The Music Kitchen https://www.themusickitchen.com Music Resources for Musicians, Composers, and Songwriters Thu, 12 Sep 2019 13:49:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide: How To Choose A Great Guitar https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitar-buyers-guide/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitar-buyers-guide/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2019 12:35:47 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30718 The post Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide: How To Choose A Great Guitar appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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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. 

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. 

Update Notes: 

This article was updated September 11, 2019. 

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

Acoustic Guitars For Fun and Profit

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 that’s easy to play 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 stringsThe standard tuning, from the low to high strings, 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 standard 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 set up 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 and 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 designed 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’s 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.  It’s 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 strings 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 essential 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 a noticeable 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.

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 focus and control the sound vibrations.  Without bracing to direct 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 beautiful “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 instruments 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 flip side 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 an excellent choice for younger players or those with smaller hands. It’s also a guitar of choice for fingerpicking styles.

Auditorium and Grand Auditorium GuitarsAuditorium 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.

They are one of the most popular styles today, and typically produce a big bold sound.

Dreadnoughts are the same width and depth as Auditorium guitars, but they are boxier with shallower waists. They have a large soundboard with a full lower end.

They’re a favorite for just about all styles of music, especially with singer/songwriters.

Jumbo GuitarsJumbo 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 standard-size 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 less than full-size acoustic guitars are really just toys, there are some guitars like the Taylor GS Mini that are high-quality instruments

Here’s 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’s 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 tone 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; the guitar’s tone is usually pretty weak.  This is another reason to avoid guitars priced under $100; manufacturers can’t make a guitar with quality materials at this price.

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 overall good tone.

That said, there are some very desirable guitars that are 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 of wood for the back, side, and neck of a guitar.

Rosewood produces rich, warm tones with excellent projection.  Brazilian Rosewood, prized for its sound, 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. And the wrong type of finish affects the tone.  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.

Lacquer 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 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. Acoustic-Electric 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.

Acoustic-electric guitars, however, come with a built-in pickup and preamp electronics from the factory.

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

Which One Should You Choose? 

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

For recording, both a traditional or acoustic-electric 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 start out with an inexpensive guitar (under $100).

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 entirely accurate though.

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

You’ll find more frustrations with cheap guitars than higher-quality instruments.

I always advise getting the best guitar you can 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 the action set too high, which makes playing single notes and chords difficult.

Acoustic guitars will naturally have higher action than electrics.  But if playing a simple barre chord requires all your hand strength, 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 complicated nor 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 this before purchase.

The Quarter Trick

The action at the 12th fret should be less than .10 inches. To check this, 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 with the guitar’s intonation.

Poor intonation may be simply because the strings are old or rusty, or there are physical problems with the neck or nut, or the saddle needs to be adjusted.  A guitar tech can quickly check all these things out.

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 quickly because of poor 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 a great-sounding guitar, it’s important to make sure that you pick one 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 and standing up?  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 and produce a bright, clear tone.  The downside is that bronze oxidizes quickly from age and sweat so their tone can darken rapidly.

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, lean towards getting an amazing-sounding instrument that is correctly set up and ready to play, even if it costs a little more than you wanted to spend. 

The guitar you choose 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 spend 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.

The post Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide: How To Choose A Great Guitar appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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7 Best Mid-Priced Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500) – 2019 Update https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-200-500/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-200-500/#comments Mon, 09 Sep 2019 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30764 The post 7 Best Mid-Priced Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500) – 2019 Update appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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If you’re looking for a great sounding guitar without spending a lot, the best mid-priced acoustic guitars (between $200 to $500) will make you happy.

In this price range, you can find quite a few fine quality guitars with great tone and playability. 

It’s worth spending a little more to get better quality guitar than opting for a low-priced guitar (under $200) designed primarily for beginners.

Update Notes: 

This article was updated on September 9, 2019. 

The Breedlove Pursuit Concert CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar was replaced with the Breedlove Discovery Concert CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar.

Reviews of the 7 Best Mid-Priced 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 acoustic-electrics, meaning they come with a built-in pickup and preamp for recording or connecting to amps or PA systems.

Here are the guitars:

Best Mid-Priced Acoustic Guitars from $200 to $500

Prices accurate as of:

Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide

Before we get to the reviews, it’s essential 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.

7 Best Mid-Range Acoustic Guitars ($200 To $500) Reviews

Martin LX1E Little Martin Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Martin LX1E Little Martin Electric-Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500)

F. Martin & Co. is one of the industry’s most revered acoustic guitar manufacturers.

Based in Nazareth, PA, Martin Guitars started as a fine furniture cabinet maker in the 18th century and has been creating premium quality acoustic guitars and strings since 1833.

Martin guitars are handcrafted in Nazareth, PA, using many of the original designs and processes conceived and implemented by founder Christian Frederick Martin.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fit it!

Each guitar takes more than 300 steps to complete, from shaping the raw wood through applying the guitar’s finish.

Overview

The Martin LX1E is a small size 6-string electric flat-top acoustic guitar, and it’s one of the most popular acoustic-electric 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’s like a very large ukulele, but despite its diminutive stature, 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 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, and it’s 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 constructed of resin-infused paper!

While this seems a dubious choice for a guitar neck, the end result is a very high-quality fretboard.  You can learn more at Richlite.com/fretboards

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 controls for volume as well as phase, which helps fix noise/hum issues when plugging into a PA. There’s also a Tone Contour button that provides EQ tone shaping.  The preamp uses 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. 

Martin LX1E Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The LX1E is a great small sized guitar with excellent tone and playability.  While the overall tone and sound are what you’d expect from a Martin, it doesn’t quite have the depth that full size (and much more expensive) Martins have.  But for a small size Martin priced well under $500, it’s hard to beat!

Elixir Strings 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings are recommended.

