The Music Kitchen https://www.themusickitchen.com Home Studio Music Production and Music Business Resources for Musicians, Composers, and Songwriters Fri, 28 Sep 2018 12:44:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 5 Best Headphones Under $100 https://www.themusickitchen.com/headphones/best-headphones-under-100/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/headphones/best-headphones-under-100/#comments Tue, 03 Apr 2018 17:29:58 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30807 The post 5 Best Headphones Under $100 appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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Finding a pair of great-sounding headphones under $100 can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Inexpensive, high-quality headphones are hard to find since the budget headphone market is flooded with lots of poor-quality products.

Poor-quality headphones, with their tinny sound and uncomfortable earpieces, make listening to your favorite songs and music unpleasant and unsatisfying.

A great pair of headphones, however, can make any listening experience more enjoyable, whether you’re listening for fun or working on recording or mixing some music tracks.

So, I’ve reviewed the best headphones under $100 to help you find the diamonds in the rough.

Here are the best headphones under $100:

Review Criteria

All headphones included in my reviews were selected based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community and from personal use and knowledge.

I’ve also added my insights gained from my 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, plus working with dozens of composers and thousands of tracks for my Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution.

Best Headphones Under $100 Reviews

Closed-Back Headphones

Closed-back headphones are designed to cover your ears, so they help keep out background noise better than other headphone designs.

Introduced back in 1991, the Sony MDR-7506 closed-back headphones have long been a favorite amongst audio pros with their well-balanced sound.

I’ve had a pair of the MDR-7504s (a previous model) for many years.  They still sound good after probably 20 years of use!

You’ll find the MDR-7206s in countless recording studios, audio post houses, video production companies, and more because they sound great and are very reliable.

Priced well under $100, they’re one of the best-selling pro headphones on the market.

These full-size headphones are designed for neutral, detailed, and accurate representation of music. Because they’re made for studio/ professional use, they’re not designed to hype your listening material by boosting frequencies.

Compared to many consumer-grade headphones, some users feel the bass is a little light.  So, if you love heavy bass, then these headphones may not be right for you.

The MDR-7506s are very lightweight which is a big plus. I’m able to wear my 7504s for extended periods without any discomfort.

They fold down into a compact size and fit into an included soft case for storage or travel.

They come with a coiled 10-foot long cable that’s not detachable.  The downside is that coiled cables are not nearly as practical as straight cables; the cable starts to pull at the headphones when stretched.   However, for use at home or commuting this should not be an issue.

The earpads are replaceable, a plus since they are usually the first thing to deteriorate on headphones as they age. However, the pads on my 7504s are still usable (though looking a bit worn!) so this probably won’t be an issue for many years.

The cable has a standard 3.5mm connector for connecting to smartphones, tablets, or computers. A 1/4” adaptor is also included for connection to stereos or studio gear.

Wrap Up

All in all, the Sony MDR7506 are great-sounding headphones that easily outcompete some of the pricier headphones out there. With excellent sound and long-term reliability, they’re a fantastic value for well under $100.

PROS

  • Frequency response is 10-20,000 Hz
  • Accurate audio reproduction
  • Comfortable and lightweight
  • Replaceable earpads
  • Comes with a soft case
S

CONS

  • Coiled cable

Sony MDR-7506 Closed-Back Headphones

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center | zZounds

Sennheiser is one of the most reliable and best-known headphone manufacturers. They consistently receive highly-rated reviews for their sound quality and features.

The HD280 PRO headphones are closed-back over-ear headphones with top-notch audio quality. They are meant for professional studio listening, and so their overall sound quality is neutral and balanced.  With a wide soundstage, they make music sounds bigger and broader.

However, while the bass response is accurate and tight, some users feel they are a little bass light.  In actuality, they faithfully represent the music as it was recorded in the studio.  If you’re used to consumer headphones that tend to hype the bass, these will be a revelation to listen to.

The HD280 PROs, though they weigh in at only 7.8 oz, are solidly built.  Because they are lightweight, they are very comfortable headphones to wear, with large soft earpads.

The earpads are replaceable, which is a nice feature!

Due to their large earpads and closed-back design, they have very good noise isolation (32dB attenuation) which keeps outside noise out of your listening experience. This makes them suitable for DJs and for producers who need to mix in noisier environments.

The HD280 PROs come with a 10-foot coiled cable with a gold-plated 3.5mm jack that connects to smartphones, tablets, and computers, plus a ¼” adaptor for connection to stereos or studio gear.

Wrap Up

If you are looking for excellent studio-quality headphones for home or travel use, then you can’t go wrong with the Sennheiser HD280 PROs.  Highly recommended!

PROS

  • Frequency range is 8-25,000 Hz
  • Lightweight
  • Solid construction
  • Replaceable earpads
S

CONS

  • Coiled cable
  • Does not include carrying case

Sennheiser HD280 PRO Closed-Back Headphones

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds

Audio-Technica is another well-known name in professional audio.  Their ATH-M30x closed-back headphones are an excellent value at a price well under $100.

The ATH-M30xs are professional-looking headphones with Audio-Technica written across the top of the headband.

Despite their large size, they are quite lightweight (7.8 oz).  The headband is adjustable and very comfortable to wear for extended periods.

Overall the sound is defined by a neutral flat response, excellent bass, and a clean and detailed midrange. They deliver a wide, immersive soundscape with very good detail and dynamics.  They almost make the music sound better than it really is!

Their large earcups provide very good sound isolation which will be highly appreciated when using in noisy locations.

They come with a 9.8-foot straight cable with a standard 3.5mm jack that connects to smartphones, tablets, and computers, plus a ¼” adaptor for connection to studio gear home stereo systems.  The straight cable is a major plus if you need to use them at a distance from their audio source.

They have a sensitivity of 96db and an impedance of 47 ohms, meaning audio sources such as phones and mp3 players can drive them easily without distortion.

Their sturdy build makes them great for travel and holding up to everyday wear and tear.

Wrap Up

The Audio-Technica ATH M30x are excellent headphones for well under $100. Their high-quality neutral sound, solid construction, noise-reducing design, and straight cable make them a top contender worthy of consideration.

PROS

  • Frequency range is 15-20,000 Hz
  • Well-balanced overall sound
  • Straight cable
S

CONS

  • Cable is non-detachable

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Closed-Back Headphones

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Semi Open-Back Headphones

While semi open-back headphones fully cover the ears, their design allows more exterior noise to enter than closed-back headphones.  They are best used in areas that are pretty quiet.

AKG has been making the K240 headphones for over 40 years, and they are an excellent choice for anyone looking for professional headphones.

The semi-open back AKG K240 headphones are found in countless recording studios around the world.   I own two pairs and have used them in my studio for many years.

Semi open-back headphones are best used in quiet areas. Noisy environments will almost certainly make it difficult to hear music clearly, and that will significantly detract from the listening experience. Besides, these headphones are designed for critical listening and therefore are best suited to a quieter studio environment.

The K240s produce an accurate non-hyped sound that is ideal for recording, mixing, or any other critical listening uses.  Being semi open-back phones, the sound is very detailed and open.

They have frequently been described as “analytical.”  That means that they do not boost certain frequencies, especially the mids or bass like many consumer-grade headphones do.  You’re hearing what the music producer intended you to hear!

That said, if you love to listen to bass-heavy music like EDM or hip-hop you may be disappointed with these phones.

The K240s are very comfortable to wear, though they are a little heavier than other headphones reviewed here.  I’ve worn mine for hours sometimes and they don’t bother me, especially if I take some short earbreaks from time to time.

They come with a cable that is replaceable which is major plus, as the cable usually wears out before the rest of the headphones.

Their earpads are replaceable too, another great bonus.

Wrap Up

All in all, the AKG K240 are great-sounding professional headphones at a price well under $100.  With a detailed, spacious sound and a replaceable cable and earpads, these are top headphones that deliver professional quality sound.

AKG K240 MKII Headphones

AKG also has an AKG K240 MKII version.

It offers upgraded drivers, updated earpads and comes with a straight and a coiled cable.  It retails for a little over $100.

I prefer the MKII version which are the headphones I own.

PROS

  • Airy, spacious sound
  • Replaceable earcups
  • Replaceable cable
S

CONS

  • None

AKG K240 Semi Open-Back Headphones

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

AKG K240 MKII Semi Open-Back Headphones

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

Open-Back Headphones

Open-back headphones by design allow air and sound to pass out of the cups and earpads.  Because the sound is not trapped by the headphones, music sounds larger, more open, and spacious.  The sound is frequently referred to as “realistic” by users.

Open-back headphones need to be used in very quiet environments.  Also, because people can easily hear what you are listening to if they are close by, it’s best not to use them in libraries or other places that are designated quiet zones.

The Grado SR80e phones one of the few open-back headphones available for under $100.  These headphones produce excellent sound quality that matches many of the much more expensive premium headphones available.

Open-back headphones, due to their construction, offer minimal sound-isolation, so they are best used in very quiet environments.  However, the flipside is that their audio reproduction quality is significantly more spacious and natural sounding, with an overall better soundstage.

The SR80e headphones are on-ear headphones, meaning they sit on your ears.  And with soft foam earpads, they are very comfortable to wear for extended periods.

The SR80e has excellent sound quality with well-defined lows and highs with a flat even midrange. There’s not a lot of hype with these headphones, so what you hear is very accurate to the source.   They add a sense of spaciousness to the sound, making music an experience to enjoy.

The headphones come with a straight cable (not coiled) that has a standard 3.5mm plug for connecting to phones, tablets, and computers, and a ¼” adaptor for connecting to home sound systems or studio equipment.

Wrap Up

The Grado SR80e headphones are excellent open-back headphones for those who want accurate, transparent sound.  However, as mentioned above, the open-back design does make them less suitable for noisier environments.

PROS

  • Airy, spacious sound
  • Very comfortable
S

CONS

  • Does not come with carrying case
  • Must be used in very quiet environments

Grado Prestige Series SR80e On-Ear Open-Back Headphones

Check Price:
Amazon

 

Final Thoughts

No matter the type of music or audio you want to listen to, a pair of great-sounding headphones is a must.

All five headphones reviewed here are excellent products for under $100, and all have many 4- and 5-star user reviews.

They are all very popular models with thousands of happy users, and should provide many years of reliable use.

Enjoy your new headphones!

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7 Best Acoustic Guitars (From $500 to $1,000) https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-500-1000/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-500-1000/#respond Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:53:50 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30784 The post 7 Best Acoustic Guitars (From $500 to $1,000) appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician, buying a higher-priced acoustic guitar is a big decision that requires thorough research before you make your purchase.

The best acoustic guitars priced from $500 to $1,000 dollars (retail) all offer high-quality woods, materials, and construction.  So, the decision should be made based on which guitar feels and sounds best to you, and your playing style.

I’ve reviewed the best acoustic and electric-acoustic guitars in this price range that are available today.   The guitar are below.

Review Criteria

All acoustic guitars included in my reviews were selected based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community and from my 40-year experience as a guitarist.

I’ve also added my insights gained from my 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, plus working with dozens of composers and thousands of tracks for my Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution.

For a complete overview of acoustic guitars, from construction, body styles, woods, playability, plus tips on choosing the right acoustic guitar, please see my Acoustic Guitar Buyer’s Guide.

7 Best Acoustic Guitars (From $500 to $1,000) Reviews

Established in 1974 and based in El Cajon, California, Taylor Guitars only makes guitars.  Known more for their acoustic guitars, they have earned a place as one of the top acoustic guitar makers in the world.

Their guitars are widely considered to be some of the best in the world in terms of sound quality, playability, craftsmanship, and visual appeal.  It’s no wonder that many artists such as Taylor Swift, Jason Mraz, Leo Kottke, Dave Matthews, and Zac Brown play a Taylor guitar.

The two founders, Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, have been pioneers and innovators in applying technology-based manufacturing processes such as computer design and laser cutting to guitar making.

At the same time, Taylor is dedicated to sustainable wood sourcing by using best practices for forest management, reforestation, and using only ethically sourced tonewoods.

The Taylor Neck

One of Bob and Kurt’s innovations was the Taylor Neck, which accomplished their goal of creating a neck that stayed straight despite aging and changes in humidity.  Their design used a continuous piece of wood all the way up to the 19th fret, while traditional necks stopped at the 14th fret.

The neck design also gives Taylor guitars very accurate intonation.

Incredibly, Taylor necks are also designed to be adjusted by a guitar tech in only about 5 minutes.

