Acoustic guitars are meant to sound like a budget orchestra, kind of like John Paul Jones in Led Zeppelin. When designed well and played properly, they provide the bottom end, the mids, and the treble. From strumming Wonderwall on the park bench to playing complex compositions in front of an audience of thousands, acoustic guitars can do it all. So, which one do you buy?
In our bid to make your choices simple, allowing you more time to study those fancy chords that you like, we’ve assembled a guide on what the best acoustic guitars in the world are right now, and how to pick up the right one for you.
Why should you own an acoustic guitar?
Jimi Hendrix. Jimmy Page. Randy Rhoads. Yes, these are guitar players whose faces adorn posters across bedroom walls the world over. They’re associated mostly with the face-melting electric guitar solos played through large amps. However, all of them all played acoustic guitars, likely started their careers on those, and probably wrote many of their most famous songs on acoustic guitars.
The acoustic guitar is one of the most popular instruments in the world. In the U.S. alone, 2 million acoustic guitars are sold each year. The popularity of the instrument can be attributed to its versatility, its small shape, and weight, and its cost.
Simply put, just about any song can be played on an acoustic guitar. It doesn’t cost much to own one. It is easy to transport. And, perhaps, most importantly, singers can easily accompany themselves with an acoustic guitar or can use it to write songs.
History of the acoustic guitar
The acoustic guitar has a long and proud history. The first instrument was built, allegedly, by esteemed luthier Gaetano Vinaccia. The model as we know it today, however, was created by Spanish luthier Antonio Torres Jurado in 1850. While these were the first acoustic guitars in the style that we know today, similar stringed instruments are thought to have existed as far back as 3500 years ago in Egypt.
The acoustic guitar is a chordophone, an instrument that produces sounds due to the vibration of strings at different points. The guitar is similar to stringed instruments like the lute, the mandolin, or the Kitara. So, why did it take off as it did?
For the same reasons, we mentioned earlier. The guitar is portable, inexpensive (generally), and very expressive. It was used widely in classical music. It was also used in 20th Century combos. When other instruments seemed on the brink of overpowering the acoustic guitar in terms of the power of the sound in such a combo, the amplified version of the instrument came along.
In other words, the acoustic guitar can be used to play any style of music, it is highly expressive and doesn’t cost much to own.
Best acoustic guitar for a beginner
To choose the best acoustic guitar for a beginner, it’s important to first consider the needs of a novice. I won’t lie, playing guitar initially, especially the thicker metal strings of an acoustic will cause some discomfort. The rewards will, however, come quickly and be well worth the effort.
There are other factors worth considering. You’ll likely want to consider your budget. But, you will also need a guitar that stays in tune, that has quality accessories that won’t require you to replace them. You’ll want a guitar that is versatile so that you can jam with friends, or try using it for different styles. And, most importantly, you’ll want a guitar that feels comfortable in your hands and that has a great look. The more you enjoy your guitar, the more you’ll want to play it.
I own five different acoustic guitars, all bought at separate times, and for different uses. I use many of them. Some of them simply when I’m going to the beach and want to play a few tunes on the same. Others, I use to record.
Your budget will start at around $150. Considering the price of other instruments, including electric guitars, you can tell why buying an acoustic feels affordable for most people.
The majority of guitars that cost less than $1000 are built out of laminate wood (the sides, the back, and the top). Essentially, they’re built out of plywood. The wood itself is, generally, collected from what remains unused from constructing solid top guitars. This, however, doesn’t automatically mean that they produce poor instruments, on the contrary.
Here are some of the best guitars for beginners at the moment:
- Fender CD-60S
- Yamaha FG800
- Epiphone Hummingbird Studio
Best acoustic guitar brands
You must have heard, at the very least, one person bragging about owning a Gibson or a Fender. It must’ve sounded like someone telling you that they just bought a Ferrari. But, do guitar brands make a difference anymore?
The answer is yes, and no. Simply put, these brands are, usually known to make quality instruments, but newer, often more affordable brands have invaded the market in the past decade or so. Furthermore, these brands, like any large company, have gone through changes over the years. Some like Gibson, have faced bankruptcy, others, like the humble Squier, have greatly increased their profile.
Still, there are some guitar brands worth mentioning when speaking of acoustic guitars. Let me break them down into premium brands and budget brands.
Premium brands like Taylor Guitars Martin Guitars are known to have been making some of the best acoustic guitars for decades now. They make solid wood guitars that sound uncanny like your favorite records from the 1970s. Often, their models cost anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000. There’s a reason why you’ll only see famous guitarists using them. I read a rumor that even John Frusciante lends his.
The budget brands, naturally, cost less. However, they’ve acquired a good reputation over the years. Takamine, Ovation, or Yamaha are mid-range priced options. Epiphone and Fender, for example, have cleverly opted to cater to users with greater budget restrictions.
Acoustic guitar body shape
You may have noticed that not all acoustic guitars look alike. The body shape of an acoustic guitar varies based on the kind of tone and the playability that the musician requires from them. Remember, that history has seen many shapes of acoustic instruments, some of them distant cousins of the guitar, being used.
