In this Guide
Sometimes when you’re guitar shopping, it seems like your only options are plasticky knock-offs, or $3,000 luthier-made artist models. It’s hard to find a good middle ground, especially when you’re shopping online.
How cheap can you really go without sacrificing quality? How much do you have to spend for one that doesn’t sound cheap? We’ve got answers to these questions and more!
Plenty of great-sounding acoustics are available for bargain prices. But finding them can be a time-intensive process. We’ll help you get a sense of your options at a few different price points, and give you an overview of what to look for in your new acoustic guitar.
In this guide, we’ll help you find a guitar which suits your budget, your skill level, and your personal playing style!
On this page, you’ll find our in-depth reviews of three great acoustics at bargain prices. Below, you’ll find links to our round-ups of the best acoustics under $500, as well as the best models available under $1,000.
At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a quick how-to guide for helping you shop for your new acoustic. Keep reading to find the right one for you!
First, here’s a quick look at our 3 favorites:
Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars for the Money
This extremely affordable dreadnought is Epiphone’s best-selling acoustic. It’s a simple, classic design with several classy finish options. Players report it projects bright, clear sound with a full range, from bass to treble. We think it sounds much better than other entry acoustics, and it can compete with models that cost $100+ more! It has a rich tone, a classic look, and holds tuning very well.
It uses all the right woods for great acoustic sound–there’s a laminated spruce top, and mahogany body panels. Spruce provides a bright, clear sound, with plenty of range. Plus, it performs better as it ages. The mahogany sides and back give you a fuller low end and resonance. The fretboard is rosewood, just like you’d find on a $500 model.
The overall tone of the full-size dreadnought body sounds great. It’s suitable for all kinds of playing, from rock to blues to fingerpicking. It’s especially good for people who will be singing as well as playing. The Epipone has a classic rock and country sound that’s excellent for accompanying voices.
You get pretty good fit and finish for a budget model, with pearl dot inlays on the fretboard and die-cast tuners at the headstock. There’s nothing too elaborate, but everything that is included is well-executed.
Unlike many budget models, this one has a built-in truss rod. This makes it adjustable, and easy to fix action and intonation issues. It’s one of the most important features that sets the DR-100 apart from other low-priced guitars.
It’s easy to tune, and stays in tune very well. That’s usually a weak point on models below $250 or so, but not with the Epiphone! Buyers said their guitars held in tune for at least a week at a time.
It has low action out of the box, which makes this one highly playable. That’s ideal for new players.
There are a few different finish options–natural, glossy black, and a vintage-style sunburst finish. This makes the DR-100 fit in with a few different aesthetics.
Epiphone provides a 2-year warranty with all their guitars.
The factory strings are fairly bad. You’ll definitely want to have some replacements on hand. That’s a good assumption to have for any guitar at this price.
Previous buyers have reported that there are some quality control issues. This is fairly typical of models at this price, since they’re all factory-built overseas. However, if you do come across a lemon, you can most certainly return it quickly.
Some reviewers mentioned that theirs had some buzzing issues, due to maladjusted action. While this is annoying out of the box, you should expect to tune up any new guitar at a music shop when you buy it, since they usually need a bit of action work.
See the Epiphone DR-100 in action here:
2. Yamaha FG800
This Yamaha dreadnought is another best selling budget model, with some very impressive quality points. It has a solid spruce top, accents on the binding, and it’s covered by a lifetime warranty! This model is also offered as a value pack with some picks and a hardshell case for an extra $50. It’s about twice the price as the Epiphone, but has superior tone and definition. The FG800 is a redesigned and improved version of the FG700S, which was one of the most popular guitars ever!
The dreadnought body has a solid top, which is pretty rare at this price point. The sitka spruce wood on the top gives this one warm, rich tones. It has a clearly defined upper end. The sitka wood also adapts well under heavier vibrations, and won’t compress with strong strumming.
The body and neck are made from nato wood. It’s a low-cost alternative to mahogany, and provides the same mid- and low-end response without the cost and environmental concerns associated with mahogany.
The FG series is built around a smaller, folk design, which makes these more playable and ergonomic than traditional dreadnoughts. This makes it a great choice for younger players, as well as experienced players who want a smaller, convenient option to have around the house.
The action is also nice and low–perfect for beginners. Since the strings are set close to the frets, you won’t have any finger pain at first play.
Even though the body is smaller, it’s still as deep as other dreadnoughts. That means you get improved playability without sacrificing low-end tone. That’s a big plus for us, and previous buyers agreed. It gave them bright, clean high notes with rich and warm low ends.
We especially like that Yamaha uses a special non-scalloped bracing design inside the body to tailor the sound while providing strong structure for the top of it. These supports are more acoustically-enhanced than other manufacturers.