Taylor 114ce 100 Series Electric-Acoustic Guitar

The Taylor 114ce is a Grand Auditorium-style cutaway electric-acoustic guitar.  The Grand Auditorium is Taylor’s best-selling shape because it produces a bright, well-defined midrange as well as an excellent balance between lows and highs.

This versatility makes the 114ce a fantastic all-purpose guitar that sounds great whether you’re strumming or playing fingerstyle.

Construction

The Taylor 114ce is made with a Sitka spruce top.  Sitka is the most common choice of wood for guitar tops as its combination of strength, tight grain pattern, and light weight allows the wood to respond with a wide dynamic range.  It can handle aggressive strumming as well as more delicate fingerpicking.

The sides and back are layered walnut, and the fretboard and bridge are ebony.

The guitar’s styling includes Italian acrylic dot fretboard inlays, a 3-ring rosette, plus dramatic black binding and a black pickguard that complement the ebony fretboard and bridge.

The 114ce features a Venetian cutaway for easier access to the top frets.  The Venetian style cutaway is shallower and less rounded for comfort and ease of playability.

NOTE: Taylor’s less expensive guitars are made in Mexico, which has caused some prospective buyers to question their construction quality.  However, since Taylor’s guitar production is highly automated, the guitars it produces in Mexico are virtually identical in quality to those it makes in its factory in California.

ES2 Pickup System

The 114ce comes with Taylor’s Expression System® 2 (ES2) pickup design. This pickup improves on other pickup designs by placing the pickup sensors behind the saddle, rather than under the saddle.

Taylor’s research found that moving the sensor’s placement allows them to respond more naturally to the string’s vibrations.  This results in a natural tone that vastly improves on other pickup’s thin or synthetic sound.

The ES2 comes with volume and tone control knobs.

How Does It Sound?

The 114ce has the classic warm Taylor sound.  Listen for yourself:

Taylor 114ce 100 Series Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Taylor 114ce would make a great addition to any guitar collection.

The vast majority of users find that the 114CE has a beautiful tone, comes setup ready to play with good action, and is very comfortable to play.  It’s actually difficult to find any negative reviews of this guitar, which is saying something!

Overall, an excellent guitar and real value for the money!  Highly recommended!

NOTE: A left-handed version is also available.

PROS

  • Excellent tone and playability
  • Slim neck
  • Comes with a Taylor gig bag
S

CONS

  • None

Taylor 114ce 100 Series Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center | Zzounds

Seagull Guitars was founded by Robert Godin in the tiny village of LaPatrie (population 475) in Quebec, Canada.  Seagull has been crafting premium handmade guitars since 1982.

With the continued success of Seagull Guitars, today nearly half the town now works in the guitar business!

All Seagull guitars are made in Canada, and the company prides itself on responsible sourcing of Canadian raw materials to create unique one-of-a-kind instruments.

From sourcing hydroelectric power to collecting and using reclaimed wood, Seagull guitars combines excellent hand-craftsmanship with sustainable ecological values.

Seagull Artist Mosaic Acoustic Guitar

The Artist series is Seagull’s top of the line guitar series, and the Seagull Artist Mosaic is a beautiful dreadnought acoustic guitar with a clear natural finish.

All Artist series guitars are handcrafted by a select group of guitar luthiers who hand-pick the best woods for each instrument.

Construction

The Artist Mosaic has a solid cedar top and solid mahogany sides and back.  The neck is mahogany, and the fingerboard and bridge are rosewood.

The body incorporates Seagull’s new scalloped Adirondack spruce bracing for increased support while intensifying the instrument’s tone and dynamic range.

The nut and saddle are made of compensated TUSQ, a premium product. The saddle (the piece the strings pass over on the bridge) is a frequently overlooked but crucial part of a guitar’s tone.

The saddle’s job is to transfer the guitar’s string vibrations to the guitar’s top.  A compensated saddle improves an instrument’s tone, harmonics, and playability by correctly setting each string’s intonation.

The following article is an interesting read for those who want to learn more about acoustic guitar tone and acoustics:

The Acoustics of the Guitar: The Science Behind Acoustic Guitar Tone

The Artist Mosaic comes with a custom light semi-gloss finish that helps the guitar’s tone and resonance.

How Does It Sound?

The combination of cedar top and mahogany sides lends itself to a warm, rich sound.  The Artist Mosaic shines with a beautiful tone.

Seagull Artist Mosaic Acoustic Guitar – Example 1

Seagull Artist Mosaic Acoustic Guitar – Example 2

Playability

The Artist Mosaic’s neck is slightly wider than normal, so playing this guitar is very easy and comfortable for those with larger hands or are just learning how to play.  Wider spacing makes for cleaner performances, especially when fingerpicking.

Overall

The Artist series is Seagull’s premium line but is priced well under other manufacturer’s top of the line guitars.

The Artist Mosaic is often compared in tone to $2,000-$3,000 guitars in terms of quality and tone.

It’s a highly recommended guitar in the under $1,000 range and is a fantastic value for the price!

PROS

  • Beautiful tone
  • Handmade in Canada
  • Thermally Regulated Instrument Case (TRIC) with shoulder strap is included
  • A bundle is available that includes a tuner, strap, picks, capo, and polishing cloth
S

CONS

  • Cedar is a softer wood and can be prone to scratches and dings

Seagull Artist Mosaic Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center |zZounds

C.F. Martin & Co., the makers of Martin Guitars, needs no introduction; it’s one of the iconic names in acoustic guitars.

This family business has been producing acoustic guitars for over 175 years.  Their innovations include X-bracing, the 14-fret guitar, and the dreadnought style guitar.

In the last decade, Martin has been upping its game by using a Plek Pro machine in its production process.  The Plek Pro is a computer-controlled device that scans and checks a guitar under actual playing conditions.  It is used to create perfectly aligned and calibrated frets with optimal action.

By using the latest technology combined with time-honored skilled craftsmanship, Martin continues to create best-in-class acoustic guitars for players of all skill levels.

Martin DRS2 Electric-Acoustic Guitar

The Martin DRS2 is Martin’s most affordable solid wood electric-acoustic guitar.  It’s known for its legendary Martin tone and ease of playability.

Construction

The DRS2 features a solid wood Sitka spruce top, and sapele back and sides.  Sapele is a sustainably grown African hardwood that has a tone similar to mahogany but with additional high-frequency overtones.

The neck is made of a select hardwood, and its ergonomic taper makes it very comfortable to play.

The fingerboard is made of FSC® Certified Richlite.  Richlite is a material composed of resin-infused paper!

While this seems an odd choice for constructing a high-quality guitar, Richlite is a very versatile product that’s used in many premium products, including guitar fingerboards.  You can learn more at Richlite.com.

What’s more, the FSC® certification “ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.  FSC® Certified means that all of the wood components of a guitar meet the stringent requirements of responsible forest management set forth by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC).”

The saddle is compensated white TUSQ which is a premium saddle material used in high-end guitars.  A compensated saddle improves an instrument’s tone, harmonics, and playability by correctly setting each string’s intonation. 

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

The DRS2 comes with a Fishman Sonitone pickup and onboard preamp with rotary controls for volume and tone.  The unit is powered by one 9V battery that lasts about 100 hours of use.

How Does It Sound?

The DRS2 has a crisp midrange, and the Sitka spruce top gives detail and depth to the high frequencies. The sound is pure Martin!

Martin DRS2 Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Martin DRS2 is a best-selling acoustic guitar that delivers that sought-after Martin tone at a lower price point.

For a solid wood guitar, it’s an exceptional value!  Like all solid wood guitars, the sound will increase in depth and character with age.

The DRS2 also includes a case which makes this a best buy at a price well under $1,000.

Recommended strings are the SP Acoustic 92/8 Phosphor Bronze Medium (MSP4200) strings.

PROS

  • Beautiful Martin tone
  • Solid wood construction
  • Made from sustainable woods
  • Built-in Fisherman Sonitone System
S

CONS

  • None

Martin DRS2 Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Guild Guitars have been making guitars since 1953 and are one of the top names in electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and electric basses today.

Guild began as a small guitar workshop in New York founded by Alfred Dronge, a former music-shop proprietor, and George Mann, a former Epiphone Guitar executive.

Today, the company is based in Santa Monica, CA and has its production facility in Oxnard, CA.

One of their achievements was producing the first dreadnought guitar with a cutaway to have better access to the higher frets.  Today, this cutaway design is used by just about every guitar manufacturer.

Guild Guitars will forever have a part of music history, with their guitars used on records and live performances by artists such as John Lennon, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Tom Petty, Soundgarden, Richie Havens, Eric Clapton, Brian May, and many others.

Guild D-150 Acoustic Guitar

The Guild D-150 is a dreadnought “Western-style” acoustic guitar with the classic Guild sound and playability.

The guitar is part of Guild’s Westerly Collection of guitars that pays homage to Guild’s roots.

In its early days, Guild was based in NY but had their factory in Hoboken, NJ.  As demand for their guitars increased, they moved production to a much larger former furniture manufacturing facility in Westerly, RI.

Looking at the move as a stepping stone, they also improved their production processes and hired additional highly skilled employees.

It was at Westerly that Guild flourished and became known for the quality of their instruments.

The D-150 continues this heritage today with excellent craftsmanship, attention to detail, and high-quality materials.  And as a nod to its past, the headstock features a classic 1960s Chesterfield logo that gives this guitar an old-fashioned appeal.

And with its full-bodied tone, the D-150 is an excellent guitar for all playing styles.

Construction

The D-150 features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid wood Indian rosewood back and sides.  Indian rosewood is also used for the fingerboard and bridge, and it uses Sitka spruce scalloped X-bracing for excellent stability and voicing.

For smooth playability, the C-shaped thin neck is made of polished satin mahogany.

The guitar features an upgraded bone nut and saddle for enhanced tone and projection.

Its styling includes a mother-of-pearl/black/ivory rosette, a tortoiseshell pickguard, matching ivory-colored binding and bridge pins, and nickel-plated hardware.

The guitar is finished with a glossy polyurethane coating that brightens the beauty of the wood while enhancing its tone.

How Does It Sound?

As a dreadnought, the D-150 has a deep rich bass and warm midrange. It is also known for its sustain when playing chords.

Guild D-150 Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Guild D-150 is a beautiful natural wood guitar.  It delivers rich crisp tone, good volume, and nice sustain.  It’s priced right at the top of the range, but it’s well worth the price.  Highly recommended!

It also comes with a lightweight polyfoam case.

PROS

  • Traditional style and design
  • Solid wood and organic saddle and nut provide a warm, balanced tone
  • Slim smooth neck for easy playability
  • Case is included
S

CONS

  • None

Guild D-150 Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon

 

Yamaha needs no introduction as one of the world’s largest and best-known manufacturers of quality musical instruments.

Although Yamaha has been in the music business for over a century, it wasn’t until the 1940s that they began making guitars. And up to the early 1960s, their guitars were only sold in Japan, so there was little notice of their guitars in the U.S. and Europe.

However, that changed in 1969 when Country Joe McDonald played a Yamaha acoustic guitar at Woodstock.  The resulting PR, helped by a Woodstock documentary and photos that showcased the guitar in action, put them on the map in the U.S.

Since then, Yamaha has been producing high-quality, affordable guitars that have attracted aspiring guitar enthusiasts and professional musicians alike.

Notable musicians that play Yamahas are Dave Navarro, Frank Gambale, Bob Seger, James Taylor, Santana, Bob Marley, John Denver, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan.

Yamaha A-Series A3M Electric Acoustic Guitar

The Yamaha A-Series guitars feature a traditional Western body style with a cutaway for easy access to the upper frets. The A-Series guitars are available in quite a few size, wood, and color options:

  • Sizes: concert (AC3M) or dreadnought (A3M).
  • Woods: laminate mahogany (A1M), laminate rosewood (A1R), solid mahogany (A3M) or solid rosewood (A3R)
  • Finish: vintage natural or tobacco sunburst

Acoustic Resonance Enhancement (A.R.E.)

The A3M incorporates Yamaha’s A.R.E. (Acoustic Resonance Enhancement) proprietary wood-enhancing technology.

In Yamaha’s words,

“Through precise control of temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure, the molecular properties of the wood can be manipulated into a more acoustically ideal condition, similar to the molecular characteristics of woods in instruments that have been played for years.”

The following short video shows the difference in sound quality:

Secret of Yamaha Acoustic Sound Projection

The result is a guitar that has a rich vintage tone that sounds like a much older guitar. 

