Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide 2024

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Written By Noah Campbell
UPDATED:
Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide

Welcome to the world of acoustic guitars, where the harmony of craftsmanship and artistry creates an instrument beloved by musicians and listeners alike. Acoustic guitars, known for their rich, resonant sounds and varied styles, have been a cornerstone of music genres ranging from folk and country to blues and rock. These instruments are not just tools for music; they are extensions of the artist’s voice, capable of expressing a wide range of emotions and nuances.

The journey of choosing the right acoustic guitar is as important as learning how to play guitar. Whether you’re a beginner making your first purchase or a seasoned player looking to add to your collection, the guitar you choose will significantly impact your playing style, comfort, and musical progression. It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about finding an instrument that resonates with your personal style and musical aspirations.

Selecting the perfect acoustic guitar involves understanding its various types, materials, and features, as well as recognizing how these elements influence the sound and playability. From the deep and bold sounds of a Dreadnought to the soft and intimate tones of a Parlor guitar, each type offers a unique musical experience. The wood type, string material, and body shape all contribute to the sound quality, making it crucial to choose wisely.

Acoustic Guitars

To start your journey, consider exploring this top-rated acoustic guitar, renowned for its exceptional quality and sound. It serves as an excellent reference point for what to look for in terms of craftsmanship, tone, and playability.

Embark on this exciting journey to find the acoustic guitar that not only sounds right but feels right. A guitar that becomes a true companion in your musical adventures.

Types of Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars come in a delightful variety of shapes and sizes, each with its unique sonic character and playability. Let’s delve into some of the most popular types and explore what makes each one special:

different-types-of-acoustic-guitars-including-Dreadnought-Concert-and-Parlor-with-labels-and-distinct-shapes-colors-and-features

Dreadnought

The Dreadnought is a true powerhouse in the acoustic guitar world. Characterized by its large body and strong, projecting sound, this type is a favorite among guitarists who crave volume and a pronounced bass presence. Its full and boisterous tone makes it particularly well-suited for styles like bluegrass and folk, though its versatility extends to a wide array of genres. The Dreadnought’s shape, with its broader shoulders and deeper body, not only contributes to its sonorous bass but also to its dynamic range, accommodating everything from vigorous strumming to delicate fingerpicking.

Dreadnought Guitar

Concert

The Concert guitar, with its smaller and more curved body, offers a stark contrast to the Dreadnought. This type shines with a beautifully balanced sound profile, characterized by a strong and articulate mid-range. The more compact size of the Concert guitar makes it an exceptionally comfortable option for a broad spectrum of players, including those with smaller frames or more nuanced playing styles. Its sound quality and physical design make it particularly appealing for fingerstyle players and soloists who seek clarity and balance in their instrument.

Concert Guitar

Parlor

Stepping into the realm of the Parlor guitar, we enter the world of intimate and focused sound. The Parlor, the smallest among the standard guitar sizes, is renowned for its clear, articulate tone that excels in conveying the subtleties and nuances of playing. It’s a favorite for genres like blues and folk, where its direct and warm sound can truly shine. Beyond its musical attributes, the Parlor guitar is also loved for its portability and ease of play, making it an excellent choice for traveling musicians or those seeking a comfortable, easy-to-handle instrument.

parlor guitar

Grand Auditorium

The Grand Auditorium guitar skillfully bridges the gap between the Dreadnought and Concert types. It boasts a design that offers a harmonious blend of volume and tonal balance. This versatile instrument is capable of delivering a wide spectrum of sounds, making it a great all-rounder for various musical styles. Its adaptability is particularly beneficial for guitarists who enjoy both strumming and fingerpicking, as it responds well to different playing dynamics and techniques.

Grand Auditorium

Jumbo

The Jumbo guitar lives up to its name with a large, bold body that produces a rich, resonant, and loud sound. It’s an instrument designed to make a statement, both visually and sonically. The Jumbo’s substantial size contributes to a deep, booming bass and a powerful overall sound, making it a favorite for rhythm guitarists and performers who need their instrument to stand out in a band setting. Commonly used in rock and country music, the Jumbo guitar is ideal for those who want their guitar to be heard loud and clear, whether on stage or in a jam session.

