Last updated October 11th, 2017
First, we need to put some concrete parameters around what a beginner acoustic guitar actually is. Because, quite honestly, any guitar could be used by a beginner. However, the most ideal beginner acoustics should have several distinctive features that make them better-suited for young or novice guitar players.
In this list of what we're calling the best beginner acoustic guitars, we've curated all the acoustic guitars that meet our established criteria for being beginner-friendly.
Those criteria include the following:
- Reasonably inexpensive and affordable (typically between $150 and $650)
- Manufactured by reputable and trusted brand names (no "First Act" guitars)
- Low-level investments that still offer some decent return in terms of quality and playing experience
We believe the best beginner acoustic guitars aren't just the cheapest or the smallest, but the ones that provide the lowest price point along with the highest possible amount of instrument quality.
Because when beginners play a bad instrument, they're not going to learn or enjoy the experience like they would otherwise.
In short, we're looking for affordable acoustic guitars that also play really well.
What This List Assumes
This list assumes a basic understanding of the acoustic guitar, the brands represented in this list and the different parts used in acoustic guitar construction (fretboard, body, strings, etc.).
We're also not ranking or reviewing all these guitars individually. Instead, this article is meant to be a running updated list of where we recommend starting your search for a beginner acoustic guitar. For more information on the scope and design of this list, please refer to the "Why this List is Curation and not a Ranking" section.
What defines a beginner acoustic guitar?
An ideal beginner acoustic guitar can be defined by several factors, while the primary considerations are the following:
Now, this is not to say that all beginner guitars are played by kids or folks with smaller hands. It's also not to say that larger guitars can't be played by kids. Rather these are general guidelines we're using to curate guitars that have the best chance of being good fits for beginners or those who aren't familiar with the guitar as an instrument.
We've also kept in mind the longevity of the acoustic guitars we're recommending, in hope that they will last longer than just the beginner years.
The BBT Big Baby Taylor is a great example.
Why this list is a Curation and not a Ranking
A lot of folks who are buying a guitar, especially for the first time, want to simply be told what their best option is. While the answer to that question is always contextual, we've added a "top two" section right beneath this paragraph that tells you the two beginner acoustic guitars we're most likely to recommend to the largest amount of people. They're the "best of" from this entire list.
We've also chosen one acoustic guitar from each brand curation to highlight as our favorite of that particular brand.
Beyond those recommendations, the lists of acoustic guitars we've put together are not intended to be a review or a ranking.
- This list is NOT a review
- This list is NOT a ranking
We went with a curation template instead because we've contextualized this article to be relevant to a specific group of people.
In other words, all the acoustic guitars in this list can work for beginners.
There isn't a lot of value in "reviewing" a bunch of products when you have no good reason to recommend a bad one. Keep that in mind as you read through these lists, which are as comprehensive as we could make them, without recommending acoustic guitars that we don't think are worth the money.
Keep your situation in mind and browse confidently.
Top Two Best Beginner Acoustic Guitar Picks with the Most Value
We define value as the convergence of the lowest possible price with the highest possible value markers. These two acoustic guitars are what we believe give you that optimal convergence, at the beginner level.
Yamaha acoustics have been a bit hard to nail down over the years and tend to go feast-or-famine in terms of the quality they turn up. However, they're more likely to be found near the budget and bargain end of the pricing spectrum than say, Taylor or Martin.
Yamaha acoustics are popular starter guitars based on that fact alone, though there a lot of cheap Yamaha acoustics, particularly on the "starter pack" roster, that we really don't like.
Anything with "bundle" in it, we'd recommend staying away from, at least for this list.
At the same time, Yamaha does a good job of manufacturing a wide variety of sizes and styles of acoustic guitar. For example, they have several 3/4 sized guitars which are fantastic for kids or even adults who have smaller hands or simply want a smaller guitar. We'll start with the FG830, then add our full suggestion list from Yamaha's acoustic lineup.
Our Top Yamaha Pick
The FG830 is our top pick from this list and beats out the FG800 with a tonewood upgrade, going from Nato to Rosewood for the back and sides of the guitar.
