By Chris Gill
Track down the six-string of your dreams with our guide to body shapes, wood and how much to pay
You've got the bug - you’ve decided to buy an acoustic guitar - and nothing will stop you. But how do you find the best acoustic guitar for beginners?
You navigate your way through the racks of gear and gaggle of fools trying to play the solo to Stairway to Heaven to find the acoustic guitar room in the far reaches of the building.
As you close the glass doors, you take a deep breath and survey the room. Hundreds of acoustics of all sizes, shapes and colors hang, meat-like, from the walls and ceiling. You really want to take one of those lovelies home today, right now, but a sudden thought stays your trembling hands: I don’t have a clue what I’m looking for.
My task here is to give you that clue - to ensure that prior to entering the unfriendly confines of a big, gleaming music store you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’d like in an acoustic guitar.
- Explore the best acoustic guitars for beginners
The buck stops where?
Unless your dying aunt has willed you the vintage six-string that’s been gathering dust and accruing value in her attic all these years, your first question must be: How much do I want to spend?
While there are respectable guitars to be had in any price range, the fact is that you do get what you pay for. And if a wily salesman convinces you that he’s got “just what you’re looking for, and it’s only a tad more expensive,” you need to be able to make an informed decision.
If you’re a beginner or just want something to bang around on in your bedroom or at the beach, you’ll still probably want to spend at least $300 for a guitar. Anything less will almost certainly get you something that not only will be very difficult to play but will sound lousy, besides.
Say you’ve got a spending ceiling of around $700. Guitars at this price range should have a solid spruce stop. Raise that to $1,200 and you’re talking about a solid-wood instrument. The word 'laminate' should not appear in descriptions of guitars that cost close to or above four figures.
Guitars in the range of $1,200 and $2,500 must get you nothing less than a pro-level instrument that you will love and never outgrow. Anything above that, and you’re in highly specialized and hand-crafted territory—a danger zone because if you buy a lemon for this kind of money nothing will ever blunt that sour feeling in your stomach.
If you are particularly budget conscious, here are a couple of friendly suggestions. Don’t put your cash into expensive accessories - say, handtooled leather straps, or even more practical items like a high-end tuner.
Instead, put all that money into the best guitar you can get. Remember that nobody in his right mind pays list price these days; discounts of 10 to 30 (and often 40) percent are standard. Large music stores are no different from cut-rate clothing establishments and audio shops - they’ll use any holiday or other excuse to have a 'Blowout Sales Event of the Century' that in truth won’t offer you much of a real savings.
Choosing your weapon
There is no such thing as right or wrong when it comes to choosing a guitar. Bigger does not always mean better, and the popularity of a particular guitar does not necessarily mean that it’s for you. Acoustics come in all shapes and sizes, and (this should be your mantra) what someone else finds appealing may not be right for you.
The traditional workhorse of acoustic guitars is the dreadnought, of which the Martin D-28 is the standard bearer. Powerful, versatile and extremely cool-looking, this model has graced countless recordings and is the classic rock acoustic guitar. The D-28’s success over the years has spawned countless imitations, good and bad.
Pick one out, give it a few good strums and then go on to something with a different look, feel and sound - a small guitar, like a Grand Concert size Taylor, a jumbo Gibson or an Ovation Adamas. Even if you can’t afford any of these instruments, playing them will give you at least an idea of the kind of guitar you’re most comfortable with.
Set it up
Obviously, whatever guitar you ultimately choose must be comfortable to play. If the action is too high - the strings are too far from the fretboard - your fingers will pay a price, and it may be an indication that the neck is bowed. Look for low, even action up and down the fretboard, with the strings slightly higher at the 12th fret.
Check for fret buzz by playing chords and single notes at different spots on the neck. Some pro players like their action higher for a clearer, punchier sound, but if you are a beginner or an electric player buying your first acoustic, you will probably find light strings and a low action to be more suited to your needs.
You may have heard players discuss how good or bad the “intonation” is on a particular guitar. This refers to how well a guitar is in tune up and down the neck. The easiest way to check this is to play an open D chord and then play the same D chord at the 14th fret. If the guitar sounds out of tune up there you know it’s got a problem.
