Updated by Bobby
Updated on August 31st, 2023
Lots of fixes and updates. Replaced the FG800 with the FG800J, simply the next iteration of that series. Rating charts near the bottom of the article are updated. Everything else should be good to go.
Best Acoustic Guitar Overall (our top pick)
Taylor 114e and ce
With a solid top and a nice blend of lows and highs coming out of the tonewood combination, the Taylor 114ce is the best midrange acoustic guitar we can recommend. You get a ton of high-end quality without going into a four figures price range.
This is Guitar Chalk's list of top acoustic guitar options and recommendations, which we'll try to keep updated on a regular basis, based on our own knowledge and experience, as well as general community consensus. We've done the work of researching broadly and digging into what makes a great instrument and what adds value to acoustic guitars available on the open market.
This includes acoustic guitars that contributors to this content have owned and information that they've collected second hand.
If you're looking for the best acoustic guitar for your money, these are our top picks, thoroughly tested and researched.
Best Acoustic Guitars (top 8 high-value picks)
Martin Road Series (D-10E)
Taylor GS Mini
Taylor BT2 (Baby Taylor)
Martin LXK2 Little Martin
Compare More Acoustic Guitars
If you want to compare more acoustic guitars, we have a ton of the most popular brands and models in our database. You can search for them here and add them to the comparison bar at the bottom of this page.
We link to products on Sweetwater that help support our site and keep these pages free of ads. If you click through our orange buttons, we might earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you all for your generous support over the years! ~ Bobby and Danielle
For most of our product reviews we take our own photos, in-house. Thank goodness for portrait mode. For those interested in using these photos, that is completely fine with us as long as you give us credit and don't claim the work as your own. Simply linking to guitarchalk.com near the photo is totally fine.
1. Taylor 114e Acoustic Guitar
The 114e is has a lot of value as a mid-tier acoustic, striking a nice balance between price and quality features. Highlights include solid Spruce for the guitar's top, the ES-2 preamp, and a Venetian cutaway per the concert-style body type. The tone of this guitar is brighter than what you might be used to if you haven't played a concert-style acoustic before.
Read more: Best Taylor guitars
It's more of a melodic resonance that responds really well to finger picking and right hand dynamics. At the same time, if can function well as a strictly strumming acoustic. For mid-level acoustic needs this is one of our top recommendations for any musical context.
As mentioned, the price range is right in the middle of the spectrum, making the 114ce a workable solution for amateur or professional players. With its combination of affordability and quality, it's consistently one of our highest-value recommendations.
Read the full review: Taylor 114ce
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Performing and melodic acoustic styles
- Solid Spruce top
- Taylor X-bracing
- Tone is fantastic all-around and particularly ideal for finger picking
- ES-2 Pickup and Preamp
- Venetian Cutaway
- None for the price
2. Taylor GS Mini
The Taylor GS Mini comes in a range of tonewood combinations, the most popular being the Koa model. But they all have solid tops are sold at a decent price point, making the Taylor GS Mini one of the highest-value acoustic guitars on this list. They're one of the few acoustic guitars that do a really good job of bridging the gap between beginner models and upper-tier intermediate acoustics.
In that regard, the GS Mini can be a high-end beginner guitar or a solid intermediate acoustic.
It feels great in your hands and is a fantastic "couch" acoustic, as it's much easier to hold and play than a full-sized model.
We like it for beginners, melodic styles, and even gigging/recording scenarios.
Read the full review: Taylor GS Mini
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Pretty much everything, but especially for melodic, fingerpicking styles, gigging, and couch acoustic playing.
- Tonewood combinations look great (especially Koa)
- Tone is both bright and warm at the same time
- Sounds great for melodic, fingerpicking styles
- Price point is awesome for a solid top Taylor acoustic
- ES-B pickup/preamp system is a nice addition
- None for the price
3. Yamaha FG800J Acoustic Guitar
This is one of the few guitars we're comfortable recommending at its given price point (it's one of the best cheap acoustic guitars). A big part of the reason is that you get a solid Spruce top, whereas most guitars in this price range come with laminate everything. This one is a fantastic beginner acoustic guitar that could easily last beyond those early playing years.
Spruce, which is often used for the tops of guitars, produces tight highs with a heavier bottom and plenty of emphasis on the lower-voiced chords.
Pricing is the main attraction.
Yet, Yamaha gives you a ton of value in the FG series. The 800 and 800J are some of the best-selling guitars in the world and the nicest-sounding acoustics I can recommend in this price range.
Note that the FG800J is similar is the newer iteration, and a follow up to the FG800.
Read the full review: Yamaha FG800
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Beginners and budgets
- Fantastic price point
- Solid Spruce top
- Maple fretboard
- Guitar looks and plays like a mid-range acoustic
- Strings will need changed
- Tone can sound a bit thin depending on the type of music you're into
4. Seagull S6 Original Acoustic
If you buy the Seagull S6 Original, you'll be getting an acoustic guitar without a preamp, but cheaper than the QI version which does include a preamp. The original is a great fit for those that don't want or need to plug their acoustic in, and are instead looking for a quality strumming experience at a decent price point.