The bundle also includes a hardshell case and several guitar picks, which makes it a better overall value for beginners who want to get started with one purchase. Like the FG800, the 830 gives you a solid Sitka Spruce top which, combined with the Rosewood, creates a surprisingly professional-sounding acoustic tone with plenty of chord warmth.
It's an ideal strumming instrument.
Everything from Yamaha We'd Recommend for Beginners
Taylor acoustic guitars are less likely to be pegged as a good beginner brand simply because of their price tags which tend to be quite high. They're much more comfortable in the mid to higher-end price ranges, particularly in decades past, where it was considered fairly difficult to find them in the budget category.
However, in recent years Taylor has made a lot of effort to make their acoustics available to beginners and folks who have a lower budget, even getting under the $500 mark in some instances.
This list will a bit shorter on variety, since those cheaper options are mostly made up of the Baby Taylor models.
Still, some of the best acoustic guitars for beginners are found in those few economy options that Taylor does provide, particularly the Big Baby Taylor and the 100 series (110 model).
Our Taylor Pick
Like the Little Martin, the Big Baby Taylor finds most of its value within certain contexts, namely small hands, kids and beginner acoustics. It does have a solid top made of Sitka Spruce along with Sapele back and sides constructed with laminate layers. Another nice thing about Taylor acoustics is that they all come with Elixir strings, which means you don't have to switch strings out of the box. The tone is surprisingly crisp and tight for a such a small guitar.
Everything from Taylor We'd Recommend for Beginners
As you go up the Taylor food chain, the prices quickly get into the 500 and 600 dollar range. However, don't be too stingy about paying those kinds of prices, even for a beginner acoustic guitar. Because, as we mentioned earlier, if you have a beginner that's truly interested in the instrument, a guitar that gets closer to the mid-tier price ranges will serve them much better as a more positive experience with the instrument.
While we still like the Big Baby Taylor the most out of this lineup, some of the mid-range Taylor acoustics are worth a look, especially if the purchase is more of an investment than a tryout.
Like Taylor, the Martin brand isn't often associated with beginner acoustic guitars.
More often, they're thought of as the grandfather acoustic manufacturer, founded way back in 1833 and still continuing as one of the best companies in the business.
While most Martin acoustics are high end, they've still managed to follow the example set by today's broader guitar market and come up with some of their own budget-friendly alternatives. Martin runs the board in terms of pricing tiers, offering everything from sub $500 starters to acoustics that close in on five figures.
Generally speaking, most Martin acoustics are known for the following traits:
- Thicker tone with emphasis on the lower EQ spectrum
- The dreadnought body shape
- Their own branded acoustic strings
- Ideal for rhythm and strumming
Our Martin Pick
This version of the Little Martin has a solid Spruce top and a Fishman Sonitone pickup system, which will allow you to plug it into an acoustic amplifier or PA system. Even if plugging it in isn't something that interests you, the solid Spruce top is a marquee feature that will produce a much nicer and fuller acoustic tone.
If you want something slightly cheaper, without the Fishman system and solid top, the LXK2 Little Martin drops the price, along with those two features.
As far as the LX1E goes, there's nothing we don't like.
Everything from Martin We'd Recommend for Beginners
Outside the small, Ed Sheeran-style acoustics, Martin doesn't offer a lot in the way of full-sized models that fit within our beginner's price range, despite being known for the dreadnought body shape. If you're looking for a larger Martin, your best bet is the DXMAE, which is at the top of what we'd consider a beginner or entry-level price tag.
For larger acoustic sizes, Martin (ironically) might not be your best option unless you're prepared to spend a little more.
Epiphone was originally a competitor of Gibson before being bought by CMI in 1957, a company that owned Gibson as well. Effectively, the Epiphone brand became known as the economy version of many popular Gibson guitars, primarily the Les Paul and SG models.
What isn't as widely known about Epiphone is that they have a remarkably solid line of beginner and mid-range acoustic models, the foremost of which is the DR-500MCE, which sports an entirely solid body and still falls within our beginner-friendly price range, albeit near the top.
Aside from the 500MCE, there are a lot of other Epiphone acoustics that are affordable, yet feel and sound like much more expensive guitars.
Particularly if you're wanting an acoustic guitar that we'd consider full size, Epiphone is a fantastic beginner's option.