A Jumbo Guitar

Wood Types and Their Impact on Sound

The choice of wood in an acoustic guitar plays a pivotal role in shaping its tonal character. Different woods impart distinct sonic qualities, influencing everything from the warmth of the sound to its clarity and projection. Let’s explore some of the most commonly used woods and their impact on a guitar’s sound:

Spruce

Spruce guitar

Spruce is a popular choice for the top (soundboard) of the guitar, favored for its versatility and dynamic range. It produces a bright, articulate sound, marked by its crispness and clarity. Spruce tops respond well to a variety of playing styles, from gentle fingerpicking to aggressive strumming, making them a preferred choice for many players. Over time, a spruce top can develop a richer and more complex tone, enhancing the instrument’s sound as it ages.

Cedar

Cedar Guitar

Cedar, a softer wood than spruce, is known for its warmth and richness. It typically yields a warmer, mellower tone, often preferred by classical and fingerstyle guitarists. Cedar tops are sensitive and responsive, able to articulate subtle nuances in playing. This wood is particularly appreciated for its quick response and ability to produce a beautiful tone even at lower volumes, making it an excellent choice for intimate settings and recording.

Mahogany

mahogany guitar

Mahogany, often used for the back and sides of the guitar, is celebrated for its emphasis on the midrange frequencies. It produces a warm, punchy tone that stands out in the mix, ideal for genres like country, blues, and folk. The wood’s natural compression helps to smooth out the highs and lows, creating a balanced and even sound. Mahogany is also known for its sustain and its ability to project sound, giving it a distinct presence.

Rosewood

Rosewood Guitar

Rosewood is a dense wood that is commonly used for the back and sides of higher-end guitars. It is renowned for its rich, resonant tone, characterized by deep basses and bright trebles. The complexity of rosewood’s sound makes it a favorite among many players, offering a wide tonal spectrum and excellent sustain. This wood is often chosen for its ability to produce a luxurious, full-bodied sound, ideal for both strumming and intricate fingerstyle playing.

Maple

Maple Guitar

Maple is known for its bright, focused tone with less emphasis on overtones. This characteristic makes it particularly suitable for live performances and situations where clarity and cut-through in the mix are essential. Maple-bodied guitars produce a sound that is clear and articulate, with a dry, crisp quality. This wood is often preferred by guitarists who play in bands or ensembles, as it helps the guitar’s voice to stand apart without overshadowing other instruments.

Size and Shape Considerations

When selecting an acoustic guitar, understanding how its size and shape influence both the tonal qualities and the ease of play is crucial. These factors can drastically affect your playing experience and the sounds you can produce. Here’s a more detailed look at these considerations:

Body Size

The body size of an acoustic guitar plays a significant role in determining its sound and projection. Larger-bodied guitars, such as Dreadnoughts and Jumbos, are known for their robust and voluminous sound. These guitars excel in producing a powerful bass response and a loud overall volume, making them ideal for strummers and rhythm players, particularly in band settings where the guitar needs to cut through the mix. On the other hand, smaller-bodied guitars like Concert and Parlor models offer a more balanced and articulate sound. These guitars are prized for their clarity and even tonal response, making them excellent for fingerstyle playing and solo performances. Their size also makes them more comfortable to play, especially for players with a smaller build or those who prefer a more intimate playing experience.

Scale Length

The scale length, or the distance between the nut and the bridge, impacts the tension of the strings and, consequently, the sound. Longer scale lengths create more tension on the strings, which can result in a brighter and more articulate tone. This is often preferred in styles where clarity and projection are key. Conversely, shorter scale lengths, which require less tension, tend to produce a warmer and slightly mellower sound. These are often found in guitars designed for blues and jazz, where a softer and more nuanced sound is desirable.

Neck Width and Profile

The design of the guitar neck affects playability and comfort. Wider necks provide more space between the strings, which can be beneficial for fingerstyle playing, allowing for cleaner finger placement and reducing the likelihood of accidentally muting adjacent strings. However, they might be challenging for players with smaller hands. Conversely, narrower necks might suit players with smaller hands or those who primarily play with a pick. The profile or shape of the neck also contributes to how comfortably the guitar fits in the player’s hand, influencing the ease with which they can move up and down the neck.

