But musical instruments (of all sorts – not just guitars) are tools for learning, and that makes them different from cars or phones.
A good article by Ron Lieber in the New York Times online brings up all the salient points parents ask when buying instruments for their children who are beginning to play a musical instrument. It's a bit guitar-heavy, but the concepts are universal.
Music teachers, store owners and employees, and repair technicians get these questions all the time. "What should I buy for my beginner?" "How much should I pay?" And the big one in recent times: "I've never heard of this brand before, but it is really inexpensive. Should I buy it?"
There are as many philosophies as there are brands, but everyone agrees on not buying a pro-line model for a beginner. Those instruments are expensive, and are not necessarily the best for a developing student.
Nor are the ultra-low cost brands nor no-name models. These instruments are often made cheaply, with low cost of manufacture being the goal. They are aimed at the largest segment of the market, namely the parents who say, "I know my kid. She is going to quit playing at the end of the year, and I don't want to invest a lot of money." Sadly, these instruments practically guarantee that the child WILL quit. They often don't play well, and fixing them is often impossible either due to poor construction or cost.
The core of my recommendation to every parent in this situation is to do your research. Ask about models and brands that are reputable and known for quality. Do some price searching. And consider a used instrument purchase, especially if you can obtain a trial period return policy. Set a budget based on your research and try to stick to it.
If a child has success with a good quality instrument then that child is more likely to continue playing. When he or she advances both in skill and age, then a better-model instrument purchase will likely make sense. I often advise to keep the original instrument if possible, if only for a backup or a marching instrument.
Dave and Chris are brass technicians who enjoy helping players get the most out of their playing experience.