by Millie Roark
Added a link to our acoustic guitar parent page, formatted all image captions and added the related content section to the bottom of the article.
Blues is traditionally thought of as being focused on the electric guitar, which isn't untrue. Yet, it's equally true that, while the electric guitar poularized a lot of the genre, the origins of the blues guitar style are largely acoustic.
Robert Johnson, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, Chuck Berry, Big Bill Broonzy and many of the original blues players were primarily writing songs and developing their genre on acoustic guitars. Modern blues artists that lean acoustic include Monte Montgomery, Bo and Bear Rineheart of Needtobreathe, Zac Brown and even John Mayer, on occasion. Even Joe Bonnamassa, who is known for his work on Gibson Les Pauls, often works acoustic sounds and riffs into his music. It stands to reason that the acoustic guitar can be as bluesy as you want it to be.
What makes an ideal acoustic guitar for blues styles?
The Ideal Acoustic Guitar for Blues
What we'll do is setup some distinct parameters to help define a blues acoustic guitar, for the purpose of shopping and separating them from the rest of the herd. And while it's true that few acoustics are labeled specifically for blues, there are guidelines and features we can use to determine which are the best acoustic guitars for blues players, without having to go through everything on the market.
Those parameters include the following:
- Bright and lead-friendly tone
- Cutaway or concert-shaped (smaller) body
- Onboard preamp and pickup system
- A slim neck profile
- Smaller string gauge (.042 or lower)
Basically we're trying to identify acoustic guitars that would make good lead guitars. That's the reason we've included the cutaway or concert-style prerequisites, because smaller guitars mean a higher tone profile, which is better for soling and lead licks. We'll use these five criteria (where the fifth will usually be an additional purchase) to filter out the best acoustic guitars for blues, displaying our six favorites here for easy consumption and browsing.
Top Two Best Acoustic Guitars for Blues 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, considering the acoustic blues style.
It's difficult to argue with the value you get from the 114ce, especially since it checks off so many of the needs we had for a blues-friendly acoustic. Namely, the following features:
- Bright, lead-friendly tone
- Elixir (light) strings
- Onboard preamp and pickup system
- Concert body shape (a bit smaller than the dreadnought)
Moreover, Taylor has achieved a near perfect marriage of quality and price in their 114ce, which boasts a solid Spruce top, the Taylor ES-2 preamp system and the sleek Venetian-style cutaway. This is an incredible value, regardless of style, though we do like it a lot for any acoustic playing that involves more than strumming, which is definitely the case with blues. It's great for both finger-picking, flat picking and more melodic acoustic guitar playing, while it can also handle nearly any style, skill level or musical context.
The top is a solid block of Spruce, which gives you a big bump in tone quality. You've also got the expected signature X-bracing that Taylor does, as well as laminate 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, particularly if you're thinking agnostic of any musical style.
While the tonewood combination is unique (you get a medley of Ovangkol, Paduak, Quilt Maple and a couple others) there's no mention of solid wood in this model. Still, we like Luna guitars, for blues and lead acoustic artists, because of their smaller body size and deep cutaway. You'll also find that the neck is really easy on your hands and doesn't bulk at higher playing speeds.
Luna also does well in the third-party add-on department, sporting Coated D'Addario strings and a Fishman Presys+ preamp.
The Fishman Presys+ preamp system that comes with the Luna Vista Bear acoustic guitar. Image via Fishman (View Larger Image)
Without knowing a lot about the tonewood used (never heard of Ovangkul and Paduak), the sound of the guitar is bright and chimey, similar to the Taylor 114ce, particularly when it's plugged in.
Since neither Amazon nor the Luna website make any mention of the word "solid" in reference to this guitar, we're assuming that all of the wood used is some kind of laminate layering. We're not crazy about that, but again, it plays really well and doesn't sound cheap. Perhaps the more exotic wood choices are covering up some less-than-ideal construction methods.
Price and Value
For blues acoustic players, these Luna guitars check off a lot of the stylistic requirement boxes, plus they look fantastic and are a unique deviation from the expected aesthetics. Strings, preamp and body design are where the real value is.
The top of this guitar is solid Red Cedar, which provides a uniquely bright tone that's really responsive to finger picking and lead melody, particularly on the higher register. Breedlove puts it on a concert-style body shape with a soft cutaway, perfect for blues playing styles. Balancing the Cedar is an Indian Rosewood laminate which is used for the back and sides of the guitar.
This helps to soften the brightness created by the Cedar, with a little bit of added warmth that tends to come out on the lower notes. That balance is distinctly evident in this sound sample:
As with the Luna, Breedlove offers some attractive third-party peripherals, including an L.R. Baggs Stage Pro pickup and D'Addario strings. The offset fretboard dots and soundhole border make for some appealing aesthetics, not to mention the pinless bridge. Having fewer holes in the body of the guitar helps improve the balance of sound and EQ, and makes for a more resonant instrument with more sustain.
A closer look at some Red Cedar lumber. Flickr Commons Image via Concrete Jungler
The body design, along with the combination of Red Cedar and Indian Rosewood makes this guitar one of the most balanced we've heard, being somehow really "deep" on the low-end, but also adding plenty of character and "chime" on the high-end. For players who prefer to use their fingers for picking, it's a particularly good choice.
Price and Value
As we've already mentioned, the value for fingerstyle players gets a bump, though we love the Breedlove Concert for any and all situations that call for a bluesy-sounding acoustic guitar.
This acoustic guitar's tonewood profile gives you three different varieties:
You get a solid Spruce top, Rosewood sides and a Maple back, which is fitted together as a three-piece quilted panel. The onboard preamp and pickup system is an in-house Talkamine job (the TK-40D preamp) which has the following features:
- Three-band EQ
- Gain control
- Mid contour switch
- Notch filters
- EQ bypass
This preamp gives you a lot of versatility, which is part of why we like it for blues styles, which might have you on a number of different EQ spectrums, depending on stylistic flavor or sub-genre. Heavy, rhythmic chord progressions, high-pitched lead riffs and solos all sound really good on this model, thanks largely to the variety you get from the TK-40D preamp.
The three-part combination for the guitar's body gives you a tone profile that's heavy on the mid-range, though seems to lean easier to the low-end if it were to fall off the fence. With the preamp, it's hard to make the GN93CE sound bad.
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.
Speaking from the price point of this guitar alone, it might be one of the best values on this list. We can't show you prices (because of our Amazon links and their terms of service) but if you click through, check out the price than read on through the specs.
It's quite remarkable.
You get the smaller, concert-shaped body with a cutaway - which is a fantastic feel for blues acoustic lead - along with a solid Spruce top and laminate Rosewood everywhere else. This is similar to the setup used for the Taylor 114ce, except they use a laminate Sapele for the back and sides. Yamaha adds in their SRT System 66 Piezo/Pickup preamp, which allows you to blend between the two sounds, while also providing all the basic preamp functionality you would expect.
After all this, they throw in an included hardshell case. To be honest, I'm not sure how they keep the price as low as they do, and perhaps it will change by the time you read this.
For now, it's one of the best acoustic guitars for blues we can recommend in this price range, based on the tonewood arrangement and preamp system alone.
The solid Sitka Spruce and Rosewood is a common combination which we often see on acoustic guitars closer to the 1000 dollar price point. With the smaller body of the AC1M, it creates a tone that's perfect for high register playing and lead soloing. We'd like the cutaway to be deeper, but that's far from a deal breaker.
PRICE AND VALUE
As far as value goes, this is one of the best acoustic guitars we've seen at the given price point, in this context. Particularly for blues acoustic players, it's an incredibly good deal.
The A6 from Godin is one of the more unique guitars we have on this list. It's an "electro-acoustic" which means it's chambered, but has an actual magnetic pickup mounted on the body of the guitar, just like you'd see on a solid body electric guitar.
This makes it uniquely adaptive to the blues style, giving you the best of both electric and acoustic sounds. It has a solid Cedar top with a Godin GHN1 humbucker installed near the neck position of the guitar and an under-saddle transducer (a more "garden-variety" acoustic pickup). The preamp is a custom Godin flavor with controls sitting right above the pickup on top of the base of the guitar's neck, providing volume and three-band EQ controls for both the transducer and humbucker, separately.
There are also two output jacks to send these two signals to different locations, effectively giving you an electric mix from the humbucker and an acoustic mix from the transducer.
While the electro-acoustic humbucker setup is the highlight feature, the A6 provides a good tonewood profile as well with the solid Cedar top and a Rosewood/Mahogany combination for the fretboard and neck.
PRICE AND VALUE
It's not on the cheaper end of this list, but the functionality, particularly in the context of acoustic blues playing, is undeniably significant. It's the only guitar on this list that allows you to blend aspects of both acoustic and electric guitars into your playing.
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 blues 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.
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 best acoustic guitars for blues, based on our own opinions and research. They're the "best of" from this entire list.
Beyond those two initial recommendations, this list is not intended to be a review or a ranking.
- This list is NOT a review
- This list is NOT a ranking
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.
Does an all-laminate acoustic ruin the acoustic blues sound?
How much does the lumber matter?
When we're talking about acoustic guitars for blues, specifically, lumber becomes a little less critical.
However, when you're talking about any acoustic guitar, regardless of musical style, the single biggest quality indicator is the type of lumber used to manufacture it. And while that's a matter of Dendrology (Ash, Spruce, Maple, etc.) it's also a matter of construction. As you may have gathered from the highlights of each guitar in this list, their construction is always one of the following two:
- Solid wood construction
- Laminate construction
The "solid" descriptor means exactly what it says; that the guitar part was made of one solid block of wood without any layers or shortcuts. Laminate, on the other hand, has several layers of cheaper wood underlying a thin layer of high-quality tonewood. It's a shortcut method that significantly diminishes the guitar's tone. When you're talking about acoustic guitar in a blues context, you can cheat here a little bit, because a "dirtier" or perhaps grungier-sounding acoustic might be more appealing within the blues sound. Still, it's not often that we like to recommend acoustic guitars with all-laminate construction. It happens, but it's fairly rare.
Identifying Solid and Laminate Wood in Specs Lists
In most situations, you'll see solid tonewood highlighted and emphasized as a keynote feature, whereas parts of a guitar that use laminate construction will be nondescript or simply not discussed at all.
For example, you might see the following specs:
- Solid Spruce top
- Sapele back and sides
At first glance, this might sound like all three parts of the guitar are made of solid wood. Alas, 99 percent of the time that is not the case.
Why don't I often see the "laminate" descriptor?
Whenever an acoustic guitar manufacturer names the wood but neglects to specify solid or laminate, they're almost always trying to avoid the laminate descriptor.
Because it doesn't sell guitars. It's a negative in the eye of the consumer, and with good reason.
Thus, it's a good idea to at least be aware of laminate wood in an acoustic guitar. While a lack of solid wood doesn't always mean the guitar is garbage, 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)
For acoustics that will be primarily devoted to the blues style, we try to go with #2 or better. Look for at least the solid top, which will help tighten the resonance of your acoustic's body, making lead melody more clear and holding more sustain on the higher notes.
Are acoustic preamps (pickups) necessary for a beginner?
The best acoustic guitars for blues will need to have a preamp and pickup installed. In fact, we've intentionally avoided recommending guitars that don't have electrical components, because acoustic blues players are almost always going to want to plug into an amp, or at least have the ability to, when needed. A lot of blues guitarists will even add distortion to their acoustic, a practice that requires an onboard preamp or pickup.
As a result, the preamp is something we like to see in an acoustic that we specify for this style.
However, this means the guitar's retail price will necessarily be higher.
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, L.R. Baggs, etc.)
In other words, companies will either include a third-party preamp, like the Fishman Sonitone or LR Baggs systems, or design their own like the Yamaha SRT.
Generally speaking, we prefer the third-party options since they tend to be produced by companies that specialize in that area. Take the L.R. Baggs home page, for example:
LR Baggs knows their stuff when it comes to acoustic guitar pickups. Image via L.R. Baggs
It's easy to see that the guys at L.R. Baggs know exactly what they're doing.
We'd rather have their pickups and preamps in our acoustics, if at all possible.
At the same time, this doesn't mean the Taylor ES-2 or the eSonic2 by Epiphone aren't viable alternatives. The quality of onboard acoustic preamps, even the ones made in-house as secondary priorities by guitar manufacturers, are generally quite good, especially the Yamaha SRT System 66.
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 like the blend knob on the System 66.
While you can always mic an acoustic, we recommend that blues players who want to dabble with or use acoustic guitars as their primary instrument, make sure to invest in one with a decent preamp and pickup system.
Even if you don't plan to use one in the near future, you'd rather have it and not need it.
Assessing Cost and Value in a Blues Context
The value of an acoustic guitar is far easier to determine within the context of a particular genre. In the case of blues guitar, and the sub-genres thereof, we can assign value to acoustics based on the factors we mentioned at the beginning of this roundup.
Namely, the following features provide the most value to potential buyers:
- Solid top body construction
- Concert-style body size
- Preamp and pickup inclusion
- Additional EQ and tone controls (contour, blend, etc.)
- Cutaway inclusion
In our parent acoustic guitar guide, we've added a total of six value indicators overall that we recommend using as general guidelines, agnostic of musical style. 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 (they aren't typically used in blues styles) you shouldn't be worrying about nylon strings. Steel strings are the "default" for most 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 is best for blues acoustic guitar styles?
A: For blues and lead acoustic guitar, 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 or concert-style acoustic guitars just for children or people with small hands?
A: No. Guitars like the Yamaha AC1M and Big Baby Taylor, 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.
Additional Acoustic Guitar Resources
- All About Tonewood by Dave Hunter
- Our Acoustic Guitar Article Roundup
- Taylor's Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide
- 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
Educator, writer and guitarist since 1996.
Worship leader, PCA deacon and guitarist.
Session musician, guitar, keyboard & bass
- Article design and layout: Bobby Kittleberger and Millie Roark
- Product consultation: Peter Driver and Jonathan Pincek
- Banner image: Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Christophe Losberger
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.