Cutaway Design

A cutaway in the guitar body near the neck allows players easier access to the higher frets. This feature is particularly advantageous for soloing and playing lead parts, enabling guitarists to reach the upper register notes with greater ease. While a cutaway can slightly alter the tonal qualities of the guitar (often reducing some bass response), the trade-off is often worth it for players who frequently play higher up the neck.

Key Features to Look For in Acoustic Guitars

When venturing into the world of acoustic guitars, certain key features stand out as crucial in determining the instrument’s playability, sound quality, and overall enjoyment. Understanding these features can greatly assist in making an informed decision. Let’s delve into these aspects in detail:

Guitars String Types: Steel vs Nylon

String Types: Steel vs Nylon

  1. Steel Strings: Steel-string acoustic guitars are popular in genres like rock, country, and folk. They are known for their bright, crisp sound and louder volume. The robust nature of steel strings produces a pronounced sustain and a sharper attack, making them ideal for strumming and lively fingerpicking. However, they can be tougher on the fingers, especially for beginners, due to the higher tension.
  2. Nylon Strings: Traditionally used in classical and flamenco guitars, nylon strings offer a softer, mellower sound. They are gentler on the fingers, making them a popular choice for beginners and for those who play intricate fingerstyle pieces. Nylon strings have a distinct tonal character – warm, rich, and resonant, which is highly sought after in classical, Latin, and jazz music.

Neck Width and Fingerboard

  1. Neck Width: The width of the guitar neck is vital for playability. A wider neck offers more space between strings, which can be advantageous for fingerstyle players as it allows for cleaner finger placement. Classical guitars typically have wider necks. However, players with smaller hands or those used to electric guitars might find narrower necks more comfortable, as they allow for easier grip and chord transitions.
  2. Fingerboard Material: The material of the fingerboard, often rosewood, ebony, or maple, affects both the feel and the sound of the guitar. Rosewood fingerboards are common and offer a balanced tone, while ebony provides a denser feel and a brighter sound. Maple, less common in acoustic guitars, provides a bright and clear tone.

Body Style and Size

  1. Body Style: As discussed earlier, the body style of an acoustic guitar (like Dreadnought, Concert, or Jumbo) significantly influences its sound. Dreadnoughts offer a bold, powerful sound, while Concert guitars are more balanced and suitable for fingerstyle playing. The choice of body style should align with the player’s musical preferences and playing style.
  2. Size Considerations: The physical size of the guitar affects both comfort and sound. Larger guitars tend to produce more volume and bass, whereas smaller guitars are easier to play and carry, providing a more controlled sound. Players should consider their body size, playing style, and where they will be playing (at home, in a studio, or on stage) when choosing the guitar size.

Quality of Tuners and Hardware

  1. Tuners: The quality of the tuning machines is crucial for maintaining the guitar’s tuning stability. High-quality tuners have a smoother action and hold the tuning more consistently, which is essential for good playability. Look for sealed tuners as they prevent dust and grime from entering the mechanism, ensuring longer life and reliability.
  2. Hardware Quality: Other hardware components, like the nut, saddle, and bridge, also play a significant role in the guitar’s sound and playability. Materials like bone, tusq, or high-quality plastic for the nut and saddle can affect the sustain and tone. The bridge’s design and material influence the transfer of string vibration to the guitar body, affecting resonance and sound projection.

Acoustic Guitars for Different Skill Levels

Choosing the right acoustic guitar often depends on the skill level of the player. Each level has specific needs and considerations, from beginner to intermediate and advanced/professional. Let’s explore what to look for at each stage:

different styles of guitars

Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners

  1. Comfort and Ease of Play: Beginners should look for guitars that are comfortable to hold and play. Smaller body sizes, like Concert or Parlor guitars, are often more manageable. The action (distance between the strings and the fretboard) should be low to ease the finger pressure needed to form chords.
  2. Durability and Price: Beginner guitars should be durable and reasonably priced. High-end features and exotic woods are less important than a solid build and a decent sound. Laminate woods are common in this category as they are less sensitive to humidity changes and more affordable.
  3. Sound Quality: While top-tier sound quality isn’t crucial for beginners, the guitar should still have a pleasant and balanced tone. This encourages continued practice and improvement.
  4. Recommended Models: Models like the Yamaha FG800 or Fender CD-60 are popular among beginners for their affordability, playability, and decent sound quality.

