The best sound quality of all the top-selling acoustic guitars on our shortlist. Durable build with attractive styling.
Reports of loose strap button on a few models.
Very easy to tune. Nice looking and suitable for beginners. A good value, as it comes with useful accessories and an instructional DVD to get you started.
Some guitars came with defective bridges. Quality control concerns include damaged guitars and missing accessories.
A complete beginner's package at an extremely low price. Great for kids and pre-teens who are learning to play.
No dots on the fretboard. Quality issues with guitar construction and tone.
Excellent sound by a top brand. Has a beautiful finish with a mahogany back. Comes with essential accessories including an instructional DVD for beginners.
A few quality control issues noted, including guitars that arrived with warped necks.
As many folk singers, troubadours, and campfire song leaders have discovered, the simple beauty of an acoustic guitar just can’t be beat. If you don’t already own an acoustic guitar, there are plenty of compelling reasons to buy one.
Two of the strongest reasons to buy an acoustic guitar are user-friendliness and price. Some musical instruments are prohibitively expensive for beginners, and they’re difficult to learn, too. Not the acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitars are easy to learn, easy to carry, easy on the ears. And you can buy an acoustic guitar for an affordable price. The most difficult challenge in purchasing an acoustic guitar is finding the ideal fit for you. In this shopping guide, we will discuss some important elements to consider when browsing the acoustic guitar market.
At BestReviews, we provide honest reviews on a wide variety of consumer goods and services. If you’re looking to buy a quality acoustic guitar, here’s our guide to finding the best one for you.
When shopping for a new acoustic guitar, it helps to have an idea what types of tonewoods you prefer. If you’re not sure what you prefer, however, that’s okay.
Here’s a look at the different types of tonewoods you may find on a guitar.
Ash is a popular tonewood known for its pleasing resonance.
Basswood is an inexpensive tonewood often found on lower-priced acoustic guitars.
Cedar is a good tonewood for the top of a guitar.
Rosewood is one of the most popular tonewood choices. It is most often seen on the fretboard.
Spruce, like cedar, is a fairly inexpensive tonewood for the top of an acoustic guitar. It typically gets good results.
Mahogany and maple are two of the best tonewoods, especially when paired together.
Other tonewoods and combinations of tonewoods can also sound good. When shopping for a new acoustic guitar, it’s helpful if you can hear a recording of the guitar first – or even test it out yourself.
Many acoustic guitar manufacturers will pre-string their products before selling them, largely because a newly created instrument needs to be under tension while it’s settling into shape. The original set of strings on an acoustic guitar is often a medium gauge, which can be hard on a beginner’s fingers.
Immediately changing out the strings is always a temptation, but students should seek guidance from an experienced teacher before making such a drastic adjustment. Some playing styles, like rhythmic chord strumming, are actually easier with heavier-gauge strings.
Here are some other things to keep in mind about acoustic guitar strings.
Yes, the strings play an important role in an acoustic guitar’s overall tonality and resonance, but they are not miracle workers.
Excessive buzzing is a symptom of low action, meaning the strings are too closely positioned to the fretboard. The most expensive strings on the market will not fix this problem.
Similarly, if the action is too high, the lightest-gauge strings will not improve the tone.
Some players may decide to switch from nylon strings to heavier steel strings in order to play slides or other blues/rock techniques.
This can be a tragically bad idea, since steel strings place a lot more tension on the guitar’s head and neck than nylon strings.
Many guitars will accommodate softer nylon strings, but classical and flamenco guitars cannot handle the additional stress of metal strings.
As a beginner, you may experience less finger pain when using nylon strings. However, you will still definitely form calluses if you play your nylon strings enough. Nylon strings provide a mellower tone for finger-picking styles.
If you want your fingers to feel more comfortable but don’t want to switch to nylon strings, consider changing to a lighter-gauge metal string and lowering the action. Some experts posit that this could be just as beneficial as switching to nylon strings for the sake of comfort.