Construction

The Yamaha A3M is a dreadnought electric-acoustic guitar with a cutaway.  It has a solid wood Sitka spruce top treated with the A.R.E. process.  It also features solid mahogany back & sides.

The guitar features Yamaha’s new scalloped bracing that provides a deeper low end and more harmonic overtones in the mid frequencies.

The neck’s high comfort profile is designed with a straighter neck taper that makes playing feel effortless.  The hand-rolled fingerboard edges give the guitar a smooth feel for ease of playability.

The vintage styled pickguard is a shout back to the classic N1000 guitar that Yamaha released in 1975.

SRT2 Pickup & Electronics

The new SRT2 pickup system is designed for stage performance.  The SRT pickup itself has individual elements for each string for better response and accuracy than regular ribbon piezo pickups.

The pickup system includes two microphones models (a Neumann U67 condenser mic and a Royer R122 ribbon mic) that you can choose to add the sound of these high-end microphones to your guitar’s sound.

The guitar’s tone can be mixed from a natural vintage sound to a standard piezo mic sound by adjusting the Blend control.  There are also controls for volume, bass, and treble. 

How Does It Sound?

The combination of Sitka spruce and mahogany are a classic acoustic guitar pairing that gives the A3M powerful lows, clear highs, and rich mid-range with quick response.  This is one nice-sounding guitar!

Yamaha A-Series A3M Electric Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Yamaha A3M looks like an expensive guitar and sound like an expensive guitar.  But its price that’s well under $1,000, this makes it a best buy and top pick!

PROS

  • Excellent tone
  • Beautiful styling
  • Features Yamaha’s latest technology
S

CONS

  • Case is not included

Yamaha A-Series A3M Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center | Zzounds

 

Taylor Guitars is one of today’s premier guitar makers.  Established in 1974, the incredible tone, playability, and craftsmanship of their guitars has attracted some of the world’s top musical talent to become customers.

Taylor has also been on the leading edge of ecological sustainability by sourcing eco-friendly fair-trade materials for all of their guitars.

Their 200 series guitars feature solid Sitka spruce tops with a selection of layered tonewoods for the sides and backs.  These guitars deliver the classic Taylor sound at an affordable price.

Taylor 214ce 200 Series Electric-Acoustic Guitar

The Taylor 214ce 200 Series electric-acoustic guitar is right at the top of our price range, but its look and tone make it well worth the cost.

It’s a Grand Auditorium style guitar with a Venetian style cutaway.  The Venetian cutaway has soft round lines that make it very comfortable to play when accessing the higher frets.

The 214ce features a superior combination of layered woods and Taylor’s trademark structural design that provides rich sound quality and superb playability.

Construction

 The 214ce has a gloss finished solid Sitka spruce top paired with satin-finish layered rosewood back and sides.  The combination is very visually appealing as well as provides a beautiful warm tone.

The guitar employs forward shifted x-bracing that makes the guitar very responsive to both fingerpicking and strumming styles.

The guitar also features elegant white binding, Italian acrylic dot inlays, a faux tortoiseshell pickguard, and an ebony peghead overlay.

The upgraded TUSQ nut and micarta saddle are high-end products that improve the guitar’s tone over regular plastic pieces.

ES-2 Electronics

The Expression System® 2 pickup (ES-2) system has been designed for top-notch sound quality.  Taylor’s innovation was to relocate the pickup from under the saddle to behind it; this allows the piezo-electric crystals to react organically to the string’s vibrations received through the saddle. The result is crisp, clear sound with more dynamic range than other systems.

The ES-2 system comes with bass, volume, and treble controls, and is powered by a 9V battery.

How Does It Sound?

The 214ce sounds just how you expect it to sound – warm, rich, and detailed.

Taylor 214ce Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Taylor 214ce is one of Taylor’s most popular guitars.  It has a well-rounded warm tone that works well for live playing as well as recording, and the neck’s smooth feel and curvature make it very easy to play.

It’s ideal for someone’s first higher-end guitar or an upgrade from a lesser-quality (and less than great sounding) guitar.

A lightweight hardshell gig bag comes with the guitar.

PROS

  • Beautiful sounding guitar
  • Made with high-quality, sustainable woods
  • Expression System® 2 creates clear and detailed sound
  • Hardshell gig bag is included
S

CONS

  • None

Taylor 214ce 200 Series Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center | zZounds

Blueridge Guitars is one of the brands of San Francisco, CA-based Saga Music, a musical instrument producer of acoustic guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, banjos and more.

Though it is not a household name, Blueridge acoustic guitars have won many converts to their premium-quality guitars that are very affordable.

Blueridge guitars all have a traditional/ vintage vibe.   Blueridge takes authenticity seriously so that every detail from wood selection to inlay design adds to the vintage-era accuracy. However, they also consider environmental issues like deforestation, so each guitar is eco-friendly without losing the old-school classic charm.

Looks without substance doesn’t mean anything, so Blueridge combines traditional styling with modern guitar-making techniques. Each detail is researched and tested before being put into production to ensure historical and musical accuracy.

Blueridge BR-160 Acoustic Guitar

The Blueridge BR-160 was created in the style of vintage, prewar dreadnought acoustic guitars.  It’s part of Blueridge’s Historic Series that combines early 20th century sensibilities with modern day improvements in construction and playability.

The BR-160 combines a classic solid-wood body with innovative detailed design.  The result: bold, rich sound.

Construction

The BR-160 has a solid wood Sitka spruce top and solid wood Indian rosewood sides and back. The combination of spruce and rosewood creates a powerful sound with lots of low end.

Blueridge uses hand-carved, rounded forward X-bracing to support the guitar’s structure and tone.  This bracing technique was used on pre-war guitars for many years and has stood the test of time.

The slim mahogany neck is very comfortable and features a dovetail neck joint and an adjustable truss rod. Choice tonewood is used for the fingerboard.

The detailed styling of this guitar includes mother-of-pearl inlays on the neck, an intricate turquoise and mother-of-pearl design on the rosewood headstock, and white herringbone binding on the top. The Dalmatian style pickguard gives it a unique rustic feel.

The attention to its prewar roots continues with nickel-plated, open-back tuners with white butterbean-style buttons.

The organic high-gloss tobacco sunburst finish completes its vintage look. 

How Does It Sound?

The Blueridge BR-160’s solid top, back, and sides produce a mellow vintage sound with crisp, clear tone and solid bass.

Blueridge BR-160 Acoustic Guitar – Video 1

Blueridge BR-160 Acoustic Guitar – Video 2

Overall

If you like the look of a vintage guitar that sounds amazing, the Blueridge BR-160 is a top choice.

It has a warm tone with well-defined mids and highs and lots of sustain.  It’s not a loud guitar, so if you want a guitar with a big sound, this may not be for you.  But for a softer, mellow, more intimate sound, the BR-160 could be right for you!

PROS

  • Solid wood top, sides, and back
  • Vintage look and sound
  • Historically accurate materials and design
S

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Blueridge BR-160 Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

 

Final Thoughts

Buying a high-quality guitar becomes much easier with a little research and knowledge of what to look for.

I’ve written these reviews of the best guitars in the $500 to $1,000 price range (and my Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyer’s Guide) to help make your search easier and faster.

Ultimately, the guitar you choose should be one that feels comfortable to play and has a tone that appeals to you.  Whatever feels and sounds right may be your next perfect guitar!

Good luck with your guitar search!

Have you decided on your first guitar? Let us know in the comments below which one you chose, or if you’re a seasoned player, what was your first guitar?

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7 Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500) https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-200-500/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-200-500/#respond Mon, 02 Apr 2018 22:22:00 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30764 The post 7 Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500) appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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Buying a mid-priced acoustic guitar (between $200 to $500) is the next step up from a low-priced guitar designed primarily for beginners.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician, in this price range you can find really nice sounding guitars that are fine quality instruments.

Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide

Before we get to the reviews, it’s important to understand the different styles and types of acoustic guitars, the types of woods used, and more.  With this information, you can make a more informed buying decision.

For a complete overview of acoustic guitars, from construction, body styles, woods, playability, plus tips on choosing the right acoustic guitar, please see my Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide article.

Reviews of the 7 Best Acoustic Guitars from $200 to $500

All seven acoustic guitars I’ve reviewed are beautiful, high-quality guitars with excellent tone, solid construction, and designed for comfortable playability.

Many of the guitars are electric-acoustics, meaning they come with a built-in pickup for recording or connecting to amps or PA systems.  That’s an added bonus for those of you who perform live or want to record.

The guitars I’ve chosen are:

Let’s check them out!

Review Criteria

All acoustic guitars included in my reviews were selected based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community and from personal use and knowledge.

I’ve also added my insights gained from my 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, plus working with dozens of composers and thousands of tracks for my Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution.

Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500) Reviews

F. Martin & Co. is one of the industry’s most revered acoustic guitar manufacturers. Based in Nazareth, PA, Martin Guitars started out as a cabinet maker in the 18th century and has been creating premium quality acoustic guitars and strings since 1833.

Martin guitars are handmade by skilled craftspeople that still use designs and processes conceived and implemented by founder Christian Frederick Martin. Each guitar takes more than 300 steps to complete, from shaping the raw wood through creating a finished product.

Overview

The Martin LX1E is a small size 6-string electric flat-top acoustic guitar, and it’s one of the most popular electric-acoustic guitars on the market today.

Much of its popularity is due to Ed Sheeran and other well-known performers who perform and record with an LX1E.

The guitar is known as the Little Martin because it’s Martin’s smallest acoustic guitar, but in Martin’s words it’s, “very big on tone, quality, and versatility.”

Size-wise it is like a very large ukulele, but despite its size it has that big warm tone you expect from a Martin guitar!

Construction

The LX1E has a solid wood spruce top and high-pressure mahogany laminate-constructed sides and back. This combination of woods delivers a warm tone that is pure Martin!

Plus, the very dense pressure laminate mahogany helps the guitar maintain its tuning despite changes in temperature and humidity you may encounter while traveling.

The neck is made of a birch laminate.   It is shaped into a modified low oval taper, making it very comfortable to play.

Sustainable Wood Certified Fretboard

Many guitar fretboards are made of rosewood, a wood that’s increasingly becoming scarce and criticized for being harvested in a non-ecological and non-sustainable manner.  The LX1E’s fingerboard is made of FSC® Certified Richlite, a product that’s actually made of resin-infused paper!

While this seems an odd choice for constructing a guitar, Richlite is a very versatile product that’s used in many different high-end items, including guitar fingerboards.  You can learn more at Richlite.com.

What’s more, the FSC® certification “ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.  FSC® Certified means that all of the wood components of a guitar meet the stringent requirements of responsible forest management set forth by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC).”

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

The guitar comes with a Fishman Isys pickup and preamp with a built-in tuner.  There are knobs for volume as well as phase, which is helpful for fixing phase issues when plugging into a PA. There is also a Tone Contour button that provides some EQ tone shaping.  The unit is powered by one 9V battery that lasts about 100 hours.

How Does It Sound?

The LX1E has the warm, detailed sound that you would expect from a Martin.  But because it’s a smaller guitar, it doesn’t have that complex tone that comes with a full-size guitar.

Martin LX1E Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The LX1E is a great small sized guitar that really sounds good.  While the overall tone and sound is Martin, it doesn’t quite have the depth that full size (and much more expensive) Martins have.  But for a small size guitar priced well under $500, it’s hard to beat!

Martin M550 Phosphor Bronze or SP Acoustic 92/8 Phosphor Bronze Medium strings are recommended.

PROS

  • Excellent travel size guitar
  • High-quality pickup system
  • Lightweight yet durable construction
  • Well-padded gig bag included
  • One-year manufacturer’s warranty
S

CONS

  • None

Martin LX1E Little Martin Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center | Zzounds

A slightly cheaper alternative to the Martin LX1E is the Taylor Baby Taylor.  It’s also a travel-size guitar with great tone and playability for a small size guitar.

You can check out a comparison between the LX1E and the Baby Taylor below:

Martin LX1E and Taylor Baby Taylor Comparison

Taylor Baby Taylor Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center | Zzounds

Breedlove Guitars  have been making guitars since 1992. Their mission is to craft and provide ”the best sounding, best playing, and most enjoyable acoustic guitars” on the market.  And given their large base of satisfied guitar users, Breedlove is well on their way to achieving their goal.

All of their guitars incorporate Breedlove’s Tonewood Certification Project and innovative sound profiling technology. These initiatives combine science and design to achieve warm, balanced tones from crafted tonewoods using environmentally-friendly sustainable sourcing methods.

