G Scale Beginners Advice

Latest update: 30 September 2016


If you are reading this page, you are probably new to the G scale hobby. Therefore, I wish you welcome!

On this page, I try to give you some advice on how to get started in the world of G scale trains and garden railroads. I say “advice”, as – like many things in life – there is no right way to do it.

It’s my own personal view on things, so you may or may not agree with me. You don’t need to agree with me, I just want to point out some things to consider when starting out with G scale yourself.

Take Things Slowly

First of all, I would strongly advice you to take things slowly. A lot of the decisions you make in the early stage of your hobby, can affect you (and your wallet) in the long term. Don’t be in a rush to make decisions on what trains you will buy, how you will lay down the track etc.

When you’re new to the hobby, it’s very tempting to get on eBay and out of excitement buy a lot of stuff “because it looks nice” or “because it’s such a bargain, wow!”. You will very likely end up with a lot of rolling stock that doesn’t match together. It happened to me when I started, and I see it happen way too many times with other people as well. Of course, you can run whatever you like and what looks good to you, but I recommend you to at least have some sort of plan.

My advice is to start by browsing this website (especially the “G Scale Info” section) and other websites. Join a forum, join a nearby G scale club, or find some fellow G scale enthusiasts in your area so you can ask some questions… This will teach you a lot, and you will be familiar with the typical challenges and problems you might face in G scale.

Make Your Own Decisions

While it’s good to obtain information from websites, clubs and G scale enthusiasts, please don’t forget those people all have their own (strong) opinions as well. People will tell you why their trains / systems / methods are best, and possibly influence your decisions as well.

One person tells you to buy A, another person tells you to buy B. You get the point: a lot of the info will be conflicting. It’s like arguing on which car is better, a Ford or a BMW. Both are good cars, in the end it’s a matter of taste (and other factors of course). It’s the same in G scale.

Gather information, but make your own decisions. Being influenced by others is inevitable, but don’t let them make decisions for you. Gather info, decide what is best for you, and make your own decisions accordingly.

Make a Plan

As I wrote above, it’s a good idea to make some sort of plan to achieve your “dream” of having a (garden) railway. In your head, you probably already have some kind of image of what you want to achieve. Plan accordingly.

Some questions you will need to ask yourself are:

  • What type of trains do I want to run? Which era, which style?
  • What do I dream about? What do I want my layout to look like?
  • How will I operate my layout? Running a train, enjoying a beer? Intensive shunting operations? One or multiple trains running?
  • How much time and effort do I want to put in?
  • What is my budget?

Trains: Types, Styles, Eras

Trains have evolved a lot over time. From the early days of steam with small locomotives, to the last great days of steam with huge articulated locomotives and long passenger trains, to the diesel area and finally the electrification of many railways around the world.

Many people love the good old days of steam, others prefer to run the trains they see running today. The transition era where steam and diesel were both in use is also a very popular choice.

People living in Europe usually run European style trains, people in the US prefer to run American style trains. It’s a natural thing to choose the trains running in your own country or region, but why not pick something you’re unfamiliar with? As an American, you can very much enjoy modelling German narrow gauge trains as well – and vice versa.

The great thing about trains is that there are so many different types and styles. A small German narrow gauge railway with short passenger trains is entirely different from an American mainline railroad with multiple diesel locomotives pulling one of those insanely long freight trains.

Each style requires a different approach when building a G scale railway. Want to run modern US mainline trains? You’ll need large curves. Interested in a German narrow gauge railroad? Tight curves will be less of a problem, and your railway will look entirely different as well.

What Is Available?

In general, there’s a nice selection of narrow gauge and standard gauge rolling stock of both European and American prototypes.

However, “G” scale is a bit of mess when it comes to scale. The common 45 mm gauge (distance between the tracks) can be represented by a scale of 1:32 for European and American standard gauge. European narrow gauge can be scaled at 1:22,5, while American narrow gauge can be correctly represented at 1:20,3 scale.

Some manufacturers put a lot of effort into creating an exact scale model, but the majority offers products in a “compromised scale”. Over time, various scales have been introduced, and the most common scales are now 1:19, 1:20,3, 1:22,5, 1:24, 1:29 and 1:32. Learn more about these scales here: What is G scale?.

For some people, scale is important. Others are not bothered by it at all. It’s a personal choice. If you want to mix 1:20,3 scale narrow gauge rolling stock with 1:32 standard gauge trains, feel free to do so. Just be aware that the proportions sometimes will look a bit funny.

What Do I Want My Layout to Look Like?

Everybody experiences their hobby differently. Some like collecting trains and placing them in a nice train display case on the wall, others spend more time building models than actually running them, and others prefer simply running their trains for hours and hours while enjoying a beer.

The design of your layout will play a large role in how you will run your trains. If you build a single loop, you can leave a train running in circles for hours while sitting back and relaxing. If you build a point-to-point layout (more prototypical), you’ll need to do some shunting to keep the trains running. Some people even like having a huge fiddle yard for complex train operations to keep them busy.

Will you be adding lineside buildings, a complete landscape, or just laying track only? This also has a large impact on the time and effort you need to put into your railway.

Everything is possible, but make sure you clearly know what you want before building your layout. Just find a nice balance between keeping things simple (with the risk of getting bored) and going all out on details (with the risk of spending more time on maintenance than actually running trains).

How Will I Control My Trains?

There are a few different ways of controlling your locomotives. By default, most locomotives and starter sets are “analogue” (also called DC). Operation is simple: feed power to the track, turn the knob on the controller and the loco will move. For most people, staying with analogue DC is fine.

If you want more advanced control over your locomotives, and more realistic sound and smoke functions, you can upgrade your locomotives to DCC (digital). DCC is a very popular standard, also in the smaller scales like H0 and O scale.

Both analogue DC and digital DCC locomotives typically pick up power from the track, which means the track needs to be cleaned regularly to avoid contact problems.

People who don’t want to depend on track power, often switch to RC. With RC, your locomotive is controlled wirelessly, and powered by an on-board battery. Although you need to do far less track maintenance, you need to make sure your locomotives are charged and you’ll experience limited running times.

A completely different option is live steam, where your locomotive operates more like the real thing. Live steam requires you to “work” to keep the locomotive running, as you need to monitor temperatures, pressure levels and so on.

Want to know more about the basics of train control in G scale? This page goes in more detail: Train Control Introduction (Analogue DC, Digital DCC, RC).

Budget

The model railroad hobby isn’t the cheapest of hobbies. Track will be your biggest cost in the initial stages, although you will find it at more affordable prices secondhand.

Prices of rolling stock in G scale vary a lot. A lot of mass produced (plastic) models are available at reasonable prices, the “finescale” (higher scale fidelity, metal construction, more detailling etc.) models are usually the most expensive.

Most important, don’t waste your money. Most people start out by buying starter sets, that usually come with small locomotives and short rolling stock, and small radius curves. Starter sets are great if you want to have a first experience with G scale, but are not always the best choice.

Let’s say you already have an idea of building an American mainline railroad. This means you will need larger radius curves for these big diesel locomotives. Don’t start with a starter set, as you can immediately throw away the small radius curves from the starter set…

Don’t Plan Too Much

You need a general idea of what you want to achieve, but you don’t need to plan every little detail. Just get the idea of what you want and how you will achieve it, and the rest will follow. Make sure you implement it in stages, which also helps managing the costs.