Acoustic Guitars Tested: Top Models

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When it comes to choosing an awesome acoustic guitar, it can be challenging to decide, especially if you’re a beginning guitar player and this is your first acoustic guitar.

There are so many brands and sizes, that it’s very easy to get lost in your acoustic guitar search. So what is the best beginner guitar? Even if you know what brand you want, there’s steel string acoustic guitars, nylon string acoustic guitars, mini acoustic guitars, parlor guitars and even professional grade guitars(you know the ones that seem like a down payment on a condo when you see the price).  Fear not you will find that beginner acoustic guitar that you are looking for, you just need to take your time and think about which one suits your style.  And with careful thought you’ll have a guitar that will last you for many years to come.

So sit back and relax, and read about the things you need to know when making looking at a guitar so that you can make an educated decision.

How to Find Your Perfect Acoustic Guitar

Size

One of the contributing factors to the sound of an acoustic guitar is the size.  In the general smaller guitars produce less sound and larger guitars provide more volume.  There are many guitar sizes ranging from small to extra-large.  The table below helps breakout the sizes and uses.

Size Body Types Usage
Small Parlor, small body, 00, 000 for intimate settings, kids, starter guitars
Medium Orchestra, Auditorium jack of all trades, used for finger picking and strumming
Large Dreadnaught, sloped shoulder great for strumming and larger venues, common for bluegrass and country music
Extra-Large Jumbo, Super Jumbo Full rich sound great for recording and larger venues, also used for country and bluegrass

Wood

While size contributes to depth and volume of the sound produced by the guitar, the body and neck will both contribute to the sonic profile. The combinations of wood used for the body and neck are endless as the woods can be of the same species cut from different trees, or perhaps grown in different regions, or different species on the same guitar.  Each wood type, density, grain pattern, cell structure affect the sound dramatically or subtly, depending on the use and combination. 

In addition to solid wood guitars there are laminate or “layered” (as Taylor Guitars puts it) materials used for guitar construction.   These can make some fine guitars as well, but tend to be less desirable (and less expensive) than the solid wood variety.  How the different woods are assembled and the size and shape of the guitar go a long way in determining the sound you will get from your instrument. Take a look at our discussion on wood properties.

String Action and Play-ability

Let’s talk about string action.  The action is the distance between the string and the fretboard and the ‘perfect’ action depends on the player and the playing style.  There are several types of playing styles and it’s important to know what style you are to know what type of action you will probably be happiest with.   Evaluate yourself for what your style is, think about the types of songs you like to play and the way you pluck the strings.  Generally you can have lower action with finger picking and light strumming, but if you are a heavy strummer you may want a little higher action.   

Remember that there is a definite compromise between play-ability and ensuring there is little to no buzz on the strings.  The lower the action, the more you will need more finesse and control when you’re picking and strumming.  You cannot play a low action as hard as you can play a higher one.

Electronics

First of all there are several kinds of pickups that you can put in your acoustic guitar.   In fact many come with pickups already installed by the factory.  If you have an acoustic guitar that doesn’t have a method for you to plug into and amplifier and you would like to here are some of the types of pickups or transducers that you should consider. One of the simpler pickups are soundboard transducers. 

Installation is simple as they can attach to inside on the top of the guitar or just under the bridge plate. The transducer picks up the vibration of the top to produce the sound and they have a warm sound.  If your looking for something that is more sensitive to your attack on the strings than what is provided by the soundboard pickup you should consider under-saddle transducers. They are a thing line that is placed under the saddle on the bridge.  Because it involves altering the saddle and drilling holes for the wire.   These are best left for a professional luthier to install.

Sometimes you would like to have the best of both worlds.  This is where Hybrid systems come in.   They allow you to take advantage of multiple types of transducers and blend them to further refine your sound.  Popular examples of these are Fishman Eclipse and L.R. Baggs iMix systems.   While these two are very popular there are many options available by various manufacturers.

Sound Hole Pickups

Another less intrusive option is the magnetic sound-hole pickup.  Noteworthy features are there is no pre-amp or battery needed and they provide a very natural acoustic sound.  They fit in the sound hole and jack is protected by a soft sleeve and hangs over the edge of the guitar.   No drilling, no batteries, no damage to the guitar.  Others believe that microphones provide the best sound.  You can also get a microphone that is positioned in the opening of the sound hole from the inside of the guitar.  You can experiment by moving the microphone on its flexible arm.

Thats it!  The quick overview of what to look for in acoustic guitars.  To help you even further, we’ve also reviewed some of the best guitars available on the market today that won’t break your bank account. Hopefully after reading these short reviews, you’ll have a better idea of which one to get.

Top all around guitars on The Market Today:

 

Eastman AC422CE Grand Auditorium Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar

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Eastman AC422CE Summary

Offering performance and features often not found in a guitar manufactured outside the USA, the AC422CE is a guitar any enthusiast would enjoy. This model features a back and sides made of Rosewood, ebony fingerboard and a neck made of mahogany which immediately lets you know that it’s been designed and built with quality materials.

The guitar top is made of Sitka spruce and the rosette and inlays are abalone. The nut and saddle are made of bone. All of these excellent features give you all the tools you need to get that professional sound as you perform your songs.

The cutaway allows for easy access to frets in the upper register for those that enjoy playing riffs in the upper part of the neck.

