So your child just told you he wants to learn guitar. He's always sung along to the radio in the car and you think he's pretty musical so you decide to surprise him for christmas. Your buddies at work all recommend acoustic guitars for beginners (they're more quiet) and Martins and Taylors are the best, so that's what you get him. After all, you want the best for your kid, right?
Good intentions, but not necessarily good choices.
Everybody Loves Music
Just because your kid sings in the car or bangs on the kitchen pots and pans doesn't mean you should buy him a big name guitar and lessons-- lots of kids do these things. Making noise and singing at the top of your lungs is a primal instinct for many children. I recommend enrolling your kid in an early education music class as a musical litmus test of sorts. These classes have lots of musical games and activities, and there is also a social element in the group setting.
Electric For Starters
One of the biggest hurdles when you're first learning guitar is simply the physical task of getting your fingers to do what you want them to. Electric guitars use lighter strings and usually have lower action (string height) so they will be easier on the fingers. They also won't hurt as much while a beginner is getting callouses.
Many parents associate acoustic guitars with lower volume, but they don't know or realize that an unplugged electric is more quiet than an acoustic.
An electric guitar is also more durable than an acoustic. Young students bang their guitars on everything. They're just not used to the dimensions and balance of a guitar, nor do they realize that a wooden guitar responds to simple environmental changes like temperature and moisture in the air. No joke, these Minnesota winters are harsh on my St. Paul guitars, even the loaner guitar I keep in my teaching studio. So buy them a good student instrument while they learn how to take care of it, and get them the Martin later. It'll give them something to work toward.
I've received lots of inquiries from potential students before they had an instrument, and they usually want to know how much to expect to pay for an instrument. My ballpark figure is $200-$500, anything less is a toy and not an instrument, and anything more is a liability in the hands of a beginner. Some people are shocked when they hear these figures, but really it's no big deal compared to other instrument prices. Don't believe me? Check out the prices on violins and saxophones.
If you feel savvy enough, you can get a better instrument for a better price and overall better value if you buy used. In general, shops that sell used gear feature 'pre-approved' stuff on their shelves. They're not going to take in junk if they can't get rid of it. Ebay also has great deals but you have to be more savvy to not get ripped off.
Moral of the Story
Don't buy them the Martin or Taylor yet. A high end instrument might sound better and be made better but it could be discouraging to a beginner when it reveals the flaws in their technique. Save that for later and teach them dedication and work ethic in the meantime.
For the dollar, this is a very good value pack for beginning guitar players. I've seen many new students learn successfully on these guitars and still have a decent guitar when all is said and done. It will include everything you need to get started, except a guitar teacher :) If you you're looking for a cheaper price...let's get real: this is a cheap price.