Combining the solid Cedar top with Cherry on the back and sides of the S6 gives you a unique tonewood blend that sounds bright and crisp, especially in how it accentuates the right-hand picking technique. It's a fantastic fingerstyle acoustic though it can also handle a wide range of music and playing styles.
At its price point we have no reservations or concerns with recommending the Seagull S6, especially as an intermediate acoustic guitar. Since we've started reviewing acoustics, it has consistently been one of our overall favorites.
Read the full review: Seagull S6
Price History for Seagull 046386 S6 Original Acoustic Guitar, Right Handed
|Current Price||$671.04||October 3, 2023|
|Highest Price||$679.00||July 17, 2023|
|Lowest Price||$488.00||April 15, 2023|
Last price changes
|$671.04||October 2, 2023|
|$579.00||September 29, 2023|
|$671.04||September 29, 2023|
|$579.00||September 28, 2023|
|$671.04||September 28, 2023|
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Budgets and strumming styles
- Solid Cedar top
- Wild Cherry for the back and sides makes for a unique tone
- Maple fretboard
- Great price point
- Pickup & preamp version available
- None for the price
5. Martin LXK2 Little Martin 3/4 Acoustic Guitar
While it doesn't have any solid wood, the LXK2 Little Martin is a remarkably well-built acoustic with Spruce bracing and Martin's patented neck mortise. The purchase price includes a padded gig bag, adding to an already ideal configuration for players with smaller hands, beginners, and travelling guitarists.
Read more: Best acoustic guitars with thin body
The top of the guitar is some kind of HPL mixture, which you can read about here. We're not crazy about that, but the guitar still resonates well considering all the laminate involved.
Martin finds a way to provide a highly functional guitar that sounds really good, despite using a lot of laminate in the process. We'd like to see a different top material but, if you're looking for a good travel guitar or a first acoustic for a child, this is a great option given the proper context.
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Beginners, performing and small hands
- Includes a gig bag
- Spruce bracing
- Great for beginners, kids and travel
- Great price point
- No preamp or onboard electronics
- No solid wood
6. Taylor BT2 (Baby Taylor) Acoustic
The Baby Taylor is most popular with beginners and kids. However, it can also have the same appeal as the LXK2 in that it can be a nice change for those that just want a smaller acoustic guitar for intermediate or even semi-pro guitar acoustic guitar workloads.
Read more: Baby Taylor VS GS Mini
The BT2 uses a laminate Mahogany piece for the top and laminate Sapele for the back and sides. Like other Taylors, the BT2 ships with Elixir strings which we'd recommend leaving on. Taylor uses their traditional X-bracing system, though no word if it's the scalloped or non-scalloped version.
While it's a little pricier than the LXK2, it's probably worth the investment, especially if you want to get more out of this guitar than you would the average beginner acoustic.
This one is available in an electronic or non-electronic version.
Read the full review on Medium: Baby Taylor BT2
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Beginners, kids, travel, and practice
- Mahogany top
- Taylor X-bracing
- Great for beginners, kids and travel
- Great price point
- Tone is a little weaker than the GS Mini
7. Martin Road Series D-10E
The D-10E from Martin gives you a solid top and Sapele back and sides, which we're guessing is laminate (solid not specified). You've also got a Fishman MX-T system to brag about which, by itself, provides a major value boost. Martin also includes a soft shell case with this one (though it can vary depending on the retailer), which makes the price seem even more surprising.
The Spruce combined with Martin's jumbo non-cutaway design makes for a fantastic strumming acoustic that sounds full and warm on open chords. For strictly rhythm players, we like it a little better than the 114e, though it's close.
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Rhythm, performing, strumming, and recording
- Solid top
- Spruce bracing
- Fishman MX-T preamp/pickup system
- Warm tone, ideal for strumming
- Includes a softshell case
- Laminate Sapele isn't particularly exciting
8. Takamine GN93CE Acoustic Guitar
The tonewood profile gives you three different varieties: A solid Spruce top, Rosewood sides, and a Maple back, which is a three-piece quilted panel. For plugging in you get the TK-40D preamp which is a Takamine creation with a tuner, three-band EQ, gain knob, and a few additional controls. This gives the GN93CE some appeal for those that want to plug in and some added value for performers or perhaps those that play in church.
As mentioned, this acoustic uses three different tonewoods between the top, back, and sides. Its natural resonance produces a lot of mids and treble, which is consistent with the body type being a bit of a hybrid between dreadnought and concert.
With solid tonewood, a flexible stylistic profile, and a close to budget-friendly price tag, the GN93CE is one of the more popular mid-range acoustics. It's a fantastic value buy for a wide range of scenarios, though is best suited for melodic playing styles and performing live (because of the nice preamp).
Quick Review Card
IDEAL FOR: Melody, performing, and recording
- Solid Spruce top
- TK-40D preamp system
- Tone profile is dynamic and adaptable
- Cheaper than the Taylor and Martin options
- Not in love with the headstock
- Natural resonance can sound a bit thin and weak
Buying Considerations: How to Buy an Acoustic Guitar
In this section 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.
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: $100 - $350
- Intermediate Tier: $400 - $850
- Advanced Tier: $900 - $2000
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.