PROS

  • Excellent travel size guitar
  • High-quality Fishman Isys pickup system
  • Well-padded gig bag included
  • One-year manufacturer’s warranty
S

CONS

  • Small size doesn’t provide the same depth of sound as a regular size Martin

Martin LX1E Little Martin Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Taylor Baby Taylor Acoustic Guitar

Runner Up: Taylor Baby Taylor

A similarly priced alternative to the Martin LX1E is the Taylor Baby Taylor.  It’s also a small size guitar with great tone and playability.

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

Prices accurate as of:

Breedlove Discovery Concert CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Breedlove Discovery Concert CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Breedlove has been making guitars since 1992.  Their mission is to craft ”the best sounding, best playing, and most enjoyable acoustic guitars” on the market.  And given their broad base of satisfied guitar users, Breedlove looks like they’re achieving their goal.

All of Breedlove’s guitars incorporate their 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 Sound Optimization™ Process 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 Discovery Series of acoustic-electric guitars consists of a variety of Concert and CE (cutaway with electronics) models.

Though the Discovery line of guitars contains their entry-level models, you wouldn’t know it from their sound and playability.

The Breedlove Discovery Concert CE is a concert-style cutaway acoustic-electric guitar.  It’s designed to be well-balanced, comfortable, and provide a full tonal range, and it’s become a favored choice for guitarists both starting out and those with more experience.

Breedlove gives the Concert CE a Versatile Playing Style designation, meaning it’s a great all-purpose guitar with a balanced sound that’s at home being strummed or fingerpicked.

Construction

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 Sitka spruce top and layered mahogany (okoume) sides and back.

The neck is okoume and has a dovetail neck joint. The 20-fret fretboard is ovangkol (a sustainable relative of rosewood) with a 25.5” scale length and a 1.6875” nut width.  The bridge is also made of ovangkol.

The slim-profile neck, low action, 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 makes changing strings faster. This innovative bridge allows the guitar to have a thinner top that creates more vibrant tone and sustain.

It also reduces saddle strain and eliminates lost, worn, or broken bridge pins.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

The Concert CE comes with a Fishman T pickup/preamp system, a high-quality combo used in many professional-level guitars.

How Does It Sound?

The Discovery Concert CE has a beautiful warm tone that compliments just about any musical style.

Breedlove Acoustic Guitars: Discovery Concert CE Guitar

Breedlove Discovery Concert CE Sunburst

Overall

Musicians worldwide are partial to Breedlove Discovery models for their superior sound and playability at affordable prices. With its premium woods, warm tone, and easy playability, the Discovery Concert CE is a top pick.

PROS

  • Beautiful sounding guitar that’s designed for both fingerpicking and strumming styles
  • Rich, balanced tone
  •  Soft gig bag included
  •  Limited lifetime warranty
S

CONS

  • None

Breedlove Discovery Concert CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat Electric-Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500)

Fender Musical Instruments, based in Scottsdale, AZ, USA, needs no introduction. This iconic brand is synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, jazz, and country music dating back to 1946.

Never heard of Tim Armstrong?  Tim is the Grammy Award-winning founder of punk band Rancid and is known for his distinctive sound.

The Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat is a retro-styled concert size acoustic-electric guitar that’s based on his iconic 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

The Hellcat 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 with vintage-style open-gear tuners and a dual-action truss rod. The nut and bridge are made of Graph Tech® NuBone™, a premium material used in hi-end guitars. 

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 Tim Armstrong’s signature decorations – a pair of pearl acrylic inlay skulls on the 12th fret.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

Each 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 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Overall

The Hellcat has won over many fans for its vintage looks, well-balanced tone, and smooth playability.  As a smaller concert guitar, it’s an excellent 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!

PROS

  • Excellent sounding guitar that’s a pleasure to play
  • Includes a Fishman 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

Prices accurate as of:

Ovation Celebrity Standard CS24 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Ovation Celebrity Standard CS24 - Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500)

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

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

Kaman’s group created an innovative parabolic round-back acoustic guitar design

The bowl-shaped guitar body was constructed of Lyrachord, a material made of glass and resin that was initially produced for helicopter parts! 

The parabolic design produced a well-balanced tone with greater volume, projection, and sustain than conventional dreadnought guitar designs.   

Ovation went on to create other innovations, including being the first manufacturer to introduce pickups and pre-amplifiers in an acoustic guitar. 

Overview

The Ovation Celebrity Standard CS24 is a single-cutaway acoustic-electric guitar with a built-in pickup.

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 thin satin-finished nato mahogany neck has a smooth 20-fret rosewood fingerboard. Chrome die-cast sealed tuners provide hold tuning without slippage.

Built-In Pickup and Preamp

The CS24 features an Ovation Slimline pickup and OP-4BT pre-amp electronics system for live stage 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.

PROS

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

CONS

  • None

Ovation Celebrity Standard CS24 Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Washburn Heritage Series HG12S Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar

Washburn Heritage Series HG12S Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500)

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

More than 135 years later, they continue their tradition of making quality acoustic-electric 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.

Plus, mahogany imparts a warmer tone than cedar or spruce.  And the solid wood top will improve the guitar’s sound as it ages.

The following demo shows off this guitar’s lovely 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 will only improve with age.

This guitar is a highly recommended if you’re looking for an inexpensive great sounding acoustic guitar.  However, it is not an acoustic-electric; you would have to add a pickup later.

PROS

  • Beautiful, well-balanced tone
  • Very comfortable to play
  • Lifetime warranty
S

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Washburn Heritage Series HG12S Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Washburn Heritage Series HG12S Bundle

Prices accurate as of:

Yamaha L-Series LL6M/ LS6M ARE Acoustic-Electric Guitars

 

 

Yamaha LL6M Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500)

The Yamaha Corporation, 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 acoustic guitars.  All L-Series acoustic guitars use the latest technology combined with traditional hand-craftsmanship to produce high-quality instruments that meet the demands of today’s players.

