The acoustic guitar is so versatile that it almost transcends the concept of a musical instrument. It’s hard to think of a more satisfying sound than gentle fingerpicking of a classical guitar, or the blend of notes as a chord is struck with a plectrum.
The real beauty of the acoustic guitar is it’s ability to bend to a musician’s needs. It provides the perfect accompaniment for story-telling lyrics or fills up a venue with energetic strums. The dynamic versatility of the instrument makes it suitable for every genre, and the way it sounds when recorded doesn’t disappoint, either.
Due to the popularity of acoustic guitars, choosing the right one to suit your needs can be a tricky undertaking. The sheer volume of options available makes it difficult to sift through and identify the ideal instrument for your requirements.
We’ll start this guide by discussing the best acoustic guitars at each price point. There are options to suit all budgets, skill-sets, experience levels, and styles of playing. Whether you need a sweet-sounding nylon-string guitar to play classical pieces or an electric acoustic steel string with ample projection, you’ll find the best option on this list. If you want to learn more about acoustic guitars before reading reviews, we have a buying guide at the bottom of the page.
The Origins of Acoustic Guitars
When you consider how popular the acoustic guitar is today, despite all of the advancements in technology, it’s remarkable that the origins of this instrument can be traced back to ancient history. Although many historians have presented theories on how and when the guitar was invented, there’s no definitively proven account.
It is suspected that acoustic guitars were directly related to a medieval instrument called a vihuela, which came from the ancient lute. In the Spanish Middle Ages, a small, plucked instrument called a gittern was invented. These round-backed instruments didn’t have the body shape of today’s guitars, but their frets, tuning pegs, and soundhole are shared features with their modern counterparts.
In 1850, a Spanish guitar maker named Antonio Torres Jurado developed the instrument and designed the structure that has been used to this day. He increased the body size, made adjustments to the proportions, and utilized fan bracing to secure the top and back, consequently making the guitar more robust than it had ever been before.
Top Acoustic Guitars Overall Review
f you’re looking for the best acoustic guitar for your money, these are our top picks, thoroughly tested and researched.
1. Taylor K14ce Builder’s Edition (Best Overall)
Review: The breathtaking K14ce Builder Edition has an innate beauty that is difficult to describe. Stunningly individual in aesthetics and tone, this sublime Grand Auditorium model is in a league of it’s own.
It’s body is made from a mixture of Hawaiian koa and Sitka torrefied Sitka spruce. The materials and design of the K14ce result in a genuinely unique output, which includes sweet harmonics, natural sustain, and a perfect balance.
Perhaps the largest contributor to the wonderful performance and tone of this Taylor guitar is the V-Class bracing, which adds volume evenly across the frequency range and protects natural intonation.
Build Materials: For the back and sides of the K14ce, Taylor has employed the classy tonewood, Koa. This tropical material is sourced in Hawaii, above 5,000 ft. Sonically, it produces a focused mid-range and the sharp high end that is usually associated with maple. The immersive fingerboard is made from African Ebony and the top from solid Sitka spruce.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: To successfully amplify the gorgeous tones that are produced by the K14ce Builder’s Edition, premium quality electronics are required. Taylor’s Expression System 2 provides this, with the 3-section proprietary pickup installed just behind the saddle. The ES2 pickup amplifies the natural tone of the guitar with clarity and accuracy.
Bottom Line: The Taylor K14ce Builder’s Edition is a versatile instrument, that creates a memorable playing experience. With it’s blend of exotic tonewoods producing a crisp, punchy and resonant sound, and V-Class bracing enhancing every aspect of it’s performance, the K14ce is a truly marvelous creation.
2. Martin Natural D-18 (Editor’s Choice)
Review: One of the finest acoustic guitars on the market, Martin’s D-18 offers a unique blend of playing comfort and tonal sophistication. No matter where you find yourself on the fretboard, this guitar sounds exceptional.
Fitted with a modern, high-performance neck, the D-18 plays like a dream. For intricate chord shapes and complex finger poisonings, it performs flawlessly. When you play the strings with some velocity, the spruce top and mahogany back and sides create a warm chamber of clean resonance that isn’t lacking in power.
At first glance, the Martin D-18 looks like a standard dreadnought. It’s only when you actually get the guitar in your grasp that it becomes apparent how special this instrument is. Very few guitars manage to strike the perfect balance between sensitivity and power, but the D-18 does it effortlessly.
Build Materials: High-end acoustic guitars require the best possible materials. For the back and sides, Martin has opted for mahogany. The top is made from spruce, and the neck is made from a combination of different woods to promote stability and longevity. For the fingerboard, Martin has used a high-quality rosewood.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: No electronics are installed on the D-18, and in my opinion, that’s a good thing. This premium guitar is meant to be enjoyed unplugged, in it’s purest form. The hardware is colored in nickel, and the pickguard is decorated with a tortoise pattern. The saddle is made from compensated bone, and the multi-stripe rosette completes the elegant look.