Our Epiphone Pick
As we've already mentioned in the Epiphone prologue, the entire body of this guitar is solid wood, which uses Spruce for the top layer and Mahogany for everything else.
You also get the eSonic2 preamp system, which is an in-house Epiphone product that allows you to use one of two different pickups, each with its own input (basically allows stereo or mono operation - sending each individual signal to a different location).
The eSonic2 pickup system can operate in mono (both pickups) or stereo (just the Nanomag). (View Larger Image)
From what we know about the eSonic2, it's a solid preamp, though not on par with Fishman's offerings.
Still, it has all the features you'd need in an acoustic pickup, so we like the DR-500MCE for beginners with performance aspirations, as well as those who want an investment acoustic that will last far beyond those early years.
Everything from Epiphone We'd Recommend for Beginners
There are a lot of Epiphone acoustics on the roster that are just outside of our $650 salary cap. Though since the lower-end Epiphones are so good, the jump in quality to those mid-range models doesn't seem as significant.
In other words, don't over-spend on this brand.
Most of what they make is quite good.
Takamine produces a ton of acoustic guitars that fall into what we could consider the middle tier of pricing and quality. Many of them are good, not great, and you don't tend to see models eclipse the four-figure threshold. This factor has made them an incredibly popular choice for beginners and mid-level acoustic players.
If you can find those lower-cost models that are exceptionally well-made and feature-rich, you aren't likely to pay much, while the return on your investment is going to be decent, or better.
These are the Takamine acoustics that are "great, not just good," starting with the GD30CE.
Our Takamine Pick
Most of the low to mid-range Takamine acoustic guitars give you all or at least some of the following features:
- Solid top (usually Cedar or Spruce)
- Mahogany neck (slim)
- Some kind of in-house preamp and pickup system
The GD30CE hits all these points with a solid Spruce top and the TP-4TD preamp, which all falls well-under our established price limit. However, it is difficult to recommend certain Takamine acoustics over others, because many of them are quite similar to one another, both in price and quality.
They're the ultimate safety purchase for beginning acoustic players. Nevertheless, here's what we like about the GD30CE, specifically:
Everything from Takamine We'd Recommend for Beginners
Just a quick note on the "Jasmine" guitars in this list.
Jasmine is Takamine's budget line, and they're extremely popular among beginner acoustic guitar buyers. We've included a couple in this list because they are very cheap, though they don't boast the same kind of stat line we'd like to see.
However, if you're in a position where you're more interested in trying the acoustic guitar instead of investing in one, Jasmine acoustics are fantastic starter options that a lot of people have good things to say about.
Does an all-laminate acoustic ruin the experience of a beginner?
How much does the lumber matter?
In short, lumber matters a lot.
With acoustic guitars, beginner or otherwise, the single biggest quality indicator is the type of lumber used in its construction. Not only are you looking for a Dendrology term (Ash, Spruce, Maple, etc.) but you should also, and perhaps more importantly, be looking for a construction term. With acoustic guitars, it's always one of the following two:
- Solid wood construction
- Laminate construction
The "solid" descriptor essentially means what it sounds like, that the piece has been made of one solid block of wood without any layers. On the other hand, laminate has several layers of cheaper wood filling in underneath a thin layer of nicer tonewood. It's a cost-cutting method that severely diminishes the tone of the guitar.
In most situations, you'll see solid tonewood highlighted as a feature, whereas parts of a guitar that use laminate will be nondescript or simply not mentioned.
For example, you might see the following specs:
- Solid Cedar 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 help sell guitars. It's a deterrent.
Keep an eye out for this. While a lack of solid wood doesn't mean the guitar is garbage, or that laminate is on the same level as particle board, solid construction is always a feature you're better off having more of.
Typically, the breakdown is one of these three:
- All-laminate construction (top, back and sides) (sometimes acceptable)
- Solid top, with laminate back and sides (better)
- All-solid construction (best)
The more solid wood you can nail down, the better.
Are acoustic preamps (pickups) necessary for a beginner?
Electronics in an acoustic guitar usually provide a combination pickup and preamp system, which are both built into the body of the guitar near the sound hole. This allows you to plug your acoustic guitar into an amp or PA system of some kind.