Intermediate Level Guitars

  1. Quality of Construction and Materials: Intermediate players should look for guitars with better build quality and materials. Solid wood tops are preferred over laminate as they offer a richer and more resonant sound. The craftsmanship of the guitar becomes more important.
  2. Playability and Features: Features like a cutaway design for easier access to higher frets or onboard electronics for amplification can be beneficial. The guitar should have a comfortable neck and a well-balanced sound.
  3. Versatility: A guitar that can handle various playing styles and genres is ideal for intermediate players who are still exploring their musical preferences.
  4. Recommended Models: Guitars like the Seagull S6 or Taylor 110e strike a good balance between quality and price, offering solid tops, good craftsmanship, and versatility.

Advanced/Professional Guitars

  1. Exceptional Craftsmanship and Materials: Advanced players should seek guitars crafted with the finest materials. Solid wood construction, both for the top and the body, is a must. Woods like rosewood, mahogany, and high-grade spruce are common. The attention to detail in the build significantly affects the sound and playability.
  2. Tonal Excellence and Playability: Professional guitars should offer superior tone and resonance. The guitar should respond well to different playing dynamics and offer clarity and richness in sound.
  3. Customization and Unique Features: Advanced guitars often come with options for customization or unique features like specialized bracing patterns, high-quality electronics, and premium hardware. These features can significantly enhance the playing experience and the guitar’s versatility in different settings.
  4. Recommended Models: High-end models from Martin, Taylor, and Gibson, like the Martin D-28, Taylor 814ce, or Gibson J-45, are renowned for their exceptional quality and performance, catering to the demanding needs of professional players.

Price Range and Budgeting

Navigating the various price ranges of acoustic guitars can be daunting, especially considering the wide spectrum of options available. Understanding what each price range offers helps in aligning your budget with your needs and expectations. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Entry-Level Guitar

Entry-Level Guitars: What to Expect

  1. Price Range: Typically, entry-level guitars fall in the price range of $100 to $300. These guitars are designed for beginners or those on a tight budget.
  2. Build and Materials: At this price point, guitars often feature laminate wood construction, which is less expensive than solid wood but still durable. The focus is on functionality and durability rather than exceptional sound quality.
  3. Sound Quality: While these guitars may lack the richness and resonance of higher-end models, many still offer a decent sound suitable for beginners. Brands in this range have improved significantly in quality, providing acceptable sound for basic learning and practice.
  4. Features: Entry-level guitars typically have simpler designs and basic features. Expect functional but not high-end tuners, no cutaways, and rarely any built-in electronics.
  5. Examples: Popular models in this category include the Fender FA-115 and Yamaha F310, which are known for their decent build and playability at an affordable price.

Mid-Range Guitars: Balancing Cost and Quality

  1. Price Range: Mid-range guitars are priced between $300 and $800. This range is ideal for intermediate players or those looking for a quality instrument without the high-end price tag.
  2. Construction and Materials: In this range, you start to see guitars with solid wood tops, which significantly improve the sound quality. The craftsmanship is also a step up from entry-level instruments.
  3. Sound and Features: These guitars offer a more balanced and resonant sound, suitable for more serious students and hobbyists. Features might include better tuners, cutaway designs, and sometimes, built-in electronics for amplification.
  4. Examples: Models like the Taylor Academy Series or Seagull S6 offer great value, combining quality materials and craftsmanship at a reasonable price.

High-End Guitars: Investment in Quality

  1. Price Range: High-end guitars generally start from $800 and can go into thousands of dollars. These are for serious musicians and enthusiasts who see the instrument as a long-term investment.
  2. Premium Build and Materials: Guitars in this range are made with high-quality solid woods, often with advanced construction techniques. The attention to detail in craftsmanship ensures both superior sound quality and durability.
  3. Superior Sound and Features: Expect rich, full, and resonant tones with excellent sustain. High-end guitars often come with the best tuners, intricate inlays, and premium electronic systems for those requiring amplification.
  4. Examples: Esteemed brands like Martin, Taylor, and Gibson dominate this segment, with models like the Martin D-28, Taylor 814ce, and Gibson Hummingbird being popular choices among professional musicians.