Bottom Line: The D-18 is a rarity in a crowded market of acoustic guitars. Sometimes, skepticism surrounding these high-end, expensive models is justified. However, in this instance, the hype is real! The D-18 sounds ridiculously good across the frequency range records flawlessly and plays so well that it’s a real challenge to put it down.
3. Taylor GS Mini (Best Acoustic Guitars Overall Value)
Review: Taylor’s revered GS Mini range is a popular choice amongst singer-songwriters, due largely to the conveniently reduced size which is slightly smaller than the Grand Symphony body. As a result, the GS Mini hones in on the human elements of your playing, with stunning attention to detail that is ideal for fingerstyle players.
Indeed, there is a slight reduction in volume compared to the full sized GS models, but the onboard ESB electronics even that out with their powerful amplification abilities. The string tension is also reduced due to the shorter scale length, resulting in less strain on your fingers even when playing for marathon sessions.
Build Materials: Taylor is renowned for choosing impeccable tonewood combination for their acoustic guitars, and the GS Mini is a fine example of this. The layered rosewood body is complemented by a solid spruce top, creating the classic mixture of resonance and clarity.
The back and sides are made from two layers of rosewood veneer which surround a layer of poplar, keeping the cost of the guitar down without diminishing the quality.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Taylor-designed ESB electronics are installed on the GS Mini. The Piezo pickup is designed similarly to those that feature on the popular ES-2 electronics, and have a trio of calibrated sensors to keep the dynamic range as natural as possible. The included preamp provides you with tone and volume controls too.
Bottom Line: The GS Mini may be slightly smaller than the original Grand Symphony model, but in many ways, it exceeds it’s larger predecessor. Lightweight and highly playable, this Taylor guitar offers a well-balanced tone and a good-quality onboard electronics system.
4. Takamine GD30CE-12 (Best Acoustic Guitars Overall 12-String)
Review: The Takamine GD30CE-12 is an exceptional 12-string acoustic guitar, with a striking appearance and rich, immersive output. This rosette-adorned instrument plays like a dream, with a wide fret radius and a commendable mixture of tonewoods used for it’s composition.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of playing a Takamine acoustic guitar, you’ll be aware of the smooth playability they offer. For guitarists who are looking for more tonality and expression than a standard 6-string provides, the GD30-CE 12-string will leave you awestruck by it’s wide array of harmonic overtones.
Build Materials: The classic single-cut, dreadnought body is composed of mahogany for the back and sides, with solid spruce for the top. The neck is also mahogany, with a smooth finish that promotes effortless transitions across the fretboard, which is made from rosewood with dot inlays.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The die-cast chrome tuning pegs add a touch of class to this Takamine guitar’s appearance, and there’s the high-performance TP-4tdpreamp system providing the amplification. These pickups feature a tuner, gain control, active EQ with three sliders, and a battery status indicator.
Bottom Line: The Takamine GD30CE-12 is one of the finest 12-string guitars within it’s price range. It produces a wide and rich blend of harmonics, with especially inviting mid-tones. The tonewoods have been chosen carefully to balance resonance and clarity, and the onboard Takamine-designed preamp provides multiple amplification controls and options.
5. Yamaha FG850 (Best Acoustic Guitars Overall Under $500)
Review: Yamaha’s FG850 is a solid-top acoustic guitar that is a great choice for intermediate players who want to further their skills. Part of the FG line that dates back to 1966, this guitar has benefited from decades of revisions to create a good mixture of sonic output and playing comfort.
The FG850 produces a solid tone in the low-mid range, due largely to the innovative acoustic analysis technology that Yamaha employs on their guitars. This analysis leads them to install the perfect bracing design to get the best tone from the guitar.
Build Materials: Yamaha’s FG850 is predominantly made from mahogany. This tonewood is used for the back, sides, and top of the guitar. The result is a powerful output in the low-mid range, with plenty of clarity in the treble end, too. The bridge and fingerboard are both made from rosewood, which further sweetens the tone.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: There are no electronics installed on the Yamaha FG850. This acoustic guitar is part of the classic FG range, and historically the model’s features in this line don’t have onboard electronics. The instrument is meant to be enjoyed unplugged.
Bottom Line: Yamaha’s FG range of acoustic guitars is one of the longest-lasting in the industry, and for good reason. The 850 allows you to experience a top-end guitar without having to spend a small fortune. The tonewoods have been carefully selected to keep costs down, but maximize tone and playability at the same time.
6. Martin D-10E (Best Acoustic Guitars Overall Under $1000)
Review: Part of the revered Martin Road Series, the D-10E features numerous performance and sound enhancing features compared to it’s predecessors. The classic Martin tone and playability remains, and these qualities are furthered by a creative combination of tonewoods used to compose the guitar.
The appropriately named “Performing Artist” neck shape makes it easier to play with fluidity and freedom, while the addition of MOP pattern dot inlays gives the D-10E’s appearance an air of elegance.
Build Materials: For the back and sides of the D-10E, Martin has chosen to use the classic tonewood, Sapele. The neck is made from select hardwood, which is both smooth and fast-playing. For the top, Sitka spruce provides ample resonance and character, and the richlite fingerboard further boosts the guitar’s playability.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Martin chose the trusted Fishman Sonitone to take care of the onboard electronics for this guitar. This pickup and preamp system amplifies the D-10E’s natural tone, adding a touch of color and keeping unwanted noise to a minimum.
Bottom Line: Martin’s Road Series was created with the traveling musician in mind. The D-10E, with it’s Performing Artist neck shape, high-performance neck taper, and classy combination of tonewoods, is the ideal companion for a dedicated and busy guitarist.
7. Taylor 224ce-K (Best Acoustic Guitars Overall Under $2000)
Review: The Taylor 224CE-K is an exceptional acoustic guitar, made with the rare and luxurious tonewood, koa. Elevated by a shaded edge burst, the koa top captures the full resonance of the guitar and accentuates it’s sweet spots.
With it’s Grad Auditorium body type, the 224CE-K is a versatile instrument. It’s well suited to melodic fingerstyle playing, but also packs plenty of power when strummed. The use of koa improves the attack of the guitar, and a number of classy add-ons give it an appealing appearance.
To improve the playability of the 224CE-K, Taylor made it a cutaway, so that you can easily access the upper frets. There’s also a single-ring faux pearl rosette, chrome tuners, and Italian acrylic small diamond inlays.
Build Materials: Koa is one of the finest tonewoods used for the production of modern acoustic guitars. Taylor has used it for the back, sides, and top, ensuring that it’s presence is felt in the 224CE-K’s tone. The neck is made from solid mahogany and the fingerboard from smooth ebony.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The 224CE-K is fitted with Taylor’s own ES2 acoustic electronics. This pickup system combats feedback and hum issues while amplifying the natural tone of the instrument without causing noticeable alterations to the timbre.
Bottom Line: Stunning in appearance and sound, the Taylor 224CE-K oozes elegance. If you’ve ever played a koa-bodied guitar, you’ll know that the tone they produce is so good, it’s difficult to find the words to describe it. With a number of unique features and a high-end pickup system, this is the perfect acoustic guitar for the experienced player. Overall, I’d say this is the best acoustic guitar under $2000.
8. Gibson Hummingbird
Review: The Hummingbird has stood the test of time, being one of Gibson’s most popular and best-celebrated instruments in the past 50 years of it’s production. The first thing that strikes you about this square-shoulder dreadnought is it’s vintage, eye-catching design.
Tonally, the Hummingbird has a uniquely warm and immersive output. The blend of high-end tonewoods combines to create a tone that is especially crisp and powerful in the low end, warm in the mids, and sparkling in the high-end frequencies.
Build Materials: Only premium tonewoods were used by Gibson when constructing the Hummingbird. Firstly, there’s the solid mahogany back and sides, which evoke a full-spanning, warm tone. The top is made from quality Sitka spruce, which takes care of the high-end articulation. The select mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard make this guitar one of the most playable models available.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The Hummingbird comes equipped with the popular Element VTC pickup system, by LR Baggs. Low-profile and discreet, the system consists of an under-saddle transducer that is exceptionally stable. There’s also an onboard preamp which offers volume control, hidden inside the soundhole.
Bottom Line: Acoustic guitars simply don’t get much better than the Gibson Hummingbird. A great way to judge the class of a particular guitar model is to analyze it’s history. With over 50 years of production, the Hummingbird, thanks to it’s warm, inviting tone and smooth playability, continues to go from strength to strength in modern times. This is easily one of the best guitars I’ve ever played.
9. Martin SC-13E
Review: Martin’s SC-13E is an outstanding, high-end electric-acoustic guitar. Made with a combination of high-class tonewoods, the cutaway body design has been slightly offset to promote maximum playing comfort and elegant tonality. The newly designed Sure Align neck joint has been employed by Martin, a mechanism that improves on the standard bolt-on neck by reducing the heel size and giving you more space to work with.
Build Materials: The SC-13E hasn’t been thrown together haphazardly. Martin has been so meticulous when designing and building this guitar, that it’s genuinely difficult to find a single fault with it. The Tone Tension X Brace connects the select hardwood neck to the Koa fine veneer body, and the Sitka spruce top resonates beautifully across the frequency range of the instrument.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The onboard electronics on this stellar Martin guitar are provided by Fishman, arguably the leading producer of acoustic-electric preamps and pickups. The MX-T electronics are barely noticeable, discreetly mounted inside the soundhole. There’s also a built in tuner for added convenience.
Bottom Line: Acoustic guitars don’t get much better than the Martin SC-13E. It’s a truly awe-inspiring experience playing this guitar, largely thanks to the innovative offset body design, which separates the SC-13E from the large pack of standard cutaways. The classy Fishman electronics do the well-rounded, crisp tone of the guitar justice when it is amplified.
10. Taylor Academy 12e
Review: The Academy 12e is another quality offering from Taylor. This acoustic guitar packs their signature playing experience into a fairly-priced model. The Grand Concert body is ideal for guitarists who emphasize the slight nuances of the instrument and sound beautiful when fingerpicked.
A staple feature of Taylor’s guitars is their patented slim-profile neck. On the A12e, the scale length has been slightly shortened, and the action lowered to create the perfect environment for effortless playing. The guitar is lightweight, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been constructed using quality tonewoods. The inclusion of the respected ES-B pickup allows you to amplify the well-rounded tone of this acoustic guitar.
Build Materials: To ensure that the 12e remains lightweight, Taylor has used Sitka spruce for the op wood, finished in a satin varnish. The back and sides are made from Sapele, a material known for enhancing resonance. The neck is made from hard rock maple and feels solid underhand. Finally, the smooth fingerboard is made from the classic choice of ebony, with Italian acrylic dotted inlays.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The onboard electronics come in the form of the ES-B system, which draws from Taylors groundbreaking Expression System 2 to create an authentic amplified tone. There’s also a tuner, tone and volume control, and an easy-open battery port.
Bottom Line: The Taylor Academy 12e acoustic-electric guitar is built for ultimate playability. With a slightly reduced fretboard and lowered action, it’s ideal for intricate styles of playing. The tonewood mixture produces a resonant, warm tone with plenty of volume thanks to the onboard ES-B pickup system.
11. Yamaha L-Series Transacoustic
Review: The L-Series TransAcoustic is a finely-designed 6-string guitar by Yamaha. Delivering a comfortable playing experience and wholesome tone, this guitar is well suited to folk, rock, or blues. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the L-Series TransAcoustic is it’s onboard reverb and chorus effects, which surprisingly require no external amplification.
Build Materials: For the top, Yamaha has chosen solid Engelmann spruce, for it’s solid response across the frequency range. The back and sides are made from solid rosewood, again emphasizing the projection power of the guitar. The low oval neck is constructed from a combination of mahogany and rosewood, and the fingerboard is made from the classic choice of ebony.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The onboard System70 electronics, designed by Yamaha themselves, provide clean amplification. When combined with the innovative reverb and chorus, these pickups excel.
Bottom Line: It may seem absurd that an acoustic guitar can have built-in effects that can be used without amplification, but that’s exactly what the L-Series TransAcoustic offers. With chorus and reverb at your disposal, you can completely alter the tone of this acoustic guitar without the need for external pedals or an amp.
12. Martin Little Martin LX1E
Review: The Martin LX1E, commonly known as the “Little Martin” is a travel-sized acoustic guitar that condenses all of the qualities that make the manufacturer one of the most beloved in the business. It produces a rich mixture of bass frequencies and sparkling highs, and the reduced size makes it even more playable than it’s full-sized siblings.
The balanced tone that is emitted from the LX1E is exactly what you’d expect from a high-end Martin acoustic guitar well-rounded, articulate, and expressive. It’s modified low oval profile increases playing comfort even further, and the overall lightweight design makes the Little Martin the perfect companion for the traveling musician.
Build Materials: The Little Martin LX1E’s modified neck is made from rust stratabond, a durable wood veneer that is used by Martin on all of their guitars. The fingerboard is made from smooth richlite, a popular alternative to traditional ebony or rosewood. The back and sides are composed of mahogany with a textured finish, providing the classic Martin look.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Martin has installed a Fishman Sonitone Onboard Preamp System, which consists of a mounted preamp that fit’s in the soundhole. They have also included volume and tone controls for tailoring the amplified output.
Bottom Line: Martin’s LX1E Little Martin is a compact acoustic guitar that doesn’t compromise on quality. Rich in tonality particularly in the bass frequencies, the LX1E produces an impressively powerful projection despite it’s modest size. The combination of quality tonewoods and the modified neck shape makes the Little Martin highly playable.
13. Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster
Review: If you thought that the Fender Telecaster was an instrument that only electric guitarists get to enjoy, think again! The Acoustasonic Tele is an example of Fender’s innovative and experimental side. It leans towards being a hybrid instrument but is technically an acoustic guitar.
With a soundhole positioned in the center of the body, the Acoustasonic Telecaster performs equally as well acoustic as it does amplified. The low-end frequencies are rich and thick-sounding, which the mid-range is filled with bell-like tones. The forearm contour is where this acoustic guitar differs the most from it’s electric namesake, providing more space for fast runs and licks.