The neck joint is a dovetail design, as opposed to the bolted, metal necks that some other entry-level acoustics are made with. It’s just as strong, but keeps the intonation better than bolt necks.
There’s an extra-thin finish on the wood, which means that vibrations are only minimally impacted. This one sounds and looks completely natural.
Incredibly, this budget model is backed by a lifetime warranty. That’s a huge bonus, and it’s one of the reasons that Yamaha earns such high satisfaction ratings from its buyers. They make excellent products, and back them up better than anyone else in the industry.
We found very few complaints about this one from previous buyers. The only negative comments we’ve read were about setup out of the box, which is a result of shipping, not manufacturing. As long as you keep in mind that this is still a budget model, we think you’ll be more than satisfied!
See this one in action here:
3. Oscar Schmidt OG2SM
This dreadnought looks way out of its price class, with a beautiful spalted maple top and high gloss finish. It sounds just as good as it looks. It’s made by Oscar Schmidt, the entry-level partner of Washburn. It has the quality assurance of a major brand without the name-brand price–including a lifetime warranty! If you’re looking for something that looks completely unique without breaking the bank on a luthier instrument, this one is perfect!
The spalted maple top is really breathtaking. It’s bright, varied, and has some amazing natural wood tones. Plus, every one of these will have a unique look, thanks to the different grain patterns of each tree.
Our favorite part is that the makers book-match the top pieces. That means each side mirrors the other with the grain, with a gorgeous effect. The front of the guitar has a symmetry in the grain which really complements the natural lines of the wood.
While you might not think aesthetics are an important consideration at this price point, we believe otherwise. So many inexpensive acoustics look plain, and are all fairly generic. This Oscar Schmidt is a low-cost way to stand out from the pack, and have a really personal instrument!
The maple also gives this one a unique tonal quality. Because most budget models use similar pine/spruce tops, they have a typical bright, strumm-y sound. This wood gives you something a bit more mellow. That isn’t to say that it loses definition, though. While the sound of maple is less sharp than pine, it doesn’t get muddy at high volumes (like you’d find with cedar). You’ll have clear, crisp treble tones with a twist! Many previous buyers raved about the combination of looks and sound on this one.
It’s highly playable. It has strong tone, mellow warmth, and a low action which makes that wide tonal range very accessible. The neck is also a bit slimmer than some dreads, so it’s ideal for average hands that are learning chord shapes.
Most reviewers said this was a much better than average beater to have around. It’s versatile enough to handle all styles of music, with no major tonal handicaps.
While this is near the same price as the Yamaha, it’s not a solid-top guitar. The laminate means it will be less prone to humidity and warping issues, but it does mean the tone won’t be as impressive.
Some reviewers said they had issues with the action straight out of the box. Again, this is to be expected. If you have any issues, you’re still looking at just a $10-20 easy fix at a local shop.
There’s no top strap screw on the neck joint. If you’re planning on playing standing up, you might want to look into options like neck ties and headstock clips.
Top Guitars Under $500
At the upper end of the budget range, you’ll notice some big quality upgrades! While most acoustics under $200-$300 have laminated wood construction, those closer to the $500 mark often have solid wood tops-spruce, pine, maple, or cedar. Solid tops offer much better tone, as well as looks!
These also have better hardware, with upgraded tuners, frets, and pins. Plus, you’ll have more of a range of woods and body styles to choose from, giving you the chance to find a personal, unique instrument that’s suited just to your taste! Perfect for experienced players on a budget, or learners who are ready to graduate from their first instruments to something that sounds and looks as good as they’re about to be!
One of our favorite acoustics in the Under $500 category is the Seagull S6.
It’s the flagship model from Seagull, which is a partner brand of the legendary Godin guitar makers. Cedar and cherry wood give this model a very unique tonal quality, with a mellow texture that’s perfect for fingerpicking and jazz chords. The distinctive tapered headstock provides stable, precise tuning with an added visual flair. Plus, it’s built in Canada–not an overseas factory! As a result, it has very high ratings for build quality and durability.
See more of our recommendations for the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500, and find out more about what you can expect from guitars in this price range here!
Best Guitars Under $1,000
If you’re prepared to spend upwards of $500 for an acoustic guitar, you’ll find a marked improvement in fit and finish, as well as sound quality. Acoustic guitars in this price bracket are made almost exclusively of solid woods.
Because the sides and back of the guitar are solid wood, as well, you’ll get better tone as well as build quality. You’ll also find that many guitars in this tier come with acoustic-electric pickup systems, which is an added bonus for you! As the price goes up, you’ll also find more North American-made guitars.
