Easiest Guitar to Play

I've owned about 40 guitars since the early 80s (the brands and models you've heard of and likely some you haven't) and while many were tremendous players they fell short in some area or another. One thing keepers have in common is ease of playability.

A lot of factors determine the playability of a guitar including technique, neck geometry, fret profile and material, fretboard material, neck finish, scale length, string-spacing at the nut and bridge, nut height, string gauge, string material, and bridge style. And while there are some steps one can take to improve the playability of a guitar, sometimes a guitar is just the wrong one.

You want a guitar with a comfortable neck geometry and finish: the neck carve or profile should be neither too wide (greater than 1 and 11/16ths) or too narrow (less than 1 and 5/8ths)  and the depth of the neck should not be too deep nor too thin. Too tight a radius (e.g., vintage 7.5") makes playing up the neck more difficult and sticky poly finishes make moving around a chore. An example of guitars with bad neck geometry are many from Carvin which are known to be too thin along with being too wide. Some players can get along with them while others despise them. You seldom see or hear people whining about Strat or Tele neck profiles but you see a lot of complains regarding the odd profile of many Carvin guitars.

I also want guitars that facilitate flat picking, finger picking, and hybrid picking. No one-trick ponies for me. So string-spacing at the nut and bridge are important aspects. The traditional Fender string spacing at the bridge (F-spacing) is great for everything. The Gibson Tune-O-Matic bridge string spacing is a bit narrow for me but offers a nice experience at the nut. Specs on neck and nut width are helpful but not every 1 and 5/8ths, for example, are the same because while the nut may be that width the nut may be slotted in such a way that the strings are crammed in closer to one another and not taking advantage of the whole nut. For example, I had a Yairi and a Martin with the same nut width specs but felt totally different because the Martin spread the string slots out a bit more.

Frets should be tall and not too wide and those made from stainless steel offer a much smoother surface to bend on and will never wear out meaning that all your notes will sound better over the years instead of fretting out or buzzing excessively. I suggest medium jumbo stainless fretwear. Some companies offer frets dressed on a Plek machine. I think Pleking is good for some companies who have struggled for years to deliver decent fretwork (e.g., G&L) while others, e.g., PRS, do fabulous work without needing a Plek.

Guitars with short scales lengths tend to be easier to play as there is less tension on the strings and, speaking of strings, the smaller the gauge the easier it is to play. And pure nickel strings are easier to bend than nickel wound. The PRS SC245 or SC58 is a good example of a guitar with a short scale (24.5") making for an easier ride. Strats and other F-style guitars have a longer 25.5" scale length and will, as a result, increase string tension. Use lighter strings for easier playing.

Generally, pure nickel strings are a bit easier to play on than nickel wound versions. Good brands pure nickel are Curt Mangan and, if you have more money to spend, Pyramid. The heavier the gauge the greater the tension and the smaller the gauge the lower the tension. On a short scale guitar, a set of 9s will play very easily, maybe too easy. On a long scale guitar a set of 11s will be too stiff for most players.

Guitars with double locking vibrato bridges tend to be easier to play because the string is cut at the saddle and does not extend any further, decreasing the length of the overall string making for easier bends. Likewise, the locking nut means the portion of the strings running to the traditional tuners are taken out of the equation.

Anyway, of all the guitars I've played the only two I play every day are from Paul Reed Smith (a '58) and a Suhr Modern Satin with a Floyd Rose bridge and locking nut.

When properly set up these guitars virtually play themselves and I highly recommend them over models from Fender or Gibson. Of the many, many large to medium sized companies out there, hands down, PRS is making the best short scale guitars (SC245 with the aforementioned 24.5" scale or a Custom 24 which has a 25" scale) and Suhr is making the best F-scale guitars (25.5"). They cost more than your run of the mill guitars but you get what you pay for -- guitars you'll love to play for the rest of your life and something you'd be happy to leave to your heirs.

The Suhr Modern has a great neck carve, a 14" radius, stainless med. jumbo frets and a really low action. The PRS SC-58 has a 10" radius (in between the tighter vintage Fender radius and the larger Gibson radius) with a 24.5" scale length, and a comfy neck carve (Pattern which is a tad less chunky than the old Wide-Fat). Both also have rosewood fretboards which I think makes for a better sounding guitar over maple or ebony. Though, morado fretboards (ironwood) and kingwood fretboards play a bit faster to me.