Cost and Pricing
In this section we'll look at average acoustic guitar pricing tiers based on well-known retailers and my own experience with them. Places like Reverb, Guitar Center, Musicians Friend, and even Amazon are common places to look at for both used and new acoustic guitar pricing conventions.
Here's a quick summary of what we'll cover:
- How much do acoustic guitars cost? The Simple Answer
- Beginner Pricing
- Intermediate Pricing
- High-End Pricing
- Used VS New
We'll start out with a simple answer, then narrow into the more specific pricing questions.
How much does an acoustic guitar cost on average?
The most typical price for an acoustic guitar is between $300 and $600. This includes the high end of the beginner acoustic guitar pricing tier and the low end of the intermediate pricing tier.
Of course, this doesn't take into consideration things like used options, geographic location, online or offline sales, manufacturer set pricing, or retail markup.
These are all variables that can change an acoustic guitar's price.
Beginner or "Low-End" Pricing Tier
To get more specific, let's say you want to buy a beginner acoustic guitar. What should you expect to spend? I also call this the "low-end" pricing tier or what you might consider a cheap acoustic guitar.
Generally, this price range hovers from $100 to $300.
Acoustic guitars that retail over $300 are getting outside of what we'd consider low-cost, though there are some that would still classify as beginner acoustic guitars. Buying in this price range means you're unlikely to see high-end features, and your acoustic guitar will be mostly laminate (as opposed to solid wood).
Intermediate Pricing: The Middle Tier
We'd consider acoustics in the intermediate price range to be upgrades over beginner guitars that you may have out-grown or out-played. In other words, it's a more professional and reliable instrument.
These guitars typically retail in the $500 to $900 range, with examples like the Taylor 114CE and the Takamine GN93CE.
While they aren't considered the cream of the crop, they're certainly able to function in a more professional context and can last players for life. If you're in this pricing tier, you're playing for keeps and not questioning your interest in the guitar.
Top Tier or "High-End" Pricing
As one might expect, the $1000 threshold is a significant point of morale change. It's also what we'd consider the breaking point where you move firmly from the middle range of acoustic guitar cost to the upper-tier. These acoustics are nearly all designed with high-end features, solid tonewood, and are usually built by hand, in part or total.
While they are some of the nicest acoustics by pure quality standards, they're often so expensive that their value decreases.
In other words, you get a lot of quality and great features, but you lose ground because you're paying so much more.
Used VS New
What about the difference in price between used and new acoustic guitars?
While this is extremely difficult to measure, you can often count on around a 20 to 30 percent price reduction (off retail) if you're buying used. Take the following reverb entries for the Taylor 114ce:
If you buy one new, this acoustic costs around $800 making the $600-$650 used price range fairly expected. Assuming a 20 percent price reduce, you'd land right at $640. Most used acoustic guitars will post similar discounts, depending on the condition of the guitar in question.
How Acoustic Guitars Work
In this section, I'm going to cover some basic information about how acoustic guitars work and function to help you make music.
Acoustic guitars play notes that are audible in the open air without amplification, by a vibrating string that resonates inside the hollow wooden body of the guitar. Depending on which fret and string is pressed, you can have a varying range of pitches. As vibrations travel through the saddle and bridge to the interior of the guitar, the hollow body naturally amplifies the sound, making it louder in open air.
Parts of the Acoustic Guitar: Body, Neck, and Head
A full explanation of an acoustic guitar's functionality is a little more complex and nuanced. Let's start by addressing the three major parts of the acoustic guitar, what they're for, and how they work.
We'll go through all three parts - body, neck, and head - one at a time.
An acoustic guitar's body will have the most say about what that guitar sounds like. More specifically the top of the guitar is the most crucial part, since that's where the bridge connects the strings to the body. This is why many acoustic guitar manufacturers will put more money into the top, because it'll make the guitar sound nicer. This often means solid wood is used for that top piece, while laminate is used for the back and sides.
The body of the guitar works via the soundboard which contains the sound hole. Attached to the soundboard is the bridge where the strings are attached and rest on a small piece called the saddle. When the strings vibrate, sound is carried through the saddle, through the bridge, and into the soundboard, which projects inside the body of the guitar and resonates outward.
Here's a horizontal view of how the saddle, bridge, and soundboard fit together. You can see they are all connected below the strings:
From this graphic, it's easy to see how sound could travel down through the parts of the guitar and resonate inside the acoustic's hollow interior. In this scenario its the hollow body itself that serves the role of amplifier and projects the sound.
Looking at the body from the top view again, the shape is intentional. The narrowing in the middle, sometimes called a "waist", is designed to rest on your leg and make room for your strumming arm. The wider portion where the bridge connects is called the lower bout while the wider portion where the neck connects is called the upper bout.
An acoustic guitar's neck is the long, flattened portion that is attached to the upper bout. The neck contains the fretboard which is usually a separate, implanted piece of wood with each fret separated by a small piece of smooth metal.
Read more: Acoustic guitars with wide necks
In order to change the tension of the strings, an acoustic guitar player will press a particular string on one of those frets. This change in tension will change the pitch of the string, thus changing the note. The further up the fretboard you go (towards the guitar's body) the higher the pitch of a given string will be.