The L-Series underwent an upgrade in 2014 to include some premium 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 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 with a rich vintage tone that sounds like a much older (and more expensive) instrument.

Overview

The LL6M is a dreadnought size acoustic-electric 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 both have a hand-selected, solid Engelmann spruce top that has been 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 higher-priced guitars, so this is an excellent addition!

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) for modern playing techniques.

The LL6M and LS6M have rosewood fingerboards with 20 frets, and large rosewood bridges that allow excellent 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 an individual piezo pickup element to provide superior tone and dynamics.

How Does It Sound?

As you can hear below, 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 set up from the factor with low action, making them very playable right out of the box.  They make excellent guitars for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced players.

For many players, these Yamaha guitars 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 L-Series LL6M ARE Acoustic Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Yamaha L-Series LS6M ARE Acoustic Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Takamine GD30CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Takamine GD30CE Electric-Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars (From $200 to $500)

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 quality craftsmanship.  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 several models available in the GD30 acoustic guitar line. 

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

I’m reviewing the GD30E, a cutaway acoustic-electric 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 acoustic-electric 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 natural gloss-finished solid spruce top and gloss-finished mahogany sides and back.   It uses quartersawn X-bracing to enhance the guitar’s beautiful tone.

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

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

Takamine uses a laser-guided fret finishing system that achieves accuracy to within 0.0001” of perfect alignment.  The result is greater 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 conventional 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.  It provides 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 somewhat muted highs and lows with a pronounced midrange.  The result is a warm, intimate tone.

Takamine GD30CE Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Takamine GD30CE offers a mellow 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.

PROS

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

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Takamine GD30CE Electric-Acoustic Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Takamine GD30CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar Bundle

Prices accurate as of:

Final Thoughts

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

All these guitars have excellent 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 guitar that best speaks to you, even if you have to push your budget a little.  A year or two from now, you won’t remember spending a little more to get the best guitar for you.

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’s your favorite acoustic guitar?

The post Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide: How To Choose A Great Guitar appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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7 Best Affordable Acoustic Guitars (Under $200) – 2019 Update https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-under-200/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/guitars/acoustic-guitars-under-200/#comments Wed, 04 Sep 2019 13:00:04 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30744 The post 7 Best Affordable Acoustic Guitars (Under $200) – 2019 Update appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

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Whether you’re a beginner looking for your first acoustic guitar or you’re just looking for an inexpensive guitar,  the best affordable acoustic guitars will give you excellent sound quality with easy playability, all at an affordable price.

While acoustic guitars can run from $50 up to many thousands of dollars, finding a quality instrument under $200 isn’t difficult. It just takes a little knowledge of what to look for, which you’re going to learn here.

Update Notes: 

This article was updated on September 3, 2019. 

I replaced the Fender FA-125 with the Fender CD-60S, and added the Fender FA-115.  

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. 

However, I did find one – the Jasmine S35 reviewed below – that was an excellent acoustic guitar under $100.  It’s my top pick if your budget is very tight.

But overall, it won’t do you any good to bargain shop the cheapest guitars because a poorly-made guitar that’s not set up 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 great 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 affordable acoustic guitars under $200 that fulfill all the above criteria.   

NOTE: If you’re new to buying acoustic guitars, please first check out the How To Choose An Acoustic Guitar section after the reviews.

Let’s move on to the reviews of the best affordable acoustic guitars under $200!

Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners (Under $200)

Prices accurate as of:

Best Affordable Acoustic Guitars (Under $200) Reviews

Fender FA-100 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar - Natural Bundle with Gig Bag, Tuner, Strings, Strap, and Picks

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.

It 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.

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

The FA-100’s X-bracing gives stability to the guitar’s ability to withstand the tension produced by the strings. Its 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 proper height, and most users find no issues with intonation.  As I mentioned earlier, lower-end guitars frequently have very high action that makes them challenging 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 good for a guitar well under $200.

Fender FA-100 Acoustic Guitar

Overall

The Fender FA-100 is an excellent guitar for anyone just beginning to play or looking for a perfect “beater” guitar.  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

  • Good sounding entry-level Fender product
  • Excellent value Acoustic Pack available with gig bag, strings, clip-on tuner, strap, picks and instructional DVD available
S

CONS

  • Some users found issues with defective bridge saddles, but this has not been a widespread complaint

Fender FA-100 Acoustic Guitar Bundle

Prices accurate as of:

Fender FA-115 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar - Natural Bundle with Fender Play Online Lessons, Gig Bag, Tuner, Strings, Strap, Picks, and Austin Bazaar Instructional DVD

The Fender FA-115 is an upgrade from the FA-100.  The main difference is that the FA-115 has a solid spruce top, while the FA-100 has a laminate top.

Solid wood tops provide better sound quality as well as better structural integrity than laminate tops.  In the following video, you can hear the FA-115 has a crisper brighter tone.

Fender FA-115 acoustic guitar

Fender FA-115 Acoustic Guitar Bundle

Prices accurate as of:

Fender CD-60S Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar - Natural Bundle with Gig Bag, Tuner, Strap, Strings, Picks, Fender Play Online Lessons, and Austin Bazaar Instructional DVD

The Fender CD-60S is another entry-level guitar that’s geared towards beginning guitarists.  It’s a very affordable dreadnought acoustic that’s become very popular due to its deep rich tone and excellent playability right from the box.

The CD-60S is an upgrade from the highly regarded CD-60 that has thousands of happy users worldwide.

The new CD-60S features a solid spruce top with scalloped X-bracing for high-quality durability and tone. It also features mahogany back and sides, and a mahogany neck.

