Cheap acoustic guitars sound like a good idea, but they’re often times not worth the cost. This is especially true when looking for beginner guitars.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but a cheap guitar can cost you more in the long term.
There are hundreds of cheap acoustic guitars out there, with low price tags and low quality to match. It may seem like starting with a cheap guitar is a good way to go, but it really isn’t.
How much a beginner acoustic guitar should cost
You shouldn’t spend more than a couple hundred dollars on a beginner guitar. $300 and under is a good price point that features good quality guitars. You don’t want to go much under $150 though.
Why You don’t want to learn on a cheap guitar
Learning to play on a cheap guitar is frustrating. You end up fighting to keep the instrument in tune, struggling to make a decent sound only to give up feeling defeated.
Instead of learning to play guitar, you learn that you can’t play guitar at all. It’s the wrong lesson. What you really learned is that a cheap guitar makes a poor instrument.
The guitars on this list offer good quality and great value for their respective price tags. This is what makes them truly the best acoustic guitars for beginners. They are affordable, but not cheap. They’re made well enough to make learning guitar possible and fun for many years. And in the worst case, you can resell these guitars for most of your money back. The same is not true for cheap guitars!
You can get a good quality acoustic guitar for less than $500 – often much less. Many on this list are even under $200!
Acoustic Guitar Wood – Solid or HPL?
One way manufacturers can cut costs and make a guitars less expensive is through the use of HPL.
You’ll notice a lot of the guitars on this list feature HPL back and sides. This is one way manufacturers can provide cheap guitars for beginners that are still good quality. Most all-solid wood acoustics start with $1,000. A good compromise is a solid wood top, and HPL back and sides.
What is HPL and why should we care?
HPL is short for High Pressure Laminate. HPL is formed by layering many thin pieces together to form one stronger solid piece of wood. Next, these layers of wood get combined at higher pressure than normal (or LPL) laminate. The result is a more solid and durable composite wood.
What does all this mean for your guitar?
HPL is a cheaper alternative than solid wood. This means manufacturers can keep the costs down without sacrificing too much quality. That’s because HPL is better than traditional laminate (sometimes referred to as “plywood”). In short, HPL is a compromise to give you a better sounding, cheaper guitar.
Solid wood is still the best but you’ll pay more. If you want a small body guitar for less than $1,000 or an affordable acoustic guitar for a beginner, then you’ll be getting an HPL body guitar.
Besides being cheap, HPL is more resistant to weather and climate changes. This means that your guitar is more resistant to the wood cracking and won’t go out of tune as much when the seasons change. It also produces a generally brighter sound that can present itself as a “crispness” and is less prone to become “muddy” sounding.
You’ll find some people love HPL guitars and others despise them. Some disparagingly call them “plywood guitars.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve been playing guitar for over 15 years and have both a solid wood body and a newer HPL body and I love them both. If anything, I find the HPL to be lighter and brighter and often prefer playing it to my solid wood body. The HPL also requires less adjustment and care when summer turns to winter.
Which Acoustic Guitar Body Shape is Right for You?
Every acoustic guitar maker has their own unique variations, but here are the basic body shapes that are most common. (NOTE: This list is mainly for steel string acoustics , but may pertain to other kinds.)
This is the most common acoustic body shape. It owes its popularity to crooning cowboys, folk and bluegrass players. It’s a piece of Americana all by itself. In fact, the Dreadnought is what most people picture when they think of an acoustic guitar.
Named after an old English warship, you can feel confident taking this shape into almost any musical battle. In other words, it’s a very versatile body shape.
In fact, it’s only drawback is that it can be too large for smaller players (unless you get a ¾ size guitar). Some people also feel that it has limited access to higher frets. In reality, most acoustic players rarely play the higher frets, so it’s not much of a downside. This is especially true for beginning guitar players.
The Dreadnought shape guitar has a reputation for a big, booming sound. It’s great for strumming chords or picking single-note bluegrass runs.
Auditorium / Concert
The Auditorium and concert body shapes are a classic hourglass shape. It fits comfortably on the knee and is a favorite body shape among fingerstyle players. It’s great for single-note melody playing, but also projects chords well.
The Concert body guitar is a little smaller than the Auditorium.
Think of the Auditorium shape as the balance between the booming dreadnought, and more delicate sounding smaller body guitars. It has a solid projection and is comfortable to play.
Grand Auditorium / Grand Concert
As the name suggests, the Grand Auditorium or Grand Concert is a larger version of the Auditorium and Concert types. It was originally created by Taylor guitars. This shape features the same comfort as an Auditorium, with a little more low end to the sound and more projection.
