Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide
(Acoustic_Guitars | Posted 2008-11-30)
There are a lot of things to consider when shopping for an acoustic guitar. Among those are obviously price, the skill level of the guitarist, and the type of music that will be played. Additionally, you will want to consider specific features to the guitar itself, among those are the wood used in construction, the type of neck, the size of the guitar, and whether the guitar has on-board electronics. For the purposes of this guide, we will look at each of these items in the paragraphs to follow.
Obviously price is a huge factor. Nearly everyone has a budget when shopping for a new guitar so knowing the price range you have to work with will help you narrow down some of the brands you will be considering. Obviously if your price range is between $100 and $500, you will not be looking at Gibson or Taylor as one of the brands you should consider. Acoustic guitars can range from under $100 to literally tens of thousands of dollars, so there's a lot of range to work with. Below is a selection of guitars organized by price range that you can review:
Acoustic Guitars, Brands, Price Ranges
Brands By Price Range
While some brands manufacture guitars in all price ranges, typically you will find certain brands dominating certain price points. Also, you will see that the same manufacturer may have strategically defined different brands to address different price point ranges.
In the low price ranges you will see brands like Epiphone, Rogue, Oscar Schmidt, First Act, Johnson, etc.
The the mid-range, you will see brands like Fender, Dean, Yamaha, Gretsch, Seagull, and others.
Near the top end of the range, you will see brands such as Taylor, Guild, Gibson, and others dominating the ranks. Often, these guitars are made of superior woods and also include nicely appointed trims such as abalone and mother-of-pearl inlays.
Unless you have unlimited funds, it really doesn't make sense to buy an expensive guitar for a beginner. On the flip side, an accomplished player is probably going to cherish something a little finer.Other than that, buying an acoustic guitar is relatively independent of the skill level of the player.
Type of Music
Acoustic guitars are very capable of playing all types of music from classical to hard rock to country to SKA. If you are shopping for an acoustic guitar for yourself or for a loved one, you really needn't be too concerned about the type of music the player enjoys. Acoustic guitars can pretty much handle it all.
As you might expect, the type of wood used in the construction of the guitar has a major impact in tonal characteristics and quality. Often, different woods or materials are used in the top, back, sides, and neck which can also affect the sonic signature of the guitar. Sitka spruce is commonly used for the soundboard, which is the top panel of the guitar. Sitka Spruce has a loud, hearty tone that is good for many different playing conditions. Maple tends to give an acoustic guitar a flatter sound, but can make a difference when the guitar is being amplified. Alder is another common wood used in acoustic guitar construction and provides a strong middle frequencies response pattern, not too high, not too low. Mahogany is sometimes used in the tops of these guitars to give the tone a solid resonant tone with a stronger response in the upper register. Some other less popular woods are Koa, Brazilian Rosewood, Indian Rosewood, Red Spruce, Poplar, Basswood, and Ebony.
There are a couple different sizes and primary shapes of acoustic guitars. The most popular are the Classic, the Dreadnought, and Jumbo varieties. Classic, as you might imagine is used as the basis for classical guitars, but the dreadnought and jumbo are most popular for the standard models. The primary differences, in our opinion, are that the dreadnought is slightly smaller than a Jumbo, and has a stronger bass response. The Jumbo, obviously larger, has a louder projection. The scenario you or the guitarist will be using the instrument in may determine which you go for. For instance, we prefer a Jumbo when playing a larger hall or outdoors where projection is key.
Electronics, or a piezo pickup, will help you to amplify your guitar. If you have a need to play the guitar at louder volume levels than can be achieved with the guitar alone then this option is going to be important to you. There are amplifiers out there specifically designed for acoustic guitars and the on-board pickups will also allow you to plug your guitar into a PA system or live sound rig.
In summary, there are a variety of acoustic guitar sizes, woods used in construction, amplifiable characteristics, and trims. There are also several brands throughout the different price ranges. Before you go shopping for an acoustic guitar, spend a little time making a list of the major points to consider from the tips we gave above. This will help you to determine a range that makes sense for you. Also, we highly recommend clicking on some of the links you see on this page and familiarizing yourself with the prices and features that are available. Also, read as many reviews as you can. Certain brands will really stand out as consistent performers, but it's up to you to educate yourself before plunking down your hard earned dollars on a beautiful new instrument. Best of luck.
Things To Keep in Mind When Reading Acoustic Guitar Reviews:
When evaluating an acoustic guitar, there are several things you will want to understand and evaluate before making a decision to buy. Below, we have listed a few things to keep in mind while you are looking at reviews.
Price: Obviously price is a major consideration when buying an acoustic guitar. Most people have a range that they are looking in, so attempting to understand what the person who wrote the review paid is very important. You should also consider that after reading reviews, you may determine that you will want to spend a little more to get a better model with more features, or better quality materials and craftsmanship.