Although tuning and other problems like fret buzz can often be alleviated with simple neck adjustments, they sometimes require more involved bridge work. The odds are that this is something you don’t want to get into when buying a brand new guitar. On the other hand, if you’ve really fallen in love with a particular instrument that needs a little work, have the dealer take care of the necessary repairs and then try the guitar again before finalizing your purchase.
How does one confidently access something as subjective as sound After all, a guitar whose deep bass knocks me out may strike you as being too boomy. Every guitar style - every individual guitar, really - is unique, and there are no universal guidelines for what constitutes a “good”- or “bad”-sounding guitar. Again, you are the final arbiter - it’s your money, and your ears are the only judge and jury that matter.
The best way to really hear how a guitar sounds is to have someone else strum it as you listen from a distance of a few feet. A guitar heard from this vantage point will sound completely different than it does when you play it.
The type, quality and combination of woods used in the construction of a guitar all help determine its tone. Entry-level models are typically made of laminated wood, which does not mature as it gets older; what you hear is what you get. Intermediate guitars, on the other hand, generally feature solid wood tops combined with laminated back and sides. And the best instruments are made of solid wood, which produce a richer and more resonant sound.
Guitar tops are most commonly made of spruce or cedar, while standard woods for the back and sides are rosewood, mahogany and maple. Synthetic materials are also used effectively by companies like Ovation and Rainsong.
The most common choice for an acoustic guitar top. It has a very good strength-to-weight ratio that makes it possible for the top to be relatively thin yet still be strong and very resonant. Spruce tops can take whatever you dish out and will remain responsive even when played very hard. Spruce is perfect for strumming and flatpicking styles.
You will recognize a cedar top because it has a darker color than spruce and has a slight reddish hue. Cedar responds nicely to a light attack, and is an excellent choice for fingerpicking and lowered tension tunings. Because it is softer and not as strong as spruce, cedar can be overdriven if played too hard, causing the sound to compress and lose some integrity.
This dark-colored wood imparts a deep warmth and complex richness to the tone of a guitar. Brazilian rosewood is the holy grail of tone woods and is much prized by luthiers and players alike. The scarcity of Brazilian, however, makes it very expensive. Indian rosewood has similar timbre qualities but is not as striking visually.
This is an excellent wood that falls in the middle of the tonal spectrum, imparting a bright and warm sound with sweet highs.
A maple body will produce a bright, dry tone with a very clear, well-defined high end. Quilted or tiger maple can be quite dramatic visually.
Although synthetic guitars will never totally replace the wooden variety, they have been around for decades and are quite popular. Ovation uses a fiberglass composite for the body and sides of its rounded body guitars, combined with a solid wood top, while Rainsong produces instruments made mostly of graphite.
In general, synthetic guitars are less susceptible than wood to climatic changes and offer distinctive tonal characteristics. On the other hand, they tend not to improve with age.
Most acoustic guitars feature clear, natural finishes. Sunbursts and other colors have their unique appeal, but be aware that a heavier finish may hinder the sound. Look for a translucent finish through which you can see the wood grain.
Mother-pearl-inlays, herringbone trim, gold-plated tuners and other decorative options certainly can add to the beauty of a guitar, but they do not necessarily make it a better instrument. On the other hand, if having your name inlaid on the fretboard makes you think you sound better, it might be worth looking into.
Footnote: Some of the best-sounding acoustic guitars I’ve ever played were also the ugliest.
There are advantages to buying at a large national chain or regional music store. On the one hand, they usually carry a large selection of guitars and are well stocked. On the other hand, they are less likely to carry unusual or so-called 'boutique' (aka extremely high-end) instruments.
Specialty acoustic guitar shops offer very specific advantages, such as knowledgeable sales staffers who are more likely to spend a lot of time with you, as well as a wide selection of guitars with everything from drool-worthy boutique items to tried.
- Need a new acoustic? Explore the best acoustic guitars around
- On a budget? These are the best acoustic guitars under $1,000
- Read more: the best acoustic guitar strings for every style
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Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.
How do I choose an acoustic guitar for beginners? ›
The key features a beginner needs is a guitar that is well set-up and easy to play, but you don't really need to spend too much money on getting a better quality of sound. Higher level guitars will only sound better when your playing has progressed to the level that you can play quite well.What should I buy with my first acoustic guitar? ›
- Picks. You will need to buy a few picks. ...
- Tuner. It is essential to get your guitar in tune! ...