Their proprietary Tonewood Certification Project and hand voicing are used to pair and shape tonewoods to perfection. The result is excellent sounding hand-crafted guitars that are a joy to play.

Overview

The Breedlove Pursuit Series of electric-acoustic guitars are a collection of steel string, nylon string, and 12-string instruments.

The Concert CE is a concert-style electric-acoustic guitar with a cutaway.  It’s a favored choice for guitarists both starting out and those with more experience.

The Concert style is Breedlove’s original body shape. It’s designed to be well-balanced, comfortable, and provide a full tonal range.

Construction

The Concert CE guitars are designed and engineered in Breedlove’s Bend, Oregon facilities, and undergo a 25- to 30-point quality check.

The Concert CE has a solid red cedar wood top and zirocote sides and back.  Zirocote is an exotic wood with a unique spiderweb grain.

The neck is okoume and has a dovetail neck joint. The 20-fret fretboard is East Indian rosewood with a 25-1/2-inch scale length and a 1-11/16″ nut width.  The bridge is also made of East Indian rosewood.

The slim-profile neck and semi-gloss finish help make the neck feel smooth and have ideal playability.

The Breedlove Bridge Truss (BBT) reduces tension on the soundboard, giving it structural stability as well as optimal sound.

The innovative Breedlove Pinless Bridge reduces saddle strain and eliminates lost, worn, or broken bridge pins.  This innovative bridge allows the guitar to have a thinner top that creates better tone and sustain.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

All Pursuit electric-acoustic guitars are equipped with Fishman Isys+ pickup system.  This system is used on many high-quality guitars.

The Concert CE also features a USB port for connection to recording software/ hardware, computers, or other devices.

How Does It Sound?

The Concert CE has a beautiful warm tone that would compliment just about any musical style.

Breedlove Pursuit Concert CE Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Soundcloud player

Overall

Musicians worldwide are partial to Breedlove Pursuit models for their superior sound and playability at affordable prices. While the Concert CE guitar is priced at the very top of the range, it’s premium woods, warm tone, and easy playability makes it a top pick.

PROS

  • Beautiful sounding guitar
  • Also available in left-handed versions
  • Breedlove Bridge Truss(BBT)
  • Sound Optimization™ Process results in warm, rich sound
  • Soft gig bag included
S

CONS

  • None

Breedlove Pursuit Concert CE Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Fender Musical Instruments,  based in Scottsdale, AZ, USA, is one of the best-known guitar manufacturers in the world today. This iconic brand is synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, jazz, and country music dating back to 1946.

Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Never heard of Tim Armstrong?  Tim is the Grammy Award-winning founder of punk band Rancid.

The Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat is a concert electric-acoustic guitar that’s based on his well-worn 1960’s Fender instrument buts adds modern touches like high-quality onboard electronics.

It’s an ideal guitar for all styles of music with a sweet tone and smooth playability.

Construction

If you like retro, the Hellcat is for you!

It has a natural-finish solid mahogany top and laminate mahogany sides and back.  It uses scalloped X bracing which allows the top to freely resonate, providing better tone, more nuance, and greater projection.

The maple “C” shape neck has a 20-fret rosewood fingerboard and vintage-style open gear tuners and dual-action truss rod. The nut and bridge are made of Graph Tech® NuBone™ a premium material.

The Hellcat features a 1970s inspired F-style rosette and pearl acrylic inlay with the Hellcat logo on the 3rd, 5th, and 7th frets.  It also includes a pair of pearl acrylic inlay skulls on the 12th fret that are Tim Armstrong’s signature decorations.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

The Hellcat is equipped with a Fishman® Isys III system with active onboard pre-amp.  The Isys III includes a built-in tuner plus volume and tone controls.

How Does It Sound?

The Hellcat delivers an amazing vintage tone that matches the cool retro vibe of the guitar.

Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Hellcat has won many fans for its vintage looks, well-balanced tone, and smooth playability.  As a smaller concert guitar, it’s a great pick for those will small hands but want a big sound.

The pickup and electronics are high-quality, and the included tuner is a nice bonus.  It’s an incredible value at its price that’s well under $500!

Fender® Dura-Tone® 880L (.012-.052 Gauge) strings are recommended.

PROS

  • Excellent sounding guitar that’s a pleasure to play
  • Includes an Isys III pickup system with built-in tuner
  • Available in 6- or 12-string versions
  • Includes Tim Armstrong custom “LET’S GO” guitar strap
  • Fender 2-Year Limited Warranty
S

CONS

  • A few complaints about an imperfect finish
  • Guitar’s color is lighter than the pictures show

Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Since their introduction in the 1960s, Ovation guitars have been in high demand and include noted players such as Josh White and Glen Campbell.

Ovation Guitars has always marched to its own drum, so to speak.   Soon after setting up shop in 1964, founder Charles Kaman assembled a group of aerospace engineers to revolutionize the acoustic guitar.

In 1966 Kaman’s group created an innovative parabolic round-back acoustic guitar design that had unprecedented projection and sustain.

The bowl-shaped guitar body was constructed of Lyrachord, a material made of glass and resin that was originally produced for helicopter parts!  The parabolic design created a very nice tone with greater volume than conventional dreadnought guitar designs.

Ovation was also the first manufacturer to introduce pickups and pre-amplifiers in an acoustic guitar.

Overview

The Ovation Celebrity Standard CS24 is a classic thin neck single cutaway electric-acoustic guitar.

Construction

The CS24 has a natural gloss, solid spruce flat top that comes in four striking colors that make quite a visual statement:

  • Natural
  • Black
  • Ruby Red
  • 2-Color Sunburst

It also has the innovative mid-depth Lyrachord resin bowl body that brings increased projection and tonal richness.

The CS24 features a modified quartersawn scalloped X bracing design that combines past and modern-day technology to create warm tone, optimal response, and maximum power.

The satin-finished nato mahogany neck has a smooth 20-fret rosewood fingerboard. The guitar also includes chrome die-cast sealed tuners.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

The CS24 features an Ovation Slimline pickup and OP-4BT pre-amp electronics system for live sound or recording uses. It includes a 3-band EQ to adjust bass, mid-range, and treble frequencies, plus a 12+db volume/gain control

It also includes an onboard tuner and low-battery indicator light.

How Does It Sound?

The CS24 has the classic Ovation sound – warm, punchy and well-balanced.

Ovation Celebrity Standard CS24

Overall

The CS24 brings the classic Ovation sound and quality to guitarists looking for a very affordable option.  The CS24 doesn’t disappoint with great looks, sweet tone, and clean playability.D’Addario EXP16 (.012-.053) Phosphor Bronze strings are recommended.

PROS

  • Great tone and playability
  • Nice volume and projection
  • Lightweight
S

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Ovation Celebrity Standard CS24 Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

 

Washburn Guitars has been a leading maker of guitars, mandolins, banjos, and ukuleles going back to 1880s Chicago.

Today they continue their 135-year tradition of making quality electric-acoustic guitars for both beginners and professionals alike.  Washburn guitars have been the guitars of choice for some of the biggest names in folk, blues, and rock such as Bob Dylan, Greg Allman, Nancy Wilson, Robbie Robertson, Don McLean, Joe Perry, John Hiatt, Hank Williams Jr, and more.

Overview

Introduced in 2016, the Washburn Heritage Series HG12S is a grand auditorium, six-string acoustic guitar. It’s a beautiful sounding guitar in gorgeous dark wood mahogany.  It’s an ideal guitar for both strumming and fingerpicking in any style.

Construction

The HG12S has a solid mahogany top, back, and sides, plus a satin finish mahogany neck. The all mahogany construction gives this guitar a rich, deep tone that sounds like a much more expensive guitar!

Adding to the sweet tone is Washburn’s cathedral peaked advanced scalloped-X bracing design that provides extended tonal balance and optimal response.

A 20-fret rosewood neck and rosewood bridge, custom designed rosette, and chrome diecast tuners round out this high-quality guitar.

How Does It Sound?

The Grand Auditorium style has a larger bout (rear) than a concert guitar.  Because of its bigger body, the guitar has a beautiful rich tone.

Mahogany guitars impart a warmer tone than cedar or spruce.  And a solid top will allow the guitar’s tone improve with age.

The following demo shows off this guitar’s beautiful tone.

Washburn Heritage Series HG12S

Overall

The HG12S Grand Auditorium usually sells for around $300.  It’s a great-sounding guitar for the price, and it will only improve with age.

This guitar is a winner and highly recommended if you want a beautiful sounding acoustic guitar but not an electric-acoustic model.  You can always add a pickup later.

PROS

  • Beautiful well-balanced tone
  • Comfortable
  • Lifetime warranty
S

CONS

  • No built-in pickup or electronics
  • Case sold separately

Washburn Heritage Series HG12S Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

The Yamaha Corporation, based in Hamamatsu, Japan, started by producing pianos and reed organs back in the late 1800s.  Today, Yamaha is the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments and is a leading maker of both acoustic and electric guitars.

The Yamaha LL6M ARE and LS6M ARE guitars are part of Yamaha’s high-end L Series of acoustic guitars.  All L-Series acoustic guitars use the latest technology combined with traditional hand-craftsmanship to produce guitars that meet the demands of today’s guitarists.

The L-Series underwent a premium upgrade in 2014 to include some higher-end features not usually found on guitars in this price range.

Of note is that both guitars incorporate Yamaha’s Acoustic Resonance Enhancement (A.R.E.) technology.  A.R.E. is a proprietary wood enhancing technology Yamaha developed and uses on their high-end guitars.

In Yamaha’s words,

“Through precise control of temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure, the molecular properties of the wood can be manipulated into a more acoustically ideal condition, similar to the molecular characteristics of woods in instruments that have been played for years.”

The following short video shows the difference in sound quality:

Secret of Yamaha Acoustic Sound Projection

The result is a guitar that has a rich vintage tone that sounds like a much older guitar.

Overview

The LL6M is a dreadnought size electric acoustic guitar, while the LS6M is a smaller concert sized guitar.  Both guitars have a beautiful tone and are a joy to play.

Both models are available in 4 colors: natural, brown sunburst, black, or dark-tinted.

Construction

The LL6M and LS6M are both made with a hand-selected, solid wood Engelmann spruce top that’s treated with Yamaha’s A.R.E. wood reforming technology for enhanced tone and projection.  Englemann spruce is quite expensive and is typically found on much higher-priced guitars, so this is an excellent bonus!

Both models have mahogany sides and back for a rich tone.

The neck is Yamaha’s newly developed 5-ply mahogany and rosewood combo that provides smooth playability. It contains a double action adjustable rod that creates strength and stability.  Yamaha also redesigned the neck’s components (string spacing and height, neck taper, and fingerboard binding) to better serve today’s playing techniques.

The LL6M and LS6M have rosewood fingerboards with 20 frets, and large rosewood bridges that allow greater string vibration transfer, clear mid-range, and balanced tone.

They also come with gold-plated hardware, die-cast tuners, and a tortoise pickguard.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

Both models come with a newly-developed SRT Zero Impact piezoelectric pickup system.  It’s a passive type pickup (no electronics) designed to minimize the pickup’s impact on the guitar’s tone and appearance.  Each string has its own individual piezo pickup elements to provide better tone and dynamics.

How Does It Sound?

As you can hear, these are great sounding guitars…

Yamaha LL6M Review

Yamaha LS6M Review

Overall

The LL6M and LS6M are premium-quality guitars that incredibly cost less than $500.

Both models come very well setup from the factor will a nice low action, making them very playable.  They make excellent guitars for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced players.

For some, these will be the only guitars they’ll ever want!

PROS

  • Well-balanced tone and response
  • Excellent craftsmanship
  • A.R.E. (Acoustic Resonance Enhancement) technology
  • SRT Zero Impact pickup
  • Deluxe hard-shell case included
S

CONS

  • None

Yamaha LL6M Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon

Yamaha LS6M Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon

Takamine (est. 1965) began as a family-run guitar business in Sakashita, Japan. Starting with its first acoustic-electric model introduced in 1979, Takamine has been producing premium quality guitars used by studio players, touring musicians, and top artists such as Bruno Mars, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Glenn Frey, and John Bon Jovi.

Takamine prides themselves on the quality of craftsmanship and the sound of their guitars.  For example, while many large manufacturers use machinery to speed up production, Takamine still finetunes the bracing and voicing of each guitar by hand.

Different Models

There are a number of models available of the GD30 acoustic guitar.

