Our guide to great guitars under $500 proves you don’t need to drop half a grand for good tone and build quality!
In this price range, you’ll be able to find a guitar that’s a little more personal, with more variety in looks and sounds to suit experienced players’ style. And since they’re built much better than budget models, you’re looking for a guitar that you’ll have around for a long time.
However, since there’s so much more variety, it’s even more confusing to figure out which guitars are of good quality. Which ones are just expensive (cheap) guitars, and which ones are value-priced beauties?
Don’t worry–we’ve got you covered! We chose three popular, very highly-rated acoustic guitars which we think are the best you can buy for under $500! You’ll find our in-depth reviews of each guitar below. We’ll take you through all the important features, and show you how each of these guitars stand out from their competitors.
Below the reviews, you’ll find a helpful How To section which will take you through what you should expect from these guitars as opposed to budget guitars and high-end models.
Here’s a quick peek at our three favorite acoustic guitars:
1. Seagull S6
This longtime customer favorite is made by Seagull, a partner brand of the revered Godin guitar workshop. It’s designed to make their high-quality Canadian guitars accessible to players on a tighter budget. We love the warmth and richness of the solid cedar top, as well as the simple, natural look of the guitar.
It’s made in Canada. This assures a higher level of quality control, as well as ethical construction practices. Many previous buyers cited the quality as a key deciding factor that gave them confidence in their purchase.
The cedar wood used for the top of the guitar is also grown in Canada. This wood has a mellower, smoother tone than pine or spruce. It’s also much hardier, and doesn’t warp under humidity and heat nearly as much as the other two.
The cedar top is made from a solid piece of wood. It’s been pressure-tested to be very durable, as well as weather-resistant.
The body of the guitar is made from wild cherry. This wood provides a middle ground between mahogany and maple. It’s deeper and fuller than maple, but has a bit more clarity and definition than you have with mahogany.
We love the tone of this guitar, and we’re not alone. When we read reviews from previous buyers online, we found that the most frequent words were “warm” and “rich.” The timbre of the S6 is ideal for fingerpickers, folk players, and open strummed chords.
The neck is a bit shorter than traditional dreadnoughts, with a very playable 24.84” scale and maple construction.The integrated truss rod at the neck joint is dual-action, which makes it easier to adjust intonation and balance.
The neck and fretboard on the S6 are a bit wider than most, which suits fingerpicking styles, as well as players with larger fingers. This is all a matter of preference to you.
It’s relatively inexpensive, especially for a guitar made in North America. Previous buyers were overwhelmingly impressed by the value for money here.
Some reviewers said they weren’t thrilled with the look of this guitar. It’s a simple, sparse design. If you’re looking for a more decorative, expensive-looking guitar, the S6 probably isn’t for you.
The cedar wood isn’t a good choice for heavy strumming/big rock sounds. Cedar tends to compress under hard vibrations, which gives an overdriven sound rather than a big, clean, bold sound.
See the Seagull in action here:
2. Bristol BD-16
The BD-16 is made by Bristol, an affordable offshoot brand of Blueridge. Blueridge has been making high-quality American instruments for decades, and has a very loyal following among bluegrass, folk, and Americana musicians.
This dreadnought is their most popular entry-level model. We’re fans of its bright, bold sound and classic design.
The BD-16 is designed for playing American music styles. It particularly shines in a bluegrass/traditional setting, with its bright, loud tone. The combination of the spruce top and mahogany back and sides produces a full range that sounds equally good at low volumes, or loudly in the middle of a band.
The scalloped braces inside the body allow for acoustical-sound reinforcements. They’re designed to provide added structure while guiding sound and making resonance more specific.
Reviewers said that one of the best aspects of the sound is the sustain. It’s much stronger than other guitars with laminated tops. This makes the BD-16 a good choice for guitarists who play live or in a band.
It’s designed for playability. The neck is slim, and the action is set low. This makes it a great choice for newer players, as well as the faster fingerpicking common to Americana music.
Visually, it’s quite a looker. The bright finish emphasizes the natural grain of the spruce top, as well as the warm mahogany body. There’s also a decorative, elegant headstock with pearled inlays.
We think the quality of the appointments really sets this guitar apart from the competition. While many budget guitars have visible flaws in the glue work or bindings, previous buyers wrote that the BD-16s were much better in terms of quality control.
It’s also equipped with higher-quality tuners and bridge pins. The tuners are die-cast, chrome plated, and set on a nicely finished headstock.
It’s very inexpensive. The low price point and great tone make it a perfect choice for a second guitar, or an easily-replaced main instrument. Previous buyers said that they felt the price made this guitar a stress-free investment, and the tone a pleasant surprise.
Unlike many lower-end guitars, reviewers said this one comes ready to play right out of the box, with adjusted action and everything. It also has a truss rod, if you have to do any fiddling at first or down the line.
