Any recommendations for a newbie? I can go either way but if buying an established starter is better I'm OK with that. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.
If you can purchase an established starter from a baker - why not?
Usually you can buy only dry sourdough extract in natural food stores (if any), and in that case I would definitely start my own starter. It's pretty easy to do, but takes some time to develop its taste.
Here in TFL you can find several examples how to go about it. I do it like this.
I made my first sd using Dan Leoplard's method as outlined in 'The Handmade Loaf'. It worked like a charm and I had a vigorous starter going within a matter of a few days. I had no clue what I was doing and didn't trust myself at all so, even though it worked really well, I bought some dry starter and used it once it arrived chucking out the one I had made….Oh ye of little faith….That was me and I can't believe I actually did that.
Once I realized that my starter had been just fine I started up another one and have been using it ever since.
I live in a location with an active local food and freecycle. So I asked on Freecycle and found some starter....
Either way should produce great results, but I think you'll find creating your own starter more satisfying. It shouldn't take more than 2 weeks to create a useable starter with any of many methods described here on The Fresh Loaf (or anywhere else for that matter). It'll take a bit longer to fully mature and develop its best taste.
I'm fairly new to sourdough myself and have really enjoyed baking and eating it, although it's different from baking bread with commercial yeast. Good luck on your sourdough journey :)
It's now a healthy three year old toddler that helps me make great bread!
I used the pineapple juice method which I think is bullet proof for a newbie.
If you would prefer an existing starter you can get a good one for free by searching for Carl Griffith's 1847 starter. I've used it in the past and still have some dried out that I could bring back as I like.
For all the suggestions, I think I will try making my own and I am going to get some of the Carl Griffith's as well until I get a handle on this stuff.
I had really poor luck with the breads I made with Carl's starter. My advice would be to go to a bakery and ask to get a sample of theirs, preferably the oldest bakery in the area. When I got a starter that was 13-years old from a member of the St. Paul Bread Club, my breads quickly became much better.
Whatever you do, don't buy a powdered starter from a store. You can just as easily make your own without spending $5-10.