Best acoustic guitars under $1,000 2023: get great tone for less

Epiphone Hummingbird on green background
(Image credit: Future)

The acoustic guitar market has always been a competitive one - especially if you are trying to find the best acoustic guitar under $1,000. In recent years there have been massive leaps forward in manufacturing, design, and quality, meaning you don’t have to break the bank to get an absolute gem of a guitar. 

In addition to all-solid construction, onboard electronics, and other high-end features, there’s also a fair amount of innovation to be found among the best acoustic guitars at this price point. 

So, it’s excellent news for those of you looking for a juicy deal on a stunning strummer, as we’ve rounded up our pick for the best acoustic guitars under $1,000, as well as giving you the best prices from around the internet.

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Our choice

Combining price, playability, and impressive build quality, the Taylor Academy 10E (opens in new tab) is our top pick for the best acoustic guitar in this category. Don’t worry if the dreadnought size isn’t for you, as there are currently three models in this entry-level electro-acoustic range. The more compact Grand Concert 12E is the best choice for finger pickers, and the nylon-strung 12e-N is perfect for the player looking for a classical option. 

If you are looking for something a little different, then the technical wizards over at Yamaha have created the mind-blowing FS-TA Trans-Acoustic (opens in new tab). This highly innovative guitar has built-in reverb and chorus that adds a beautiful sense of space to your acoustic guitar sound without needing to be plugged in. 

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Product guide

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Taylor Academy Series 10E

(Image credit: Taylor)

1. Taylor Academy Series 10E

Overall, the best acoustic guitar under $1,000

Specifications

Type: Dreadnought
Top: Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Laminated Sapele
Neck: Hard Rock Maple
Scale: 24-7/8"
Fingerboard: West African Ebony
Frets: 20
Tuners: Chrome die-cast
Electronics: Taylor ES-B
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Varnish

Reasons to buy

+
Great playability
+
Well balanced across the spectrum 
+
Armrest enhances playing comfort

Reasons to avoid

-
Lack of bass control may irk some

The Academy aesthetic is simple. The notably light hue of the solid Sitka spruce here won’t be to some traditionalist tastes, but it gives the guitars a clean, defined look that, as we’ll find out, is reflective of performance. Nevertheless, despite the simple acrylic dot fret markers, it’s not completely utilitarian; the laminated birch and fiber rope braid design rosette is understated but stylish. 

This guitar isn’t lacking Taylor’s spruce top hallmarks - bright and resonant trebles with assured projection. The low action is extremely welcoming across the ebony ’board, too, and will help break boundaries for aspiring players. Combined with the response of this instrument, it creates an immediately enjoyable playing experience. 

The 10e offers lower mid presence alongside the deeper bass response in comparison to its smaller bodied sibling, the 12e’s, higher range energy. It will come down to personal preference for players between those two models, with shape and tonal balance, but both guitars fare very well as all-rounders at either end of the spectrum for delicate picking, and their projection doesn’t lose its clear definition under heavy strummed playing, either. 

Plugged in, the ES-B represents the qualities of this guitar well. Indeed this model it sounds and feels superior acoustically and plugged in than most models we’ve played in its class. The Academy Series represents a very clear vision, and in many ways, a dream beginner guitar, as well as potential trade-up for some existing players – one that can inspire and go the distance with a guitarist’s from bedroom to stage. 

Read our full Taylor Academy Series 10E review

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Epiphone Hummingbird

(Image credit: Epiphone)

2. Epiphone Hummingbird

Bags of style and a tone to match

Specifications

Type: Dreadnought
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Solid Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.72”
Fingerboard: Indian Laurel
Frets: 20
Tuners: Epiphone Deluxe
Electronics: Fishman Sonicore
Left-handed: No
Finish: Aged Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
All-solid construction
+
Beautiful styling
+
Massive sound   

Reasons to avoid

-
The battery pack could be better  

The Hummingbird doesn’t need much of an introduction. It has been a firm favorite of the biggest rock stars of all time, from Tom Petty to Bob Dylan, Keith Richards to Chris Cornell. It’s fair to say that the Hummingbird has left a lasting mark on the world of music. 