This shape is so called because it features a piece of the body that is cut-away. This allow easier access to higher frets on the bottom strings.
Some players can make this work, but most acoustic players rarely use such high frets. The notes don’t ring out as well and it is frankly outside the sweet spot of an acoustic guitar. Still, some players like the look of a cut away, and there’s little (if any) negative effect to having the cut-away. It’s a matter of taste.
The best acoustic guitar under 300
1. Yamaha FG800
Unlike Seagull, Yamaha is a name most people recognize. Although most people are likely to associate the name with pianos. They make a multitude of high quality instruments though.
The Yamaha FG800 acoustic guitar is one such instrument. It sells for under $200 and is a very good beginner acoustic.
The Yamaha FG800 has solid Nato back and sides and a Solid Sitka Spruce top. A rosewood fingerboard and a high-gloss natural finish complete the look.
Die-cast tuners help keep the tuning tight and last longer than the plastic common on cheap guitars.
Nato is wood from the Mora trees and is similar to Mahogany. In fact, it’s often called “eastern mahogany.” Sitka Spruce is a popular wood choice for guitars because it projects a clear, crisp tone very well.
Yamaha’s legendary value and quality are present in this very affordable beginner level guitar.
Check out the Yamaha FG800 in action:
2. Takamine GD20-NS
The Takamine GD20-NS is a Dreadnought body style acoustic guitar with a solid Cedar top and Mahogany back and sides. It has a synthetic bone nut and bridge saddle for stable tuning.
Most people agree that the GD20-NS gives you pretty good bang for the buck. Its beautiful sound, sturdy construction and a pleasing look make the Takamine GD20-NS one of the best acoustic guitars for beginners. It’s an affordable guitar offering plenty of room to grow.
The Takamine GD20-NS also has a Slim satin-finish mahogany neck and 12″-radius rosewood fingerboard. This gives it a great feel and play-ability – especially when soloing and playing single notes.
The saddle is a split-saddle design which yields superior intonation for sweeter-sounding chords and single-note runs.
Some Takamine models are pretty high end guitars and can cost thousands of dollars. This is definitely the beginner line of Takamine guitars. It does not feature the superior sound qualities of the higher end models, it doesn’t feature their higher end price tag either.
At under $300, it’s a solid buy.
Here’s a demo of the it in action:
3. Fender Paramount Series PM-1 Standard All-Mahogany
Fender is a name most associate with guitars. Electric models like the Telecaster and Stratocaster are likely to come to mind. They also make excellent acoustic guitars. In fact, they make great guitars for beginner because you know Fender means quality. They build instruments for musicians. They wouldn’t put their name on a cheap piece of wood and call it a beginner guitar.
This Fender Paramount is an all-mahogany dreadnought. It’s got solid mahogany back and sides and solid open-pore mahogany top. The open-pore mahogany top lets the wood “breathe” more, allowing for a fuller, more natural tone.
This is a beautiful acoustic guitar with a real natural look and feel. It’s at the higher end of a beginner price range. It’s probably not a great choice for a child who “might be interested” in learning guitar, but it’s a great guitar for the serious minded player.
The PM-1 all mahogany is a carefully crafted, responsive guitar with superior tone in it’s price range. The earthy appearance and lush, warm voice and enhanced dynamic range set it apart from the rest of the pack.
Scalloped X-bracing in the body ensure that each note is well defined and, allows the open-pore mahogany top the perfect amount of ringing sustain.
Fender Paramount Series PM-1 Standard All-Mahogany sells for $599.
4. Epiphone DR-100
Epiphone is another name-brand guitar maker. They are a subsidiary of Gibson guitars. You can think of them as the affordable Gibson brand.
The Epiphone DR-100 acoustic guitar has a Spruce top, Rosewood fingerboard and Mahogany back and sides. This combination gives it an balanced tone of both warm and bright.
Many people consider the DR-100 to be strictly an acoustic guitar for beginners. This is due to the fact that it will not be long before the serious player wants to trade up.
But for $100, it’s hard to argue this isn’t one of the best budget guitars out there – for beginners or otherwise.
It’s a solid construction from a name brand guitar manufacturer. The reason it’s so much cheaper than the others on this list is that it’s pretty bare-bones in design. It also does not feature a solid wood top. This makes it more durable, but less clear in its sound. You can think of the DR-100 as a cheap guitar made well.
It’s the perfect starter guitar for the beginner who isn’t sure he will have the desire or aptitude to stick with playing guitar.
It’s available in 3 different finishes: Ebony, Natural, and Vintage Sunburst.
5. Ibanez PC15NT
The Ibanez PC15NT is a worthy entry in the beginner guitar series. You can find better acoustic guitars out there, but few are as good at this price.