Body Style: There are several types of body styles for acoustic guitars including jumbo, dreadnought and travel size. Primarily, the body style impacts comfort and loudness or sound projection. Obviously a jumbo acoustic is going to be louder and project more than a dreadnought or travel guitar. Dreadnought acoustics, though, tend to have a stronger bass response. What you gain in sound though, you sacrifice in size. You may not want a larger guitar, so this is a tradeoff you may be willing to make. To make this decision you will need to determine how the guitar will be used. Are you looking for something to play around campfires or at parties? Do you plan on gigging with the instrument or recording? Do you want a full, rich tone, or a bright, loud tone?
Body Construction: As you know, most acoustic guitars are constructed of wood and as you might expect, the types of wood used can significantly impact the tonal character of the sound. One of the most common types of woods used in the construction of the front and back panels is Spruce. Many believe that it is the top panel of the acoustic guitar that impacts the sound quality the most, so many manufacturers focus on this when they are introducing new materials into the process. Many woods are unique or even endangered, but all will add a slightly different character to the sound of the guitar. Some woods used in the construction of acoustic guitars include: Mahogany, Koa, Brazilian Rosewood, Indian Rosewood, Sitka Spruce, Red Spruce, Maple, Alder, Poplar, Basswood, and last but not least, Ebony.
Neck: The neck is very important for several reasons but most importantly playability. Depending on your hand size, you may opt for a different neck. For instance, some people like a fat (thick) neck because it may be more comfortable for longer playing sessions because of the support it gives your hand, while a thinner neck may arguably allow you to play faster. Similarly, the fretboard width can also come into play, especially for players with fat fingers.
Electronics: You may have heard of an acoustic-electric guitar. This is an acoustic guitar that has been fitted with a piezo or other type of pickup, similar to those found on electric guitars. This pickup can be used to transmit the sound waves from the guitar through an instrument cable or other interface to an amplifier, PA system, or recording workstation or computer. Many acoustic guitars come with electronics these days and manufacturers have become quite skilled at including them without negatively impacting the sound. If you are shopping for an acoustic guitar, though, you will need to determine if you need electronics. If you are only shopping for a guitar to play around with at social functions, you may not need them, but if you may want to plug in to a sound system or record in the future, you should probably consider an acoustic-electric.
Looks: Last but not least, you should consider the trimmings. While you can find a very playable guitar, that is made of good quality woods for a reasonable price, you can certainly add ornamentation and drive up the price. Many guitar manufacturers include inlays or other trims that include mother-of-pearl and abalone. Some of these options can add a considerable amount (several thousand dollars in some cases) to the bottom line price of the guitar. Most people that go after the ornamentation are professionals, collectors, or experienced players who are looking for the best or most tricked-out instrument available.
Tips From Readers
If you have a tip you'd like to share with the readers at MusicGearReview.com, please send it to us via the contacts page and we will review and consider it for posting here. Below are some tips sent in by our readers. Hopefully you will find them to be of value.
When I'm shopping guitars, either acoustic or electric, I will always play a few songs that I am very familiar with because I know exactly how they should sound. I know that sounds like common sense, but some people just go in there and plink around and you really need to give that potential new axe a workout. - Dylan M., Scottsdale, AZ
Take your tuner or ask the store for one! There's nothing worse than trying to evaluate an out of tune instrument so if you're not perfect pitch trained enough to tune that low E, use something to do it for you, this will help you better evaluate the guitar. - Jason E., Cherry Hill, NJ
Whenever I am looking at acoustic guitars, I will always ask to plug them in (if possible, and if they are acoustic-electric) because you need to really hear them both unamplified and amplified. - Bill K., Chicago, IL
Play every brand in the store is the best advice I can give. Sometimes we have a tendency to go for the more familiar brand names, but sometimes you can find a really great sounding acoustic with nice action for a lot less by trying some of the not-so-popular brands. - Raven, NYC
Send us your tips and we'll include them here! Below are some additional articles of interest regarding Acoustic Guitars...
Acoustic Guitar Articles
Acoustic Guitar Strings
Now that you have an acoustic guitar, you're probably going to need a little help choosing guitar strings for it. In this great article by Matt Griffith, we take a look at some of the decisions you'll need to make when choosing a new set of acoustic guitar strings. Check out the article here: Choosing Acoustic Guitar Strings
Acoustic Guitar Body Styles and Tone Woods
Matt takes a look at the various acoustic guitar body styles that are available and also the different woods that are used in the construction process to impart different tonal characteristics. Check out the article here: Acoustic Guitar Body Styles and Tone Woods
Acoustic Guitar Model Numbers, What Do They Mean?
Did you ever wonder what those complicated model numbers have to do with the type of acoustic guitar or wood that goes into it? Matt takes us through a summary of acoustic guitar model numbers and what they mean here: Acoustic Guitar Model Number Meanings