The GD30 is a non-cutaway acoustic model and is available in natural wood (GD30-NAT) or black (GD30-BLK).  It’s available well under $500.

The GD30E is the cutaway electric-acoustic model and is available in natural wood (GD30E-NAT) or black (GD30E-BLK).  While more expensive, the GD30E still sells for under $500.

The GD30E is also available in a left-handed model.

Overview

The Takamine GD30CE is a dreadnought cutaway electric-acoustic guitar that’s been a favorite with guitarists for many years.  Its mellow vintage tone is perfect for singer-songwriters or softer more intimate type playing.

Construction

The GD30CE features a solid natural gloss-finished spruce top and natural gloss-finished mahogany sides and back.   It uses quartersawn X-bracing to enhance the guitar’s beautiful tone.

The 20-fret slim neck is a satin-finished mahogany and has an ovangkol wood fingerboard with great feel and playability.

Takamine guitar necks have an ergonomic “C” shape that slightly thinner on the bass side of the neck so that it fits the natural curve of your hand. They are designed to be very comfortable to play for all playing styles.

Takamine uses a laser-guided fret finishing system that achieves accuracy to within 0.0001” of perfect alignment.  The result is increased clarity of pitch with both fretted notes and chords.

One unusual feature is that Takamine uses a pinless bridge system that allows you to change strings much easier and faster than with regular bridges.

The GD30CE comes with chrome hardware and die-cast tuning machines.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

The guitar comes with the Takamine TP-4TD preamp system which includes a built-in tuner with three-band EQ and gain controls.  Overall, you get excellent amplified performance and versatility that sounds like a much more expensive guitar.

 How Does It Sound?

I would describe the tone of this guitar as natural and slightly vintage.  It produces slightly muted highs and lows with a pronounced midrange.  The result is a warm tone that is intimate in nature.

Takamine GD30CE Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Takamine GD30CE offers a mellow warm vintage tone that is hard to find in a guitar in this price range.  Plus, it’s an exceptionally easy guitar to play with its honed C shaped neck.

D’Addario EXP 38 Coated Phosphor Bronze 12-String, (.010-.047 Gauges) are recommended.

PROS

  • Warm vintage tone
  • Takamine quality workmanship
  • Limited lifetime warranty
S

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Takamine GD30CE Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center | zZounds

Final Thoughts

The seven acoustic and electric acoustic guitars I’ve reviewed are all top picks in the $200- $500 range.

All these guitars have very nice tone, are solidly constructed, and are very easy to play, so your choice will come down to personal preferences and playing style.

My advice is to go with the best tone and workmanship, even if you have to push your budget a little.  A year or two from now, you won’t even remember spending a little more to get the best guitar you could afford.

Good luck with your guitar search!

Have you decided on your first guitar? Let me know in the comments below which one you chose, or if you’re a seasoned player, what was your first guitar?

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7 Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners (Under $200) https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-under-200/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-under-200/#comments Mon, 02 Apr 2018 19:28:04 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30744 The post 7 Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners (Under $200) appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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Congratulations on your decision to learn how to play the acoustic guitar!

As a guitar player for many years, I know that playing the guitar will provide you with many years of enjoyment.

Now that you’ve decided to learn how to play, your first step is to choose the right instrument.

While acoustic guitars can run from $50 up to many thousands of dollars, finding a quality instrument for a beginner isn’t difficult. It just takes a little knowledge of what to look for, which you’re going to learn here.

First off, instruments under $100 are usually not worth the money.  It’s difficult for a manufacturer to make a quality guitar under $100 without using inferior woods and less than ideal construction materials.

So, it won’t do you any good to bargain shop the cheapest instrument because a guitar that’s poorly made and not setup correctly will frustrate any effort you make to practice and learn.

Instead, what you want to do is find a quality guitar at an affordable price that won’t work against you when you’re just starting to play.

The good news is that a good sounding acoustic guitar doesn’t have to be expensive either. You can find quite a few nice-sounding guitars in the $100 to $200 price range with quality wood, parts, materials, and construction, and a finish that won’t wear unevenly over time.

You’ll get tuners that will stay in tune without slipping so you can spend more time playing than trying to keep the guitar in tune.

Just know that you won’t find a good quality electric-acoustic guitar (with a built-in pickup) at this price point, but you can add a pickup later at a very affordable price.

To help you on your guitar journey, I’ve put together reviews of the seven best acoustic guitars for beginners under $200 that fulfill all the above criteria.   Here’s the list:

Review Criteria

All acoustic guitars included in my reviews were selected based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community and from personal use and knowledge.

I’ve also added my insights gained from my 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, plus working with dozens of composers and thousands of tracks for my Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution.

But before we get to the reviews of the guitars, let’s start with a short guide on what to look for when choosing an acoustic guitar.

For a more detailed guide, please check out my Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide.

How To Choose An Acoustic Guitar

There are three main things to consider when choosing an acoustic guitar:

  • Body Style & Size
  • Sound Quality & Woods
  • Playability

Body Style & Size

Acoustic guitars come in a variety of body styles and sizes.  The most common styles are Concert, Auditorium, Dreadnought, and Jumbo. These are all full-size guitars.

Concert guitars are mid-size acoustic guitars known for their bright, punchy sound.  They are perfect for players with small hands and are comfortable to play for almost all players.

Concert size acoustic guitar

Auditorium guitars are also mid-sized guitars but are a little larger than concerts. Auditoriums are also louder that concerts and usually have well-balanced tone between the lows, mids, and highs.

Auditorium style acoustic guitar

Dreadnought guitars are the most popular type of acoustic guitars.  They have a larger soundboard than concerts or auditoriums, so they are louder and project very well.  They are suitable for all styles of music.

dreadnaught style acoustic guitar

Jumbo guitars are the largest guitar models and produce a big full sound.  But unless you have very large hands, you will likely find a jumbo guitar too large to play comfortably.

Jumbo acoustic guitar

3/4 size guitars are just that – ¾ of the size of full-size acoustic guitars.  These guitars are perfect for children and those with small hands.

Comfort Matters!

When choosing an acoustic guitar, be sure to look for one that is comfortable for you to play.  Even if you plan to purchase an acoustic guitar online to get the best price, go to your local music store to try out a few guitars.  You want to get an idea of what body style and size is most comfortable for you.

Necks come in different widths as well, so holding the guitar is crucial to deciding the style that fits you best. If you can comfortably get your hand around the neck and the strings aren’t spaced too close together for your fingers, then you’ve probably found the right size.

Sound Quality & Woods

Once you’ve determined the size of the guitar, next up is its sound quality.  You want a guitar that has a warm, full, well-balanced tone.

Check out a variety of guitars in a music store. Have someone play different guitars while you listen a few feet in front of the guitar.  Note the overall sound quality.  Does it sound full and well-balanced?  Or is its tone tubby and muddy?

What makes one guitar sound better than another comes down to the woods and other materials used in the guitar, its design and construction, and the quality of its components like tuning gears, frets, bridge, etc.

The types of woods used are a significant component of the guitar’s tone and overall sound, with the wood used for the guitar’s top being the most important.  You can read more about the different kinds of woods used in acoustic guitars here.

Guitars in the $100 to $200 range are usually constructed of laminate top woods – thin pieces of inexpensive wood glued together.  There is nothing wrong with laminate wood, especially at this price point, but know that solid wood tends to give a richer and more balanced tone and evolve in tonal complexity as the wood matures and ages.

Some of the guitars I review below have solid wood tops, which makes them stand out from the crowd!

Playability

If the guitar is not setup correctly it will be difficult to play, and you may end up losing interest in playing the guitar.

Unfortunately, inexpensive guitars frequently come from the factory not setup properly.  But the good news is that getting the guitar setup is not difficult.  If you’re handy, you can do it yourself or can have it done inexpensively by any reputable guitar shop.

The two most important things to look for are the guitar’s action and intonation.

Action

The guitar’s action refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard.

If there’s a very large gap between the strings and fretboard,  then the action is set too high.  You won’t be able to play notes or chords easily without having to press down very hard.

It’s normal for your fingers to be a little sore in the beginning, but if the action is too high, the guitar will be challenging to play.

If the action is set too low, then you’ll hear buzzes when playing notes.  A tiny bit of buzz on strings can be OK, but loud buzzes or “dead” notes indicate issues that need to be investigated by a guitar tech.

To check the action, start by playing different notes up and down the neck.

There should not be any loud buzzing on frets which indicates that the action is set too low.  Buzzes can also point to issues with a bowed or warped neck and should be investigated by a guitar tech.

The good news is that if you find a guitar you like, but the action is not setup correctly, it can usually be easily adjusted by a guitar tech.

The Quarter Test

Here’s another quick test: Slide a quarter under the high E string at the 12th fret.  The quarter should be snug and not fall out.

Then slide it under the low E string at the 12th fret.  The quarter should be snug but able to move a little bit.

If the quarter falls out freely, then the action needs to be adjusted.

Intonation

The second thing to consider is intonation. Intonation is the guitar’s ability to remain in tune up and down the fretboard.

A quick way to check intonation is to play an open E major chord and then play an E major barre chord at the 12th fret. All six notes of the chord should sound in tune.

If it doesn’t, this indicates a warped or bowed neck, which is usually fixable by adjusting the truss rod.

OK, let’s move on to the review of the best acoustic guitars from $100 to $200!

Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners (Under $200) Reviews

The first guitar on the list is the Fender FA-100.  While Fender is most widely known as the manufacturer of the famous Stratocaster and Telecaster electric guitars, it’s also a leading maker of acoustic guitars.

The FA-100 is a full-sized dreadnought acoustic guitar that’s a top pick for those looking for a great beginner instrument.

The guitar features a beautiful blonde color top wood with darker sides and back, and a classic black pickguard. It’s also available in all black.

Construction

The top wood is a spruce laminate, which is a typical wood for lower cost acoustics.

The body is made of basswood, and the fretboard is rosewood. The fretboard has silver frets and mother of pearl-like fret markers. The neck features the distinctive Fender headstock shape.

The FA-100’s X-bracing gives stability to the guitar in withstanding the tension produced by the strings. The neck includes a truss rod for minor adjustments for buzzing or intonation, and it comes with a wrench designed for these adjustments.

The FA-100 has quality die-cast chrome sealed tuners that are quite good for a guitar in this price range.  Users find that it holds its tune very well.

Playability

Uncommon for inexpensive guitars, the FA-100 comes set up nicely and ready to play out of the box.

The action is set at a good height, and most users find no issues with intonation.  As I mentioned earlier, lower-end guitars frequently have very high action that makes them difficult to play.

How Does It Sound?

The FA-100 probably won’t win any accolades for being a fantastic sounding guitar, but in this price range it’s a very nice sounding guitar. It delivers the bright, clear sound associated with Fender guitars.

The video below is a short demo of the guitar. Its tone is a little thin, but overall it’s pretty good for a beginner guitar in this price range.

Fender FA-100 Acoustic Guitar

Overall:

Overall, the Fender FA-100 is an excellent guitar for anyone just starting out.  Many users find that it’s one of their favorite instruments, even if they own other more expensive guitars.

It’s set up well right out of the box and is easy to play.  While its tone and sound won’t win any awards, it’s a solid choice for beginners.

The FA-100 comes with Fender’s limited lifetime warranty.

PROS

  • Nice sounding entry-level Fender product
  • Excellent value package available with gig bag, strings, tuner, strap, picks and instructional DVD
  • Fender limited lifetime warranty
S

CONS

  • Sound quality is good, not great
  • Some users found issues with defective bridge saddles but this has not been a widespread complaint

Fender FA-100 Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

The Fender FA-125 is the FA-100’s newer sibling.  It’s a very affordable dreadnought acoustic that’s another top pick for beginners.  It’s also become very popular for guitarists who want a “beater” guitar to just have lying around the house.

It features a laminate spruce top and laminated basswood back and sides.

The guitar has a “C” shaped nato neck with a rosewood fingerboard. C shaped necks are contoured to fit your hand better and offer easy playability.

One cool visual touch is the Viking styled bridge.  And its natural wood comes with a gloss finish, making this a very appealing guitar.

How Does It Sound?

The following demo demonstrates the FA-125’s nice tone. It’s clear and bright, and a step above the FA-100’s tone. The bottom end is a little light, but that’s to be expected in a guitar in this price range.

Fender FA-125 Acoustic Guitar

Overall:

For the same price as the FA-100 bundle, you can get the FA-125 with a gig bag.  The FA-125 sounds quite a bit better but you won’t get the tuner, strap, strings, and other accessories.

