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Best acoustic guitars under $500 2022: our top picks, including acoustic-electric models

Close-up of an acoustic guitar laying on its side on a dark stone surface
(Image credit: Future)

We are living in the golden age of budget-friendly guitars. Never before has it been so easy to buy a high-quality instrument at a super affordable price. That being said, we know it can get a little overwhelming when trying to narrow down your choice for the best acoustic guitars under $500. So that's why we've put together this buyer's guide to help you through the process.

When we say the quality of sub-$500 acoustic guitars has never been better, we genuinely mean it. You can now make choices based on body shape, finish, tonal character or even the kind of preamp you need – and not just on price. And, most importantly, you can be sure that you'll end up with a great guitar that'll last you well beyond your beginner years.

Whether you're looking for your first acoustic guitar, a new workhorse for playing live or a killer practice acoustic, you'll be sure to find a guitar on this list to fall in love with. If you need more guidance, we've included a buying advice section (opens in new tab) at the end of this guide. If you want to get straight to our choices, keep on scrolling.

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Our top picks

For us, the acoustic guitar that offers the best bang for your buck has to be the Epiphone J200 EC Studio (opens in new tab). Not only is this jumbo acoustic stunning to look at, but it sounds just as good. If you are looking for something a little different, then definitely keep this one in mind.

For a killer beginner acoustic guitar, we have to recommend the Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany (opens in new tab). This fantastic-sounding guitar really does deliver well beyond its price point and is well worth checking out.

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Product guide

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Epiphone J200 EC Studio

(Image credit: Epiphone )

1. Epiphone J-200 EC Studio

Classic Gibson look and sound at a fraction of the price

Specifications

Type: Jumbo
Top: Solid spruce
Back & sides: Select maple
Neck: Hard maple
Scale: 25-1/2"
Fingerboard: Pau Ferro
Frets: 20
Tuners: Grover Rotomatic 18:1
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Black, Natural, Vintage Sunburst, Vintage Natural

Reasons to buy

+
Big jumbo tones 
+
Classic J-200 styling 
+
Solid top 

Reasons to avoid

-
The large size isn't for everyone 

Featuring all the appointments that make its big brother, the Gibson J-200 legendary, the Epiphone J200 EC Studio is easily one of the best guitars you can buy for less than $500 (you may pay just slightly over $500 for some models/finishes, but you will find it under $500 if you look in the right places).

Featuring the iconic moustache bridge, decorative tortoiseshell style pickguard and pearloid crown inlays, we think this guitar is a joy to look at. Top that off with superb playability and the deep but balanced bottom end that you only get from a jumbo, and you have the complete package at a bargain price. 

It’s clear to see that the Epiphone’s J200 EC Studio punches way above its tonal weight and it's well worth your time checking this one out.

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Martin LX1E

(Image credit: Martin )
A stellar little travel acoustic guitar for plugged-in jams

Specifications

Type: Modified 0-14 Fret
Top: Sitka Spruce
Back and sides: High pressure laminate mahogany
Neck: Stratabond birch laminate
Fretboard: FSC Certified Richlite
Scale length: 23”
Frets: 20
Tuners: Gotoh nickel
Electronics: Fishman Sonitone

Reasons to buy

+
Great build quality
+
Decent plugged in performance 
+
Compact and travel-ready

Reasons to avoid

-
Conventional plugged in sound

Built from mainly manmade materials, the LX1E can feel utilitarian. However, in practice, the Little Martin offers up classic Martin tones with a crisp-edged if conventional voice. Its bright, contemporary tones will cut through a mix and be heard over bigger guitars. Little by name but not so little by nature – sonically anyway. 

The Ed Sheeran-favored diminutive LX1E is a great travel guitar and features Fishman’s Sonitone preamp on-board too. Though only equipped with a pre-set tone control, the contour function cleans up the mid-range, removing a little boxiness. This one is perfect for singer-songwriters on a tight budget.

Read our full Martin LX1E Little Martin review

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Yamaha STORIA III

(Image credit: Yamaha )

3. Yamaha STORIA III

Unique looks and traditional sounds

Specifications

Type: Concert
Back and sides: Mahogany
Neck: Nato
Fretboard: Walnut
Scale length: 25”
Frets: 20
Tuners: Open Gear Champagne-Gold
Electronics: Yamaha passive undersaddle pickup
Left-handed: No

Reasons to buy

+
Looks great 
+
Solid top 
+
Feels more expensive than it is 

Reasons to avoid

-
Wine red interior isn’t for everyone 

Yamaha’s goal with the STORIA range was to design a guitar that “transforms the traditional acoustic guitar into a one-of-a-kind statement piece”, and we must say, in our opinion they have certainly achieved that.

The wine red interior and champagne-gold appointments add an air of class to this sub-$500 acoustic that you don’t see often at this price point and the solid mahogany top delivers a beautifully warm tone that compliments this stunning look.

The slightly shorter scale length of 25” and the compact concert body sizes make it incredibly easy to play, even more so if you are a complete beginner.