- Spare strings. Don't make the mistake of not having spare strings. ...
- Strap. Getting a strap is a very good idea. ...
- Strap Locks. ...
- Metronome. ...
- Capo. ...
- Music Stand.
A good ballpark cost for a decent, beginner guitar is anywhere between $200 and $800. Depending on your means, your previous experience, and your commitment to learning, this is different for every individual.What are the 3 types of acoustic guitars? ›
In this guitar guide, we'll go over the three most common types of acoustic guitars that you'll find on the market today: the dreadnought, grand concert, and grand auditorium cutaway.How can you tell a good quality acoustic guitar? ›
- Visually inspect the guitar for damage. ...
- Test the electronics. ...
- Detune, then re-tune the guitar. ...
- Play songs you know well. ...
- Test the intonation. ...
- Check every fret for buzzing. ...
- Check the action height. ...
- Check for neck warping issues.
The price of a good acoustic guitar for a beginner should range between $150 and $300. A high-quality intermediate guitar can cost up to 800 dollars. Custom guitars can cost thousands of dollars, but once you've purchased one, you'll notice a huge difference.What is the first thing a beginner guitarist should learn? ›
Playing open chords
Open chords are one of the first skills a beginner guitarist will learn. Master just three, and you can play a whole host of popular songs. Aside from attending guitar lessons, following a chord chart is one of the best ways to get acquainted with the basics.
So, to sum up, good quality beginner acoustic guitars cost around $100 – $400, intermediates range between $400 – $1000, and professional acoustics are $1000 and more. But don't be scared that you aren't getting a high-quality acoustic if you are paying less than $1000.What guitar is easiest to start with? ›
Electric guitars are generally the easiest to play: the strings are usually thinner, the 'action' is lower and therefore the strings are easier to press down. The necks are generally narrower too which can help in the early stages.Whats a good budget for a guitar? ›
However, as a general guide, an entry-level to mid-range guitar in the $200-$800 range is a reasonable budget for most people. An entry-level acoustic guitar will set you back around $100-200. A standard acoustic guitar ranges in price from $300-800. The cost of a high-end acoustic guitar can range from $3000 to $5000.
Is 50 too old to learn guitar? ›
You are never too old to learn guitar. You can start learning guitar at any age. While younger people tend to learn faster, you are still capable of learning guitar as a beginner whether you are 30, 40, 60, or even 70.What is best month to buy a guitar? ›
It is best to purchase a guitar during the months of November and December. Guitar sales are at their busiest this time of year as stores are in the black and have enough new inventory to fill out their shelves. In addition, the sale of used guitars is also more profitable due to higher turnover.How many hours should I practice guitar as a beginner? ›
For most people, 30–90 minutes per day seems to be a good goal. Total beginners may see good results in just 15 minutes per day.Which brand is best for acoustic guitar? ›
Long considered the holy grail of acoustic guitars, the D-45 appeared first as a 12-fret neck to to body version with snowflake fingerboard inlays owned by cowboy legend Gene Autry.
Dreadnought. The most common shape you'll encounter - and regarded as the all-rounder because it usually offers a good balance of bottom end with highs, allowing it to cover a lot of ground for players who need adaptability.What is the most popular acoustic guitar model? ›
The dreadnought is one of the most popular acoustic guitar body shapes. They are famous for their large size and deep body.How to choose a good guitar? ›
Most importantly, only select a guitar you know is fully inspected and adjusted for easy playability, accuracy in tuning, intonation and tone production. Many important issues rest on the quality and playability of your instrument. Always get the facts. Ask what has been done to make the instrument easy to play.Do I need a 3 4 or full size guitar? ›
The verdict: Are ¾ guitars better than full size guitars
If the person who will be playing the guitar is shorter than 5 feet, then a ¾ guitar will be easier to handle. On the other hand, players taller than 5 feet usually find playing a full size guitar much more comfortable.
