A guitar teacher may often be asked by a guitar student to give his or her recommendation for the best acoustic guitar options. Obviously, this is not an arbitrary topic and needs to be answered with a number of variables in mind:
- The best acoustic guitar at what price point?
- The best acoustic guitar for what application?
- The best acoustic guitar given a guitar player’s tastes and sound preferences?
These are just a few of the variables that come to mind when attempting to answer such a broad question. However, keeping these qualifications in front of us, I’ll attempt to give an all-purpose, hopefully helpful, response that might serve anyone who would like to know what kind of acoustic guitar would suit their style of guitar playing, their aesthetics, and their budget.
Preliminary research on the subject might reveal that within the domain of acoustic guitars resides two main categories: acoustic guitars and acoustic/electric guitars. For simplicity sake, we will address the former today and leave the latter category for another day and another post.
While the information we furnish about acoustic guitars can be useful in helping you make the right decisions about which acoustic guitar lessons would fit what you have in mind for your guitar playing experience, there is absolutely no substitute for picking up an acoustic guitar, holding it against your body, and playing it. There’s something beyond the mere physical characteristics of a guitar – a kind of spiritual whole – that will speak to you when you play it, and, since the goal of playing guitar is to touch the universe, the perspective provided by actually holding the guitar in your hands can not be ignored.
That being said, here are some physical traits of an acoustic guitar that we hope will help you narrow down your range of choices:
One of the most important qualities to consider in assessing which acoustic guitar would be best for you is which kinds of woods are used to construct the guitar. Various parts of the guitar lend themselves to a broad spectrum of wood choices, according to both the guitar part itself, and the quality of sound that particular guitar component contributes to the overall sound quality of the guitar. Some of the most common woods used, the parts of the guitar in which they might be found, and the intrinsic nature of what each might add as an ingredient of the whole, are as follows:
Koa: guitar bodies, laminate tops, necks. Koa is considered an excellent tone wood, producing warm tones, similar to mahogany but somewhat brighter.
Mahogany: Apt to be found in tops, necks, and bodies, mahogany is widely used in Gibson Guitars, Martin Guitars, and other widely known brands and is known for its warm, rich tone, as well as its sustain capabilities.
Rosewood: As with maple, the sound quality produced by rosewood make it a frequently utilized wood in all parts of an acoustic guitar – the body, the neck, the fingerboard, and laminate tops. However, unlike maple, rosewood’s warmth, softness, and high end rolloff, make it a favorite among guitar players seeking a sound that is less bright and less projecting than what is found in maple guitars.
Maple: This versatile wood can be found in all parts of the guitar, including the neck, the fingerboard, the body, and in laminate tops. Maple guitar components are sought after by guitar players who are looking for guitars that produce a bright, brilliant tone that projects into the room and is, therefore, used quite often in recording situations. Guitar manufacturers that might use maple in their acoustic guitars include Martin Guitar, Guild Guitar, Taylor Guitars, and Ibanez Guitars.
Sitka Spruce: The Sitka Spruce’s favorable ratio of strength to weight, knot-free clarity, and resultant resonance make it the preferred choice for acoustic guitar tops.
Acoustic Guitar Shapes
0 (single “0”) Perhaps the smallest of the standard sized guitars, the body of the Single 0 guitar is apt to be similar in length to its larger cousins but up to 2” narrower in width and is equipped with 12 frets above where the neck and body meet, as opposed to the 14 frets of the larger bodied acoustic guitars. Examples of this model are the Martin 0-28VS and the Collings Guitars 0-12 Fret Series, and the RP-06 by Recording King
00 (double “0”) Somewhat larger than an 0 – series guitar, but possessing a smaller, thinner body than it’s larger siblings, this model might sometimes be called a grand concert or parlor guitar because of its quiet and intimate sound and is preferable for people not looking for the bright and booming sound of larger acoustic guitars. The comfortable size of a 00 model, as well as its typically wide neck and shorter string scale lend themselves to vocal accompaniment or fingerpicking guitar styles. A couple examples of such an acoustic guitar would be Martin’s 00-15M or the Taylor Guitar 12-Fret series
000 OM (triple “0”) Another size to found in what might be considered parlor guitars is the triple-0 (000) model of guitar, which, like a 00 guitar, is likely to have 12-frets, and the same general appearance, but is apt to be somewhat larger in size, sometimes with a convex back to allow for a larger sound chamber, and possessing a longer string scale. Although triple-0’s tend to be similar in appearance to double-0’s, their longer body typically produces more bass and overall volume. Within the triple-0 category you will find Martin’s 000-17SM, Collings Guitars’ 0001, and the Santa Cruz 1929 – 000 acoustic guitar.
With slight differences, but still within the same genre of acoustic guitar shapes, is the OM (Orchestra Model) style of guitar, examples of which are the OM-18 Authentic 1933 by Martin Guitar or the Huss and Dalton OM. Also included in this general guitar style would be a Grand Auditorium.
Dreadnought With its all-purpose tonality the dreadnought guitar shape, so named because of its similar shape to classic warships, is often sought out by guitarists whose guitar playing style encompasses both fingerpicking and strumming. The dreadnought guitar’s shoulders (the area of a guitar between the sound hole and the neck) are narrower than those of the triple-0 guitars, which causes this type of guitar to emit more resonance on the bass end than its round shouldered acoustic guitar cousins. It is arguably the most popular of acoustic guitar styles, with an article on the Martin Guitar site saying: “Among the great variety of instruments the Martin Company makes, it’s safe to say that none has enjoyed more popularity than their line of Dreadnoughts or D–size guitars.” Please note that, within the general dreadnought shape, you are likely to encounter two sub-genres: The square shoulder and the rounded shoulder dreadnoughts. Some of today’s most popular dreadnought acoustic guitars might include: The Martin D-28, the Gibson Hummingbird, the Yamaha F-325 (please see our post about this guitar) the Taylor Guitars 300 series, or the Orpheum by Guild
Super Jumbo Introduced by Gibson in the 1930’s, the super jumbo’s designation has more recently been dubbed the jumbo and, along with the sub-genre of the mini-jumbo, is most often associated with guitars made by Gibson, such as the J-200, which employs maple back and sides to produce bright, powerful rhythm strumming sounds. Other super jumbo, (or jumbo models) are the Jumbo 518 by Taylor, the EJ-200 by Epiphone, and the Blueridge BG-2500
Cutaway Taylor Guitar’s website describes a cutaway shaped guitar as follows: “A cutaway is the ‘scooped’ indentation in a guitar’s upper, treble-side bout (near the neck), which allows access to the upper frets. Many players moving to acoustic guitars grew accustomed to the cutaways on their electric guitars. Others simply like the freedom of movement into the upper register that a cutaway allows. For many players, cutaways are favored as much for their aesthetic appeal as for their function.” While many electric guitars have cutaway body shapes, the introduction of this shape as a readily available acoustic guitar shape is fairly recent and less prevalent.
This alternative to the round shoulder guitars can be found in acoustic guitars of many shapes and sizes. Here are some examples of a cutaway guitar in a varying price range: Jasmine S34C NEX Acoustic Guitar, Fender Jimmy Dale Signature Kingman SCE Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar, and Gibson Hummingbird Pro Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar. Please keep in mind that the acoustic cutaway guitars tend to be more commonly found in the acoustic-electric variant.
Below please find examples of acoustic guitars within various price ranges. Please keep in mind that the inclusion of a particular guitar make and model is not necessarily an endorsement, but is merely being cited to provide guidance and illustration of the models discussed above.
A List of Acoustic Guitars Arranged by Price Range
You can get this guitar for a price below $100.
RECORDING KING ROH-5 DIRTY THIRTIES
SEAGULL S6 ENTOURAGE ACOUSTIC BY GODIN
YAMAHA L SERIES LL16 DREADNOUGHT ACOUSTIC GUITAR WITH CASE NATURAL
TAYLOR 416 GRAND SYMPHONY ACOUSTIC GUITAR NATURAL
TAYLOR GUITARS GA7 GRAND AUDITORIUM ACOUSTIC GUITAR
We hope this guide is a useful resource in helping you determine the acoustic guitar that is right for you in all regards and that, if you do have a guitar teacher that you consult with him and her about the variables mentioned above; or, if you don’t yet have a guitar teacher, that you browse FindaGuitarTeacher.com to find a guitar teacher who can guide you in the many aspects of becoming the guitarist you want to be, including equipment selection.