The acoustic guitar body shapes and sizes that you’ll most often encounter are:
- Parlor: These are smaller, dellicate acoustic guitars based on the original Martin 0 guitar. These are more compact guitars that often a higher degree of compression and a warm, vintage. You’ll hear some modern troubadours using one.
- Dreadnought: This is the most popular guitar shape. The dreadnought guitar has a larger scale and depth. It tends to be rounded somewhere around the 12th fret, and provides greater volume and resonance. It’s the default acoustic guitar shape.
- Auditorium/OM: Similar to the dreadnought, but with a narrower width, the Auditorium orchestra models is often used by fingerstyle guitar players.
- Grand Auditorium: This guitar is wider than the typical dreadnought, and preferred for strumming because of the greater resonance that the body shape can provide.
- Jumbo: As the name implies, this is the largest of the acoustic guitar body shapes. Musicians who use it tend to need to sit down in order to make the best out of the large shape of the guitar. It tends to provide tremedously good resonance for strummed chords. It’s been used by everyone from Bob Dylan to Noel Gallagher.
Best acoustic guitar under $300
Let’s talk brass tax here! What’s the best acoustic guitar that you can buy for under $300 today. After all, truth be told, all of the instruments that I bought as a kid cost well under $300, and I required that they be quality items that I could use in a band-playing context.
The great news is that there’s never been a better time to purchase a budget-friendly instrument. The techniques and the materials use to build them have evolved in leaps and bounds in recent years.
Not only that, but even at $300, you’ll be able to choose the guitar shape that best suits your needs, the finish, the pickup (if you should choose to have a guitar equipped with one), and the overall sound of the guitar.
The best acoustic guitars for under $300 at the moment are:
- Fender CD-60S
- Yamaha FG830
- Epiphone J-45 Studio
Best acoustic guitar under $500
If you have around $500 you’re greatly widening your net of options. These instruments would be categorized by most guitar geeks as semi-professional, meaning that some of your favorite guitar players won’t hesitate to use them.
The higher pricing usually accounts for greater craftsmanship, more expensive accessories (such as tuners), better wood, and playability. Also, when it comes to an acoustic guitar you’ll usually be able to tell the difference in terms of quality from the very first chords you’ll play.
Some of the best acoustic guitars under $500 in 2021 are:
- Alvarez Artist Series
- Epiphone Hummingbird Pro
- Takamine G Series
Best acoustic guitar under $1000
Odds are that if you’re choosing an acoustic guitar with a cost of between $500 to $1000, you’re already pretty well-versed in the art of playing it. Your needs are more sophisticated than a novice and you’ve probably tried your fair share of acoustic guitars in your time.
For under $1000 you can buy an acoustic guitar that you can gig with, record, and that could remain in your use for the rest of your life. The craftsmanship on these instruments is, regularly, of great quality. These guitars are tailored towards professional musicians.
The best acoustic guitar under $1000 are:
- Taylor 214ce
- Blueridge BR-160
- Martin Road Series 000-10E
Best acoustic guitar for recording
The next step to consider is how your new acoustic guitar is going to sound when recorded. When it comes to this, there are numerous aspects to consider. Your playing, mic placement, the gear you use for recording will all play a part in the sound that you’re going to get. Having said that, at the end of the day, there’s no substitute for the pure, clean sound of a quality acoustic guitar.
There are two main aspects to consider when choosing an acoustic guitar for the purpose of using it on recordings. First of all, you’ll need to decide whether you want an acoustic guitar with an already installed pickup, or without one. The pickup can be used to plug the guitar directly into your recording interface. In this case, the sound that you’ll receive will be mostly determined by the quality of the preamp, and you’re likely to get a cleaner, less noisy sound.
The traditional option is to record the acoustic guitar directly using a microphone. Naturally, the sound that you’re going to get will depend on the type of mic that you’re using, as well as its placement.
If you’re recording your guitar using a mic, it’s highly important that you consider things such as the resonance and playability of the instrument. If your goal is to get a specific sound, it’s great if you hear the guitar in that kind of context. Trying out various instruments before you choose to purchase one, or simply seeking out demos off YouTube can be of great help.
The best acoustic guitars for recording at the moment are:
- Fender CD-140SCE
- Yamaha L-Series LS16M
- Taylor 214ce
Best acoustic guitar for soloing
So, you’re looking to shred… on an acoustic guitar. That may sound odd the first time that you utter those words out loud. But, shredding does not inherently have to be tied to a distortion pedal or to an electric guitar. Many of the great virtuosos of the instrument have played, primarily, acoustic guitars.
I believe that when it comes to soloing, the most important factor is playability. You’ll need an acoustic guitar that feels comfortable. This is something that will vary from one person to another. Remember that an acoustic guitar is much less forgiving than an electric one in terms of showcasing mistakes. That’s the reason why you need to try ut various instruments until you find one that fits well into your hands, and that you can comfortably play.