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Washburn Woodline 10 Series WLO12SE

(Image credit: Washburn)

4. Washburn Woodline 10 Series WLO12SE

A cracking sub-$500 acoustic guitar based on Martin’s classic OM shape

Specifications

Type: Orchestra
Top: Solid mahogany
Back and sides: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Fretboard: Ovangkol
Scale length: 25.5”
Frets: 20
Tuners: Chrome die-cast
Electronics: Fishman Presys II 301T preamp w/tuner
Left-handed: No

Reasons to buy

+
Great for fingerstyle players
+
Sparkling highs and tight, defined lows
+
Slim neck and low action
+
Great build quality; nicely finished

Reasons to avoid

-
Three-piece neck isn’t the most attractive

Based on the vintage Martin OM body shape, the orchestra style WLO12SE features sub-dreadnought dimensions with typically sparkling highs and a tight, controlled bottom end. All-mahogany construction further enhances the Washburn’s bold, forthright tone – perfect for fingerstyle guitarists. 

The Fishman Presys II preamp offers a faithful portrayal of the guitar’s acoustic qualities when plugged in, and the system includes bass and treble controls for tonal tweaking.

Coupled with a fairly low action, the satin finished slim C profile neck is a breeze to play on. Great for electric guitarists seeking a hassle-free acoustic experience. This is a quality instrument that feels great to play. A genuine alternative to many more expensive instruments, and just one of the reasons why it features on this best acoustic guitars under $500 guide. For the money, it's absolutely worth your attention. If you can stretch your budget to the top end, you won't be disappointed.

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany

(Image credit: Fender )

5. Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany

The best acoustic guitar under $500 if you're a beginner

Specifications

Type: Dreadnought
Top: Solid mahogany
Back and sides: Laminate mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Fretboard: Rosewood
Scale length: 25.3”
Frets: 20
Tuners: Chrome
Electronics: None
Left-handed: Spruce-top natural finish only

Reasons to buy

+
Value for money
+
Great intonation
+
Mid-range brightness

Reasons to avoid

-
Plain looks

The term ‘beginner instrument’ doesn’t really fit with today’s standards, as manufacturers derive greater performance from tonewoods at less cost to us. Fender’s CD-60S proves the point, offering a guitar that sounds great and is comfy to play – but all delivered at a low, low price.

Sound is where this dreadnought guitar delivers the goods, with a chiming mid-range brightness that’s part and parcel of a mahogany construction. Fender’s big-bodied dreadnought also extends nicely into the bass, should you wish to explore drop tunings. We found the intonation, tuning and string action to be great on the CD-60S too.

Keep your eyes peeled online for bundle deals that include tuner, strap, strings, gigbag etc. There’s an electro-acoustic version complete with a body cutaway available for a little extra, too.

Read our full Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany review 

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Guild M-240E

(Image credit: Guild)

6. Guild M-240E

An affordable concert-sized option from acoustic royalty

Specifications

Type: M - Concert
Top: Solid spruce
Back and sides: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Fretboard: Pau Ferro
Scale length: 24.75”
Frets: 20
Tuners: Guild GBB1 Butterbean Nickel
Electronics: Guild/Fishman Sonitone GT-1
Left-handed: No

Reasons to buy

+
Looks fantastic
+
Super-thin finish makes the neck feel great
+
Sounds much bigger than it is

Reasons to avoid

-
Small body can get a little bit overwhelmed

Guild's M-240E is a slightly more left-field choice when looking at the smaller-bodied acoustic guitars under $500. There's plenty of competition in this product category from names like Martin and Taylor, but if you're after something a little different then the M-240E could be the one for you.

Construction-wise, the classic combination of a solid spruce top and mahogany back & sides provides a snappy, punchy tone with a tasteful low-end presence – meaning that the M-240E is a brilliant choice for both solo artists looking for rich tonal accompaniment, or those in bands that need to cut through the mix just that little bit more.

The comfortable C-shaped neck and small 'M' concert sized body make this diminutive Guild a fantastic travel or couch guitar – but with a full 24.75" scale length, it's still capable of keeping up with some of the big boys. Plugged in, you'll hear the sound of a much bigger guitar thanks to the Fishman Sonitone pickup - making this a seriously versatile acoustic.

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Yamaha CSF1M

(Image credit: Yamaha )

7. Yamaha CSF1M

A stunning travel acoustic guitar for less

Specifications

Type: Compact parlour
Top: Solid sitka spruce
Back and sides: Laminate mahogany
Neck: Nato
Fretboard: Rosewood
Scale length: 23.6”
Frets: 20
Tuners: Die-cast chrome
Electronics: SRT passive piezo
Left-handed: No

Reasons to buy

+
Organic sound when amplified
+
Louder, richer sound than many

Reasons to avoid

-
No tone controls for the piezo pickup
-
Tough competition from Martin and Taylor

Another travel acoustic guitar in our best acoustic guitars under $500 guide and our second instrument from Yamaha, this compact parlor guitar goes head-to-head with offerings from major players Taylor and Martin.

It competes admirably too, offering big, full and refined sounds in Taylor GS Mini territory, if not quite as sublime. There’s versatile appeal here too. The CSF1M includes a passive piezo pickup that offers organic plugged in sounds. The satin neck feels great.