Our top quality choice in the Under $1,000 category is the Martin Road Series. It’s designed for the working musician, and is rugged enough to follow you anywhere.
This dreadnought is built from all-solid pieces of sapele wood, which gives you the tonal quality of mahogany without the high cost and environmental damage. All of the wood is reinforced, and there are special synthetic compounds in the fretboard and bridge that are designed to withstand years on the road. It includes a full pickup and pre-amp system, along with a hard case, so it’s fully gig-ready!
See more of our recommendations for the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $1,000, and find out more about what you can expect from guitars in this price range here!
Which Budget Guitar is the Best Value for You?
The Epiphone is our budget recommendation for the ultimate in value and affordability. It’s well-built, versatile, and backed by a 2-year warranty. It’s a great beginner guitar, and a good choice for a beater guitar for a more experienced musician.
The Oscar Schmidt is our favorite option for people who want something more distinctive in their guitar’s look, sound, and feel. It’s priced squarely in the budget range, but has a quality and tonal variety that can compete with the $500+ models.
The Yamaha is the highest quality option of the three. Its solid wood top gives it a big tonal boost, and a range that can handle pretty much any type of music. While it’s twice the price of the Epiphone, your investment is fully covered with a lifetime warranty. We’d recommend it to serious musicians on a budget.
How to Shop for an Acoustic Guitar
Keep your budget in mind:
As with so many things in life, you do very much get what you pay for. We’re recommending guitars between $75 and $1,000. Below $75, you’re looking at junker guitars with cheap tone and poor construction quality.
Even some guitars from $75-$150 can be junky, if you’re not careful. We’ve taken care to make sure that even the cheapest of our recommendations come from reputable brands who also make high-end acoustics.
Generally, budget to midrange guitars are made outside of North America, usually in China or Mexico. They’ll provide good tone and solid build quality, but are prone to slight imperfections in fit and finish.
Budget-priced guitars are good choices for beginners who aren’t particularly skilled. After all, when you’re learning to play, you aren’t really going to notice the tonal differences in wood. These guitars also make great secondary/beater guitars for experienced musicians.
Above the $200 mark, you’ll find guitars that are good for experienced players on a budget, as well as new musicians who are sure they’ll be keeping their guitar for a while.
After $500, you’re looking at well-built guitars with solid tops, better tone, and much better quality control in the construction process. These guitars are still factory-built, but they don’t have the poor sound quality you’d associate with their manufacturing process.
If you can afford guitars up around $1,000, you’ll be looking at tone and build quality that can compete with the best acoustic guitars. These guitars are made by the big name brands, and are made from all solid woods.
Since a guitar at this price is a sizable investment, we’d recommend these models primarily to people who are experienced players but can’t afford luthier-made, $2,000 guitars.
As a general rule, we’d recommend spending money where it counts – on the actual guitar itself. Unless you’re a beginner, you probably don’t need the basic accessories. Additionally, you don’t want to be paying more for electronics or accessories.
Focus on finding the best quality wood construction–solid pieces. In any case, you want the best wood possible. You can always upgrade, add an electronics system or, tune up other parts later.
Most importantly, look for bargains online. Paying list prices for new guitars is pretty rare, even in some physical stores. You can often find better deals online, especially during sale seasons!
Think about ergonomics vs. sound:
Here, you want to balance sound with playability. While bigger guitars offer fuller, deeper sound, they have much bigger bodies and take a bit more work to play.
Dreadnoughts and Jumbo guitars offer deep, full sound. Dreadnoughts in particular are a classic choice, and their sound suits many types of music, from rock to blues to country. They’re played by everyone from Keith Richards to Bob Dylan.
Jumbos are your best bet for big sound. Their extra large chambers make them the kings of bass, as well as projection. These have been played famously by Emmylou Harris, Noel Gallagher, and others. However, they’re pretty large, and might not make sense for smaller people. Like dreadnoughts, they’re most often “strumming” guitars.
Parlor guitars and smaller-bodied models are a bit more playable for people with smaller builds. They have a mellow, less “boom-y” sound than dreadnoughts or jumbos. This is due to their sleeker, smaller body shape. You can also find narrower folk style AJ or J with smaller front ends. These guitars also offer a different tonal quality which is great for fingerpicking and folk playing styles. You’ll see these played by blues musicians like Keb Mo, as well as jazz musicians like Norah Jones.
You’ll also want to consider the neck size and action on a given model. Smaller necks and fingerboards are going to be a necessity for some hands. Likewise, low-action fretboards make things easier for new players. You can find variations on neck sizes, fingerboard length, and other key playability features on most models.