Personally, I would opt for the better-sounding FA-125 and add the accessories later.

The FA-125 comes with Fender’s limited lifetime warranty.

PROS

  • Very good sound quality for a guitar in this price range
  • Comes with a gig bag
  • Fender limited lifetime warranty
S

CONS

  • Newer guitar does not have many reviews yet

Fender FA-125 Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds

First introduced in 1966, the Yamaha FG series of guitars have been a resounding success. The FG series includes the best-selling acoustic guitar of all time, the FG-700S (sadly, now discontinued).  With over 30 different models available in the FG series, there’s a guitar for every player level and price point.

This review is going to focus on the very affordable FG800 and FS800 models which were introduced in 2016.  They are the successors to the FG-700S.

The two models are virtually identical except that the FS800 is a smaller concert size version of the larger dreadnaught FG800.  I’ll review the FG800 but the same info applies to the FS800.

Construction

Unusual for a low-priced guitar, the FG800 features a solid wood Sitka spruce top.  It also features lightweight nato (Eastern mahogany) back & sides and a rosewood fretboard and bridge.

The neck is also made of nato and has a satin finish to provide smooth playability.

The FG800 includes Yamaha’s newly developed scalloped bracing utilizing their latest cutting-edge acoustic analysis technology. The result is a loud, punchy sound with strong mids and lows that project well.

The guitar also features Yamaha’s trademark ultra-thin glossy finish that protects the wood without interfering with the string vibrations.  The result is brighter more vibrant tone.

The tuners are quality die-cast tuners that are found on all of the FG series guitars, and the pickguard has a classic tortoise pattern.

Playability

The FG800 comes well set up from the factory.  Overall, the action, intonation, and playability are very good which is a major plus for an entry-level guitar.

How Does It Sound?

The FG800 delivers a warm, well-balanced tone that’s surprising for a guitar that retails for less than $200.

Yamaha FG800 Acoustic Guitar

Overall

For more than 50 years, the Yamaha FG series acoustic guitars have been mainstays for guitarists all over the world.  The new FG800 and FS800 models live up to their heritage with solid construction and expressive tone for a very low price.

Plus, the FG800 is available in 11 different colors and wood choices that include flamed maple, nato, mahogany, and rosewood. (But some of these options will push the price above the $200 point).

PROS

  • Solid wood top
  • Unique Yamaha-developed bracing for natural sound
  • Different colors and woods are available
S

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Yamaha FG800 Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Though not as widely known as other guitar makers, Epiphone has been making musical instruments since 1873.

Epiphone guitars have been a part of the history of blues, jazz, R&B, and rock since the early 1920s.  They are especially known for their iconic archtop guitars.

As part of its storied history Les Paul, guitar legend and inventor of the famed Gibson Les Paul guitar, learned his craft by working in an Epiphone factory in New York City.

Epiphone was purchased by Gibson in the 1950s but continues to produce its products in its own factories here in the U.S.

Epiphone DR-100 Acoustic Guitar

The DR-100 is Epiphone’s best-selling acoustic guitar. It’s a full-size dreadnought acoustic that has found a home with beginners and professional players alike.  Over the years it has become a go-to guitar for rock, folk, bluegrass and other styles.

The guitar is available with a few different finishes/colors –  vintage starburst, natural blonde wood, and black.

Construction

Part of the reason the DR-100 sounds so good it that it features a solid wood spruce top.  It also has a mahogany body and rosewood fingerboard.

The neck is made of okoume, an African hardwood similar in tone to mahogany.  It’s designed with Epiphone’s famed SlimTaper profile for smooth playing as you move up and down the neck.  The neck also features pearloid dot fret markers.

Other visual features are the classic Epiphone style headstock and the vintage black pickguard with a stylized E printed in white.

The DR-100 features quality premium nickel tuners that hold each string’s tuning well without slippage.

Playability

The DR-100 comes out of the box with good action and accurate intonation.  It’s a nice guitar to play!

How Does It Sound?

Many users complain that $100 guitars sound tinny and boxy.  However, the DR-100 sounds like a guitar that costs 2-3x its price.

For an under $200 guitar, this guitar delivers a nice tone with clarity and depth.  It has a rich mid-range tone that will get better with age and the more it’s played.

Epiphone DR-100 Acoustic Guitar

I like the tone of the Fender DR-100 and DR-125 guitars better than the DR-100, but they are more expensive guitars.

Overall

Epiphone’s DR-100 dreadnought is a great entry-level guitar that has received many 5-star reviews for its sound and playability.  This guitar is hard to beat if you are looking for a guitar that retails around $125!

PROS

  • Solid wood spruce top
  • The tone is well-balanced and projects nicely with good volume
S

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Epiphone DR-100 Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

 

Jasmine is a lesser-known guitar maker, but they produce quality instruments that have found homes with both amateur and professional musicians alike.

The Jasmine S35 is an entry-level dreadnought style guitar that has received many 5-star reviews not only for its construction but its sound.  Priced well under $100, it is an exceptional value.

Construction

The S35 has a laminate spruce top supported by Jasmine’s trademark Advanced X-bracing.  Jasmine claims their bracing technique not only strengthens the guitar’s construction but markedly improves its sound quality.

The back and sides are made of lightweight agathis wood (similar in sound to mahogany) which reduces weight without sacrificing sound quality.

The neck is made of nato wood.  Its slim tapered design makes it a more comfortable choice for beginners and players of smaller stature. The fretboard is made of rosewood.

The headstock is the traditional Jasmine curved shape with chrome overlay tuners.

The S35 does have two strap pegs, but the upper peg us actually under the neck instead of above. This arrangement may seem strange at first, but it does offer good positioning once you get used to it.

The guitar comes with a natural satin finish that protects the guitar without coming off as too shiny.   One benefit of a satin finish is that it won’t show dings and scratches as much as high gloss finishes.

Playability

Some users have noted that their S35 came with pretty high action. But for around $20-$30, you can have it set up correctly at a guitar store. With a proper setup, the guitar has the potential to play like a much more expensive guitar.

How Does It Sound?

Being a dreadnought, the guitar produces a full sound that’s won many admirers. For a $100 guitar, it has surprisingly nice tone.

Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The S35 makes a great entry-level instrument or an “around the house” guitar that delivers much more value than the $100 price tag.

AND, there are three things you can do to make this guitar a real winner!

First, have a guitar tech set up the guitar’s action and intonation.

Second, replace the strings it comes with a set of high-quality strings like the Elixir Nanoweb HD Light or Martin SP Lifespan strings.

Third, replace the saddle with a compensated TUSQ saddle that will greatly improve the guitar’s tone and projection.  You can get this done in any guitar store quite inexpensively.

If you don’t mind spending a little more after buying the guitar for a professional setup, new saddle, and new strings, you will find your guitar sounds and plays like a much more expensive guitar.  Highly recommended at under $100, or around $175 with the setup, new saddle, and new strings.

PROS

  • Nice tone and quality for the price
  • Potential to be a really nice guitar with a little work
S

CONS

  • Factory setup may be less than ideal so adjustments may be necessary
  • Included strings are not the best quality and should be replaced

Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center (bundle)

 

Ibanez is a well-known maker of musical instruments and accessories for more than 100 years.  Though they are better known for their electric guitars and basses, they also produce a well-regarded line of acoustic guitars.

The JV50 is an entry-level dreadnought acoustic guitar that comes packaged into an IJV50 Jampack bundle.   The IJV50 Jampack is designed for beginning players who want a complete package of everything they need – the JV50 guitar, chromatic clip-on tuner, gig bag, strap, and accessories pouch – all at a very affordable price.

Construction

 The JV50 guitar comes with a spruce laminate top wood, agathis back and sides, and a rosewood fretboard.

Ibanez includes their proprietary Advantage™ bridge pins which make changing strings easier and faster.

The JV50 has a natural high gloss finish on the body that looks great while protecting the wood from minor dings and scratches.

Playability

The guitar comes from the factory with the action set correctly.  The tuners are good quality and hold tuning well, something a beginner should not be worrying about when just starting to learn how to play.

How Does It Sound?

The JV50 has a well-balanced tone, though a little thin on the bass.  It’s another guitar in this price range that sounds surprisingly good!

Ibanez JV50 Acoustic Guitar/ IJV50 Jampack

Checking dozens of reviews, most purchasers are very pleased with this guitar.  Spruce ages well and the tone of the guitar should evolve nicely as it ages.

Overall

The IJV50 Jampack is a perfect package for anyone who wants to learn guitar, or even for more experienced players who want a good sounding guitar to just jam on around the house.  The Jampack includes the nice-sounding JV50 guitar plus a chromatic clip-on tuner, gig bag, strap, and accessories pouch.   It’s an excellent package at a very affordable price.   That’s hard to beat!

PROS

  • Nice-sounding guitar for the money
  • Jampack includes essential items making this an excellent value for beginners
S

CONS

  • The extras included in the Jampack are basic and do the job, but you may want to upgrade to higher quality items later, especially the tuner

Ibanez IJV50 Jampack

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center | Zzounds

Washburn has been making guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles going back to the late 1800s.   They are known for quality instruments that have played a part in the history of music over the last 130 years!

Washburn’s Harvest series guitars are made in the USA which gives them a higher level of craftsmanship.

The WG7S is a full-size grand auditorium style guitar with a larger lower body (bout) than a dreadnought guitar.  As a larger guitar, it produces a warm, full tone with plenty of bottom end, something not usually found in under $200 guitars.

Construction

The WG7S has a solid-wood spruce top which is a step above a laminate top.  Spruce is a preferred wood for guitar tops as it allows the sound of the guitar to evolve as the wood ages naturally.

The internal bracing is quartersawn scalloped Sitka spruce. The bracing supports the guitar’s structure while enhancing its tonal qualities.

The back and sides are mahogany, and the 20-fret fretboard and bridge are rosewood.

On the visual side, it’s a very attractive guitar with its custom wood inlay rosette and wood edge bindings.

How Does It Sound?

The WD7S has a tonal quality similar to a Martin but at a fraction of the price.

It projects very well but when played softly mellows out and has a nice warm tone.

Washburn Harvest Series WG7S Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Washburn WD7S is made in America, making it one of the few under $200 guitars not outsourced to other countries to save on costs.

Overall, it’s an excellent choice from the iconic Washburn brand that produces quality acoustic guitars without sacrificing some of the features of higher end guitars such as solid wood tops and inlay work.

It’s also available as an electric-acoustic (with a built-in pickup) for a little more money, but still under $200.  That’s a bargain for this guitar!

PROS

  • Nice tone and projection
  • Solid spruce top wood
  • Made in the USA
S

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Washburn Harvest Series WG7S Acoustic Guitar

Check Price:
Amazon

 

Final Thoughts

All the guitars I’ve reviewed are perfect for beginners and are an excellent value for the money.  The guitars all have nice tone and are easy to play.

Quality guitars like these top picks will encourage your efforts to practice and learn the instrument.  I highly recommend getting the best guitar you can within your budget, even if you have to stretch it to the top of your range.  It’s worth it!

Happy guitar playing!

Have you decided on your first guitar? Let me know in the comments below which one you chose, or if you’re a seasoned player, what was your first guitar?

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Choosing a new acoustic guitar, whether you’re a beginner or experienced player, is an adventure that can be both exciting and stressful. Why?  Because once you start to check out potential guitars you’re faced with many different sizes, shapes, styles, wood types, and more to choose from. 

How do you know what’s good and not so good?

To help you on your journey, I’ve written this Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide to help you navigate and understand all the different options available to you. No matter your budget, you’ll learn the ins and outs of acoustic guitars so you can confidently purchase the best guitar for you. 

The acoustic guitar is one of the most popular and versatile instruments for both amateur and professional musicians. It’s fun to play, and it’s pretty easy to learn the basics and start playing quickly.  Properly taken care of, an acoustic guitar can last a lifetime.

Choosing a new acoustic guitar can be fun and exciting, but it can also be quite overwhelming.  There are dozens of makes and models to choose from, lots of body styles, many different wood types, and a wide range of prices.

There’s a lot of options to consider, as every facet of the acoustic guitar affects its sound and tone, including its size, type, materials, style, and strings.

So, I’ve written this buyer’s guide to help make your decision a lot easier.  A little knowledge goes a long way in the world of guitars!  In fact, I learned quite a lot writing this article, and I’ve been playing guitar for over 40 years!  Some of which I wish I knew when I bought my last guitar!