An “Easy To Play” mahogany neck with rolled fingerboard edges creates a very easy to play guitar; your left hand passes smoothly over the neck for comfortable playability.

This combination of spruce and mahogany is a favorite among guitar luthiers, as it creates a balanced sound between brightness and warmth.

The guitar comes from the factory with low action without buzzes, and intonation is excellent all up the neck.

How Does It Sound?

The following demo demonstrates the CD-60S’ nice tone. It’s clear and bright, and a step above the sound of the FA-100 or FA-115.

Fender CD-60S Dreadnought Acoustic

Overall

For slightly more than the FA-100 bundle, you can get a similar bundle with the CD-60S.

The CD-60S comes with Fender’s limited lifetime warranty.

PROS

  • Excellent sound quality for a guitar in this price range
  • Solid spruce top
  • Bundle available with gig bag, clip-on tuner, strap, strings, picks, Fender online guitar lessons, and instructional DVD
S

CONS

  • None

Fender CD-60S Acoustic Guitar Bundle

Prices accurate as of:

Yamaha FG800/ FS800 Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners (Under $200)

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 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 string vibrations.  The result is brighter, more vibrant tone.

The tuners are quality die-cast tuners 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 excellent, which is a plus for entry-level guitarists.

How Does It Sound?

The FG800 delivers a warm, well-balanced tone that’s surprising for a guitar that retails for less than $200.  It has a deeper richer sound than the Fender CD-60S which is brighter.

Yamaha FG800 Acoustic Guitar

Fender CD-60S vs Yamaha FG800 Comparison

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

Prices accurate as of:

Yamaha FG800 Acoustic Guitar Bundle 

Prices accurate as of:

Yamaha FS800 Acoustic Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

Epiphone DR-100 Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners (Under $200)

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

Prices accurate as of:

 

Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar, Natural - Accessories bundle

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 beautiful sound.  Priced 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 constructed of rosewood.

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

The S35 does have 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 rich 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 significantly 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-$200 with the setup, new saddle, and new strings.

PROS

  • Nice tone and quality for the price
  • Potential to be an excellent 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 Bundle

Prices accurate as of:

 

Ibanez IJVC50 JamPack 6-String Acoustic Guitar Pack Bundle with Gig Bag, Tuner, Stand, Strap, Pics and Extra Strings (3 Items)

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, stand, pics, and extra strings – 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 than standard pins.

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 over time.

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 JV50 guitar plus a chromatic clip-on tuner, gig bag, strap, stand, pics, and extra strings.   It’s an excellent package at a very affordable price.   That’s hard to beat!

PROS

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

CONS

  • None

Ibanez IJV50 Jampack

Prices accurate as of:

Washburn Harvest Series WG7S Acoustic Guitar - Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners (Under $200)

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 than those made in China or other parts of Asia.

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, it mellows out and has a beautiful 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.

PROS

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

CONS

  • Case sold separately

Washburn Harvest Series WG7S Acoustic Guitar

Prices accurate as of:

 

How To Choose An Acoustic Guitar Buyers Guide

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 louder than concerts and usually have a 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’s 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, or check out videos on YouTube. Have someone play various 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 guitars here.

Guitars in the $100 to $200 range are usually constructed of laminate top woods – thin pieces of inexpensive wood glued together.  There’s 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 set up 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 set up correctly.  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 check out 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 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 even for pros.

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 further by a guitar tech.

How To Check The Guitar’s Action

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

There should not be any loud buzzes which indicate that the action is set too low.  Lots of buzzes across the neck can point to issues with a bowed or warped neck.  Proceed with caution!

The good news is that if you find a guitar you like, but the action is not set up correctly, in most cases it’s 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.

How To Check The 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 the chord is out of tune, this indicates a warped or bowed neck, which is usually fixable by adjusting the truss rod.  An experienced guitar tech can adjust this very quickly or can tell you if the guitar has more serious problems.

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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Best Pro Studio Monitors Under $1,000 A Pair (2019 Update) https://www.themusickitchen.com/studio-gear/best-studio-monitors-under-1000/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/studio-gear/best-studio-monitors-under-1000/#respond Mon, 26 Aug 2019 15:53:59 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=28239 Discover the best studio monitors under $1,000 a pair for your home studio, project studio, or small recording studio. Updated for 2019.

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Archives

This article on the best studio monitors under $1,000 a pair is the third in a series on the best studio monitors/speakers available today. 

Previous articles covered lower-priced monitors – below are the links to those articles:

The best budget studio monitors under $300 a pair

The best home/project studio monitors from $300 to $500 a pair

Update Notes: 

This article was updated August 26, 2019. 

I updated the content throughout the reviews and added Pros and Cons tables.

Today I’m going to focus on the best monitors between $500 and $1,000 a pair.

At this price point, you can buy excellent professional-quality studio monitors that will be ideal for home studio recording, project studio music production, video editing, or any other uses. 

Studio Monitor Buying Guide

If you are new to buying monitors, please check out my Studio Monitors 101: A How-To Guide To Buying The Best Studio Monitors For Your Home Studio article.  You’ll learn the differences between monitors and speakers, types of studio monitors, monitor design, and much more.

Studio Monitor Basics

The primary role of studio monitors is to give you an accurate, uncolored and transparent picture of the music you are creating.

Around the $1,000 price point, manufacturers can incorporate high-quality components and engineering to create great sounding monitors without scrimping on quality.  You’ll end up with pro-level monitors that won’t need to be replaced or upgraded for many years.

Studio monitors from $500 to $1,000 give you the following features and benefits:

  • a larger woofer size (8” and up) for tighter and deeper bass response
  • better tweeter design and construction for focused highs
  • better cabinet construction/port design for improved sound reproduction, imaging, clarity, and bass response
  • more power for increased volume without distortion
  • flatter frequency response overall

Pro Tip

The key to killer mixes is an accurate monitoring system used in an acoustically treated room.  You’ll get the best results with your monitors by including proper studio acoustic treatment like acoustic panels, bass traps, diffusers, etc.

Best Pro Studio Monitors/Speakers Under $1,000 A Pair

Prices accurate as of:

Best Pro Studio Monitors/Speakers Under $1,000 A Pair

Important Note: Many prices you see in online stores are for only one monitor, which is misleading! This article only includes a pair of monitors that are under $1,000.

Focal Alpha 65 Studio Monitors

Best Studio Monitors Under $1,000 - Focal Alpha 65

Focal is a well-established French manufacturer of high-end loudspeakers, headphones and professional studio monitors.

The Alpha 65 is their entry-level active powered studio monitor and combines many of the features from their flagship SM series into a much more affordable package (at half the price!)

Focal monitors have always been sought-after by mixers, producers, and studio owners, and the Alpha 65 is a terrific choice in the under $1,000 range.  It offers excellent stereo imaging, crisp highs, clear defined mids, and a punchy low end.

Many users swear these are the best studio reference monitors they have ever owned!

Focal Alpha 65 Studio Monitor Overview

Sound On Sound Magazine had this to say about the Alpha 65:

“The Focal Alpha 65 delivers a wonderfully detailed, dynamic and tonally balanced sound within a sizeable sweet spot.

Every element of the soundscape has a real sense of clarity and position.  Across the mid-range, reproduction was extremely detailed, and this gave vocals, acoustic instruments and percussion a feeling of real presence.”

Rear Controls

On the rear, the Alpha 65s have high and low shelving EQ controls, RCA and XLR inputs with a 0dB/+6dB sensitivity switch, and a power switch.

There is no volume knob, so you’ll need to control volume from your audio interface.<

Automatic Standby Mode

These monitors incorporate a power-saving Automatic Standby Mode where they go into Standby mode after 30 minutes without detecting an audio signal. Power consumption reduces to 0.5W in Standby mode.

When activated again, the audio fades in over a few seconds. Some users find this annoying, and it’s not a feature that can be turned off.

Break-In Period

For the first 20 hours, Focal recommends using the Alpha 65s at moderate levels with significant low-frequency content. This break-in period helps the monitor’s mechanical elements to settle in and provide optimum sound and performance.

PROS

  • Best in class studio monitors that sound much more expensive than they are
  • Excellent stereo imaging
  • Crisp highs, clear defined mids, and a punchy low end
S

CONS

  • Some users don’t like the automatic standby mode

Focal Alpha 65 Specs:

  • Design: 2-way front-ported
  • Woofer: 6.5” polyglass
  • Tweeter: 1” aluminum inverted dome
  • Frequency response: 40Hz – 22kHz
  • 105 watt total (70W/35W) bi-amped Class AB amplifiers
  • XLR and RCA input jacks
  • Weight: 26 lbs. per monitor

Focal Alpha 65 Studio Monitors

Prices accurate as of:

Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitors

Best Studio Monitors Under $1,000 - Yamaha HS8

The Yamaha HS8 is the big brother of the HS5 featured in my Best Home/Project Studio Monitors Under $500 article.  They’re the successor to the famous NS-10M monitors that many classic pop and rock records were mixed on in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

Yamaha has brought that heritage into the modern-day HS8 studio monitors and added new features that make them outstanding monitors in their price class.

Yamaha HS Series Powered Studio Monitors

Rear Controls

The rear features ¼” TRS and XLR inputs, a Room control switch with a -2dB or -4dB cut, a +2dB/-2dB High Trim switch, and a volume control.

How Does It Sound?

The HS8 is notable for its flat frequency response, smooth highs and mids, and punchy low end.  Users love its excellent stereo imaging, and the ability to mix for hours without getting ear fatigue that is all too common on cheaper monitors.

Many users who long to buy a pair of classic NS-10s but can’t find them are very happy with the HS8s.  More than one buyer has commented that it’s like having NS-10s but without their sound flaws.

Overall, this is a fantastic sounding nearfield monitor that delivers excellent results.

PROS

  • Excellent overall monitors with an extremely flat response
  • Smooth highs and mids and punchy low end
  • Wide sweet spot
S

CONS

  • None

Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitors Specs:

  • Design: 2-way rear ported
  • Woofer: 8” cone
  • Tweeter: 1” dome, internal crossover at 2kH
  • Frequency response: 38Hz – 30kHz
  • 120 watt total bi-amped Class AB amplifiers
  • XLR and ¼” input jacks
  • Weight: 20.7 lbs.

Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitors

Prices accurate as of:

 

Mackie HR624 Mk 2 Studio Monitors

Best Studio Monitors Under $1,000 - Mackie HR624 mkII

Mackie is a well-respected manufacturer of pro music gear for many decades.

Almost everyone who has been in the music business for any length of time has owned Mackie gear at some point.  I had two of their 24.8 mixing boards in my studio before I finally moved to “mixing in the box.”

In the film/TV composer world, many great-sounding tracks have been created and mixed on a set of HR624s.  For pro media composers who routinely work in many different styles of music, the HR624s are known for helping create mixes that translate well in the real world.

The HR624 Mk 2 active powered monitors are the second generation of these widely-used originals. The Mk2 is slightly larger than the original model, and now features rounded corners (for reduced diffraction), a redesigned tweeter waveguide, and glossy black finish, and even a logo that rotates when the monitors are placed on their sides!

Mackie HR624MK2 Studio Monitor Quickview

Monitor Design

The HR624 Mk 2 is different than the other monitors featured in this article in that it uses a sealed monitor design, which means that the cabinet is completely sealed and does not incorporate a port.

Instead, the HR624 incorporates a passive radiator at the rear –a passive speaker – that generates sound when the real speaker is activated during sound playback.

Audiophiles disagree on which is better, but the consensus is that a sealed monitor is better able to handle low frequencies more accurately than a port or duct.

Zero-Edge Baffle

The HR624 incorporates Mackie’s Zero-Edge Baffle technology that they claim helps create a crystal clear image of your mix.

These monitors are highly recommended by composers, producers, and mixers who are in the studio for many hours and need monitors that can handle the workload.  They’re among the best active studio monitors in this price range.

PROS

  • Smooth high end and very clean mids with lots of detail
  • Tight deep bass response
S

CONS

  • Rear passive radiator design not ideal for placing close to walls or corners

Mackie HR624 mk II Specs:

  • Design: 2-way
  • Woofer: 6.7” low-distortion driver
  • Tweeter: 1” titanium dome ferrofluid-cooled
  • Frequency response: 49Hz – 20kHz
  • 140 watts (combined) twin FR Series amplifiers
  • XLR, RCA, and ¼” input jacks
  • Weight: 23.4 lbs.

Mackie HR624 mk II Studio Monitors

Prices accurate as of:

Adam Audio A3X and A5X Studio Monitors

Best Studio Monitors Under $1,000 - Adam A3X

Adam Audio is a pro audio company based in Berlin, Germany.  Their only products are loudspeakers and monitors, and they have built a reputation for making top-quality monitors for discerning professional users.  Their high-end monitors have found homes in many studios all over the world.

Adam Audio Factory Visit

The A3X is the baby of the AX-Series line of pro monitors. It’s designed for professional use in studios with limited space such as home project studios or mobile recording setups.

The A5X is one step up from the A3X and has found an audience in-home project studios as well as in television studios, post-production suites, and remote broadcast vans.

Both monitors are on the small side, which makes them an excellent choice for studios with limited space.

AX Features

The first thing you notice about these monitors is that they have a cool industrial vibe.  The tweeters are especially eye-catching.  Both models employ Adam’s proprietary Accelerating Ribbon Technology (ART) folded-ribbon tweeters.  This technology was designed to mimic the way human vocal cords work.

If you look at the specs, you’ll notice the high-frequency response is up to 50kHz.  20kHz to 30kHz is the top for most monitors, but 50Hz is off the charts!  The result is exceptionally detailed and smooth highs.

Both the A3X and the A5X have somewhat small woofers for monitors in this price range.  Despite that, the ports help deliver smooth yet punchy lows, especially from the A5X.

One nice feature is that the volume knob and power switch are on the front panel.  It’s a small thing that shows that Adam listens to its users and delivers features that make working with their products easier and more enjoyable.

Rear Panel Connections

Rear panel connections include RCA and XLR inputs, high and low shelf switches, and a tweeter level control.

You can also connect a cable to one speaker and use the StereoLink connectors to loop the cable to the other speaker, allowing you to control the volume from one monitor.

Adam AX Series Studio Monitors

How Do They Sound?

Across the board, users call this one of the best monitors you can get for under $1,000 a pair.

Both the AX3 and AX5 are smart choices for studio owners who are looking for a small size monitor that produces stellar sound.

I’ve found they sound pretty close to my trusty Genelec 1038P which cost a lot more!

Highly recommended!

PROS

  • Clean crisp sound loved by users worldwide
  • Fantastic highs and highs
  • Deep focused bass
  • Super detailed highs are not fatiguing to listen to for long periods
S

CONS

  • None

Adam A3X Studio Monitors Specs:

  • Design: 2-way front-ported
  • Woofer: 4.5” composite fiber
  • Tweeter: 4” X-Art folded-ribbon
  • Frequency response: 60Hz – 50kHz
  • 50 watt total (25 watt LF and 25 watt HF) Class A/B amplifiers
  • XLR and RCA input jacks
  • Weight: 10.1 lbs.

Adam A5X Studio Monitors Specs:

  • Design: 2-way front-ported
  • Woofer: 5.5” carbon/Rohacell/Glass Fiber
  • Tweeter: 4” X-Art folded-ribbon
  • Frequency response: 50Hz – 50kHz
  • 100 watts total (50 watt LF and 50 watt HF) Class A/B amplifiers
  • XLR and RCA input jacks
  • Weight: 14.6 lbs.

Adam Audio A3X Studio Monitors (Pair)

Prices accurate as of:

Adam Audio A5X Studio Monitors (Pair)

Prices accurate as of:

 

Conclusion

When choosing studio monitors, your budget, the size of the room you are working in, and of course the sound quality of the monitors are all critical considerations.

What you’ll find is that there are no “perfect” monitors – they will all sound different in different studios. 

Your recording hardware or software, your computer soundcard, your AD/DA converter, and especially your room – these all end up coloring the sound in different ways.  So trying to find the perfect monitors that everyone agrees on isn’t realistic.

Instead, look for quality monitors in your price range that have provided great results for many studio owners over the years.

And finally, don’t forget your room acoustics!  High-quality monitors only reach their full potential in a properly treated room.

Other Noteworthy Monitors

Here are some runner-ups that didn’t quite make my list.  But check them out, as you may find a great deal!

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Studio Monitors Buyers Guide: How To Choose The Best Studio Monitors https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/studio-monitors-buyers-guide/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/studio-monitors-buyers-guide/#comments Mon, 26 Aug 2019 13:24:49 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=28204 This studio monitor buying guide will teach you the basics of buying monitors for your home recording studio.

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This studio monitors Buyers Guide is designed to teach you how to choose the best studio monitors for your home, project, or professional studio.

Choosing studio monitors can be an exciting yet somewhat frustrating task for many studio owners.  There are dozens of models to choose from, and it’s difficult to know what’s important if you’re new to buying studio monitors for the first time.

Update Notes: 

This article was updated August 26, 2019, with numerous changes to the text.

Monitors greatly vary in features and quality, so it’s vital to know what to look for.  

This buyers guide will teach you the differences between monitors vs. speakers, the different types of monitors, monitor design terminology, and much more. 

It will also walk you through the types of studio monitors available and all the essential features you need to know to make an informed purchase.

Let’s get started!

Why Studio Monitors Are Crucial For Creating That Killer Mix

There’s no better feeling for anyone recording and producing music than putting out their latest track with a great mix that knocks it out of the park!

A great mix showcases the energy and emotion that you, as the composer, songwriter, producer or mixer want to convey. 

For a pop or rock track, the mix sounds punchy with lots of energy and drive, yet it’s clear and detailed. 

For a heartfelt ballad, the mix provides the right atmosphere for the song’s lyrics and meaning.

Or for dance tracks, the kick and bass are pumping, and the mix provides tons of excitement to get out on the dance floor. 

Plus, the mixes sound good on cheap earbuds, a $50 boom box, as well as a high-end stereo system.

The Elusive Dream

But for many studio owners, that killer mix mostly remains an elusive dream….

One of the reasons many home studio or project studio mixes can’t compete with pro-level studio productions is that the pros have invested in great studio monitors. 

High-quality monitors allow the mixer or producer to be able to hear what they’re mixing clearly so they can make correct mix decisions.

Mix Environment

Your mixes need to sound good in almost any environment and on practically any stereo system, whether it’s in a car, grocery store, club, or on a CD in someone’s living room. 

Unfortunately, people generally listen to music under not very optimal conditions, so you need to be able to create mixes that translate into fantastic sounding tracks in real-world listening environments.

My experience in working with hundreds of both amateur and professional songwriters and composers over the last 25 years is that the ones who create great mixes use high-quality studio monitors.

Great studio monitors are a crucially important part of a studio setup!

Plus, effective mixes translate into more potential money your tracks can generate, especially if you’re interested in getting your music into film, TV, or other media.  So don’t skimp when it comes to your studio monitors.

You can spend thousands of dollars on microphones, AD/DA converters, software, plugins, etc., but if you cannot hear your tracks accurately and clearly when you’re mixing, you won’t be happy with your results.

Studio Monitors 101: What To Consider When Buying

Let’s go over some basics that you need to know to make an informed buying decision.

First of all, the primary role of good monitors is to give you an accurate, uncolored and transparent picture of the music you are creating.  Good monitors will provide a flat frequency response across the entire frequency spectrum.

To illustrate this, think of your monitors like windows made of clear glass.  Clear glass lets you see reality – what is actually outside the windows.  Tinted, dirty or opaque glass colors reality so you can’t see what’s outside the window accurately. 

For mixing or music production you don’t want that coloration – you only want to hear what’s really on your tracks.

Monitors vs. Speakers

So, monitors are designed to provide a flat frequency response that ideally doesn’t color the sound in any way. 

However, the goal with consumer home stereo speakers is to provide a pleasing listening experience for the user. 

Stereo speakers are designed to color the music being played back using frequency equalization (EQ) curves that make the music sound “pleasing” to the average listener.

This coloration is achieved by the manufacturer using what is called the smile curve into the design.  The smile curve is a boost in the bass frequencies and a boost in the treble frequencies that appeals to listeners.

In addition to built-in EQ curves, most stereo or boom boxes include presets for “bass boost” “treble boost” or choices for “pop,” “rock,” “hip hop,” etc.  Most people find that music sounds better with these buttons enabled.

The reason speaker manufacturers do this is because most inexpensive consumer speakers have small speakers and low-quality speaker cabinet design. To compensate for this, they boost specific frequencies to make their products sound better.

You Can’t Mix With Consumer Speakers!

Using consumer speakers for mixing music results in poor mixes. 

Why?  To use my earlier analogy, it’s like mixing with dirty glass; you can’t hear what you are doing. 

If you try to mix on speakers with a built-in bass emphasis, you will end up turning down the bass in your mix so it’s not too loud.  But when played back on home stereo or car speaker systems, your mix will end up sounding wimpy with too little bass.

When you don’t hear enough bass, you’ll turn the bass up, and your mix will end up muddy or boomy from too much bass. 

You’ll get the highs wrong too.  Mixes on speakers with treble boosts end up being overly bright, resulting in brittle mixes that can sound harsh and tiring for the listener.

The bottom line is always listen and mix on monitors, not speakers, in your studio!

Types of Studio Monitors

When you’re shopping for monitors, you’ll come across different types of studio monitors.  The main choices are near-field monitors and far-field or soffit mounted monitors

Near-field monitors are going to be your best choice.  Near-field means that the speakers are going to be located at a close listening distance to you. 

They’re designed to be placed at a distance of around 4 to 5 feet from the mixing chair.

The advantage of this, especially for home recordists, is that a close listening distance helps minimize the effects of sound bouncing off walls or the ceiling.

As most home studios do not have proper sound treatment to help eliminate or reduce the effect of poor room acoustics on mixes, near-field monitors help reduce your room’s acoustic impact on your mix.

Monitor Position Article

To learn more about how to position your monitors in your studio to get the best results, check out this article on studio monitor placement.

All pro studios have a pair (or two) of near-fields.  90% of mixing on albums at the pro level is done on near-field monitors, not on their larger far-field speakers.

Far-field monitors, also called soffit-mounted monitors, are generally reserved for high-end pro studio use.   They are usually quite expensive large monitors built into the studio control room’s back wall. 

Most professional mixers these days use the far-fields mainly to check the low end of their mixes and to impress their clients (and record companies) with playback at high volumes.  They use the near-fields almost exclusively to mix.