Build Materials: The modified telecaster body is made from mahogany, which provides plenty of warm resonance but doesn’t add too much weight to the guitar. Additionally, Fender has chosen to use traverse bracing, and a deep c, American Pro neck shape. The neck is also made from mahogany and finished with satin urethane. To top it off, the fingerboard is made from reliable ebony.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: As you’d expect from such a legendary producer of electric guitars and basses, Fender has used only the finest onboard electronics for the Acoustasonic Tele. In the bridge position, there is a Fishman enhancer pickup, and in the neck position Fender’s own N4. This combination provides noise-free amplification that can reach high volumes with no issues.
Bottom Line: The Acoustasonic Telecaster is the first of it’s kind. Usually, acoustic and electric guitars are kept separate, but the bold move to reproduce one of their classics in a different format is an example of why Fender has remained at the top of the industry for so many years.
14. Guild D-55
Review: Guild’s D-55 is amongst the classiest dreadnought acoustic guitars in production today. Benefitting from half a century of Guild’s impeccable craftsmanship, the D-55 has been meticulously designed to promote tonal quality and playing comfort.
The solid spruce top promotes a warm, woody tone that sounds balanced in the bass, mid and treble frequencies. Additionally, the book-matched Indian rosewood back and sides add a touch of finesse to the guitar, producing inviting overtones.
Build Materials: When constructing the D-55, Guild has opted for only the best tonewoods. The top is made from solid AAA spruce and the bracing from scalloped red spruce. These two spruce varieties promote clarity and power throughout the frequency range.
The back and sides are made from solid book-matched rosewood adding even more intensity and resonance to the output. A 12″ radius fretboard made from bound ebony completes this distinguished blend of high-end materials.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The D-55 is a true, conventional dreadnought acoustic. For that reason, Guild has chosen not to include any onboard electronics. As you’d expect, there are some fine pieces of hardware installed. An abalone rosette, tortoiseshell pickguard, and Gotoh 700 series Gold Plated Open Back Tuners are all included.
Bottom Line: Guild’s D-55 is an exquisite high-end acoustic guitar. One of the manufacturer’s finest offerings, it plays like a dream and sounds brilliant right across the fretboard. Although the D-55 is a standard dreadnought body shape, the inclusion of high-quality joints and hardware cement it into it’s very own category of acoustic guitar.
15. Seagull S6
Review: The S6 by Seagull is the perfect happy-medium between cheap, entry-level guitars and high-end expensive models. With it’s solid build, inviting feel, and a tone rich in high-mids, it’s a great choice for guitarists who have surpassed the novice stage and want to develop their skills on a better instrument.
The modified dreadnought body shape evokes a warm output that is rich in detail. It’s easy to access the entire fretboard, making the S6 well suited to playing in the lower registers or gliding up into the treble end.
Build Materials: The S6’s dreadnought body consists of solid cedar for the top, and laminated wild cherry for the back and sides. The glossy, laminated look gives the S6 a distinguished look. For the neck, Seagull has opted for silver leaf maple, a tone-sharpening wood that interacts beautifully with the rosewood fingerboard.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The Seagull S6 is not an electro-acoustic guitar, so the cost is kept down by the lack of electronics. If you are likely to need amplification, that doesn’t mean the S6 should be ruled out as a potential choice. You can install a soundhole pick up quite easily, and enjoy the guitar’s tone through an amp or PA system.
Bottom Line: With it’s gloss-finished cedar body and modified dreadnought shape, the Seagull S6 is a unique acoustic guitar that focuses on producing a smooth and balanced tone. Despite the lack of electronics, this instrument is of great value for money. It looks and plays like a guitar with a much heftier price tag would be expected to.
16. Washburn R314KK
Review: Few acoustic guitar manufacturers can claim to have the history and charm of Washburn. Authentic in style, tone, and feel, their guitars are loved by folk, blues, and rock musicians globally. The R314KK is a beautiful instrument that encapsulates the Washburn ethos.
With it’s parlor body style, the R314KK is easy to handle and lightweight. The tone it produces is narrower in range to that of a standard dreadnought acoustic guitar, but this inspires you to be more selective with your fretboard position and note choices.
Build Materials: Washburn has gained a reputation for going against the grain when it comes to choosing their tonewood combinations, and the R314KK is a prime example of this. The back and sides are made from the rarely-chosen trembesi, which produces sweet and sharp harmonics. The top is made from spruce, while the neck and fingerboard are composed of mahogany and rosewood respectively.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: There are no onboard electronics with this Washburn acoustic, but in all honesty, this exclusion adds to the vintage and authentic look of the guitar. All of the hardware and inlays are designed to look like they were made in the early 1900s, and the tuning pegs also have a retro aura about them.
Bottom Line: The Washburn Vintage Series R314KK acoustic guitar is a charming instrument. Reminiscent of the guitars that vagabond folk singers would carry over their shoulders in decades gone by, the R314KK produces a blend of refreshingly warm tones across the frequency range.
17. Blueridge Guitars BR-40T
Review: With the BR-40, Blueridge has re-introduced their classic tenor guitar into their contemporary line. A workhorse that is designed for the gigging musician, the BR-40 contains all of the small details of the popular model that it is based on.
Build Materials: For the top, Blueridge opted for select solid Sitka spruce. This tonewood has a slightly dark, well-rounded tone. The back and sides are made from select mahogany, and the tonewood combination is finished off with a select mahogany neck and responsive Santos rosewood fingerboard.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Although there are no electronics installed on the Blueridge BR-40, there is some high-quality hardware. The vintage-style, open-back tuners are fitted with butterbean buttons, a staple of Blueridge acoustic guitars. With a ratio of 141, the gears rotate smoothly and are highly durable.
Bottom Line: Blueridge’s Contemporary range is a favorite amongst singer-songwriters. The BR-40 pays tribute to the classic tenor guitars that the manufacturer famously produced over the years, with a stylish tonewood blend and an immersive, full-bodied tone.
18. Cordoba C9
Review: The Cordoba C9 is a classical guitar of the parlor variety. Slightly smaller than your average nylon-string guitar, it is ideal for fast, technical players who are mostly concerned with playing comfort. That’s not to say that it doesn’t also produce an abundance of smooth, harmonically rich tone, though.
With aesthetic touches that add to the vintage feel of the guitar, like the mother-of-pearl weave rosette, or the 1920s inspired rosewood fingerboard and high gloss finish, this instrument feels like an authentic flamenco guitar from the early 20th century.
Build Materials: For the body of the C9 Parlor, Cordoba has opted for solid African mahogany. This variety of tonewood produces a well-rounded output and encourages the string’s vibrations to move freely through the instrument. Then there’s the smooth rosewood fretboard, and for the neck, trusty mahogany has been called upon.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: A classical guitar in every sense of the word, there’s no need for onboard electronics as far as their Cordoba C9 is concerned. In terms of hardware, it boasts a wealth of 1920s inspired features, which improve both the sound and appearance of the guitar.
Bottom Line: The Cordoba C9 is an incredibly well-rounded parlor-sized guitar. A classical nylon stringed instrument, it pays homage to the impeccable guitars that were made back in the early 1900s. With an impeccable choice of tonewoods and a reduced size for added playability, it’s a great choice for technical guitarists.
19. Yamaha Storia
Review: Yamaha is one of the few producers of musical equipment who can claim to be experts in almost all instruments. Their acoustic guitars have become increasingly popular in recent years, and the Storia, with it’s understated appearance and consistent tone, is a fine example as to why this is the case.
When designing the Storia, Yamaha meticulously built the guitar bit-by-bit to ensure the ideal blend of playability and tone. The installed pickup amplifies the guitar without diminishing it’s immersive natural output.
Build Materials: For the fingerboard, Yamaha chose the solid and responsive tonewood, walnut. This is paired with a nato neck that leaves plenty of room for expressive and melodic playing. The back and sides are made from the popular choice, mahogany, and for the top, they’ve chosen Spruce for it’s reliable resonance.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Onboard the Yamaha Storia is their passive pickup. Fitted to the under saddle, this pickup produces clean and accurate amplification of the Storia’s warm tone, with very little feedback and unwanted noise.
Bottom Line: Although Yamaha may be better known for their exquisite range of pianos and electric keyboards, the Storia series is a reminder that they also produce some top-tier acoustic guitars. With an especially expressive walnut bridge and fingerboard, the Storia caters to all playing abilities and styles. In terms of value, this might just be the best acoustic guitar for the money right now.
20. Martin DX Johnny Cash
Review: Based on the unique D-35 that Martin was commissioned to design for blues and country legend Johnny Cash in the 1770s, the DX features a stylish and unique all-black design, and it’s sound is full of expression and character.
Designed with the classic dreadnought body shape, the guitar is covered with a black high-pressure laminate to create it’s darkened look. It features Johnny Cash’s signature logo and is a great option for acoustic singer-songwriters.
Build Materials: Spruce wood was used by Martin for the top material of the DX. The back and sides are made from HPL or high-pressure laminate. This creates the matte black appearance of the guitar, which was originally requested by Cash himself.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Fishman’s MX electronics have been employed to amplify the naturally warm tone of the DX. This preamp/pickup system is great at honing in on the mid-range and shining a light on the most expressive frequencies of the guitar.
Bottom Line: Few artists have used the acoustic guitar as effectively as Johnny Cash. Martin’s DX is a fitting tribute to the late artist and is filled with all of the color and character that drew audiences to him over a span of decades.
21. Luna Fauna Phoenix
Review: Brimming with attitude and character, the Fauna Phoenix by Luna is a great choice for guitarists who don’t like to follow the crowd. With it’s dark and mysterious design and equally dark tone, this acoustic guitar is sure to draw some attention.
Tonally, the grand-concert-bodied Fauna Phoenix produces plenty of depth, rich harmonics, and ample punch across the frequency range. The C-shaped neck makes playing for long periods of time an easier endeavor.
Build Materials: Luna has chosen a combination of select spruce and mahogany for the Fauna Phoenix guitar. The former is used for the top, while the latter is employed for the back and sides. The comfortable C-shaped neck is made from mahogany too, and the smooth Pau Ferro fingerboard is the icing on the cake.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The rogue, rough and ready appearance of the Fauna Phoenix is complemented by Fishman Preysys III electronics. These top-tier pickups deliver a pristine amplified tone, that translates the guitar’s bite from acoustic to electric very effectively.
Bottom Line: The Fauna Phoenix by Luna is the ideal acoustic guitar for guitarists who value style and tone equally. With it’s dark and inviting design, powerful, biting tone, and smooth playability, the Phoenix is worth considering.
22. Epiphone Hummingbird Artist
Review: The sister company of Gibson, Epiphone produces a wide selection of tributary models with the aim of bringing the legendary manufacturer’s guitars into a more affordable format. With the Hummingbird artist, they have achieved this without compromising on playability or tone.
Featuring a classic Gibson body shape and Kluson-style tuners, the Hummingbird Artist looks and feels authentically vintage. It produces a nice blend of rich harmonics in the high frequencies, and a clear, crisp bass response.
Build Materials: The main reason that Epiphone’s acoustic guitars cost significantly less than their Gibson alternatives is due to the choice of tonewood. With it’s mahogany back, sides, and neck, the Epiphone Hummingbird produces plenty of sustain and resonance, and the rosewood fretboard makes quick transitions up and down the scales effortless.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The Hummingbird stays true to it’s original form, as therefore doesn’t have any electronics installed. The tuning pegs and scratchplate are both made with quality materials, and a soundhole pickup can be easily mounted if amplification is required.
Bottom Line: Although Epiphone’s acoustic guitars don’t quite reach the soaring heights of Gibson’s, they are a great alternative for guitarists who are shopping on a budget, or want an intermediate level instrument to develop their skills further.
23. Fender PM-1
Review: Fender’s name is synonymous with the electric guitar, and although their acoustic offerings aren’t as popular, they shouldn’t be overlooked. The Paramount PM-1 is a great value instrument that is equally well suited to the experienced player as it is the absolute novice.
The PM-1 boasts a strong, immersive low end with ample projection. In the upper-midrange, it produces a warm jangle that sounds great on country or folk tracks. The guitar also records very well, thanks to the balanced tone and consistent combination of tonewoods used to construct it.
Build Materials: Fender has favored mahogany when building the Paramount PM-1. The dreadnought’s top, back and sides, and neck are made of this reliable tonewood. Additionally, they have chosen ovangkol for the neck, a wood known for it’s relatively low cost and great responsiveness.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: With no electronic components on the Fender PM-1, you’re left to focus solely on the sounds it produces unamplified. In terms of hardware, there’s a 60s style checkerboard rosette and inlays, and a 40s style Fender logo to create vintage aesthetics.
Bottom Line: Part of the revered Paramount line, Fender’s PM-1 offers all of the qualities that are associated with their instruments authenticity, well-rounded tone, and inviting playability. The neck plays particularly fast, and the rich mid-high tones make this guitar ideal for a singer-songwriter.
24. Yamaha CG-TA
Review: Yamaha’s CG-TA is another quality offering from their TransAcoustic line. A nylon-stringed, classical guitar, it inspires creativity and produces a rich array of tones. The guitar is fitted with reverb and chorus effects, which require no external amplification.
Yamaha has installed an actuator on the inner surface of the CG-TA, which respond to the vibrations created by the strings. These vibrations are then transmitted back into the guitar’s body, where they generate authentic reverb and chorus from within.
Build Materials: For the CG-TA, Yamaha has used materials that promote the natural tone produced by nylon strings. The top is made from solid spruce, while the back and sides are made from ovangkol. This combination highlights the decorative treble end of the classical guitar.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: In addition to the innovative reverb and chorus effects, the CG-TA has a System70 TransAcoustic pickup for amplification. Designed especially for this type of acoustic guitar, the electronics reproduce the natural tone with slight coloration.
Bottom Line: A nylon-stringed classical guitar that is capable of producing it’s reverb and chorus effects without needing to be amplified sounds like a futuristic invention, but Yamaha has pulled off this impressive feat with the CG-TA. It is composed of a solid combination of tonewoods and has a high quality electronic system onboard.