Unfortunately, we don’t all have the money to drop on the Gibson version, so the next best thing has to be the Epiphone Inspired By Gibson Hummingbird - and we must say this is a fantastic option for a guitar player of any ability. 

From its all-solid construction, incredibly comfortable neck, and drop-dead gorgeous looks, this guitar is easily one of the best acoustic guitars under $1000.

Read our full Epiphone Hummingbird review

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Yamaha FS-TA TransAcoustic

(Image credit: Yamaha )

3. Yamaha FS-TA TransAcoustic

A beautiful guitar with built-in reverb and chorus

Specifications

Type: Concert
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.72”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 20
Tuners: Die-cast Chrome
Electronics: SYSTEM70 TransAcoustic
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Gloss $649/£549**
Type: Concert
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.72”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 20
Tuners: Die-cast Chrome
Electronics: SYSTEM70 TransAcoustic
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
Built-in reverb and chorus
+
Amazing built quality 
+
Fun to play  

Reasons to avoid

-
Only a solid-top 

Every now and then, an instrument comes along that turns the entire guitar industry on its head. That guitar was the Yamaha TransAcoustic. Not only is this a beautiful guitar to look at and to play, but it has a rather clever surprise under the hood - the ability to generate its own reverb and chorus, with no need for an amp, no seriously, no need for an amplifier! 

You would be forgiven for thinking that this concept is just a gimmick, but we can assure you that Yamaha has delivered a genuinely inspiring guitar that, quite frankly, is a joy to play. It is genuinely perplexing how Yamaha can produce a guitar of this quality at such a low price.  

Read our full Yamaha FS-TA TransAcoustic review

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Fender Paramount PM-1

(Image credit: Fender)

4. Fender Paramount PM-1

A superb example of a mahogany dreadnought

Specifications

Type: Dreadnought
Top: Open Pore Mahogany
Back & Sides: Solid Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25.3"
Fingerboard: Ovangkol
Frets: 20
Tuners: Nickel Open-Back
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Open Pore Satin

Reasons to buy

+
Lively mids and muscular low end 
+
Great vintage looks
+
Includes hardcase

When Fender launched the Paramount series in 2016, it represented a new commitment to winning over players from a company that’s arguably not traditionally a go-to for acoustics. And this guitar delivers on the quality we’d hope for from the iconic brand.

The mahogany tops have an indented texture to the grain that looks and feels vintage; a thin ‘open-pore’ satin finish leaves their organic looks unhindered. While we’re encountering more guitars in this price territory that aim for vintage Americana-style heritage, these models set a new standard for their price range. And the checkerboard purfling for the top, rosette and back strip takes on influence from further back in time and recalls the old Weissenborn Style 4 rope binding. It really gives these models a premium vintage touch.

In many respects, the PM-1 is a textbook example of an all-mahogany dreadnought boasting a lot of the character that attracts players to this wood choice, but it feels notably livelier than some we’ve encountered. This guitar’s relatively light weight for a solid build seems to aid an airer tonality without losing muscular projection. 

That mahogany mid voice is there in abundance with a thumpy and defined low-end, rather than the boom that we’d hope to find from mahogany. Sustaining notes shine in the upper-mids with a pleasing, rounded bluegrass quality playing with a pick. For flatpickers and those pursuing a woodier tonality, rather than steely chime, look no further. 

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Martin 000-10E

(Image credit: Martin)

5. Martin Road Series 000-10E

A solid wood electro 000 that will go the distance

Specifications

Type: Dreadnought
Top: Solid Sapele
Back & Sides: Solid Sapele
Neck: Select Hardwood
Scale: 24.9"
Fingerboard: FSC Certified Richlite
Frets: 20
Tuners: Chrome Enclosed Gear
Electronics: Fishman MX-T
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Satin

Reasons to buy

+
Well-appointed with solid woods
+
Great playability

Reasons to avoid

-
Need deep low end? Look elsewhere 

This guitar’s top, back and sides are formed from solid sheets of sapele. This African wood is often used, not least by Taylor, as a more eco-friendly alternative to mahogany. Its light-coloured grain is punctuated with thick darker stripes that contrast beautifully with the ebony-like fingerboard and bridge, plus the ‘Faux Tortoise’ pickguard and a simple white multi-stripe soundhole rosette.

Some users describe the Performing Artist/High Performance Taper setup this guitar has as having an electric-guitar feel. For us, the 44.45mm nut takes us out of that mindset. There’s no question we’re grappling with an acoustic guitar here. It just happens to come fitted with an exceptionally playable neck. 

The diminutive 000-10E is at its happiest when you tickle its strings with your fingertips and the 000’s lively midrange and warm treble of the top strings make for an addictive package for roots styles. The response is what we’d expect from a mahogany body acoustic. Projection is terrific. Once again, sapele’s qualification as a noble stand-in is well justified. This will be a great guitar for the recording studio, especially if your talents stretch to folk and Delta-style blues. 

Fishman’s new MX-T preamp is a blast. Running in connection with the brand’s Sonicore under-saddle pickup, it features a master volume, master tone, a phase switch (the feedback killer) and an onboard tuner. All are neatly stuffed inside the soundhole. 

Solid woods can sometimes make all the difference. Thanks to experience and precedence, we can assume this guitar will grow old gracefully. As it stands, it’s off to a great start.

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: PRS SE Tonare T40E

(Image credit: PRS)

6. PRS SE Tonare T40E

PRS Private Stock quality at SE prices

Specifications

Type: Tonare
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Ovangkol
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 23.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 20
Tuners: PRS-designed
Left-handed: No
Finish: Natural or Tobacco Sunburst

Reasons to buy

+
Hybrid “X”/classical fan bracing
+
Built-in Fishman GT1 electronics
+
Cathedral-like resonance

Reasons to avoid

-
Only a solid top 

PRS’ affordable SE series instruments perform well beyond the usual standards of other acoustic guitars in their price range, delivering tone that’s comparable to the company's Private Stock acoustics. 

The SE Tonare T40E boasts a solid Sitka spruce top, ovangkol back and sides, a mahogany neck, ebony bridge and fretboard with “bird” inlays, plus a bone nut and saddles. Cosmetically, the guitar sports beautiful tiger acrylic purfling and rosette and cream body binding. The built-in Fishman GT1 electronics, meanwhile, are virtually “invisible,” with only a small block for the output jack, and battery compartment access mounted on the lower treble side and rotary volume and tone controls mounted above the low E string inside the soundhole.

Sound-wise, the T40E is an expressive, dynamic instrument with an outstanding bass-to-treble balance that’s powerful, sweet and rich thanks to its ingenious combination of X-bracing and classical fan-style bracing. Furthermore, the cathedral reverb-like resonance is stunning. A great fingerstyle acoustic for any price, in particular the sub-$1,000 bracket.

Read our full PRS SE Tonare T40E review

Best aocustic guitars under $1,000: Art & Lutherie Roadhouse Tennessee Red

(Image credit: Art & Lutherie)

7. Art & Lutherie Roadhouse Tennessee Red

This blues and country acoustic picker packs plenty of style

Specifications

Type: Parlor
Top: Solid Spruce
Back & Sides: Laminated Wild Cherry
Neck: Silver Leaf Maple
Scale: 24.84"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 20
Tuners: Open-gear 18:1 antique brass
Electronics: Fishman Sonitone A/E
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Semi-gloss patina

Reasons to buy

+
Eye-catching looks
+
Solid construction
+
Impressive clarity and projection

Reasons to avoid

-
Size be unwieldy for larger hands

Art & Lutherie may not be a brand that is on everyone’s radar, but for familiarity’s sake, the company is a division of the more well-known Godin Guitars. That doesn’t change the fact that, with the Roadhouse, you get what appears to be a boutique instrument at a budget price. 

For starters, there’s a solid spruce top and rich, crimson laminated wild cherry back and sides, covered with a pearloid pickguard, off-white binding and a semi-gloss finish that allows a bit of grain to show through – a nice touch. Coupled with the parlor-size body, the Roadhouse exudes a classic old-timey feel right out of the box.

And it plays and sounds great to boot. The middle and upper ranges of the guitar are very strong, with plenty of clarity, definition and warmth. What’s more, the instrument rings out in a way that belies its small size, making it perfect to cut through the mix in an ensemble setup. The fretboard is clean and the strings are nicely spaced, making the Roadhouse a pleasure to pick. A perfect companion to playing some country, blues, or – why not? – some country blues.

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Yamaha CSF3M

(Image credit: Yamaha)

8. Yamaha CSF3M

A small-bodied travel acoustic guitar with big ideas

Specifications

Type: Compact folk
Top: Solid Mahogany
Back & Sides: Solid Mahogany
Neck: Nato Satin
Scale: 23.6"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 20
Tuners: Chrome die-cast
Electronics: Yamaha Passive SRT Piezo
Finish: Gloss Natural or Tobacco Burst

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive full-bodied projection 
+
A great combo of travel and folk 
+
Solid woods for a lower price 

Reasons to avoid

-
Some may prefer an active preamp  

The return of Yamaha’s CSF series marks its most determined move yet into the compact acoustic market. While it doesn’t have the slimmest of necks, compared to some of its rivals in the compact acoustic market, but we think that’s a strength - and the 406mm (16-inch) fretboard radius will be welcome news for anyone alienated by the more cramped playing experience of some so-called travel guitars.

Like many of Yamaha’s current builds, the CSF3M features scalloped bracing with the aim of producing a “louder, richer acoustic sound” but that’s not the only spec feature that could be to its advantage on paper; the 105mm body depth is deeper than most of the compact competition, but strikes a comfortable balance with the neck dimensions in play. And, as we soon discover, that equilibrium is well reflected in the tonal character of the guitar, too. 

Its voice is strong with a rich bottom end that’s immediately rewarding for fingerstyle bass notes. The sinewy high end makes for a great definition in choppy folk rhythm work with surprisingly powerful projection on single notes, while the satisfying neck dimensions also help to mask the sense this is a scaled-down instrument in terms of its playability. 

The CSF3M walks the line between a standard parlour and a lightweight compact traveler in both specification and feel, and it does so confidently. The performance and build rise above any niche concept and it could be an instrument you keep returning to both at home and away, albeit something you may treasure too much to risk denting at that campfire sing-along.

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: D'Angelico Excel Bowery

(Image credit: D'Angelico)

9. D'Angelico Excel Bowery

For the player looking to stand out

Specifications

Type: Dreadnought
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Solid Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25”
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 20
Tuners: Grover 109 Super Rotomatic
Electronics: Fishman Sonitone
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
Stands out in a crowded market
+
Perfect for electric players looking to get into acoustic  

Reasons to avoid

-
Looks aren't for everyone

With a market as crowded as this, it’s crucial to stand out - and the D’Angelico Excel Bowery does just that. This guitar definitely delivers from the art deco stylings to the fantastic amplified sound of the Fishman Sonitone preamp. 

Featuring a very playable slim C neck profile and large cut-away, the Bowery is perfect for beginners or electric players looking to enter the world of acoustic guitar. The all-solid construction delivers a bright attack and shimmering high-end, which makes this guitar great for strumming. 

If you are looking for a guitar that is effortless to play and has a unique look, then it’s worth seeking this one out.  

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Seagull Entourage Autumn Burst

(Image credit: Seagull)

10. Seagull Entourage Autumn Burst

Your playing will soar

Specifications

Type: Dreadnought
Top: Solid Cedar
Back & Sides: Wild Cherry
Neck: Silver Leaf Maple
Scale: 25”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 20
Tuners: Seagull Machine Heads
Electronics: No
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Semi-Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
Canadian made
+
Beautiful finish
+
Great tone   

Reasons to avoid

-
No pickup  

If Seagull guitars are known for one thing, it’s their impeccable build quality - or perhaps the rather unique headstock shape. If you were wondering, the tapered headstock is designed to ensure straight string pull through the nut and ultimately aid in tuning stability. 

The use of wood on this acoustic guitar is absolutely stunning. Pairing a solid cedar top and wild cherry back and sides, the Entourage delivers a robust and punchy sound perfect for strumming or fingerpicking. If you are looking for a guitar that will stand the test of time, then the Seagull Entourage Autumn Burst is well worth considering. 

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Gretsch G5022CWFE Rancher Falcon Jumbo

(Image credit: Gretsch)

11. Gretsch G5022CWFE Rancher Falcon Jumbo

A fun-looking guitar with seriously good tone

Specifications

Type: Jumbo
Top: Solid Spruce
Back & Sides: Maple laminate
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25”
Fingerboard: Laurel
Frets: 21
Tuners: Gretsch deluxe
Electronics: Fishman® Presys III Pickup System with preamp and tuner
Left-handed: No
Finish: Gloss black or white

Reasons to buy

+
Looks amazing
+
Sounds very good too
+
Onboard electronics
+
Value

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for shrinking violets…

Gretsch is best known for its truly iconic drums and snazzy electric guitars, but it also makes a fine line of acoustics, most of which are remarkably inexpensive. The snappily named G5022CWFE Rancher Falcon Jumbo is obviously from the more-is-more school of aesthetics, an appearance that clearly owes a lot to Gretsch’s electric Falcon range. 

It’s available in brightest white or darkest black, colors that pop against the dazzling gold-sparkle bindings on the top, back, sound hole, fingerboard and headstock. Not enough bling? Well, just to liven things up a little more, Gretsch has slapped a huge gold-sparkle winged logo on the headstock and bolted on some gold-plated tuners. It’s all jolly good fun, but possibly not for players lacking a sense of humor. 

However, it's not all show and no go. Like all good jumbos it’s built with a solid spruce top and maple sides, which provide that characteristically forthright yet balanced tone, with clarity aplenty in the well-tamed low end. It’s also stage ready, with a Fishman Presys III Pickup System with preamp and tuner already built in.

There’s an awful lot on offer here for the money.

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Guild OM-140CE Natural

(Image credit: Guild)

12. Guild OM-140CE Natural

All solid, mid-sized acoustic with vintage appeal

Specifications

Type: OM
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Solid Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25.5”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 20
Tuners: Guild Vintage 18 Open Gear Tuners – Nickel
Electronics: Guild/Fishman Sonitone GT-1 with Volume and Tone control
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
Solid wood throughout
+
Balanced tone adds versatility
+
Build quality and period features
+
Onboard preamp and pup
+
Solid value

Reasons to avoid

-
Once of the most expensive guitars here, but still good value

The OM-140CE is a model that sits within Guild’s Westerly Collection, a heritage-inspired line that pays homage to the factory occupied by the brand in Westerly, Rhode Island during the mid-‘60s. These days, Guild’s top-end production is centered on California, with the rest of its range built in the Far East, yet the OM-140CE makes a decent stab at evoking the spirit of the brand’s halcyon days.

It’s a mid-sized acoustic that features solid wood throughout. Sitka spruce for the top, and African mahogany for the back and sides. As such, it has a beautifully balanced voice that’s equally suitable for energetic strumming as it is delicate fingerstyle.

Scalloped X-bracing, a rosewood bridge and a real bone nut and saddle are appealing premium features to have, as is the fine mother-of-pearl rosette. Neatly concealed within the cutaway body is a Fishman Sonitone preamp and piezo pup system for solid amplified tone. 

Period-correct features include the Chesterfield headstock emblem, vintage open gear tuners and a tortoiseshell pickguard, plus there’s a comfortable C-shape vintage-style neck to wrap your fingers around.

Strictly speaking, the RRP is just over $1,000, but street prices are well within our limit.

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Yamaha SLG200S

(Image credit: Yamaha)

13. Yamaha SLG200S

Even better than the real thing?

Specifications

Type: Modeling acoustic
Top: Mahogany center block
Back & Sides: Rosewood frame
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 22
Tuners: Yamaha RM1242N-4
Electronics: Yamaha SRT system with blend and FX
Left-handed: No
Finish: Natural in Matt, or Tobacco Brown Sunburst, Crimson Red Burst and Translucent Black in Gloss

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Versatile and durable
+
No feedback for live performance
+
Almost silent for practice

Reasons to avoid

-
Doesn’t offer the same playing experience as a real acoustic

You’ve spotted it, the SLG200S isn’t an acoustic guitar. It doesn’t look like an acoustic guitar, it doesn’t resonate against your body like a good acoustic guitar – heck, it doesn’t even have that gorgeous, woody fragrance. So, what’s it doing in this guide?

Well, the SLG200S is a state-of-the-art modeling guitar that can do many things a ‘proper’ acoustic just can’t. First, it sounds incredible. Its tone is modeled on one of Yamaha’s finest acoustics, the mid-sized LS26, but you can also blend in the SLG200S’ own piezo pickups and dial in some reverb and chorus to taste.

You can play it with headphones for near-silent practice sessions, or plug it into an amp for a massive sound with zero risk of feedback. It’s also a remarkably convenient recording guitar that never needs to be miked up.

The SLG200S is made of solid mahogany with a rosewood frame, so it’s much more durable than an acoustic guitar as well as being resistant to changes in temperature and humidity. It can also be stripped down to fit into a smart gigbag that’s small enough to fit in an aircraft overhead locker.

Frankly, the SLG200S doesn’t offer the authentic playing experience of a real acoustic guitar, but it will suit many guitarists who frequently record, gig or want to practice without annoying family and neighbors.

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Buying advice

Best acoustic guitars under $1,000: Two Yamaha TransAcoustic guitars side by side

(Image credit: Future)

What to look for in a sub-$1,000 guitar

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For most of us, $1,000 is a real roll of dough and then some, so you’ll want to spend your money wisely. However, to benefit from the best value possible, we recommend avoiding the very bottom end of the market. That’s because good guitars are precision instruments that need to be crafted from quality materials, something that can’t be achieved on an unrealistic budget. Not only will a poorly made guitar sound awful, it’ll likely be very difficult – painful even – to play.

If you can afford it, consider $350 as the low-tide mark, but invest more if possible because guitars at the mid- to upper-end of our self-imposed budget will be very good indeed. They may not be hand built in small numbers from exotic materials, but they’ll still sound fantastic and prove a joy to play.

Regardless of budget, a good guitar will, quite literally, feel alive in your hands and exhibit good volume and projection. It should have a balanced tone, with punchy mids, sparkly highs and warm, but never muddy, lows. A truly fabulous guitar will resonate with both amazing clarity and tonal complexity – in short, it will display real character.

Fit and finish should be to a high standard, even inside the body of the guitar. Take a peep through the sound hole and beware if you see unfinished splinters of wood, or unsightly traces of glue. Shoddy workmanship here may indicate a lack of care elsewhere.

To some extent, the ‘right’ action is down to personal choice, but beware of anything that’s crazy low or ludicrously high. A very low action may initially feel fast and comfortable to play but it will almost certainly introduce fret buzz, which is just plain annoying. On the other hand, an action that’s very high is simply unplayable for most guitarists.

Neck relief can influence action so, if you know what you’re looking for, make sure that the truss rod has been adjusted correctly and that there are no permanent problems with the neck. 

Mid-market guitars should also intonate well, especially those priced close to the $1,000 mark. Poor intonation – strings sounding progressively out of tune as you play up the neck – can also be a simple neck relief issue or, unfortunately, something more sinister. It’s a common problem in very inexpensive guitars. 

Tuning instability can be a symptom of several relatively minor issues, but the culprit on cheap guitars is often poor quality tuning machine heads. Sadly, they’re just not up to the job of coping with your guitar’s high string tension, which means you’ll forever be out of tune. Replacing them will probably cost you $100 or more, money that would have been better spent on a decent guitar in the first place.

In short, buy a quality guitar and you can rest easy knowing that any issues down the line can probably be sorted with an inexpensive set-up or a warranty claim. Buy a cheap guitar with issues and you might as well use it as firewood.

Close up of PRS acoustic

(Image credit: Future)

That’s about the size of it

There’s a popular misconception among novices that small guitars are for smaller people and large guitars are reserved for the big guys. While it’s true that some people of more modest stature may struggle getting comfortable with a large dreadnought, the fact is that guitars are actually built in different sizes for tonal variation and volume.

More confusingly, there’s a plethora of guitar sizes out there, with no standards or agreed naming conventions. That said, many can be bunched together in loose groups, so let’s run through four of the most common, from small to large.

Parlour guitars are small, lightweight and tend to have a bright top end with prominent mids, which makes them a favorite for blues and slide styles. Their low volume and diminutive size make them a great choice for playing at home, hence the name. They typically have a lower bout width of about 13” and a depth of 4.25”.

Move up a step to the mid-size and you’ll find a wide variety of names bandied about including 000, OM and Grand Auditorium. Known for their exquisite, balanced tone, these modestly sized guitars are the go-to for fingerpickers. Frankly, many novice guitarists who default to a dreadnought, on the basis that bigger is best, would be better off with one of these.

Volume isn’t up there with dreads and jumbos but it’s more than sufficient for all but the loudest of applications. The lower bout tends to be around 15”, with a depth of 4.5”. 

The square-shouldered dreadnought was originally built big and bold in the early part of the last century for volume, in order for it to be heard alongside other instruments in a live ensemble. However, that impressive volume comes at a price because they tend to be quite bass heavy. Nevertheless, this distinctive tonal characteristic makes them a natural for strident strumming styles where bucket loads of power and projection are needed. 

For many, this is the iconic acoustic guitar shape with its large 16” lower bout and a generous depth in the region of 5”.

The idea for the jumbo was originally conceived by Gibson in the 1930s to compete with Martin’s very successful line of D series dreads. It succeeded. The jumbo can match a dreadnought for volume and doesn’t suffer so acutely from an overbearing low end. It’s a loud, balanced tone that makes them supremely versatile. With its characteristic pinched waist, a jumbo tends to have a lower bout width of 17” with a depth of 5”.

In a nutshell, bigger-bodied guitars have an enhanced bass response, whereas smaller models have a sweeter voice with less boom and more clarity. However, don’t totally disregard comfort for the sake of chasing tone. The guitar that’s hard to put down is the one you’ll play the most often.

Martin Road Series acoustic guitars on wooden floor

(Image credit: Future)

Tonewoods

The choice of wood for the top, back and sides can have a marked effect on an acoustic guitar’s tone. Additionally, selecting one wood over another can dramatically dictate the appearance of a guitar. Which do you prefer? A rich, reddish mahogany top, or a light, bright piece of blonde spruce? It’s a very personal choice.

Sitka spruce happens to be the most popular wood for guitar tops. It starts out a pale straw color, slowly yellowing to a gorgeous honey hue over time. It is native to Northwest America and has a wide tonal range that’s ideal for most genres and playing styles. 

Engelmann spruce is also native to Northwest America but is lighter in weight and more compliant than Sitka spruce. It yields a smooth tone that’s incredibly rich in complex overtones, which makes it a great choice for fingerpicking. However, it doesn’t respond to a strong strumming hand as well as Sitka spruce does. It’s also slightly scarcer, and consequently more expensive.

Adirondack spruce, or eastern red spruce, is wide grained with a voice rich in sweet mid-tones. It has a broader dynamic range than either Sitka or Engelmann, and a robust nature that doesn’t distort so readily when played loud. Unfortunately, stocks of Adirondack have diminished over recent decades making it expensive and consequently rare on anything but high-end guitars.

Cedar is another fabulous wood for guitar tops. Warm in both color and tone, it’s less dense than any of the spruces, and can’t be pushed too hard. These characteristics make it more suitable for nylon-string guitars, yet some steel-string players adore it for light fingerpicking.

Rosewood is immensely popular for backs, sides and fingerboards, which is hardly surprising because it’s the epitome of a well-balanced tonewood. Rich bass, defined mids and sparkly highs are all in a day’s work for rosewood. It’s also beguilingly beautiful. 

Sadly, but quite rightly, Brazilian Rosewood is now impossible to source, so most guitar brands use Indian rosewood instead.

Mahogany is an interesting tonewood because it can be used right across the board, from necks and fingerboards to tops, backs and sides. It produces powerful mids, a precise high-end and tight, well-defined bass notes. A favorite with blues guitarists, its dark, reddish brown appearance takes a little getting used to, but plenty of players learn to love it.

Walnut is a stunning wood that’s used for backs and sides. Sonically, it’s well-balanced and falls somewhere between rosewood and mahogany in tone. It teams equally well with cedar or spruce tops.

Maple is a hard wood that produces a tight, bright focussed tone. Pair it with a jumbo that, in theory, should have a strong bass response, and you’ve got yourself a match made in heaven. When first cut it’s a very bright, almost white wood that, after just a few months, starts to mellow beautifully. It’s also available with exquisite figuring and patterning, including quilted, birdseye and flamed.

Ebony is an exceptionally hard wood that’s best-known for being very dark in appearance. That hardness produces a bright tone but also enables the wood to be sanded to a magnificently smooth finish, which makes it perfect for silky fingerboards. As brands become increasingly aware of sustainable forestry practices, we’re seeing more ebony fingerboards coming through with pale streaks and other purely aesthetic qualities that, until recently, would have been regarded as blemishes. If it helps save the planet, we’re all for it.

What about laminate? Do laminate guitars sound awful? Far from it. Laminate wood is made by bonding thin layers of timber together, a little like ply but, in theory at least, the grain should follow the same direction from one layer to the next. 

Laminate doesn’t resonate as freely as a solid piece of wood, which means that a laminate guitar may lack volume and tonal complexity in its harmonic overtones. Which is not the same as sounding bad, just very slightly compromised. 

Solid tops usually sound noticeably better than laminated tops, but the backs and sides of a guitar are far less critical. While finding an all-solid guitar for under $1,000 is challenging, most over $500 will boast solid tops.

Stage-ready acoustics

Many mid-range guitars come equipped ready for performance with onboard pickup systems. These can vary, from a simple passive undersaddle piezo pickup to a more sophisticated system that includes a pre-amp, pickup and perhaps a small internal condenser mic. 

Piezo pups are fantastic for clarity but can sound somewhat artificial on their own. So, if you’re serious about performance we recommend spending as much as you can afford on a guitar with a decent system already built in. They’re not particularly difficult to retrofit, but the process can be both expensive and time-consuming.

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