Where to Buy Acoustic Guitars

The question of where to buy an acoustic guitar – online or in-store – is one that many musicians grapple with. Each option has its pros and cons, and understanding these can help in making an informed decision. Additionally, knowing which retailers and websites are trusted is crucial for a satisfactory purchase.

Online Purchases:

Advantages:

  1. Convenience: Shopping online is highly convenient. You can browse a vast selection of guitars from the comfort of your home.
  2. Variety: Online stores often have a more extensive range of guitars than physical stores, including rare and unique models.
  3. Price Comparisons: It’s easier to compare prices and find the best deals online.
  4. Reviews and Information: Online platforms provide customer reviews and detailed product information, aiding in research.

Disadvantages:

  1. No Physical Trial: You can’t feel the guitar, test its sound, or gauge its comfort before purchasing.
  2. Shipping Risks: There’s a risk of damage during shipping, and returns can be cumbersome.
  3. Variability in Instruments: Especially with acoustic guitars, each instrument can vary slightly in sound and build, which you can’t assess online.

In-Store Purchases:

Advantages:

  1. Try Before You Buy: You can play different guitars, feel their build, hear their sound, and assess their comfort.
  2. Personal Assistance: Store staff can provide valuable advice, answer questions, and help in selection based on your preferences.
  3. Instant Gratification: You can walk out of the store with your chosen guitar, without waiting for shipping.

Disadvantages:

  1. Limited Selection: Physical stores have limited shelf space, which can restrict your options.
  2. Pricing: In-store prices might be higher due to overhead costs, and price comparison is more challenging.
A store for buying different shapes and sizes guitars.

Retailers:

  1. Local Music Stores: Supporting local businesses can be rewarding. They often offer personalized service and may have unique or handpicked selections.
  2. National Chains: Stores like Guitar Center or Sam Ash are known for their wide range and professional service.

Websites:

  1. Manufacturer Direct: Buying directly from manufacturers like Martin, Taylor, or Yamaha can be a reliable option.
  2. Online Retailers: Websites like Sweetwater, Musicians Friend, and Thomann are known for their vast selections, detailed product descriptions, and customer reviews.
  3. Second-Hand Platforms: For those looking for used guitars, websites like Reverb or eBay can offer good deals. However, ensure to buy from reputable sellers with good ratings.

Care and Maintenance of Acoustic Guitars

Proper care and maintenance of your acoustic guitar are essential for preserving its sound quality, playability, and longevity. Regular upkeep not only keeps the guitar looking great but also ensures that it performs at its best. Here’s a comprehensive guide to basic maintenance and long-term care:

Image of various guitar maintenance tools and accessories, including a string winder, cleaning cloth, tuner, and humidifier, displayed in an organized

Basic Guitar Maintenance Tips

  1. Regular Cleaning: Dust and grime can accumulate on your guitar, affecting its look and potentially its sound. Gently wipe down the guitar with a soft, dry cloth after each use. For more thorough cleaning, use a slightly damp cloth followed by a dry one. Be careful around the bridge and strings.
  2. String Care: Strings are prone to wear and tear, affecting the guitar’s sound. Change them regularly – how often depends on how frequently you play. Beginners might change strings every 3-4 months, while frequent players might do it monthly. Always stretch new strings and tune them properly.
  3. Fretboard Maintenance: The fretboard can become dry or grimy. Clean it occasionally with a soft cloth and, if needed, a little fretboard oil. This keeps the wood healthy and prolongs the life of the frets and strings.
  4. Tuning Machine Care: Keep the tuning machines functioning smoothly by occasionally tightening the screws and bushings. If they become stiff, a small amount of lubricant can help, but use this sparingly.
  5. Humidity and Temperature Control: Wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity and temperature, which can affect the guitar. Try to keep the guitar in an environment with stable and moderate humidity (around 45-55%) and avoid extreme temperatures.