In addition to the quality materials used to make the guitar it comes with a Fishman Matrix sound system with adjustments just inside the sound hole for easy access and adjustment. Other features you’ll certainly love about this guitar include the hard shell case to protect your investment and the X-bracing found in many steel string acoustic guitars. The combination of the materials used, the quality workmanship and the use of proven traditional design make for a beautiful guitar that won’t break the bank.

 

Taylor 114ce 100 Series Acoustic Guitar, Sapele, Grand Auditorium, Cutaway, ES-T

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Taylor 114CE Summary

Taylor makes some of the best-rated options out there, and the 114CE is no exception. Its features clean, functional and the workmanship is consistent with all the other Taylor guitars. Taylor guitars are one of the few brands we could recommend without even seeing the guitar. Their standards are that good.

The 114CE comes with layered or laminate sapele back and sides. While not as sought after as solid would layered or laminate materials provide more stability related to climate changes making it more durable and they produce a fine sound. The neck is also made from sapele and the finger board is ebony. The nut is made of nubone and the saddle of tusq. Both of these are high quality man-made materials and they provide a more consistent tone than real bone. Bone can have ‘soft’ spots that take away from the tone.

The sound board is sitka spruce and it has Taylors forward shifted pattern bracing. Again the workmanship is superior on Taylor instruments and you will get a consistent tone with this guitar. The neck is slightly narrower on this guitar making it a breeze to play for people with shorter fingers or small hands.

The 114CE also comes with Taylors Expressions 2 system. Taylor’s electronics are their own design and as with all their products you can count on the quality and they stand behind their products. The electronics have controls discretely placed on the top side of the guitar and are very easy to access.

As for protection the guitar comes with a durable taylor gig bag rather than a hard shell case. While the gig bag does provide protection and it is well made. A hard shell case would provide more protection.

Check out our Taylor 114ce review here.

Martin DRS2 Dreadnought Acoustic-Electric Guitar

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Martin DRS2 Summary

Martin has been making guitars for a long time and DRS2 model has all that experience packed into its design at an affordable entry price. The nice thing about this model is it is an all wood guitar. Most of the well-known American companies can only offer laminate guitars at this price. It just shows how competitive the market is becoming.

The DRS2 comes with solid sapele back and sides. As discussed in the woods section sapele would be similar to mahogany in sound profile. The neck is made from select hardwoods, the specific wood depends on what is available for Martin to use at that time. The nut is made of white Corian and the saddle of Tusq. The fingerboard and the bridge is where this model deviates from the more traditional ebony or rosewood materials. The DRS2 comes with a Richlite fingerboard and bridge. The feel is smooth and the material is quite durable. For those interested in the details Richlite is material made from recycled paper and resin.

The DRS2’s sound board is Sitka spruce and it has standard x-bracing. For this model the bracing is not scalloped but still produces a fine tone. Martin’s workmanship is very solid and consistent on these guitars and this consistency is one of the reasons we have this guitar ranked so high.

Fishman Sonitone

The DRS2 also comes with Fishman’s Sonitone system. The electronics have controls on the top side of the guitar sound hole and are very easy to access. There are two controls one for volume and one for tone.

In addition to having the premium feature of being a solid wood guitar, Martin has stepped up and provides a hard shell plywood case with the guitar. All in all this is a great value for an entry level guitar and will provide many years of enjoyment for the purchaser.

Seagull S6 Original Acoustic Guitar

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Seagull S6 Summary

The Seagull S6 original is an excellent example of a no frills starter guitar with quality components. The guitar has a comfortable shape and the body of the guitar is slightly smaller than say a martin dreadnought.

The Seagull S6 comes with laminate or layered wild cherry back and sides. Which is kind of cool, it’s different than the typical sapele, mahogany, or laminates used in entry level guitars. The neck is made from silver leaf maple. The nut and saddle are Tusq. This fingerboard and the bridge is where this model deviates from the more traditional ebony or rosewood materials. The Seagull S6 comes with a Rosewood fingerboard and bridge.

The S6’s sound board is Cedar. Cedar is used for many flamingo and classical guitars and provides a warm sound. The neck of this guitar is slightly thicker than most but is quite comfortable to play.

As for sound systems this model does not have built in electronics but if this is a requirement for you, they have options available in other models (S6 Original Slim QIT) that provide built in electronics.

Unfortunately this guitar does not come with a case you will need to order a soft or hard shell case separately to protect the instrument. Given the low price of the guitar this shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle for getting this guitar.

Yamaha FG800 Solid Top Acoustic Guitar

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Yamaha FG800 Summary

The Yamaha FG series is the original series put out by Yamaha in 1966. The FG800 is an excellent starter guitar with quality components and given that it is a full size guitar is ideal for pre-teens and teens wanting to learn guitar. The primary reason for this being an ideal for a beginners is the low cost entry point. These guitars are consistent and readily available.

The Yamaha FG comes with laminate or layered nato back and sides. Nato is similar to mahogany, except it is more readily available lowering the cost. The neck is also made from nato. The fingerboard and the bridge are made of rosewood and the fingerboard is quite comfortable to play. The FG800 sound board is Sitka spruce.

There is no sound system in this guitar, but if this a requirement, you can get a sound hole pickup as a after-market pickup or choose one of the models Yamaha has that offers built in pickups. While it would be nice if it had the electronics, this isn’t usually a priority for beginning guitarists.

This guitar comes with a nice gig bag for protection of your guitar. As a result of all these features, if you have someone who thinks they want to learn guitar but this is their first attempt, this guitar is an excellent choice to get started without breaking the bank. Check out our full review of the Yamaha FG700S which is very similar to the FG800.