Active Monitors vs. Passive Monitors

All monitors need an amplifier to produce sound. 

Active monitors have built-in amplifiers, while passive monitors require a separate amplifier to provide power. 

Active monitors have an advantage in that their amps are built-in and matched to the speakers by the manufacturer.  They are generally more cost-effective than passive monitors.

Pro Tip

The more power an amp has (measured in watts), the more volume it can output cleanly without distorting the signal.  So if you like to listen to music loud, or produce music with powerful lows (like hip hop or dance) look to get the most watts you can afford. 

Higher-end monitors generally have two amps in each monitor, split between an amp for low frequencies and an amp for high frequencies.  Total watts usually range from 25–75 watts for lower-priced monitors, and 50-150 watts for higher-priced monitors.

Active monitors are your best bet.  They eliminate the additional expense and research time in finding a matching power amp for non-powered passive monitors.

Studio Monitor Design

Let’s take a quick basic look into the three main components of a monitor.  The design and the types and size of the drivers (sound components) used in the construction greatly influence the sound quality (and price) of a monitor.

Most studio monitors for home studio use will have two speakers: a tweeter and a woofer, plus a port.

Tweeters are treble speakers that are designed to reproduce the high frequencies, usually from 2,000Hz to 20,000Hz.

Woofers are bass speakers that are designed to reproduce the low frequencies, usually from 40Hz to 5,000Hz.

In general, the larger the woofer size, the stronger bass response you’ll get, though this is affected by the ports.

Ports or radiators are holes in the monitor cabinet that allow sound to exit in addition to the actual woofer and tweeter.  Their primary purpose is to generate better bass response in the monitor, especially with smaller size woofers.

Crossovers

Studio monitors employ a crossover, a set of filters that separates the audio signal into high frequencies that are fed to the tweeter, and low frequencies that are fed to the woofer.  For active monitors, this allows the use of a separate amplifier for each frequency band which significantly improves the monitor’s audio quality.

SubWoofers

A subwoofer is a specialized woofer solely designed to handle bass reproduction.   It can handle bass frequencies down to 30Hz or lower.

If you’re just starting out (or on a limited budget) you can leave a subwoofer out of your studio equation for now.  Use of a subwoofer requires proper control room acoustic treatments such as bass traps, diffusers, and other sound control products.

Without acoustic treatments, the bass frequencies will overpower your studio and negatively affect your mixes.

Frequency Range

In general, the better the monitor, the greater the frequency range it can reproduce without distortion.

Our ears can hear frequencies between 20Hz and 20,000Hz (usually written as 20kHz).

Most monitors in the under $1,000 range can reproduce lows from 40-55Hz to highs in the range of 22-32kHz.

It’s the low end where more expensive monitors shine, due to larger woofers and more powerful amplifiers.

Monitor Break-In Period

Many higher-end monitor manufacturers recommend that you initially give your monitors a certain number of hours of use to settle in mechanically.

Adam Audio list the following on their website:

“Loudspeakers include movable parts. Therefore, they need a certain ‘burn-in time’ for a full excursion and adaption of these parts. After this burn-in time, the speakers reach their full acoustic potential.

To break-in your speakers, it is advisable to feed them with music signals of a broad frequency spectrum and different volumes for a certain period of time: Up to one week for a ‘normal’ burn-in. Up to four weeks for a reliable long-term consistency.

However, no responsibility can be taken for the correctness of this information since it always depends on both frequency and sound pressure level of the speaker’s usage. Furthermore, the real time a speaker needs to burn in is, to some extent, always due to the specific speaker itself.”

Focal recommends playing bass-heavy music for about 20 hours at moderate volumes to break in their monitors.

Many users swear their monitors sound better after this break-in period.

How To Choose The Right Monitors For You

Choose monitors that are right for your room

The size of your room you’re working in is a significant factor in how your monitors will sound.

For many people working in a typical small bedroom, near-field monitors with 5” to 8” woofers are the best choice.  The smaller the room, the smaller the monitor (think woofer size) you can purchase.

This is especially true if there’s no acoustic sound treatment in your room. Bass frequencies in untreated rooms cause havoc with mixes, so this will be a lesser factor with smaller monitors.

Your Studio and Your Monitors

Take a few minutes to watch this video on using your monitors in a home studio.

Studio Monitoring Basics with Mackie

Choose Monitors Within Your Maximum Budget

As mentioned before, better monitors cost more money.  But the performance you get out of them will far outweigh a couple of hundred dollars saved when buying cheaper monitors.

Generally, more expensive monitors give you the following features and benefits:

  • a larger woofer size for tighter and deeper bass response
  • better tweeter design and construction for tight focused highs
  • better cabinet construction/port design for improved sound reproduction, imaging, clarity, and bass response
  • more power for increased volume without distortion
  • flatter frequency response overall

So, get the best monitors you can afford!

You also won’t outgrow higher-quality monitors anytime soon, so they become a fantastic investment over time.

In my career, I’ve used various mid-priced monitors (Mackies, Yamahas, etc.) over the years, and would switch them every three years or so.  I finally bought a pair of Genelec 1031As, which were a few thousand dollars.  But 15 or so years later, I still use them in my studio.  They have proved to be an excellent investment.

Conclusion

I’ve covered the most important things to look for in when purchasing studio monitors.

Make sure you understand the different types of monitors and how their design influences their sound.

Just know that there are no “perfect” monitors, no matter how much you spend.

The same monitors can sound quite different in one person’s studio than another’s due to acoustics, sound cards, etc., so keep that in mind when evaluating different models.

And finally, the key to killer mixes is accurate studio monitors that are used in an acoustically treated room.  You’ll get the best results with your monitors by including proper studio acoustic treatment like bass traps, diffusers, etc.

Don’t skip this essential part of your studio!

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