It’s a laminated top. While it’s at the lower end of this price range, that’s still a bummer for overall tone.
See the BD-16 in action here:
3. Fender CD-60 Dreadnought
This all-mahogany dreadnought is a classic design with a twist. We like the tonal variety provided by the mahogany construction. It’s a rarity in the budget range, and provides a distinctive flair both visually and sonically. The CD-60 is also a bargain, as mahogany is traditionally quite expensive. It’s available in both full-bodied and cutaway versions.
All-mahogany construction gives this guitar a unique tonal quality, which sets it apart from other budget models. The wood has a deeper, fuller sound than the usual pine or spruce tops. However, it’s not as mellow or vague as cedar or other softer woods. The CD-60 has a nice balance of deep lows and sharp highs. The stronger bass end tone makes this a great choice for blues styles, as well as booming strumming music like rock and country.
It also has a very unique look, thanks to the darker wood and more prominent veining. No two of these guitars will look exactly the same, and all of them will stand out from other budget acoustics (all of which look fairly uniform). In fact, many previous buyers wrote in their reviews that they were drawn to the look and hooked by the sound.
Fender’s special X-style bracing gives the guitar body structure while actually enhancing the tone. We love the definition on this model, which gives you a clean precision to your sound without compromising warmth at all. It’s ideal for pretty much any style, no matter whether you’re picking or strumming.
The action is a low, designed for better playability. While the neck is smooth and playable, it’s full-size, with a 20-fret fretboard, made of the traditional rosewood. It’s a great choice for new players who want to be able to experiment with different techniques and sounds. Many buyers said they have given this guitar to new players as a gift.
This model is also offered with a cutaway, as model CD-60 CE. The cutaway version gives you a bit higher action on the neck, for improved range and versatility. It’s also equipped with an acoustic-electric pickup system. You can find the cutaway version here:
Like the Bristol, the wood on this Fender is all laminate. While the mahogany gives the CD-60 a rich, full sound, it doesn’t have the overall smoothness of a solid wood model.
See this guitar in action here:
How to Shop for an Acoustic Guitar Under $500
Keep your own style in mind:
Since there’s a much better variety in the midrange budget market, you’ll be able to find a guitar that caters to the type of music you want to play, as well as your own personal style.
Rather than the usual assortment of basic spruce dreadnoughts, you’ll find guitars made from cedar, mahogany, and other woods. These offer different tonal qualities to suit different styles and genres. Think about what tones you like best: mellow or bright? Strummed or picked? Gentle or intense?
You can also choose from a wider range of body styles. Do you like cutaways, or full-bodied dreadnoughts? Figure out what suits you best as an artist and keep your preferences in mind as you shop.
Look for guitars with solid tops:
Once you get above the $250-$300 mark, most guitars will come with solid wood tops. These offer much better tonal and structural integrity. You’ll have a guitar that sounds better, and lasts longer. You’ll also be struck by the visual improvement, since solid tops won’t have visible seams and joinery.
Look for better hardware, fit and finish:
The average budget acoustic in the $100-$250 range comes with cheap tuners and fittings. They’ll do the job, but they tend to lack precision, and don’t usually stay in tune very long. Above $250, you’ll find precision tuners that stay tuned through weeks of playing.
The other appointments will also get an upgrade, with fewer plastic parts, and more elegant headstocks, pickguards, and binding.
Fit and finish will see a bit of an improvement, as well, especially on North American-made guitars like the Seagull. The frequent flaws and imperfections of true budget acoustics under $250 are much rarer with these higher-priced models.
Which Guitar is Best for You?
The Seagull is the highest quality guitar of the three, between being built in Canada and having a solid wood top. The construction and materials give it a tone that’s far richer and more soulful than the Fender or Bristol. Our take? If you can afford it, go for it!
There’s a reason this guitar has been a best-seller for years. The one caveat is that the cedar wood isn’t an ideal choice for big rock strumming. If you’re looking to play gentler music, with broad strums rather than big, loud, power sounds, this guitar will definitely suit you.
The Fender is the least expensive of our recommendations under $500, and we’re recommending it as the best budget choice for people who want a guitar that’s not in the low budget range, but won’t cost half a grand, either.
It has a unique look and sound, thanks to mahogany construction, and suits just about any music or playing style. It’s a great all-around workhorse guitar. As an added bargain, you get a case thrown in with the guitar!
The Bristol is an overall upgrade on the basic budget acoustic. It has a spruce top, mahogany back and sides, and the same natural finish. Everything gets a quality upgrade without any real design changes. We’re recommending this one as the best choice for the average player, since it suits the sort of strummed chords most people play.
Still looking for the perfect guitar for you? You can read on more Cheap Acoustic Guitars. Check out the Amazon best sellers list!