Most recent update: October 12th, 2017
This is Guitar Chalk's static list of best acoustic guitar options and recommendations, which we'll do our best to keep updated on a regular basis, considering our own knowledge and experience, as well as general community consensus. Please keep in mind that this list, and any list like this one, should be considered somewhat subjective and based on the personal experience of those who contribute to it.
At the same time, 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.
It should also be understood that this list has been written primarily by Bobby and those who work with him, all of whom are actual musicians.
Contributors and Consultants for this Content
Educator, writer and guitarist since 1996.
Worship leader, PCA deacon and guitarist.
Session musician, guitar, keyboard & bass
In other words, these are genuine and honest recommendations based on real-world experience.
What This List Assumes
This list assumes a basic understanding of the acoustic guitar, the brands represented and the different parts used in their construction.
We're also not contextualizing this list beyond what we would consider the best overall acoustic guitars, based on value. This means we're not limiting our selection to a price point or specific niche of acoustic players.
For more information on acoustic guitar and buying best practices, here are a few resources that might be helpful:
What if I want used acoustic guitars?
The used market for acoustic guitars is substantial, thus most major retailers, including Amazon and Guitar Center, are extremely active in that market. As a result, you can get used acoustic guitars just about anywhere, though we're focusing primarily on Amazon since they do a good job of gathering all the brands in one place.
Musician's Friend, Reverb and Sweetwater are also good options. If your focus is used acoustics, Amazon, Reverb and Guitar Center are probably your three best options.
- Guitar Center
- Musician's Friend
What this list is and What it is Not
Before we get started, it should be clearly stated what this list is and what it is not. First, this list is not a review or a ranking. While we stand by our recommendations, per our publishing policy, we no longer conduct reviews of physical products.
Instead, this list is a an assembly of what we believe are the best acoustic guitars, based on the following factors:
For those who need a simple nudge in the right direction, or who just want to hear from someone who can verify the value of an acoustic guitar purchase, this is a good place to start.
Good luck and happy acoustic guitar shopping.
Top Two Best Acoustic Guitar Picks
We define value as the convergence of lowest possible price at the highest possible value markers. These two acoustic guitars are what we believe give you that optimal convergence.
The following recommendations are based on the personal experience of those who helped author this content, as well as customer reviews, community consensus and market research.
Best Acoustic Guitars and Recommendations Based on Value
The best acoustic guitars should have both a low (or at least affordable) price point and a decent spec roster that would include good quality tonewood (for example, solid wood is better than laminate), fretboard design, bridge construction and an onboard preamp. All these factors were heavily considered when selecting the acoustic guitars in this list.
Please note: Numbers do not indicate a ranking.
This is one of the few guitars we're comfortable recommending at its given price point (it's extremely cheap). A big part of the reason is that you get a solid Sitka 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.
Sitka 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.
Price and Value
Pricing is the main attraction, though Yamaha makes it a decent investment with a solid Spruce top, a maple fretboard and aesthetics that don't look like a beginner acoustic guitar.
Seagull's S6 Original doesn't come with a preamp, but knocks off some expense of the QI version (which is equipped with a preamp), making it ideal for those who don't want or need to plug their acoustic guitar in. The Seagull has long been one of our favorite acoustics to recommend, boasting a pressure-tested solid Cedar top, a double truss rod and a stellar reputation in the guitar-playing community at large. It's also made in the United States.
Solid Cedar top, Wild Cherry back/sides and a Maple fretboard create a unique blend of tonewood that provides a crisp, fingerstyle-friendly tone.
Price and Value
The uniqueness of the Cherry and Cedar blend of tonewoods, along with the solid top construction and additional features, make the lower price point of this acoustic truly remarkable. It's hard to find a bad thing to say about the S6.
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 beginners and travelling guitarists. The real advantage of a guitar like this is functionality, so buying in the proper context (travel, small hands, children, etc.) provides a lot of value behind a prestigious brand name.
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. Sitka Spruce is used for the bracing system.
Price and Value
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.
Like the Little Martin, the Big Baby Taylor finds most of its value within certain contexts; namely, small hands, kids and beginners acoustics. However, unlike the LXK2, it does have a solid top made of Sitka Spruce along with Sapele back and sides. Another nice thing about Taylor acoustics is that they all come with Elixir acoustic strings, which means you don't have to switch strings out of the box.
The top is solid Spruce which provides a significant boost in quality to the guitar's tone, along with the traditional Taylor X-bracing.
Price and Value
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." Since it's certainly capable of outlasting (and outplaying) most other guitars in its price range, we're completely comfortable recommending it in most contexts that would benefit from a smaller acoustic.
It's difficult to argue with the value you get from the 114ce. Taylor has made what we consider to be the near perfect marriage of quality and price in this model, which boasts a solid Spruce top, the Taylor ES-2 preamp system and a sleek Venetian-style cutaway. In its price range, it's simply one of the best-sounding acoustics available, leaning a bit more to the high-end side of the EQ spectrum. This makes it ideal for finger-picking and more intricate lead acoustic guitar playing, though it can handle nearly any style, skill level or musical context.
Like the Baby Taylor, you've got a solid Spruce top with the X-bracing system and Sapele for the back and sides.
Price and Value
In terms of value, we don't often see anything better than the 114ce. Within its price range, there are few (if any) superior options.
The DRS1 from Martin gives you a solid top, back and sides, all made of Sapele. You've also got a Fishman Sonitone preamp to brag about which, by itself, provides a major value boost. Martin also includes a hardshell case with this one, which makes the price seem surprisingly low. The Sapele 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 might like it better than the 114ce. It's close.
Solid everything made from Sapele, and a bracing system made from Sitka Spruce. Not sure about the neck material but after all the great news up front, we're not concerned.
Price and Value
Peripherals go a long way with this model, namely the Fishman preamp and included hardshell case. It's also the only guitar in this list, thus far, to have a body made entirely laminate-free.
For only the second time in this list, we have an acoustic guitar that delivers an entirely solid body; top, back and sides. The top tonewood is Sitka Spruce, while the rest of the body is Mahogany which, when combined together in solid form, create a dynamic tone profile that we like for both warm and crisp acoustic sounds. It's cheaper than the Martin Road series and the 114ce, so the value bump is considerable, and it's ultimately a matter of preference when choosing between the three.
Mahogany body and Spruce top are a great combination, especially since it's all solid wood. Epiphone throws in Mahogany for the neck as well.
Price and Value
Whenever you get every piece of your acoustic guitar's body made with solid wood, you're doing pretty well. Epiphone adds the eSonic2 preamp system to round out a fantastic and affordable acoustic guitar for all skill levels and musical styles.
The tonewood profile gives you three different varieties: A solid Spruce top, Rosewood sides and a Maple back, which is a nicely-designed three-piece quilted panel. The onboard preamp is an in-house Talkamine job (TK-40D preamp) which has a tuner, three-band EQ, gain control and several other tone adjusting components. It would be nice to see a Fishman here, but the TK-40D does a decent job, all the same.
The three-part combination for the guitar's body gives you a solid Spruce top, Rosewood sides and a quilted Maple/Rosewood back. The tone profile is heavy on the mid-range, though seems to lean easier to the low-end side if it were to fall off the fence.
Price and Value
Not only is this one of Takamine's most popular acoustics but, in this price range, it's one of the most popular on the market. Solid wood and a flexible tone profile gives it a lot of different applicable contexts. All skill levels and musical styles can make it work.
Acoustic Guitar Tonewood: Solid and Laminate Construction
When you're dealing with acoustic guitars, the single biggest quality indicator is the type of tonewood used. Not only are you looking for a Dendrology term (Ash, Spruce, Maple, etc.) but you're also looking for a construction term, i.e. solid instead of laminate.
The first thing you should look for when it comes to tonewood is the "solid" descriptor. The more solid tonewood you have in an acoustic guitar, the better it's going to sound and the longer it's going to last. In most situations, you'll see solid tonewood highlighted as a feature, whereas parts of a guitar that use laminate will be nondescript.
For example, if you see the following specs:
- Solid Sitka Spruce top
- Rosewood back and sides
Would you say they're both suggesting solid wood? If so, you'd be wrong roughly 99 percent of the time. Whenever a manufacturer of acoustic guitars names the wood but neglects to specify solid or laminate, they're almost always simply avoiding the laminate descriptor.
Because it doesn't sell.
Keep an eye out for this. While a lack of solid wood doesn't mean the guitar is garbage, it's definitely a feature you'd rather have.
Typically, the breakdown is one of these three arrangements:
- All-laminate construction (top, back and sides) (acceptable)
- Solid top, with laminate back and sides (better)
- All-solid construction (best)
Thus, the more solid wood you can nail down, the better off you'll be.
