We're going to look at how to buy an acoustic guitar for first-time buyers or complete beginners. While there are features that matter, which we'll get into first, a lot of what you need to think about is simply what you want and what would work best for you. To get started, let's look at the features you need to pay attention to, just to get the technical stuff out of the way.
Primarily, there are four:
- Tonewood type (solid or laminate)
- Acoustic or "acoustic-electric"
- Guitar shape and size
For beginners, these are the four most important considerations. Let's cover those first before getting into other aspects of how to buy an acoustic guitar. Notice the step-by-step instructions that give you a quick answer to this question. Read on for the details.
How to Buy an Acoustic Guitar Step by Step
- Get familiar with high-value brands
- Learn the difference between solid and laminate tonewood
- Learn the difference between acoustic and acoustic-electric
- Narrow in on a preferred shape and size
- Set a budget
- Decide between in-store or online shopping
- Be loosely informed by your skill level
Brand or Manufacturer
There's usually a wide range of quality within any one brand, but for the sake of simplifying the buying process, I'll list the best and highest value (most quality for what you spend) acoustic guitar brands here:
These are all brands we recommend targeting during the buying process. Keep in mind, this list is not a respecter of budgets, which we'll get into later. However, they are all reliable brand names in the acoustic guitar world. Here are some examples of how a few models within these brands perform in a value chart, which compares price to an overall quality rating:
When I say tonewood type, I'm not referring to tonewood species. Maple, cedar, oak, basswood, and all kinds of other tree species are used to make guitars. Yet, for the complete beginner, or those new to buying an acoustic guitar, they don't matter as much. What matters far more is whether that tonewood is solid or laminate.
Solid tonewood is better, since it's a single solid piece of wood, as opposed to laminate, which is a slice of high-quality wood layered with pieces of lower quality wood. Acoustic guitar bodies are broken up into three parts:
Any of these three elements can have solid or laminate tonewood, though most of the time you have a solid top, with laminate back and sides. While laminate isn't something you necessarily have to avoid, you should be aware that solid wood is a significant quality indicator.
Acoustic VS Acoustic-Electric
When you begin shopping for an acoustic guitar, you'll probably notice you have the following categories:
- Acoustic guitar
- Acoustic-electric guitar
These two categories can be confusing for new buyers, but it's a fairly simple distinction. An "acoustic-electric" guitar is an acoustic guitar that is already equipped to be plugged into an amplifier. Acoustic-electric guitars usually have a built-in preamp and pickup system. An "acoustic guitar" (without the electric tag) typically has no electronics built-in.
This is another significant consideration since you may or may not be concerned about the ability to plug your acoustic guitar in. You'll want to check the specs sheet for words like "preamp" and "pickup" just to make sure it's included. You can also usually see a preamp on the outside of the guitar's body in the product photos.
Guitar Shape and Size
I typically break acoustic guitar body types down into four categories, all with their own uses, strengths, and weaknesses.
Most people go with the normal dreadnought body size, or the smaller parlor guitar design. Of course a lot of this depends on the size of the player and what guitar they're most comfortable with.
Decide What You Want to Spend
Here's how I would break down budgeting for a new acoustic guitar based on skill level:
- Beginner Tier: $150 - $450
- Intermediate Tier: $450 - $1200
- Advanced Tier: $1200 - $3000
Obviously your budget will also be impacted by your own personal finances and how much you can afford to spend on a guitar. Choosing an acoustic guitar should always lean heavily on what you want to spend based on your own resources, but can also be guided by the tiers we've established. For example, if you're firmly in the beginner tier, you probably don't need to spend $1000 on an acoustic guitar.
Maybe you could, but you certainly don't need to. You would be "out-punting your coverage" as they say. For most people, the high beginner tier to low intermediate tier is a comfortable price point.
In-Store VS Online Shopping
Shopping for an acoustic guitar can easily be done online these days. Yet, both the in-store and online methods have their pros and cons. In addition to price, this is probably a distinction you'll want to consider ahead of time. Do you want to walk into a Guitar Center and pick something out, or do you want to find your acoustic guitar online? Let's look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of both routes.
Pros and Cons of Buying an Acoustic Guitar Online
All the conveniences of shopping online apply to musical instruments, though it does have its limitations.
- Lots of competing retailers help lower prices
- Extremely convenient
- Plenty of used options and unique deals (eBay, Amazon, Reverb, etc.)
- Wide range of retailer options (Amazon, Musicians Friend, Sweetwater, etc.)
- Harder to get access to sales associates for questions
- Sound samples aren't always available
- Difficult to truly experience an instrument without holding it in your hands
Pros and Cons of Buying an Acoustic Guitar In Store
On the other side, buying an acoustic guitar in-store is essentially the exact opposite experience. While the primary advantage would be access to actually holding the guitar in your hands, there are some frustrating drawbacks:
- You get to hold the acoustic guitar in your hand and hear it before buying
- Usually you get direct help from sales associates
- Always a ton of fun to walk into places with lots of guitars
- In-store models are almost always more expensive than online counterparts
- Requires travel and more time than simply browsing online
- Options are limited to inventory
A lot of people who buy acoustic guitars will try things out in the store, then browse online for a better price. While it's hard to say which method is better, it'll depend on your situation and what kind of access you have to retail guitar stores like Guitar Center or local music shops.
I've listed skill level as the last consideration because it's closely tied with what you're willing to spend. As you might have gathered from the links above, many of what we'd call "beginner" acoustic guitars also happen to be on the cheaper side. And while there are certainly exceptions to the rule, as price goes up, so does the intended skill level.
If you're a beginner, you'll statistically be spending between $200 and $400 on an acoustic guitar, especially if it's your first one. And while it doesn't need to lock you into a price, your skill level should certainly be noted as you're deciding what kind of acoustic would work best for you.
If you've got questions, leave them in the comments section below and we'll get in touch. Thanks for hanging out with us.
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