If you’re going to be playing more technical music, or just want a bit more range, acoustic guitars with cutaways near the neck joint give you more room to maneuver towards the top of the fretboard.
As we’ve said, you can usually find much better prices for acoustic guitars online. However, to get a sense of a particular guitar, it makes sense to give it a test run. You can stop by a local music store, or find a friend who plays to give you a feel for acoustic guitars.
Most guitars are available in a few different finish options. The most common is the natural look, which will bring out the grain of the wood. This is more suitable for solid-top guitars, as natural finishes will show the joinery on a laminated top. You’ll also find a lot of sunburst designs, from cherry burst to tobacco burst, etc.
Remember that a guitar will be a friend for life, and may be onstage with you. You’ll want it to look as good as it sounds.
All sorts of wood are used in guitar construction. The type depends on the maker, as well as the style of guitar. The type also affects the sound.
Most tops are made from spruce, pine, or maple. Some brands, like Godin and Seagull, favor cedar. Cedar is a bit softer, and favors folkier sounds and softer playing. These woods have bright, warm sounds that are highly resonant. You’ll also find the occasional koa or mahogany top, which have deeper, bolder sounds suitable for blues, rock, etc.
Solid-top guitars use a single piece of wood on the face. Solid wood provides better resonance and a richer sound. However, solid-top guitars cost a bit more, and won’t be available under $300.
The vast majority of guitars use mahogany for the sides and back. It gives a nice low and mid range of resonance, without muddying the definition of notes. The more expensive acoustic guitars (around $750-$1,000) use solid pieces of wood for the backs and sides as well as the top.
Rosewood is used for nearly every fretboard. It’s a standby, and is pretty uniform between guitars. Some more exotic models will use koa or other materials, but rosewood is by far the most common.
Fit and finish:
When you’re looking at guitars from $75-$200, you can expect a few flaws. We’ve tried to find guitars to recommend that are usually perfect from the factory. However, these lower end models generally have a bit less quality control, since they’re so mass-produced.
Budget guitars also have less elegant appointments. “Appointments” is a general term, and includes tuners, headstocks, bridges, finger dots, etc. These features are mainly aesthetic, but do affect some tonal factors (tuners, in particular).
Midrange acoustics around $500 are still fairly basic, but have fewer flaws and imperfections. These will also have slightly nicer appointments like precise tuners and better binding work.
Once you’re spending up around $1,000, you can expect perfect finish and glue work. You’ll also see more elaborate, decorative headstocks, smoother necks and binding, and other aesthetic features which make these guitars look even more expensive than they are.
Keep in mind that ANY acoustic guitar, regardless of price, will usually need some fiddling when you first receive it. That’s just a result of the shipping process. While some acoustics will arrive playable, you shouldn’t be concerned if yours has some minor tonal issues at first. Just take it to a local shop and have them give it a basic setup ($10-$25).
We’d also recommend switching out the strings. Even the nicer acoustic guitars usually ship with mediocre factory strings. We love Elixirs for the best sound and playability. They use nanoweb coatings to make steel strings play like smooth nylon. Their strings also last a lot longer than other brands.
Easy Upgrades to Make Your Budget Guitar Sing!
-Tuners: A lot of budget axes have lackluster tuners/tuning knobs, and they can make it hard to get your instrument in tune, and make it easy to knock it out again. Upgrade the tuners on your headstock for better intonation–it shouldn’t cost more than $40 for a complete set of Grover’s. There are also any number of other makers with even cheaper sets that are still big upgrades over factory tuners.
-Strings: Nothing undercuts a guitar’s sound like playing it with factory strings. Factory strings are notoriously bad, and we always suggest replacing them as soon as you’re able. Our favorites are Elixir Nanowebs. They stay tuneful much, much longer than traditional strings, and they feel fantastic to play. In all, they’re a bargain considering the quality of the sound, and the longevity of the strings themselves.
Check them out here:
-Action adjustment: a lot of the time, all the little flaws in a guitar’s sound are due to it getting out of whack during shipping, rather than any real manufacturing problem. One really inexpensive way to make your bargain guitar from the web sound like something the next price class is to bring it to your local guitar shop for a quick tune-up. They’ll adjust the action to get rid of annoying buzz, and tweak the intonation to help you play in tune more consistently. The whole thing should cost less than $25, and most shops are happy to service instruments they haven’t sold. We actually recommend that any guitar go in for a quick set-up after the shipping process, even premier models. It makes a world of difference!
We hope you’ve seen a few guitars that might suit you and your music. You can read more about any of our price categories by clicking through.
Haven’t seen your ideal guitar yet? No worries, at least you’ll have a better sense of what you’re looking for, and which features are most important. Take a look at the best selling acoustic guitars.