It features a laminate Spruce top, and laminate Sapele (like Mahogany) back and sides. It’s smaller body doesn’t take much away from it’s loudness or crispness.
It’s sound is like a Martin or Taylor but retails for only $150. You do get what you pay for though. It won’t have as full a sound as a solid top acoustic guitar. The Ibanez PC15NT is great for finger picking or soloing, but only “OK” for strumming and rhythm work.
It’s not as well balanced for each technique as some other acoustic but at $150, it’s a good guitar for beginners.
6. Fender DG-8S
The Fender DG-8S features a solid Spruce top, and laminated Mahogany back and sides.
It has a Rosewood bridge with compensated saddle. This helps make it easier to tune and stay in tune.
The saddle and nut are plastic. If it sounds a little light on construction, it’s because it is. This is a definite beginner guitar – you will be trading this in if you pursue playing past the basics.
This is still a great acoustic guitar for beginners looking to try their hand at guitar playing but who aren’t sure how far they want to go with it. It’s usually sold in a starter kit, which includes things like a chromatic electronic tuner, instructional DVD, strings, picks and strap.
Basically, everything you need to sit down and start learning. All for under $200.
There are cheaper starter kits out there, but they’re…well, cheap. In the right hands the Fender DG-8S can really sing:
7. Washburn Harvest Series WG7S Acoustic Guitar
The Washburn Harvest WG7S Series has a solid Spruce top and laminate Mahogany sides and back. It also features a beautiful custom wood inlay rosette.
This is one of the few acoustic guitars in the beginner range to feature such accouterments. The Harvest WG7S is a Grand Auditorium body style. It’s a nice switch from the basic dreadnought style that dominates the beginner acoustic market.
That and the fact that its price is less than $200 makes this a great acoustic guitar for the beginner or a travel guitar.
You could do far worse for $200 than this great looking guitar with a nice bright tone and strong mid range.
The best acoustic guitar under 500
1. Seagull S6
It’s true that Seagull isn’t as well known as Fender or Martin when it comes to acoustic guitar brand recognition. Don’t let that worry you though. Seagull guitars are made in Canada and are highly regarded. They offer a beautiful sound at an excellent value.
The Seagull S6 has mahogany back and sides, and a solid cedar top for excellent sound projection.
The Seagull S6 blends the warmth of mahogany with the crisp definition of maple. The rosewood fretboard is easy on the fingers, while the Tusq nut and saddle provide good tone and stable tuning.
The S6 also features a double action truss rod to help keep it in tune over the years.
At $421 it may seem a bit pricey, but it it well worth the money. It’s not a cheap guitar, but it’s a good guitar and one of the best in the under $500 price range.
The Seagull S6 is an excellent acoustic guitar for beginners and a great investment. For the beginner willing to put in the practice time needed to play well, the Seagull S6 will last a decade or more.
Here’s a demo/promo video of the Seagull S6 in action:
2. Martin LX1
Martin guitars are well known and respected in acoustic circles. They have a rich history in bluegrass and early roots music. They’re also known as being expensive as hell!
Not so with the Martin LX1!
The Martin LX1 is a ¾ size acoustic guitar which features a solid Sitka Spruce top with laminate Mahogany back and sides. It’s Stratabond modified low-oval neck makes moving up and down the fretboard a breeze.
Being ¾ size it’s perfect for a travel guitar as well as a practice guitar for beginning students or younger students with smaller hands. The LX1 retails for around $350 and includes a gig bag.
That might seem like a lot for a ¾ guitar, but it’s a very good quality ¾ guitar. It’s not cheap, but it will last.
Besides, you won’t get another chance to own a piece of the fabled Martin history for less than $400.
Here’s a demo:
3. Baby Taylor
Taylor is also a very well respected name in acoustic guitars. They haven’t been around as long as Martin guitars, but they have a reputation for innovative designs.
One of their most successful innovations is the Baby Taylor.
The Baby Taylor is another ¾ size dreadnought. Like the Martin LX1, it’s perfect for younger players and those with smaller hands.
It’s in the same price range as the LX1 (under $350), and while it’s a good guitar, it’s not as good as higher end Taylors.
That’s also true of the Martin LX1 though.
It’s difficult to provide a high quality instrument at the lower price point. Don’t get me wrong, the Baby Taylor is a great ¾ Dreadnought.
It’s got a solid Mahogany top, and laminate Sapele back sides. It’s also got a Tusq nut and saddle for great tone in such a tiny package. A gig bag is generally included also, since it’s a non-standard size.
Great for beginners or anyone looking for a travel guitar.
Here’s a nice demo of the Baby Taylor: