Buying an acoustic guitar isn't exactly a "small" purchase. Even for beginners, the process can be intimidating and even discouraging if you don't know what you're getting into.
We'll cover acoustic guitar buying tips in this article that will help you understand your options, save money, and spend where you'll get the most value for your particular situation.
We'll group our acoustic guitar buying tips into the following categories:
- Which brands should I target/avoid?
- Help with price points
- Which features matter?
Which brands should I target/avoid?
1. Consider avoiding acoustic guitar "packages"
A lot of websites will recommend acoustic guitar "packages" which usually contain a fairly cheap acoustic bundled with strings, tuner, straps, and other get-started-now items. While this is convenient, and often recommended by affiliate sites that don't know much about guitar, they tend to be poor value, particularly as it relates to the quality of the guitar itself.
Brands that often package acoustics this way include Yamaha, Fender, Rogue, and then a few low-profile brands that we wouldn't trust, regardless of the low price tag.
While it can be tempting to go for these cheap options, we recommend looking for a guitar as a standalone purchase that's not part of a gimmicky bundle on Amazon.
For more help: Acoustic guitars for beginners
2. Focus on reputable acoustic brands with economy lines
Almost all of the reputable acoustic guitar brands provide economy lines that we'd consider high-value acoustic guitars. Some of these brands include the following:
- Seagull (Godin)
You'll see lines within these brands that are fairly cheap, but still get good reviews. For example, the LX series (Little Martins) from Martin, or the FG series from Yamaha are both affordable, but hail from a reputable manufacturer and don't typically sell in a "bundle."
For more brand help: Best acoustic guitar brands
3. Avoid big box retailer in-store acoustics
From time to time, probably around the holidays, you'll notice acoustic guitars at places like Target, Walmart, and other big box retailers. These are almost always more like toys and do not make good acoustics, even for people that just want to casually learn acoustic guitar.
If you want to go with a big box retailer, buy online from a company like Sweetwater, Musician's Friend, or even Amazon and look for the reputable brand names we've already covered.
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4. Avoid cheap brands that don't specialize in acoustic guitars
Many brands you'll commonly see on Amazon, even recommended by sites like BestReviews, we would recommend avoiding. While there can be some value in getting a guitar that's just really cheap, we would argue that the price doesn't mean it has to be junk that'll be garage sale fodder in a year or two.
Here are some brands that sell a lot of beginner guitars, but that we'd recommend avoiding entirely:
- Best Choice Products
To an extent, you can see these throw-away brands a mile away. They're super cheap, and not made to last at all. Even if you're just starting out with guitar, we don't recommend these as they take away from the true experience of playing the instrument.
Help with Price Points
5. Be willing to spend more than you thought
We find that a lot of people go into the process of buying an acoustic guitar thinking that $100 is a lot to spend, and for some people that might be a lot of money. However, in the realm of acoustic guitar retail, $50 to $100 doesn't get you much, if anything.
It's smart to go into the process willing to spend a little more to get an acoustic guitar that isn't just a toy.
You should also keep in mind that defining a "cheap" acoustic guitar can be a bit subjective, which brings us to tip number six.
6. Acoustic guitars in the 300-400 dollar price range are not considered expensive
Many of the beginner acoustic guitars we recommend are in the $300 to $400 price range, and we would still consider those budget-friendly, at least by acoustic guitar pricing standards.
7. Smaller acoustic guitars aren't necessarily cheaper
A lot of people assume that smaller acoustic guitars are less expensive, but this isn't necessarily true, given that 3/4 body size acoustics, concert acoustics, parlor acoustics, and even ukuleles can vary widely in price.
The reduction of lumber in the smaller body size isn't really enough to make up for general manufacturing costs. In other words, don't limit yourself to a particular size for price reduction alone.
8. Electronics (preamp and pickup installed) add approximately $100 to the cost of an acoustic guitar
As a general rule of thumb, getting an "acoustic-electric" guitar, which is an acoustic with a pickup and preamp installed, is going to add around $100 to $150 to the retail cost of your guitar.
For example, with the Seagull S6 there are two models:
- Seagull S6 Original (no electronics): $400
- Seagull S6 QI (preamp and pickup): $499
Another good example would be the Martin LX series:
- Little Martin LX and LXK2 (no electronics): $330
- Little Martin LX1E (preamp and pickup): $450
The morale of the story is to decide ahead of time if the electronics matter to you. Do you want to be able to plug your acoustic in? If not, than it doesn't make sense to spend the extra money paying for the preamp and pickup system.
Which features matter most?
9. Top piece tonewood
The first thing we like to look at is whether or not the top piece on the acoustic guitar is made of solid wood or laminate. This part of an acoustic guitar has the most say in the tone quality and how well the guitar projects, so we're looking for a high grade of tonewood and preferably a solid piece, as opposed to layered laminate.
While laminate tonewood can still sound good, the more solid wood you have in your acoustic, the better, and it starts with that top piece.
10. Body size and type
As mentioned previously, body size and type doesn't necessarily impact the price of your acoustic guitar, but it will definitely say a lot about your experience playing it. Generally, there are four different acoustic guitar body types:
- Parlor or 3/4 size
The most common are the concert and dreadnought body shape, which are pictured above as the full or "adult" size acoustic guitar. However, you can have smaller or larger acoustics that adopt either of these two shapes.
Here are the characteristics of a concert acoustic guitar body:
And the same for dreadnought acoustics:
Generally speaking, the concert shape is better for lead guitar and melody, while the dreadnought is more ideal for strumming and rhythm. However, there are plenty of cases where the two switch those roles.
Here's a quick rundown of the most typical options:
Mini or 3/4 Body Size
- Parlor shape
Full or Traditional Body Size
- Concert with cutaway
- Concert without cutaway
- Dreadnought with cutaway
- Dreadnought without cutaway
11. Electronics (preamp and pickup)
As we've already touched on, the preamp and pickup is something that you need to decide on before you start shopping. If you want to plug in your acoustic guitar or plan to perform with it, the electronics become fairly critical. If not, it's safe to just avoid this feature entirely.
12. Back and sides tonewood
The back and sides of your acoustic guitar use a separate piece of tonewood from the top, which we've already talked about. While it's less critical to have solid tonewood in the back and sides, as they have less to say about the final sound quality, it's still preferable.
In most cases, you'll have laminate tonewood for both the back and sides of your acoustic guitar. This is even the case with many of the intermediate level acoustics.
It's not a deal breaker, but just something to keep an eye on as you shop.
Conclusion and Questions
Those are all the most critical issues to keep in mind when buying an acoustic guitar, especially if this is your first one. To summarize, you should prioritize your features and come up with a reasonable price range that doesn't go too low. If you have questions about the process or something mentioned here, feel free to drop a note in the comments section below and we'll do our best to help out.