This is why each string has its own set of notes for each fret, given a specific tuning.
For example, if you tune an acoustic guitar to standard tuning, the sixth string played at the fifth fret is an A. The seventh fret is B, the 10th fret is a D and so on.
While the body handles tone and projection, the fretboard is where the acoustic guitar player does his or her work to alter pitch by pressing the string down on specific frets.
Head or Headstock
Acoustic guitars also have what's called a head or "headstock." The primary function of this piece is to tune the guitar and serve as an attachment point for the strings. Tuning the acoustic guitar allows you to set a default pitch for each string or what I referred to earlier as a "tuning." For most acoustic guitar players, a standard tuning is most common.
Each tuning peg can be turned to either tighten or loosen tension. Keep in mind, while this is a part of how acoustic guitars work, it's not a mechanism that's necessarily unique to acoustic guitars. Most stringed instruments are tuned in a similar fashion, with a headstock and tuning pegs of some kind.
Can Acoustic Guitars be plugged into amps?
Can acoustic guitars be plugged into amps? To answer that question, we first need to establish what is meant by the term "amps." In the context that we're working with (and I believe the context of most who ask this question), "amps" refers to acoustic amplifiers, PA systems, and mixing consoles.
If that's what you're plugging into, the answer is yes - you can plug acoustic guitars into amps, provided your acoustic guitar fits one of the following criteria:
- Contains an onboard pickup and preamp
- Contains a built-in microphone with an instrument jack
- Is equipped with a sound hole pickup
- Is properly mic'd with a condenser or dynamic instrument microphone
In order for an acoustic guitar to be amplified in any capacity, one of these four scenarios must be met. An acoustic guitar without its own pickup and preamp system must have some kind of an external mechanism setup to pickup the vibrations of the strings.
This is usually a microphone or a sound hole pickup of some kind.
If your acoustic doesn't have any of these things, it cannot be amplified, simply because it cannot be plugged in.
How to Tell
The simplest way to tell is to look at the specs sheet provided by the manufacturer. If an acoustic guitar has a pickup and preamp system, it'll be listed as a primary feature and they'll likely list the guitar as "acoustic-electric."
You should also be able to see pictures of the preamp or control knobs on the outside of the acoustic guitar's body, like on my Taylor 114ce below:
The instrument jack is often harder to see, but will frequently show up in the same spot where you attach the guitar strap, near the bottom of the guitar. By locating one of either the preamp or the instrument jack, you can confirm that the acoustic guitar can be plugged in.
What if I already have an acoustic without these connections?
If you've already got an acoustic guitar on hand that isn't equipped with any kind of pickup or preamp, you can still set it up to be plugged in. You'll just need to spend some money on it.
In this scenario you're left with two options:
- An external microphone
- A removable sound hole pickup
While these activities are outside the scope of this article, here are a couple of resources I'd recommend if you're interested in either of the two approaches:
Can you plug an acoustic guitar into an electric guitar amp?
I've noticed a handful of websites that claim you can plug an acoustic guitar into an electric amp. While this is technically true, I've found - by personal experience - that it's rarely a good idea. The problem is that electric guitar amps, even when played clean, tend to push an acoustic signal way too hard, even when turned down.
You'll have too much gain which will really easily create feedback and unwanted noise. Overall, it makes for a volatile setup.
Using a soundhole cover on your acoustic can help. Still, an electric guitar amp is not something I would advise for an acoustic guitar. Acoustic amps are a vastly better option because they have tools that allow you to control noise like notch filters, noise gates, and anti-feedback dials.
As you would expect, they're a more functional and better-sounding amp pairing for your acoustic guitar.
To summarize my answer, acoustic guitars can definitely be plugged into amps provided one of the following criteria have been met:
- An onboard preamp and pickup
- An installed soundhole pickup
- Proper acoustic mic setup
Then, the term "amp" could refer to any of the following:
- An acoustic amp
- PA system
- Mixing board
In order to amplify an acoustic guitar, it pays to have the right technology in place, regardless of which method you go with. Once you do have the right setup, an amplified acoustic provides a ton of flexibility and variety that you wouldn't have otherwise.
Do acoustics get better with age?
You'll often hear and read that acoustic guitars get better as they age. Usually this is meant to convey that their tone actually improves over time. But is this actually true? Do acoustic guitars get better with age or is that just a nice way of saying they break in after awhile? Is it the age that makes the difference or actually playing the guitar that makes the difference?
To put my cards on the table, I've owned and played a lot of different acoustic guitars. However, there are only a couple that I've owned long enough to be able to examine whether or not their tone has improved with substantive aging
I'll answer this question as best I can, and give my supporting argument.
The Simple Answer
Acoustic guitars do tend to sound better as they age, though it's often a product of being played as much as it's a product of the wood itself aging. This is because the vibration of the strings and the resulting frequencies are directly responsible for what we call the "aging" process.
These vibrations, over time, loosen and relax the wood which gives you a warmer and more played-in feel.
In that way, the wood of an acoustic guitar sort of adapts to its player.
