Many beginners often wonder what is the best kind of guitar on which to learn.
Should you use an electric guitar? A steel string acoustic guitar? A nylon string acoustic guitar?
My answer to this question is very simple: go to a guitar store and play the different types of guitars and pick one that makes you feel like playing.
That is THE most important factor in picking a guitar, period. Some people will say that you should start with an electric guitar because it is easier to play, some say to start with an acoustic guitar because the heavier strings will help you build up strength and better prepare you for playing. Etc. etc. These points are valid and true. Both of them and any others that you may hear. But notice that they are also conflicting.
Bottom line is that the way that you are going to learn and improve on the guitar is by playing ALOT. If you can't stand to play your guitar because it is too hard to play the heavy strings or you don't feel like going through the trouble of setting up your electric guitar amplifier every time you want to play, then quite simply you are not going to play that guitar and you will not improve. And all of those true and valid points about the advantages of the various guitar types will be for naught.
Try out the various guitar types and pick one that inspires you to play. Which one is that? That's the guitar you played for 20 minutes instead of the ones that you picked up, played for 2 minutes and put back down. That is my suggestion and one that I know will help you in the long run.
Although I assume that the person shopping for the guitar has some very basic rudimentary abilities, maybe that is not always the case. If it is not, then I still suggest at least picking up the instrument, even plucking a string or two. The relationship between a player and the guitar is so personal...you have to like the way it looks, you have to like the way it feels in your hand and on your knee...there is a lot of physical interaction, even beyond the actual playing. So I still say, yes try some different guitars out, ie. pick them up, pluck a couple of strings, put your fingers on the fretboard, hold it on your knee. If it doesn't feel right, if there is something nagging you about it, then put it down and move on.
Like most guitarists I have owned many different guitars over the years. The ones that I eventually got rid of all had something in common...I had a nagging feeling about them the day that I bought them. They were brand name guitars, famous models, nothing really wrong with them. But the minute I picked it up I just knew that it wasn't right for me...but I always wanted to give them a try and I always ended up not playing them that much and getting rid of them.
I recently bought a Gibson Les Paul and I can tell you - I will never get rid of that guitar. The minute I picked it up I just knew for sure that it was right. And when I play that guitar it feels so good. And the day that I bought it I picked up other Les Pauls right beside the one I bought and I played them and I kept coming back to that one that I ended up buying. The day they made that guitar everything lined up right for me.
I also recently bought a Yamaha nylon string acoustic guitar...same deal. It feels very good and natural when I hold and play that guitar.
So, do you need to know how to play...it definitely helps. I would take some time to at least learn how to play one or two chords before buying. That is all you should need. You'll know what I'm talking about when you start trying different guitars.
I can give you some brand names, some price ranges, some models...but I tell you none of that matters at all if the guitar you buy does not inspire you to play...and only you can determine which guitar that is.