Best acoustic guitar for R&B, rock, or pop
But, is the sound you’re looking to get all in the hands? Since acoustic guitars, normally, don’t make use of fancy pedals and amps, are the player’s technique and the quality of the model, the most important factors when it comes to creating a sound that fits a certain genre?
Yes, in short. As I talked about, each acoustic guitar has various sound properties that lend themselves better to different styles. For example, the classic flamenco guitar will less often be used to get a strumming sound on a pop record. But, a lot of that is based on convention. A good acoustic guitar, one that ticks all of the boxes that we talked about, can be used to play rock, R&B, or pop. You’ll just need to acquire the right technique to get the sound that you want.
Best acoustic guitar preamp
We mentioned the guitar preamp earlier. Since you’re clearly buying an instrument based on its acoustic properties, why is a preamp even important? Simply, the preamp is important if you’ll need to amplify your guitar or when wanting to record it directly using the guitar pickup.
Remember that many venues where you may want to play your guitar, won’t have the technical capabilities to properly mic your guitar. Amplifying it through the use of your preamp may turn out to be the safest and most comfortable bet.
In choosing a preamp for your acoustic guitar, you need to consider the tonal qualities, but also get a consistent sound. Many of the preamps with which acoustic guitars come are equipped with a flimsy, unreliable output sound that you may want to have changed. Most acoustic preamps that you can buy off the market resemble accessory guitar pedals. These can help provide a consistent signal and a warm tone.
Some of the best acoustic guitar preamps in 2021 are:
- LR Baggs Session Acoustic DI Preamp Pedal
- Fishman Aura Spectrum
- Radial Tonebone PZ
Best acoustic guitar amps
I know that suggesting buying an amp for your acoustic guitar might, at first, sound like a contradiction in terms. But, hear me out! The acoustic guitar, besides all of its other qualities, possesses a unique tone that you’ll want to share with the world. The world is large and full of would-be listeners, and you may need an amplifier to get your sound across.
A good amp for your acoustic guitar may also help improve your playing and songwriting process. It will allow you to control the output of your guitar, play around with effects, or simply give a bit more power when you feel this is needed.
When looking to buy an acoustic guitar amp it’s best to have your ultimate goal in mind. You’ll want an amp that is light to avoid the inconvenience of carrying it around. You will want to consider how much power it gives you and whether you’ll be using batteries or an electric outlet. And, you may want to consider additional elements such as effects that arrive as amp presets, or the presence of multiple channels.
Some of the best acoustic guitar amps in 2021 are:
- Boss Acoustic Singer
- Fender Acoustic 100
- Fishman Loudbox Performer
Best acoustic guitar recording mic
There’s arguably never been an instrument on which more great songs have been written than the humble acoustic guitar. Sorry, piano players! If you’re writing your own songs, you’ll want to take advantage of all the great, affordable technology allowing you to record. Nowadays, you can make a great demo, or even record official songs in a DYI studio.
Building a space in which to record is not complicated, but involves multiple considerations. The one thing that I can guarantee you will need is a great microphone. The mics used to record an acoustic guitar (one without a pickup) tend to have slightly different characteristics from vocal microphones. However, in general, a good microphone will tend to do the job when recording either one.
Some of the best acoustic guitar recording microphones in 2021 are:
- Shure SM57
- AKG Perception 170
- Aston Spirit Condenser Microphone
We have nearly reached the end of our guide to buying the perfect acoustic guitar for you. Before I let you go spread wonderful music to a world in desperate need of beauty, let’s take a look at the internet’s most searched questions when it comes to purchasing an acoustic guitar.
Which acoustic guitar is best?
The best acoustic guitar is the one with which you feel the most comfortable. I know that may sound like a vague answer, but it is completely true.
However, in a nutshell, when purchasing an acoustic guitar consider a few things. First of all, determine what you’re looking to use it for and what budget you have available.
The best acoustic guitars do not need to be expensive or to have been built by a world-famous brand. If the craftsmanship put into building them was good, if the tone is to your liking if they play well, and if all the accessories on the acoustic guitar are of quality, then you are likely on to a winner.
What acoustic guitar do professionals use?
Guitar players are a picky bunch, and they also choose to purchase acoustic guitars based on their personal taste. However, if you dust off your rock history, and listen to classic rock songs featuring acoustic guitars, you will notice that most of the time, they used guitars made by Taylor or Martin.
While these are more high-end models, there is no reason why, with enough research and testing, you won’t be able to find a great instrument for a fraction of the price.
What is the most natural-sounding acoustic guitar pickup?
There are a number of acoustic guitar pickups from which you can choose. The goal of the majority of these is to amplify a natural-sounding tone. After all, the objective here is to have the acoustic guitar sound like one, but be heard by a large group of people. Having said that, many experts argue that transducer pickups aka contact pickups, do the best job in producing that warm, natural sound. They also tend to hiss and feedback at times, making them more difficult to use at higher volumes, or when playing with a group.