Guitar string technology is constantly evolving, so it pays to do some research or talk to a professional luthier about all the available options.
Some string sets now use a polymer coating to reduce friction and corrosion. Others wrap silk, nylon, or copper around the lower steel wires to produce a more delicate tone.
Bronze alloys containing phosphor or aluminum also help extend the life of the strings.
Whether you’re shopping for an entry-level acoustic guitar or a high-end vintage custom model, there are some questions you should ask before you settle on a purchase. After all, the overall quality of an acoustic guitar can vary widely from piece to piece, not just from model to model or brand to brand.
Tonality is an important consideration for many musical instruments, and that’s especially true when it comes to acoustic guitars. The strings, fretboard, sound holes, and body of a guitar all play a role in how the guitar will sound to an audience. The distance between the strings and the fretboard (called the “action”) can also affect sound quality.
Some manufacturers reinforce this connection mechanically using special metal truss rods or screws. Others rely on industrial adhesives and/or carpentry joints (dovetails) to keep the neck and body together under tension.
The overall fit should be strong with no signs of cracking or warping.
The choice of tonewoods for the various components and the type of finish used can also make a difference in quality.
Some sellers offer complete acoustic guitar “starter kits.”
A kit might include an additional set of strings, a tuner, and/or cleaning supplies.
If you don’t want to have to worry about buying these things separately, you may wish to buy a starter kit.
All guitars need a protective case, sleeve, or bag for safe storage.
You might buy a guitar that comes with a case, or you might wish to select your own case separately.
The price of acoustic guitars varies widely, from less than $100 for a basic student model to over $15,000 for a rare vintage collectible.
Sometimes, the difference between a $300 acoustic guitar and a $3,000 acoustic guitar is mostly cosmetic. For example, a high-end acoustic guitar may feature pricier tonewood or a more intricate inlay on the body.
Other times, there is a true difference in overall quality between a $300 acoustic guitar and a $3,000 acoustic guitar. This difference lies in the manufacturer’s craftsmanship and choice of materials.
Beginning students will not necessarily benefit from an $800 brand name acoustic guitar, but advanced musicians may want to scrutinize tone quality, craftsmanship, and material choices before investing in a new acoustic guitar.
Q. My son wants to learn to play guitar, but I don’t know what kind to buy him. Are there smaller guitars made for younger players?
A. Yes, a number of guitar manufacturers produce student-size guitars, and parents can trade up for larger sizes as their child grows and progresses. Some older children may be able to use a traditional acoustic guitar if the body style is a good fit. There are also special rehearsal guitar “sticks” that simulate a fretboard but produce very little sound.
Q. I recently bought my first acoustic guitar, and I’ve been teaching myself how to play it. Why doesn’t my guitar have the same sound as the ones I hear at professional concerts?
A. Many professional musicians invest thousands of dollars in high-end guitars made from expensive and rare tonewoods. A $100 student guitar made from spruce is not going to produce that level of tonality regardless of the player’s skill level. As a beginner, your main focus should be on skills such as chord formation, fretting techniques, and basic scales. Improving tonality and performance are long-term goals.
Q. I recently retired, and now I want to learn how to play the acoustic guitar. Am I starting too late? Don’t I have to develop calluses on my fingertips?
A. It is never too late to learn how to play a musical instrument. An acoustic guitar does present some unique challenges for beginners, including the formation of calluses over time. Some working professional guitarists actually develop deep grooves on their fingertips after years of performing. But this is not a requirement in order to become an accomplished amateur guitarist. Practically every musical instrument places some physical demands on players, but developing skills like muscle memory and improvisation are tangible benefits of that extra effort.
Q. I saw an acoustic guitar at my local pawn shop. Is it a good idea to buy a guitar from this type of store?
A. Musical instruments, especially acoustic and electric guitars, are routinely pawned for short-term loans. Buyers prepared to pay cash can sometimes find high-quality acoustic guitars at pawn shops, but there are no guarantees on condition. Furthermore, the seller may or may not be able to provide any technical information or additional accessories.
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