Most of the time, this means the guitar's retail price will increase. Since beginner acoustic guitar players might not want an amplified acoustic signal, this feature is one of the first things you should consider before buying.
Do you want or even need the preamp and pickup?
In simple terms:
- Preamp system included: Price goes up.
- No preamp system included: Price goes down.
If you decide this is a feature you need or want, you can think of them in two broad categories, based on manufacturing source:
- In-house or stock (Epiphone eSonic2, Takamine TK-40d, etc.)
- Third-party design (Fishman, BBE, etc.)
In other words, companies will either include a third-party preamp, like the Fishman Sonitone systems, or design their own.
Generally speaking, we prefer the third-party options since they tend to be produced by companies that specialize in that area. Take the Fishman home page, for example:
Fishman knows their stuff when it comes to acoustic guitar preamps. Image via Fishman
It doesn't take long to see that the guys at Fishman know exactly what they're doing.
If possible, we want their products in our acoustic guitars, beginner or not.
However, that's not to say that the Taylor ES-2 or the eSonic2 by Epiphone aren't viable alternatives. The quality of onboard acoustic preamps, especially the ones made in-house as secondary priorities by guitar manufacturers, is harder to put a finger on. In most cases they work fine and aren't distinctly frustrating or encouraging.
What makes a "good" onbard preamp?
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 options.
For beginners trying to decide if they need this feature, 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.
If you want to plug into an acoustic amp or a PA system, it's probably something you'll want to make sure is included.
Otherwise, for those who just want to strum indoors or quietly on their own, it's not a necessary expense to incur.
Assessing Cost and Value in a Beginner's Context
Acoustic guitar value can be difficult to determine, especially when you're talking about beginner varieties. You'll find that they're actually quite simple in terms of their construction; just a large piece of wood, strings and maybe some electronics.
For beginners, the most important thing is to make note of is the tonewood and construction, along with the size and whether or not you want a preamp included:
- Tonewood and construction (solid or laminate)
- Size of the guitar (small, 3/4, full dreadnought, etc.)
- Preamp and pickup inclusion
In our parent acoustic guitar guide, we've added a total of six value indicators that we recommend using outside of the beginner's context. You can refer to those if you need more help contextualizing your needs and purpose for your new acoustic.
FAQ about Beginner Acoustic Guitars
Q: What's the difference between nylon and steel strings? Does it matter which kind I use?
A: Nylon strings are used with classical and Spanish guitars. Unless you know what those are and specifically want one (we've included just a couple on this list), you shouldn't be worrying about nylon strings. Steel strings are the "default" for most beginner acoustic guitars.
Q: What if the action on my acoustic guitar is too high?
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 music shop to have it done, which is sometimes called "setting up" a guitar. The cost should be minimal.
Q: What string brand should beginners use for acoustic guitar?
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, Martin and D'Addario are a couple other companies that we like.
Q: What string gauge should beginners use for acoustic guitar?
A: For beginners, the lighter the gauge the better. Go by the thickest string and shoot for a pack labeled "light" which usually means the thickest string will be .042.
Q: Are the small acoustic guitars just for children or people with small hands?
A: No. Guitars like the Little Martin and Big Baby 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.
Q: Is it possible for these guitars to last beyond the beginner's stage, perhaps beyond the first few years of playing?
A: Absolutely, yes. In fact, that's one of the main criteria we use to recommend beginner acoustics. Many of them, particularly as you get into the 400 to 500 dollar price range can last well into your intermediate and even advanced playing years. However, it should be obvious that the cheaper the guitar, the less likely it is to have longevity and value as time wears on.
- 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
- Musician's Friend Beginner Acoustic Recommendations
- Picture of Ed Sheeran and his tiny guitar
Credits and Contributions
Educator, writer and guitarist since 1996.
Worship leader, PCA deacon and guitarist.
Session musician, guitar, keyboard & bass
- Article design and layout: Bobby Kittleberger
- Product consultation: Peter Driver and Jonathan Pincek
- Banner image: Flickr Commons via PJ in OZ
Comments and Questions
Have questions about the beginner 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 posts and keep them current.