|5 - 12 years||100 - 120cm||3/4 Size|
|12 - 15 years||120 - 165cm||Small Body|
|15+ years||165cm +||Full Size|
Is it worth buying a cheap guitar and upgrading it? ›
If you own a super cheap guitar, something in the price range between $100 and $200, most upgrades won't be a good idea. However, guitars that are over $300, are worth upgrading. I would recommend getting a few new parts that will completely change the way you feel about your guitar.Can I teach myself guitar? ›
So, yes, you can successfully learn guitar by yourself. However, it will go faster for you and save you some trouble if you use good resources. And some things about learning guitar will go smoother with a skilled teacher. But it is entirely achievable to learn guitar on your own!Can cheap acoustic guitar sound good? ›
An inexpensive acoustic guitar can sound great if it is properly set up and well-made. There are many factors that affect the sound of an acoustic guitar, including the type of wood used, the bracing, and the construction.Is acoustic guitar the hardest to learn? ›
Acoustic guitars are often considered harder to learn. This is due to the strings being heavier and the height of the strings being higher than standard electric guitars. You only really notice this for the first few months of playing, after this your fingers adjust and become stronger.What is the hardest thing to learn in guitar? ›
1. Barre chords. We promise we're not winding you up when we say that barre chords are the hardest guitar technique. The reason most guitarists can do them is because they're essential, not because they're easy.What are the first 3 chords to learn on guitar? ›
The first chords to learn on guitar are Em, C, G, and D. Let's get started in “first position” or “open chords.” These chords are played close to the nut and utilize a number of open strings. The next chord you should learn is C, or C major. For this chord, you only need to strum the top five, highest-sounding strings.Can I learn guitar with no music experience? ›
You don't need any prior musical talent or experience to learn how to play the guitar. In fact, you can be a complete beginner and start seeing results in as little as 15 minutes a day by using our simple chords. You must set aside the time, practice self-compassion, and master the first five chord shapes.What is a normal guitar price? ›
FAQs Average Guitar Price
Most guitarists, though, will spend somewhere between $500 to $1500 on a guitar. A guitar at this price, while not entirely equipped, is built to last and will do for a touring musician's axe. For beginners, this price range will decrease to somewhere between $100 and $500.
However, in general, the price of an acoustic guitar does matter to some extent. More expensive guitars tend to be made of better quality materials and have better craftsmanship, which results in a better sounding and playing instrument. They also tend to hold their value better over time.Does a cheap guitar matter? ›
Is It Worth Getting A Cheap Guitar? Cheap guitars don't have a decent setup, which affects the sound and playability – the two most important things for a player. Low-quality control standards are why they have so many drawbacks, such as the high action or the problems with the truss rod or intonation.
How many days will it take to learn guitar? ›
For someone who practices around 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week, with medium intensity, it'll take roughly 1-2 months to play beginner guitar songs, and approximately 3-6 months to confidently play intermediate and slightly more advanced songs with technical elements.What is the best cheap guitar brands? ›
- Yamaha Pacifica 112V. The best cheap electric guitar with long-lasting appeal. ...
- Gretsch G2622 Streamliner. Best cheap electric guitar for a real Gretsch vibe. ...
- PRS SE Standard 24. ...
- Epiphone SG Special P-90. ...
- Squier Bullet Mustang HH. ...
- Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazzmaster. ...
- Ibanez RG450DX. ...
- ESP LTD EC-256.
Some guitars cost as little as $150 while others cost over $3,000. But what separates a cheap guitar from an expensive guitar? Well, in short, the main differences between cheap and expensive electric guitars are the construction and workmanship, pickups, hardware, and aesthetics.What size acoustic guitar should I get? ›
Adults are generally comfortable with full-size guitars (40″ Concert and 41″ Dreadnought in acoustic guitars). If your stature is small, a 40″ concert guitar or a smaller guitar would be appropriate. If you are a tall person, an Dreadnought guitar of 41″ would be a good choice.What guitar should I learn first for beginners? ›
- Reading Standard Music Notation and Tablature. ...
- Open Position Notes. ...
- Essential Music Theory. ...
- Basic Open Position Chords. ...
- Strumming Patterns. ...
- Tuning By Ear. ...
- Barre Chords. ...
- Pentatonic Scales.
The thickness of guitar picks is measured in millimeters (mm). Generally the thickness of guitar picks varies between thin (or light) 0.4mm picks and thick 1.5mm picks. If you prefer strumming and playing rhythm, go with a thinner guitar pick. A thicker pick on the other hand works well when you require more control.At what age is it too late to learn guitar? ›
You are never too old to learn guitar. You can start learning guitar at any age. While younger people tend to learn faster, you are still capable of learning guitar as a beginner whether you are 30, 40, 60, or even 70.