Fleet fingered players may prefer the slinky low action of the Martin LX1E. Fingerstylists or slide players might be happier with the Yamaha. Either way, this is a great sub-$500 acoustic for any campfire strum-along.

Best acoustic guitars under $500: Buying advice

Martin Simpson playing an acoustic guitar

(Image credit: Future)

Can budget acoustic guitars be as good as expensive guitars? 

Let us first preface this by saying that it has been a long time since 'budget' acoustic guitars were bad acoustic guitars. There are some killer acoustic guitars coming on to the market at crazy low prices, and they're not to be sniffed at. 

The guitars in this guide represent the very best you can buy for roughly $500 or less – and if there's one thing we want you to take away from this guide, it's that budget guitars can be just as good as their more premium counterparts. 

Okay, cheaper acoustics may not be as flashy or legendary as some of the high-end exotic six-strings out there, but they aren't trying to be. These guitars are simply offering players a no-nonsense acoustic with plenty of tone at an affordable price - and we absolutely love them! 

What size acoustic guitar should I buy?

This is possibly the most crucial factor to consider when choosing any acoustic guitar, regardless of your budget. The guitar's size will impact everything from the tone it produces to how comfortable it is to play. The most common sizes available are jumbo, dreadnought, auditorium, classical and parlour.

A jumbo is going to deliver the biggest, fattest tone. Think Elvis, Bob Dylan and EmmyLou Harris – the jumbo is an iconic body size, and produces a tone to match. Unfortunately the humongous body size does mean that you've got to be of a certain build and stature to play one comfortably.

The dreadnought is by far the most popular acoustic guitar body size. It's not too big, not too small, and creates a tone that seems to cover just about every base imaginable. The wider body helps the guitar to produce a broad range of tones and frequencies, making this option a great all-rounder. Again, it's a bit on the big side, but it's possible for those of any size to play a dreadnought comfortably.

Auditorium, classical and parlour are on the 'small' end of the acoustic guitar body size spectrum, and are all perfect for younger players especially. The tones of auditorium and classical guitars are quite balanced, with plenty of low or high end available depending on where and how you play the strings. Parlour guitars lack some of the tonal depth of larger-bodied guitars, but make up for with their punchy, mid-heavy characteristics – making it the guitar size of choice for blues guitarists such as Keb' Mo' and the late Justin Townes Earle.

Generally speaking, the bigger the guitar, the bigger the sound. So bear that in mind when choosing your new guitar. 

Do I want a solid or laminate top?

If you've been looking at various guitars, you've most likely noticed the terms laminate top and solid top. So what's the difference between these types of manufacturing? 

Let's start with the solid top. Basically, this means the top of the guitar (or soundboard) is made from a specially selected single piece of wood. This ensures a rich, full-bodied sound and increased volume. 

The laminate top, on the other hand, is made from multiple pieces of wood glued together to form the top – this results in a sound that isn't as harmonically complex as the solid option. 

Full laminate guitars used to populate the budget guitar market, but today you can find various models that feature a solid top. Both the Epiphone J200 EC Studio and Martin LX1e included in this guide feature solid spruce tops to complement their high-pressure laminate back and sides. 

Do I need a pickup on my acoustic guitar?

Several models in our best acoustic guitars under $500 guide feature an on-board acoustic guitar pickup system. We realise that not everyone wants to plug their new guitar into an acoustic amplifier or PA system. Still, there are a few good reasons why you should be considering a guitar with a pickup already installed.  

Firstly, you never know when you will need it. Whether you want to get up and play at an open mic night or school talent show, or perhaps you want to record that new song idea you just had - it can be handy to have the option to plug in and play. 

Secondly, most pickup systems have a tuner built directly into the guitar. This means you can tune conveniently on the fly without the need for a clip-on tuner or mobile tuning app. One quick note, do be careful, as many budget acoustic guitars come without pickups, and with some guitars, the pickup is an optional extra, so be sure to double-check before making your purchase.

How we test sub-$500 acoustic guitars

When it comes to acoustic guitars, every player has their own personal preferences regarding the tone and feel. However, regardless of taste, there are a few key areas that an acoustic guitar must meet before we'd feel comfortable recommending it in a guide like this.

Like with any instrument, we begin by looking at the overall build quality. We closely inspect every inch of the guitar, from the body and neck to the machine heads, bridge, and saddle, to ensure they feel robust, sturdy and up for taking you on your musical journey.

We'll next check the consistency of the fretwork to confirm there aren't any sharp frets or uneven frets that may result in buzzing. This ties into the playability of the guitar. For us, the guitar should be comfortable to someone new to the instrument, and this means a reasonably forgiving neck and unobtrusive body.

Lastly, we move our attention to the overall sound of the acoustic guitar. To test the tone of the instrument, we will try a variety of different playing techniques and styles to see how the guitar handles them, from strumming wide-open chords with a flat pick to soft fingerpicking and everything in between. We are carefully listening to the volume the guitar produces and the overall tonal balance of the sound. 

Find out more about how we make our recommendations and how we test each of the products in our buyer's guides.  

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.

With contributions from