For Both Beginners & Experienced Players

If you’re reading this, you probably fall into one of two camps:

  • You’re a beginner looking to buy your first guitar
  • You’re a more experienced player looking to upgrade to a better instrument

No matter if you’re a beginner or a more experienced player, many things go into choosing a guitar that’s right for you and fits your budget.

For beginners, a quality guitar helps the learning process immensely as it makes the whole process faster and more enjoyable. And for more experienced players, a new guitar can help you move to the next level.

Let’s get started!

Acoustic Guitar Overview

An acoustic guitar is a hollow-bodied instrument usually constructed out of wood (though there are some instruments made of glass, bamboo, fiberglass, carbon, plastic, or metal) and played with a pick or with the fingers.

Regular acoustic guitars have six strings. The standard tuning, from low to high string, is E A D G B and E.

Other tunings, such as dropped D or open G, are popular in many modern styles of playing.

Three Types Of Acoustic Guitars

The three main types of acoustic guitars are flat-top guitars, archtop guitars, and 12-string guitars.

Flat-top guitars are the most common type of acoustic guitars.  They get their name from having a flat top or soundboard.  Flat-tops are used in just about every style of music.

flat-top acoustic guitar

Archtop guitars have an arched top rather than a flat top.  Archtops come in acoustic, semi-acoustic, and electric versions. They are favored by rockabilly, blues, and jazz guitarists.

arch-top acoustic guitar

The characteristic look of an archtop guitar comes from its F-holes – the curved treble clef-shaped openings on either side of the guitar’s body.  F-holes replace the normal round soundhole found on flat-top guitars.

12-string acoustic guitars have 12 strings grouped in pairs that are tuned to the same notes as a regular acoustic guitar.  The difference is that the two highest strings (E, B) are tuned in unison, while the four lower strings (G, D, A, and E) are tuned in octaves.

A 12-string produces a full sound that’s most often used for strummed parts, not leads. They are very popular for pop, country, and rock styles.

The main drawback of 12-string guitars is that they can be challenging to play, especially if they are not setup correctly.  It can take quite a bit of strength to play barre chords on a 12-string, and tuning a 12-string can be a time-consuming task.

So, if you’re a beginner, don’t start with a 12-string.  Learn on a six-string and move to a 12-string later.

Steel String vs. Nylon String Guitars

It’s very common to label all non-electric guitars as acoustic guitars but there are actually two types that are quite different.

Only guitars strung with steel strings are true acoustic guitars.  Steel string acoustic guitars are by far the most popular guitars used in folk, acoustic, country, pop, and rock styles.

Nylon strings guitars are much softer in tone and volume and are a traditional choice for classical guitar as well as specialized music styles such as flamenco.

You may have heard that if you’re a beginner, you should to start with a nylon string guitar because it’s easier on your fingers, but this isn’t true.

The type of guitar you choose should depend on what kind of music you like to play.

If you are buying a guitar to learn classical guitar, then a nylon string classical guitar will be your choice. If you want to play country, pop, or rock music, a steel string guitar should be your choice. Let your music preferences decide.

NOTE: Keep in mind that strings types are not interchangeable on guitars. Steel string guitars are set up to withstand the higher tension of steel strings, while nylon string guitars are constructed to handle less string tension. Putting steel strings on a nylon string guitar will damage it, so never use steel strings on a classical guitar!

Acoustic Guitar Construction And Design

Let’s take a look at how an acoustic guitar is constructed.  Here is a handy diagram for reference:

Acoustic Guitar Anatomy Diagram

The Neck

The neck of the guitar is attached to the body of the guitar. The neck is curved in the back to fit your hand and to make it easy to move up and down the neck as you play.

Most acoustic guitars are constructed with a set neck, meaning the neck is glued to the body.  A bolt-on neck, where the neck is attached with bolts, is commonly found on electric guitars and less often on acoustic guitars.

A truss rod runs down the inside of the neck and keeps it from bending or bowing from the constant tension of the strings.  The truss rod can be adjusted to fix buzzing or intonation issues with the neck.  The truss rod is accessible either from the inside of the guitar’s body or in front of the nut.

On top of the neck is the fretboard, sometimes called the fingerboard. Most fretboards are separate pieces of wood that are glued to the neck.

The fretboard is divided by metal frets that mark off the notes on the guitar.  Most guitars will have fret markers on the 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets.  These markers are quick visual guides for the player to know where they are on the neck while playing.

At the end of the neck is the headstock. The headstock holds the tuning keys, which are also called tuners, tuning pegs, or machine heads. These adjust the tension of each string so you can tune the guitar.

The headstock is attached to the neck at the nut, which is a small strip of plastic, bone, metal, or graphite with grooved slots that keeps each string in place.

As the string pass through the nut, they travel down the length of the neck and end at the saddle and bridge on the lower part of the guitar’s body.

The bridge has the critical function of supporting the strings and transmitting the string’s vibrations to the guitar’s soundboard or top of the guitar.  Each string fits into a hole in the bridge and is held in place by bridge pins that are removable when you change strings.

The saddle is a thin grooved strip of material placed on top of the bridge.  It holds the strings in the correct alignment along the neck.

Want To Improve Your Guitar’s Sound? Upgrade The Bridge Saddle and Nut

The saddle and nut may seem like inconsequential items in a guitar’s construction.

But as the string’s vibrations pass through both parts, they have a noticeable effect on the guitar’s tone. Having a high-quality saddle and nut makes the guitar respond better which in turn improves its sound.

The saddle, in particular, is important to the sound of the guitar because it transmits the string’s vibrations directly to the guitar’s top.

Many inexpensive guitars use low-end plastic for the saddle and nut.  So, an easy way to make an inexpensive guitar sound better is to upgrade the nut and saddle.

Upgrading the nut to bone creates better conductivity which creates more sustain and better tone.

Changing the saddle to one made of compensated Graph Tech TUSQ material will improve an instrument’s tone, harmonics, and playability by correctly setting each string’s intonation.

The following document is an interesting read for those who want to learn more about acoustic guitar tone and acoustics:

The Acoustics of the Guitar: The Science Behind Acoustic Guitar Tone

Finally, upgrading the bridge pins (which hold the strings) from plastic to metal can make an audible difference in the sound.

The best part is that these upgrades are quite inexpensive and you’ll get a huge return on your investment!

The Body

The body of the guitar provides amplification for the string’s vibrations. The top or soundboard, which also includes the soundhole, lies directly under the strings. Decorative patterns around the soundhole are called the rosette.

The sides and back of the body, together with the top or soundboard, form the chamber. The lower portion of the body is the bout, while the curves in the middle are known as the waist.

Most acoustic guitars feature a pickguard, usually made of plastic, that protects the top from damage when playing with a pick or plectrum.

Inside the Guitar

The wood used in the construction of the guitar’s top, sides, and back is very thin so it can effectively amplify the guitar’s sound. For the guitar to withstand the constant high tension of the strings, the guitar’s body has to be constructed with braces that provide support for the thin top.

All acoustic guitars have a bracing system that provides structural integrity to the guitar.  The bracing also affects how the guitar sounds, as it helps control the sound vibrations.  Without bracing to focus the sound vibrations, the guitar would sound terrible!

X-Bracing and Ladder Bracing

The two most common types of bracing are X-bracing and ladder bracing.

X-Bracing is the most common bracing method used for acoustic guitars.  Developed by Martin Guitars almost 100 years ago, it consists of two braces in an X pattern.  Most guitars built today use x-bracing for the top and sides of the guitar.

Ladder bracing is an older method that uses a series of horizontal braces that run from one side of the guitar to the other.

In modern guitars, ladder bracing is used to support the back of the guitar.  This method is used for strength only, not for tone.

Many older guitars used ladder bracing on their tops.  However, as this is not as structurally sound as x-bracing, it’s not uncommon to find structural issues in older guitars.

The flip side is that ladder braced guitars can have a nice “vintage” sound due to how the bracing affects the guitar’s tone.

Acoustic Guitar Body Styles and Sizes

When choosing an acoustic guitar, it’s important to consider its body style and size.

The body size impacts the guitar’s sound, so there are quite a few differences in sound quality and tone to each type of guitar.

Smaller bodies tend to be more balanced. A thinner body may project less but sound warmer and more intimate.

Shallower bodies may have a lighter warmer sound but are often more comfortable to play.

Bigger bodies such as dreadnoughts are typically louder and have a deeper, more resonant sound.  The flipside is that they can be uncomfortable for some people to play.

Try to play as many sizes as you can with comfort and sound quality in mind. There is no right answer; what feels and sounds good to you is what is important.

Acoustic Guitar Body Styles

Acoustic guitars are available in concert, auditorium, dreadnought, jumbo, and cutaway styles.

These styles are all full-size guitars.  Guitars also come as smaller than full-size models.  Let’s start by taking a look at these different full-size body styles.

Concert and Grand Concert Guitars

Concert size acoustic guitar
Concert and Grand Concert guitars are among the most common styles of acoustic guitars.

The Concert is a medium size guitar with a bright, well-balanced tone that is equally at home with strumming and fingerpicking styles.  It is sometimes called a “model 0” guitar.

Concerts are very comfortable to play for younger or smaller bodied players.

Despite its name, the Grand Concert is just a little larger than the Concert. It produces a slightly deeper sound without sacrificing playability and is also a good choice for younger players or those with smaller hands. It’s also a guitar of choice for fingerpicking styles.

Auditorium and Grand Auditorium Guitars

Auditorium style acoustic guitar

Auditorium guitars are also medium-sized guitars.  Auditoriums also tend to have a warm, balanced tone that is great for both fingerpicking and strumming.  Their size offers more projection than the concert, but the deeper waist allows for a comfortable fit on laps of smaller players.

The Grand Auditorium is about an inch larger than the Auditorium and has a powerful yet balanced dynamic sound with excellent projection.   

Dreadnought Guitars

dreadnaught style acoustic guitar

The word “dreadnought,” from a term describing a class of British WW1 battleships, was used for guitars initially produced by C.F. Martin in the early 1900s.  Dreadnoughts produced at the time were quite a bit larger than regular sized guitars, hence the name.

Dreadnoughts today are a very popular style.  They typically produce a big bold sound.

Dreadnoughts are the same width and depth as Auditorium guitars, but they are boxier with more shallow waists. They have a large soundboard with a full lower end. Dreadnaughts are a favorite for just about all styles of music, especially for singer/songwriters.

Jumbo Guitars

Jumbo acoustic guitar

Jumbo acoustic guitars are the largest of the acoustics. They produce a rich, very resonant tone that projects well.

While jumbos have a rich sound, they may be uncomfortable for some players to play due to their large body size.

Travel Acoustic Guitars

Travel acoustic guitar

Travel acoustic guitars are designed for traveling and thus are lightweight and easy to carry. A few models can even be folded up.

Travel guitars have a standard but thinner fretboard but much smaller bodies. The downside is that these guitars don’t project as well as regular acoustics, and the sound tends to be thin.

Less Than Full-Size Guitars

Less than full-size guitars come in 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 size bodies.

1/4 and 1/2 size guitars have a short scale neck and are intended for very young children. Their small size allows a child to reach comfortably around the body for strumming and to hold the neck easily.  There are enough frets to learn basic chords and scales without it being too long to make playing difficult.

While many of these small acoustic guitars are really just toys, there are some guitars like the Taylor GS Mini that are good quality instruments.

Here is the approximate age range appropriate for each less than full-size guitar size:

  • 1/4 size – for children 3-6 years old
  • 1/2 size – for children 5-8 years old
  • 3/4 size – for children 7-11 years old
  • Full size – for children 10+ years old

12-Fret or 14-Fret Sizes

Guitar manufacturer will frequently refer to their guitars as 12-fret or 14-fret.  This doesn’t refer to the total number of frets on the guitar’s fingerboard, but to the number of frets before the neck joins the body.

Cutaway Guitars

Cutaway guitars feature a cutout in the guitar’s body to allow for easy access to the upper frets. They are a favorite of guitarists who like to play leads, solos, or more advanced musical styles.

Cutaway acoustic guitar

Not all acoustic guitars have cutaways, so consider if a cutaway is a consideration for you or not.

Types Of Woods Used (Tonewoods)

An acoustic guitar’s sound and tone is primarily the result of the woods used in its construction.  For example, mahogany gives guitars a rich tone, while Sitka spruce offers a well-balanced sound.

The wood used for the top has the most impact on the guitar’s sound.