Onboard Electronics: Acoustic Preamps
Electronics in an acoustic guitar usually provide a combination pickup and preamp system built into the body of the instrument. In almost every case, this means the guitar's retail price will (predictably) go higher. It stands to reason, since not everybody wants or would benefit from an amplified acoustic guitar, that one of the first things you should do before shopping for an acoustic is decide if this is a feature you want.
- Preamp system: Price goes up.
- No preamp: Price goes down.
If you decide that you do want a preamp in your acoustic guitar (we always recommend and prefer it), they can generally be broken down into two broad categories:
- Manufactured by the same company as the guitar (Epiphone eSonic2, Takamine TK-40d, etc.)
- Third-party design and manufacturer (Fishman, BBE, L.R. Baggs etc.)
Generally speaking, we prefer to see a third-party install of a preamp and pickup system, like the Fishman Sonitone in the Martin DRS1.
However, that's not to say that the Taylor ES-2 or the eSonic2 by Epiphone aren't acceptable alternatives. Generally speaking the quality of onboard acoustic preamps is harder to assess, because in most cases they tend to work fine and not be distinctly frustrating or encouraging.
At a bare minimum, a good onboard acoustic preamp should have the following controls:
- Gain (volume)
- Three-band EQ
More advanced preamps will have additional features like feedback control or more intricate EQ and tone-shaping options.
In most cases, the biggest question is whether or not you want to pay the extra cost of an acoustic guitar that includes it. While the actual cost can vary, you can bet that in most cases an onboard preamp is adding an extra $100 to the retail markup.
Assessing Cost and Value of an Acoustic Guitar
Use the following factors when assessing whether or not an acoustic guitar is worth the asking price:
- Tonewood and construction
- Electronics, preamp and pickup inclusion (or exclusion if you don't want them)
- Community consensus
- Bracing system (Taylor X-bracing, etc.)
- Additional features and peripherals (case, gig bag, new strings etc.)
- Brand popularity
Acoustic guitar value can be difficult to pin down because they're actually quite simple, in terms of their construction. An acoustic guitar is just a large piece of wood, strings and maybe some electronics, whereas electric guitars are a bit more complicated, or at least have more emphasis placed on their electronic systems.
Use the six categories we mentioned above, and keep in mind your own needs, which will establish your "buying context."
For example, do you perform regularly?
If so, you'd probably want an acoustic guitar with a good preamp. In that case, the inclusion of onboard electronics would add value to your situation.
Q: Should I always change the strings of a new acoustic guitar immediately?
A: Unless you can identify the brand of "stock" strings the guitar ships with, like the Elixirs that ship with all Taylor acoustics, it's always a good idea to switch out strings since the stock varieties are generally quite cheap.
Q: What can I do about high action on an acoustic guitar?
A: Most guitars, acoustic or electric, need to have action adjusted. You can do this using the truss rod, or take it to a Guitar Center or local shop to have it done. The cost should be minimal.
Q: What strings are best for acoustic guitars? Should it always be Elixir?
A: Elixir strings are what we most often recommend for both acoustic and electric guitars, but there are plenty of other options that are good for replacing stock strings. Ernie Ball and D'Addario are a couple other companies that we like.
Q: Are the small acoustic guitars just for children or people with small hands?
A: No. The Little Martin and BBT, while ideal for kids and small hands, are not intended only for those contexts. In fact, Ed Sheeran plays a small acoustic, similar to the Little Martin, as his main stage instrument.
- All About Tonewood by Dave Hunter
- Our Acoustic Guitar Article Roundup
- Taylor's Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide
- Forum discussion about the HPL mixture used in the Little Martin
- Taylor's Bracing Design Page.
- Fishman's Sonitone Preamp Page
- Epiphone's eSonic2 Preamp Explenation
- Instructable's Acoustic Guitar Setup Article
- AcousticGuitar.com's Setup Article
- Picture of Ed Sheeran and his tiny guitar
Credits and Contributions
- Article design and layout: Bobby Kittleberger and Millie Roark
- Content consultation: Peter Driver and Jon Pincek
- Banner image: Flickr Commons via Jessy Gonzales
Comments and Questions
Have questions about the acoustic guitars listed here?
Maybe you have a question about a different guitar or think there's one we should add to the list.
Please drop it in the comments section here and we'll take a look. We're always using comments to update these kinds of pages and keep them current.