The Issue is Playing Time not Time Elapsed
This means that a guitar built in 2009 that has been stuck in the closet untouched will be far less aged than a guitar built in 2017 that has been played constantly. It's the combination of time, playing, and playing style that shape and break in the wood.
It's not accurate to say that wood improves by just sitting idle without any force or string vibrations exerted on it.
The frequencies of sound vibrating through the body is what does the work.
Does it take a lot of time? Sure, of course.
But it's time with repeated exposure to particular frequencies and vibrations that does the job.
Solid Wood Aging VS Laminate Aging
As I mentioned previously, laminate tonewood is constructed in a similar manner to laminate flooring with a layer of the solid wood supplemented by layers of cheaper wood.
Solid tonewood, on the other hand, is only a single piece of the nice wood without any filler.
Since the vibration-induced aging sort of loosens the gaps in between the grain, that process impacts the laminate layers just as much as the solid pieces. The difference in the aging process is going to be minimal, though I would still prefer aged solid wood than the laminate stuff.
My Own Experience
All of the acoustic guitars I've owned long-term have been Taylors with a solid Spruce top. I've played a laminate Ibanez acoustic, but not nearly enough to come to any conclusions about the aging process.
For my Taylor, I've had a hard time noticing a significant change in tone, just because I do play it regularly. The shift is slow and incremental, which means it would be hard to discern unless I'd given it to someone else, let them play it for a few years, then taken it back.
My take on this debate is that the idea of an acoustic guitar "aging" is a little over-played.
It's certainly an easy win for manufacturers who want to add an attractive description to their product that's impossible to quantify.
Because even if it's true that your acoustic guitar's tone will improve with age, I'd be surprised if you were actually able to identify that improvement in any kind of concrete terms.
Are Acoustic Guitars Harder to Play?
Acoustic guitars are physically harder to play than electric guitars, classical guitars, and ukuleles.
The string gauge used in acoustic guitars is often larger and wrapped in a phosphor bronze metal which is harder on your fingers. Metal used in acoustic strings makes them harder to bend, requiring more effort to press down onto the fretboard.
Yet, most people elect to start their guitar playing career with an acoustic guitar. If it's hard to play, why do people do that?
There are a few reasons that the acoustic guitar still prevails as the instrument of choice, despite being harder on your fingers.
Why Beginners Still Chose Acoustic Guitars
Different people choose an instrument for a variety of reasons, and it should be noted that not all beginners start with the acoustic. In my case, for example, I started with an electric guitar at the age of nine years old and picked up the acoustic later.
However, the larger share of people who want to get into a stringed instrument will start with the acoustic guitar.
Here are a few reasons why.
1. The acoustic guitar is convenient
While the acoustic strings are heavier and harder to move, the acoustic guitar as a whole is a self-sustaining instrument that can be played without electricity, cables, or an amplifier. This factor alone explains a lot of the appeal that it has to beginners. It's just simpler to pick up and play.
2. The acoustic guitar is ideal for strumming and playing Chords
There's something about the heaviness of the strings and solid feel of an acoustic guitar's body that makes it really ideal for practicing open chords and progressions. Since beginners often start with basic chords, the acoustic guitar becomes a logical choice for that kind of practice.
3. The acoustic guitar helps you build strength
It's not necessarily a bad thing that the acoustic guitar is harder to play. If the goal early on is to build strength and get your hands used to playing a stringed instrument, the heavier strings will do a better job of training your hands. Then, if you want to branch out, moving to the electric guitar will be somewhat easier.
Should I choose an easier instrument?
Starting with a different instrument than the acoustic guitar isn't a bad idea. In fact, some people just prefer the styles that lend themselves to electric or classical guitar. If you think you might just enjoy that experience more, then it's an equally valid approach. At the same time, if you want to start with acoustic guitar, don't be scared off by the tougher strings.
I do not believe that starting/learning on an acoustic guitar is a must. If you think a different instrument might be better for you, you can learn on it all the same.
Here, we'll cover some typical acoustic guitar weight estimates for a number of brands and types of acoustic guitars.
Let's look at the simple, "rough estimate" answers first:
- Low end: 2.5 lbs
- Middle: 4 lbs
- High end: 5 lbs and up
That's the easy answer, though we'll cover some specific examples too.
Examples of Acoustic Guitar Weight
There are a lot of factors that can influence the weight of an acoustic guitar.
Solid or laminate tonewood, a built-in preamp system, and body size are just a few of the more obvious ones. The following bullet list includes approximate weights for popular acoustic brands, models, and body types, based on manufacturer info online and the knowledge of other guitar players and shop owners I've talked to.
Here's what I've found so far:
- Taylor GS Mini Koa Concert: 3.6 lbs
- Taylor 114ce Sitka Spruce Concert: 4.6 lbs
- Martin LXK2 3/4: 3.4 lbs
- Martin D-28 Dreadnought: 4.8 lbs
- Martin D-15 Dreadnought: 3.8 lbs
- Martin 000-13E Concert (Road Series): 3.8 lbs
- Yamaha FG830 Dreadnought: 4.4 lbs
- Yamaha FGX830C Dreadnought: 5 lbs
- Epiphone Masterbilt Dreadnought: 5.2 lbs
- Gibson Dreadnought: 4.7 lbs
- Guild F Series: 4.5 - 5.2 lbs
- Ovation Applause Series Dreadnought: 4.2 - 4.5 lbs
- Gibson J Series Dreadnought: 3.5 - 4.5 lbs
- Larrivee Mahogany (SD): 4.3 lbs
- Taylor BT1 3/4: 2.6 lbs
- Taylor BT2 3/4: 3 lbs
Establishing Some Averages
This list is not comprehensive, but does give us enough material to establish average weight for different body types. I'd break them up into three groups:
- Parlor or 3/4 size
We'll take the average weight of the acoustic guitars listed for each of these categories.