Long-Term Care and Storage

  1. Proper Storage: When not in use, store your guitar in a case, preferably a hard case for better protection. This safeguards it from dust, humidity changes, and physical damage.
  2. Avoid Direct Sunlight and Heat Sources: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or close proximity to heat sources can cause the wood to warp or crack. Store your guitar in a cool, dry place away from such elements.
  3. Regular Check-Ups: Like any valuable instrument, acoustic guitars benefit from periodic check-ups by a professional. They can spot issues like a bowing neck, worn frets, or a lifting bridge, which might not be apparent to the untrained eye.
  4. Long-Term Humidity Control: For extended storage, consider using a guitar humidifier or dehumidifier, depending on your climate. This is especially important in areas with very dry or very humid conditions.
  5. Loosen the Strings: If you’re storing the guitar for a long period, loosening the strings can relieve tension on the neck. However, don’t remove all the strings at once as sudden changes in tension can affect the guitar’s setup.

Frequently Asked Questions About Acoustic Guitars

Q: What’s the Best Acoustic Guitar for Beginners?

A: The best acoustic guitar for beginners should be comfortable to play, reasonably priced, and durable. Models like the Yamaha FG800 or Fender CD-60S are great starting points, offering a good balance of quality, playability, and affordability.

Q: How Often Should I Change My Guitar Strings?

A: The frequency of changing guitar strings varies depending on how often you play and your personal preference for sound quality. Generally, it’s recommended to change them every 3 to 4 months for casual players, or more frequently for daily players or those who prefer a consistently bright tone.

Q: What’s the Difference Between a Dreadnought and a Concert Guitar?

A: A Dreadnought guitar has a larger body and typically produces a louder, more bass-heavy sound, making it suitable for strumming and rhythmic playing. A Concert guitar is smaller, offering a more balanced and articulate sound, ideal for fingerstyle playing and solo performances.

Q: Can I Learn Guitar on My Own?

A: Yes, it’s possible to learn guitar on your own using online resources, apps, and instructional books. However, taking lessons from a qualified teacher can accelerate your learning, provide structured guidance, and help correct any playing mistakes early on.

Q: How Do I Know If a Guitar Is the Right Size for Me?

A: The right guitar size depends on your body size and comfort. The guitar should feel comfortable to hold, and you should be able to reach the frets easily. Children and players with smaller frames may prefer smaller-sized guitars like Concert or Parlor models.

Q: What’s the Importance of Solid Wood vs. Laminate in Guitars?

A: Solid wood guitars typically offer better resonance and tonal quality compared to laminate wood guitars. However, laminate wood is more durable and less sensitive to environmental changes, making it a practical choice for beginners or for use in varying climates.

Q: Do I Need an Expensive Guitar to Sound Good?

A: While higher-quality guitars often provide better sound and playability, many affordable guitars also offer good sound quality. Skill and practice play a significant role in sound quality, so a more expensive guitar is not always necessary, especially for beginners.

Q: What Maintenance Does an Acoustic Guitar Require?

A: Regular cleaning, proper storage in a case, string changes, and keeping the guitar away from extreme temperatures and humidity are key aspects of guitar maintenance. Occasional check-ups by a professional can also help maintain its condition.

Acoustic Guitar

Conclusion

In summarizing our extensive journey through the world of acoustic guitars, it’s evident that finding the right guitar is a harmonious blend of understanding its types, materials, and key features, and aligning these with your personal needs and skill level. From the diverse guitar types like Dreadnought, Concert, and Parlor, each with its unique tonal qualities, to the crucial choice of wood, such as spruce or mahogany, every element plays a role in shaping the guitar’s character. For players at various skill levels, the perfect guitar ranges from easy-to-play and affordable models for beginners to refined instruments with superior craftsmanship for professionals. Budgeting wisely for your guitar means balancing your current needs and future growth, keeping in mind the price range from entry-level to high-end.

As we conclude, remember that the right acoustic guitar is more than just an instrument; it’s a companion on your musical voyage. It’s a vehicle for your expression, a catalyst for creativity, and a source of endless joy. Your ideal guitar should not only match your style and feel comfortable but also inspire and challenge you to grow as a musician. Let this guide be your roadmap in the quest for the acoustic guitar that resonates with your spirit, beckons your creativity, and enriches your musical endeavors. Here’s to finding the guitar that not only sounds right but feels like a natural extension of your musical essence. Happy playing, and may your musical journey be as fulfilling and vibrant as the melodies you create.