to consider when choosing your very first guitar: the feel, the sound, the look, and the price.
Feel — You should look for an ergonomic instrument that suits your body type and stature, otherwise, you’ll be uncomfortable when you play, which will distract you from the task at hand, limit practice length, and ultimately, stunt your progress.
Sound — An guitar needs to sound pleasant to your ear. A bad-sounding instrument will wear you down, and before you know it, it will become an ornament.
Look — Call me vain, but I think the look of a guitar is essential. Whenever you see it, you should feel inspired to pick it up and play!
Price — You may end up deciding that the guitar’s not for you, so it’s best not to spend a fortune on your very first one.