- Average Dreadnought Acoustic Weight: 4.5 lbs
- Average Concert Acoustic Weight: 4.1 lbs
- Average Parlor (3/4) Acoustic Weight: 3 lbs
It's easy to see that most guitars, based on the aforementioned body shape and design, are going to fall into a predictable weight class. Other factors like preamp installation, tonewood type, and bracing construction don't make as much of a difference one way or the other.
Acoustic Guitars VS Electric Guitars
In this section, we'll talk about more of the subtle differences between acoustic guitars and electric guitars.
Acoustic guitars are typically a hollow-body design with steel strings, made to resonate naturally, without amplification. They are more often used in a rhythm role for chord progressions, layering a bass line, and even establishing elements of percussion. Electric guitars are usually solid body designs, also with steel strings, though requiring magnetic and electrical amplification. Their most common stylistic use is for melody, adding effects, and layering or complimenting lead vocals.
Differences Between the Two
From this quick answer, we can extrapolate a few broad categories of differences between acoustic and electric guitars. I'd break them down into primarily three:
- Differences in construction
- Differences in sound
- Differences in use
This will help give you a clearer picture of what it's like to pursue one type of guitar over the other.
Differences in Construction
The simplest way to understand an acoustic guitar VS electric guitar comparison is to look at how they're built, particularly how their bodies are setup. A hollow design in an acoustic guitar and a solid piece of wood used for electric guitar gives you the most stark distinction. However, there are some nuanced differences as well.
Let's take a look at both in graphical form, starting with acoustic guitar:
From this graphic, you can see that there are four major construction characteristics of an acoustic guitar. They are the following:
- Hollow body design
- Open soundhole
- Larger body
- Fixed (unmovable) bridge
Here's the same thing for an electric guitar:
Electric guitars have five defining characteristics, primarily the body design (smaller and solid) and the absence of a soundhole in favor of magnetic pickups and built-in electronics. An acoustic guitar relies on its own hollow body and soundhole to project string vibrations. While acoustic-electric guitars can still use internal pickups and preamps to amplify their tone, they still rely on the guitar's natural projection and vibrations. In an electric guitar, magnetic pickups or humbuckers are a major part of the guitar's tone. They're the primary way vibrations are picked up from the guitar and transmitted to an amplifier.
Let's move onto the differences in sound and tone between acoustic and electric guitars.
Differences in Sound
Acoustic and electric guitars can sound similar, though acoustics are almost always played with a clean tone while electric guitars can have either a clean or dirty (distorted) sound. Electrics will also switch back and forth between the two frequently.
Acoustic guitars tend to sound a bit fuller and warmer compared to electrics. This, of course, depends on which two guitars you're comparing. In most cases, an electric guitar will sound a little more crisp and treble-leaning, yet can be changed dramatically by EQ tools, amps, and guitar pedals (effects processors).
Since electric guitars are processed magnetically through an electric circuit, they're typically paired with digital or analog processors (guitar pedals) which can give you any of the following types of sound effects.
- Distortion, fuzz, or overdrive
- Wah or filter
While some of these effects can also be used with acoustic guitars, it's not as common. Acoustic guitars are generally used for a clean, natural tone that provides a more full and powerful sound when chording, with some added grit for right hand movement (finger picking and pick scraping).
These audible differences have a lot of implications for how acoustic and electric guitars are applied in musical scenarios
Differences in Use
We've touched on some of these ideas already, but we'll try and give you a more complete understanding in this section. Acoustic guitars are often used in a rhythm context, more specifically the following:
- Chord progressions
- Following an established bass line
- Keeping a beat/maintaining rhythm
- Layering rhythm
- Providing a musical foundation
Electric guitars dabble in rhythm more than acoustic guitars dabble in lead, which gives them a slightly wider range of uses:
- Melodic sequences (solos, fills, etc.)
- Effects application
- Open chords and chord progressions
- Punchy rhythms
- Layering vocal melody and harmony
- Complimenting bass lines
- Complimenting rhythm
- Layering rhythm
Of course, all this depends largely on the style of music you're talking about. For example, an electric guitar is far more rhythmic in a heavy rock context than it would be in a blues role. Unlike acoustic guitar, electric guitar tends to have more versatility in its application.
To summarize our acoustic guitar VS electric guitar comparison, the two differ most in these three categories:
However, that's not to say that there isn't crossover in some areas. For instance, there are a ton of what we'd consider "rhythm electric guitar players" who don't use the electric guitar for lead or melody as much as the stereotype would suggest.