Most acoustic guitars are constructed of at least two different types of wood. One type of wood may be used for the top or soundboard, a different wood for the body and sides, and yet another for the neck and fretboard.

It is the guitar luthier’s (manufacturer’s) job to pick the right wood to produce a quality guitar; different woods are chosen carefully to highlight the fundamentals and overtones that create a great-sounding guitar.

Solid Tops Vs. Laminate Wood Tops

Depending on the guitar’s price point, the top, sides, and back of the guitar may be constructed of either solid or laminate wood.

A solid top is made with solid pieces of real wood.  Most tops are made from one piece of wood split into two halves that are matched in the middle.  The wood is chosen for both its sound and visual beauty.

Solid woods tend to have a more detailed and complex sound than laminate woods, especially for the guitar’s top.  Solid wood also tends to mature with age adding a richness to the guitar’s sound that you usually won’t get with laminate tops.

Better quality (and more expensive) instruments will usually have solid tops.

A laminate top is made of several layers of inexpensive wood pressed together.

Very cheap guitars will use a type of pressed plywood that results in poor tone.  This is another reason to avoid guitars priced under $100; manufacturers can’t make a guitar with quality wood at this price point.

Laminate top guitars may not have the same desirable sound characteristics as solid top guitars, but make up for it with a lower price tag and good overall sound.

That said, there are some very nice guitars made with laminate wood, so don’t avoid a guitar just because of this.

Also, laminate tops can be finished to look like more expensive woods and provide a visually attractive guitar at a much lower cost.

Wood Types

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of different woods.

Spruce is the most common wood used for guitar soundboards or tops. It’s a tough, durable, and lightweight wood that produces a well-balanced sound.

The tone of a spruce top guitar tends to improve with age as the wood matures. This is why vintage guitars can have such a warm, beautiful tone; the tone developed slowly over the years.

Sitka spruce is the #1 choice for guitar tops by many American guitar manufacturers. Sitka spruce is strong and light and provides a complex tone with lots of harmonic content that shines for both strumming and fingerpicking styles of playing.  It also ages beautifully, making a good instrument sound even better over time.

Adirondack spruce is also valued for its tone, but unfortunately, over-harvesting has limited its availability for new instruments.

There’s also Lutz spruce, often found in Taylor guitars, and Engelmann spruce, a very light wood that produces a beautiful airy sound.  Englemann spruce is usually found in very high-quality (and very expensive!) guitars.

Rosewood is a favorite choice for wood for the back, side, and neck of a guitar.

Rosewood produces rich, warm tones with good projection.  Brazilian Rosewood, prized for its tone, has become endangered by overharvesting, so today many new guitars feature Indian rosewood.

Mahogany is frequently used for necks and bridges.  It’s a dense hardwood that produces a balanced tone with deep lows and warm highs, characterized by quick response and plenty of volume.  The highly acclaimed Martin D-15, for example, is an all-mahogany acoustic guitar.

Walnut is a dense wood often used in guitar tops and produces a tone in-between mahogany and rosewood.  It’s characterized by a bright top end and a well-defined midrange.  Walnut’s tone becomes richer over time as the wood ages.

Maple is often used for sides, backs, and necks because of its transparent tone as well as its eye-catching grain. It’s an excellent choice for players who frequently perform live because it produces a bright sound that cuts through other instruments.

Cedar is a soft wood that delivers a mellower tone than spruce or rosewood. It’s frequently used on the sides and back of acoustic guitars. It is a favorite for players with a light, soft touch.

Finishes

A guitar’s finish is more than just for looks; it also protects the wood and affects the wood’s tone and sound quality.

Two factors that influence a guitar’s tone are the amount of finish used and the condition of the finish.

Too much finish clogs the woods fibers. Low-quality synthetic compounds change the wood’s structure in ways that may adversely affect the tone.

The right amount of all-natural finish allows the wood to breathe and vibrate freely, giving the guitar a better overall sound.

While dings and scratches might not change the instrument’s tone, they will affect its look.

Laquer is a classic guitar finish that is long-lasting.  It creates a shiny high-gloss look and is easy to clean. The downside is that it reflects dings and nicks.

Shellac is another durable finish that produces a seal against wood damage and resists scratches. It has a shiny finish that is common for solid wood guitars.

Varnish produces a look that enhances the natural grain of the wood and a less glossy finish. It doesn’t reflect scratches and dings, but it isn’t as durable as other types of finishes.

How To Choose A Guitar That’s Right For You

Now that we’ve got the basics of guitar types, construction, and woods out of the way, let’s move on to how to choose a guitar that best fits your intended use and budget.

What’s Your Playing Style?

There are two basic playing styles for acoustic guitar: fingerpicking and playing with a guitar pick.

Many beginners start out with playing with a pick because it’s easier to learn.

Most players strum with a pick, though some use their thumb, fingernails, or specialized fingerpicks that fit on each finger to give out a brighter, louder sound.

How do you play (or plan to play) the guitar?

Acoustic vs. Electric-Acoustic Guitars (With A Built-In Pickup)

Traditional acoustic guitars are played acoustically without any amplification.  These guitars have no amplification system other than the natural projection from the guitar’s body.

If you want to record your performances or play the guitar for a large room, you need to either use a microphone or use a pickup that would be purchased separately and installed in the guitar.

Electric-acoustic guitars, however, come with a built-in pickup and electronics from the factory.

With an electric-acoustic, you can plug your guitar directly into a PA, amp, or recording device.   Most offer EQ (equalization) and volume controls on the side of the guitar to adjust the sound.  Some models have built-in tuners.

Which One Should You Choose? 

If you plan to play onstage, then an electric-acoustic should be your focus.

For recording, both a traditional or electric-acoustic guitar works well.

BUT, know that the best and most natural recorded sound almost always comes from miking a guitar, not using the pickup.

But even if your favorite guitar turns out to be a traditional acoustic, no worry! There are plenty of inexpensive (well under $100) pickups and in-guitar microphones you can purchase to use with a regular acoustic guitar.  Popular models include the LR Baggs Anthem Pick-Up and the Seymour Duncan Woody HC SA-3HC pickup.

Top Tips When Buying An Acoustic Guitar

This section is going to cover some of the most important things to look for when considering an acoustic guitar.

Beginner vs. Intermediate or Advanced Guitars: Price vs. Quality

Probably the most common question I hear, especially from beginners, is whether to purchase an inexpensive guitar or a more expensive one.

Logic might tell you that you should buy an inexpensive guitar until you are a decent player, and then upgrade to a quality guitar. This belief isn’t quite accurate though.

Price isn’t always the best deciding factor.  An inexpensive guitar may be a great sounding guitar that is easy to play.  An expensive guitar may sound nice but have issues such as high action or poor intonation that make it frustrating to play.

I always advise getting the best guitar you can possibly afford.  You won’t regret it!

Let’s explore some of the most important things to look for in a guitar:

Action

The very first thing to consider is something called the action. The action of the guitar is the distance between the strings and the fretboard.  It should be set low enough that there are no dead notes or buzzes when fretting notes.

Guitars that have high action can be challenging and frustrating to play. Unfortunately, many cheap guitars come with an overly high action which makes playing single notes and chords difficult.

Acoustic guitars will naturally have higher action than electrics.  But if it requires all your hand strength to play a barre chord, for example, the action is too high and needs to be adjusted. You shouldn’t have to tire out your hand muscles just to play a chord.

Unfortunately, a guitar may come from the factory with the action set too high or too low. Sometimes shipping the guitar long distances can affect the action.  But the good news is that setting up the guitar to have the ideal action height is neither difficult or expensive.

How To Check The Guitar’s Action

First, strum the open strings hard and listen if there are any buzzes.  Buzzes on open strings indicate too low action.  Buzzes can also point to issues with a bowed or warped neck.

Second, play single notes up and down the neck of the guitar on all the strings to check for buzzing. A tiny bit of buzzing is OK, but it should not affect the note’s tone much.

Third, place the guitar at eye level and look down the neck towards the head of the guitar.  The strings should be at an even distance from the fretboard all the way down.  Signs of a bowed neck are seeing the strings markedly higher at the middle of the fretboard than at the ends.

A bowed neck can be adjusted with the truss rod, but don’t attempt it unless you know what you are doing.

A slightly bowed neck is not uncommon, but an experienced guitar tech should investigate it before purchase.

The Quarter Trick

The action at the 12th fret should be less than .10 inches. Slide a quarter under the high E string at the 12th fret.  The quarter should be snug and not fall out.

Then slide it under the low E string at the 12th fret.  The quarter should be snug but able to move a little bit.

Finally, remove the quarter and press the low E string at the 1st fret and the last fret on the guitar.  There should be a very small gap – around 1/64” – at the middle frets.  Do the same for the high E string.  The high E string may have a larger gap, but there should not be a huge difference.

If you find issues on your guitar, take it to an experienced guitar tech.  Most adjustments can easily be made with a minimum of expense.

Intonation

Next up is to check the guitar’s intonation, which is the guitar’s ability to play consistently in tune across the fretboard.

The easiest way to check intonation is to play an open E major chord and then play an E major barre chord at the 12th fret. If it sounds out of tune, there’s a problem.

Poor intonation may be simply because of old strings on the guitar, or physical problems with the neck, nut, and saddle that need to be adjusted by a guitar tech.

Tuners

Next, you should check out the tuners. You want them to turn smoothly and immediately tighten or loosen each string.

Cheap guitar tuners slip out of tune more easily because of poor good construction.  This issue is a headache if you’re learning to play because you’ll have to stop and tune the guitar all the time.  A guitar normally should hold its tune for days, but that will vary based on temperature, humidity, etc.

Try bending a few of the strings with your fingers to see if the tuners slip. If the tuning peg has trouble catching the string or doesn’t hold the tuning when the string is bent, it will likely need to be replaced.

Comfort

While it goes without saying that you want to buy a great-sounding guitar, it’s important to make sure you pick one that you can play comfortably.  The guitar should feel right in your hands as well as to your ears.

Always play the guitar before you buy it. Even if you plan to buy one online, go to your local store and try out different sizes and models.

Even if you can’t play a single chord, hold the guitar to see if it sits comfortably on your lap.  Does the guitar feel comfortable sitting down?  Is it the right size for you?

Tone

Ultimately, your perfect guitar is going to be one that sounds amazing.  As you play the guitar, notice its tone.  Is it warm? Full-bodied? Bassy? Thin? Tubby?

If possible, have an experienced player play the guitar while you listen.  Listen to how the guitar sounds and projects in the room  Move around to see how it sounds at close and farther distances.

Strings

The strings used on an acoustic guitar are a commonly overlooked item but contribute a considerable part of the guitar’s sound.

Strings only last so long and a new set will make the guitar sound much brighter and alive.  Old strings can also be the cause of buzzes and poor intonation.

String Gauges

Strings come in sets according to a variety of gauges, or string diameters.  The chart below shows the string gauges for the different sets of strings you can buy.

  • Extra light: .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047
  • Light: .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054
  • Medium: .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056
  • Heavy: .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059

How To Choose Guitar Strings

Smaller guitars usually benefit from lighter gauge strings, while dreadnoughts may sound best with medium or heavy gauge strings.

Also keep in mind your playing style.  Heavier gauge strings work well for those who strum hard or favor a loud guitar.

Heavier gauge strings are more difficult to bend so solo-oriented players may opt for lighter gauge strings.  Lighter gauge strings are also easier to play for fingerpickers.

String Materials

Acoustic guitar strings are typically made of bronze, phosphor bronze, or brass.

Bronze strings are popular for most styles of playing.  They produce a bright, clear tone.  The downside is that bronze oxidizes quickly from age and sweat so their tone can darken quickly.

Phosphor bronze strings use a phosphor coating that extends the life of bronze strings.  These are the best choice for most acoustic guitars.

Brass strings impart a very crisp jangly type of sound.

Final Notes

I hope this guide makes your journey in finding the right acoustic guitar easier. You now know what to look for in a guitar that will sound great and play well.

Although budget is, of course, a primary consideration for most people, err on the side of getting an amazing-sounding instrument that is correctly set up and ready to play.   The guitar should be easy to play with low action and without intonation and tuning issues.

Make sure you don’t get an instrument that immediately frustrates your desire to play and learn just because it was inexpensive. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a quality guitar, but you do want to budget enough to get an instrument that will provide years of enjoyment.

Happy guitar playing!

What guitar have you decided to get? Let us know in the comments below what you chose and how it’s working for you.

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