Acoustic Guitars VS Classical Guitars
In this section, we're going to explore the differences between acoustic and classical guitars.
While the two instruments are obviously quite similar, they're stylistically unique and feel different from a playing perspective, largely because of their strings.
Let's start there.
Steel VS Nylon Strings
The single most important consideration when assessing acoustic guitar VS classical is the difference between steel and nylon strings. Acoustic guitars use wound steel strings, while classical guitars use nylon strings, the two of which feel and play completely different.
You could consider both steel and nylon strings "acoustic" in that they're made to resonate naturally in open air. However, steel strings are made with different types of metals while nylon strings are made from a type of synthetic polymer.
For nylon strings, this is a big improvement over the previous primary ingredient, sheep and cow intestines or "plain gut." Gross.
The difference in feel and sound is significant. Here's a quick summary of both:
STEEL (ACOUSTIC) STRINGS
- Heavier and harder to play
- Tone is bright, with a metallic chime
- Scraping against pick and fingers is pronounced and abrasive
- Thickest three strings are usually wound with nickel or some kind of metal
NYLON (CLASSICAL) STRINGS
- Softer, easier to play and bend
- Finger movement is smoother and not as noisy
- Tone is much softer and more subtle
- Less emphasis on the picking hand movement
From a playing perspective, the differences in the two string types will have the most to say about how the instruments differ. And while steel strings are harder to play, nylon strings are extremely limited in their uses and application, as they're almost exclusively used in the context of classical guitar.
If you aren't planning to move into the classical music style, at least in some capacity, it's hard to recommend a classical guitar above an acoustic.
Aside from the strings, there are some differing physical characteristics between acoustic and classical guitars. Generally these can be attributed to the shape of the fretboard and body of the guitar.
On a classical guitar the frets are usually wider from top to bottom. For a lot of players, particularly those with smaller hands, this effectively wipes out the advantage of playing with softer strings. This is part of why classical guitars are often played while sitting down, using a very particular stance.
With body shape you have a bit more crossover, simply because acoustic guitar manufacturers have adopted the "concert" body type, which is smaller and has a thinner waste. This shape was originally an exclusive classical guitar design, which is why it's called the concert body shape.
However, classical guitars do not typically come in the dreadnought body style. Traditionally, they also avoid cutaways.
In summary, classical guitar bodies are smaller and more slimmed down, while acoustic guitars tend to be larger or a mimic of the classical body design.
Some models, like this Kremona Verea, break the cutaway mold:
If you want just a direct, visual comparison between two typical acoustic and classical guitars, you'd be looking at something like this:
Differences in Price
Though I've read in some places that classical guitars trend cheaper than acoustics, I would disagree with that assertion, based on both the eye test and the data I've seen over the years.
My primary reason:
The tonewoods in both types of guitars are essentially the same grouping. Cedar is more common in classical guitars, but you also see plenty of solid Spruce, Nato, Rosewood, and Mahogany. All of these are seen in both types of guitars, which is one of the most significant aspects of determining the cost of an acoustic guitar or a classical variation.
We'd argue there isn't much difference in price between the two guitar categories. And, if there is, it's not enough to make much of a difference.
Differences in Sound
In covering strings we've already touched on the major differences in tone and sound between acoustic and electric guitars. In this section, we can be a little more specific and list some tone attributes for each type of guitar.
ACOUSTIC GUITAR TONE QUALITIES
- Bright, emphasizing midrange frequencies
- Accentuates picking hand movement
- Louder pick scrapes
- More rhythmic
- More full and loud, overall
CLASSICAL GUITAR TONE QUALITIES
- Mellow, emphasizing bass frequencies
- More pronounced melody
- Softer hand movement and less emphasis on scraping
- More melodic
- Warmer and more subtle
Now, certainly there are exceptions to these rules. But speaking broadly, you can expect the sound qualities of each type of instrument to mostly line up with these descriptors.
Which one is right for me?
That's the big question:
Which of the two types of guitars is the right choice in your situation? I'll go back to what I said previously, and reiterate that for most beginners or aspiring guitarists, a traditional acoustic steel string guitar is going to be your most ideal fit, just because it can be applied to so many different styles.
At the same time there's worthy context for both scenarios. Let's start with classical guitars:
GO WITH CLASSICAL GUITAR IF
If you intentionally plan to study classical music or pursue it in some kind of formal context, then it makes sense to focus on classical guitar. Additionally, if you like the larger fretboards and your hands are big enough to handle it comfortably, you could really take advantage of the softer strings since they're easier to play.
Though most of the classical guitar appeal will center around being interested in that style of music. If you are, it's the only type of guitar you should be targeting.
If you're not, there's isn't much reason to get one.
GO WITH ACOUSTIC GUITAR IF
As you might assume, a traditional acoustic guitar is a better option in any situation where classical music isn't your primary interest. While it's true that the strings are a little harder to get used to and manipulate, the acoustic guitar is applicable to more styles.
Once you learn and play for awhile, you can use it to jump into a wider range of music that might be more interesting to you.
Could you do that with a classical guitar?
Yeah, probably. But it wouldn't make sense if your ultimate goal isn't to be playing classical music.
Reviewing Process and Policy
These acoustic guitar recommendations are based on the first-hand account and thorough research of actual musicians. Bobby Kittleberger and those who work with him are real guitar players who understand the wide scope of music gear.
We're not simply recommending to you a random guitar without having played it, or can reliably confirm that it's worth playing.
Bobby, our senior editor and founder has been playing guitar for over 20 years and has tested out a ton of different acoustics in a variety of situations.
These recommendations are based largely on his experience and opinions.
We also put an extensive amount of time into researching, testing, and rating the guitars we recommend.
For those that are curious, the next section gets into the details of that process and how we "rate" each acoustic guitar.
Our Ratings System
When it makes sense, we setup a ratings system for the products we review.
For acoustic guitars, we use a simpler ratings system that funnels all features and quality markers into four categories:
- Tone Quality
- Strength and overall build quality
- Cost and value
While this is certainly not a scientific ratings system (we have more detailed systems for other products), it's enough to give us an idea of how nice a particular acoustic guitar is and whether or not you're getting a good return on your investment.
To get a number for each category, we use and/or research the instrument in question, listen to audio clips, read other user's reviews, and take into consideration the acoustic's performance in relation to others we're reviewing.
The result is a clear, simple number that you can use to help measure quality and to ultimately make a better purchasing decision and to get the most value out of what you spend.
The Value Category
To identify value, you need to cross the rating of these guitars with a their price tag.
We've done this in a simple graph so you can see where you can go cheap while still getting one of the best acoustic guitars for that particular price.
Here's a graph that displays the data:
Tone and Overall Sound Quality
Each acoustic guitar gets a grade for its tone quality, which takes into account natural resonance of the body, as well as how the acoustic sounds if it's plugged in (for those that have a preamp).
Here are the results for all eight acoustics:
Taylor acoustics seem to do the best of job of getting your a high-quality, balanced tone profile at a sub-$1000 price tag. The 114ce sounds great both plugged in and from its natural resonance, with a strong presence at a wide frequency range.
In other words, it sounds good on both the high and low end of your EQ, as a lead melody instrument or as a background strumming acoustic.
The Seagull S6 had and GN93CE had a similarly strong tone profile, though they both seem more at home in a rhythm and strumming context and not as strong in the melodic picking department.
When you get down to the smaller LXK2 and Big Baby Taylor, along with the budget-friendly F800, you lose a lot of the solid wood components and the bracing structures that make the nicer guitars sound so much better.
Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that those guitars get you a better-than-average tone for an extremely decent price tag.
Preamp, Electronics and Features
This category addresses the acoustic guitar's preamp, pickup, strings, tuning heads, bridge, and any other features that might attribute (or detract from) the guitar's quality.
In part, we also consider the tonewood quality and profile for this part of the assessment.
For acoustics that didn't have a preamp (most do), we fell back on other features to pull in a rating.
With a Fishman Sonitone pickup and preamp system, the Martin DRS1 gets our highest rating in this category, which coincides with solid tonewood and a strong bracing system, though wood and bracing will say more about the build quality score.
Takamine puts their own home-brew preamp in the GN93CE, but it's a good one, with plenty of EQ control and a gain knob.
That guitar also has a solid top.
While the 114ce has the Taylor Expression System, it's not our favorite preamp just because it's not as comprehensive as some of the Fishman and LR Baggs options. It's middle of the road, in our opinion.
The guitars lower in the list either don't come with a preamp or you have to pay more for the preamp version. This is the case with the Seagull S6 as there's an Original and a QI version.
The QI version has the electronics built-in, though we give some points back because it's a great system that sounds like a pro-level preamp.
Build Quality and Craftsmanship
This category takes into account the type of tonewood used, how much solid wood (as opposed to layered laminate), and the type of bracing used in the guitar's interior. It's meant to provide an overview of the guitar's general build quality.
The first thing we're looking for in this category is a solid top.
Acoustic guitars can have different parts made out of different types and grades of wood. For example, a guitar can have a solid top made of Spruce, then laminate sides made of Mahogany. The grade and type of tonewood used is a big part of how we grade this category.
We're also looking at how well this is translated to a good tone profile. Because it's not enough just to have the right type of wood, but the guitar needs to sound the part as well.
The FG800 and the 114ce both have solid tops made of Sitka Spruce, but the 114ce sounds significantly better. So it's not just about having the right components, but about execution and the final product as well.
Consistently, mid to high end Martins and Taylors perform best in this category and give you the most solid tonewood for what you pay.
Based on our experience with these guitars, they all provide a ton of value at their price points. However, the Taylor 114ce, the Seagull S6, and the Martin DRS1 are the three standouts of the bunch.
They are the best acoustic guitars we can put forward, based on substantive factors and quality considerations.
Even for semi-professional situations where you might be recording or performing, we'd recommend those three acoustics without hesitation.
Questions and Comments
We understand that rating acoustic guitars (or anything for that matter) will have an element of subjectivity attached to it.
As such, we've made our best effort to be objective, accurate, and helpful in terms of how we've assessed and rated these guitars.
If you have questions about that process, the ratings we've come up with, or just something about the guitars themselves, feel free to leave those in the comments section below and we'll chat.