25. Fender Newporter Player
Review: Part of the California Series Acoustic range, the Fender Newporter Player is a stylish, affordable acoustic guitar. It’s medium sized body evokes a detailed, powerful tone that is well-rounded. The lightweight mahogany neck makes it a great option for guitarists who practice, record, or perform for long periods.
Fender’s attention to detail is evident in all of their instruments and is particularly apparent with the Newporter Player. Compared to previous models, it has improved bracing which benefit’s the guitar’s resonance, and a newly designed nut and saddle for enhanced sustain.
The inclusion of a Fishman preamp system makes the Newporter Player ideal for amplified performances, with the plugged-in tone remaining true to the naturally balanced sound that is produced when the guitar is played acoustically.
Build Materials: The Newporter Player is composed of a reliable mixture of tonewoods. Firstly, there’s the Sitka spruce body top, which further improves the resonance. The back and sides are made from solid mahogany, with a gloss finish. The neck is also made from mahogany and plays fast. A walnut fingerboard completes the guitar.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Fender’s choice of electronics on the Newporter Player is provided by Fishman, one of the most trusted manufacturers in the field. The amplified sound doesn’t stray far from the unamplified tone of the guitar.
Bottom Line: Perhaps you’re looking to upgrade from an entry-level acoustic guitar, but don’t want to spend all of your funds on a high-end model. The Fender California Series Newporter Player is a perfect blend of quality components and affordability. It’s easy playability is certain to inspire you to practice and improve your skills further.
26. Martin DJr-10E
Review: Part of the Martin Road Series, the D-10E features several design updates that make it stand out amongst the crowd of affordable acoustic guitars. The classic dreadnought shape produces the highly sought-after Martin tone, with a slight boost in the high-end frequencies and plenty of substance in the low-mids.
Some of the new additions made to the D-10E include a distinguished mother-of-pearl patterned fingerboard, rosette inlays, and a multi-striped rosette border. The body is finished in satin, and the neck has a hand-rubbed finish.
Build Materials: The Martin D-10E is made up of high-quality components. The dreadnought body includes Sapele back and sides, and a Sitka spruce top. Additionally, it has a responsive richlite fingerboard and a solid mahogany neck.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Fishman’s MX-T electronics are installed on the Martin D-10E. This pickup and preamp set is used on the majority of Martin’s Road Series, favored for their low-noise output and accurate amplification of the guitar’s natural resonance. The richlite fingerboard is accompanied by a compensated white TUSQ saddle, and the chrome enclosed gear tuning pegs are another noteworthy addition.
Bottom Line: Martin’s Road Series contains some of the best mid-priced acoustic guitars available. The D-10E is a highly playable, full-sounding instrument, with a particularly sweet high-end. The onboard Fishman preamp system provides clear amplification, and the combination of spruce, richlite, and mahogany improves the overall tone of the guitar.
27. Yamaha A3-CR
Review: The A3-CR by Yamaha is an acoustic guitar that boasts several modern playability-improving features while retaining the feel and appearance of a vintage instrument. The slim-taper profile neck makes fast transitions up and down the fretboard a breeze, and the concert cutaway body design provides access to all of the high notes.
The SRT 2 preamp system produces a natural, dynamic amplified tone, and is simplistic in operation. The fingerboard edges are hand-rolled, to further enhance playing comfort. Overall, the A3-CR is an instrument perfectly designed for the traveling musician.
Build Materials: For the A3-CR’s neck, Yamaha has opted for mahogany. This tonewood provides ample stability and sustain. The back and sides are made from rosewood, as is the fingerboard. All of these tonewoods are finished with a natural vintage coloring, and the top is made from spruce.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The Yamaha SRT2 pickup system doesn’t merely amplify the guitar’s tone, it emphasizes the frequency ranges where it performs at it’s strongest. You can use the pickup to blend between microphone models and the piezo tone to create the ideal plugged-in sound.
Bottom Line: The Yamaha AC-3R is a great option for guitarists who are frequently on the road. Whether you’re recording in the studio, performing on stage, or perfecting your skills in a practice session, this acoustic guitar ticks all of the boxes.
28. Yamaha FG-TA
Review: The FG-TA by Yamaha is a sleek acoustic guitar that performs impeccably both amplified and unplugged. Made from a classic combination of tonewoods, including mahogany back and sides and a solid spruce top, this instrument oozes class.
As with all TranAcoustic models, the FG-TA offers the unique and highly useful inbuilt reverb and chorus effects. It is also fitted with a System70 Preamp and an SRT Piezo pickup. These two devices interact seamlessly and allow you to shape the amplified tone to suit your playing style. The black ABS pins with white dots add a vintage touch to the instrument.
Build Materials: With mahogany back and sides, a solid spruce top, and a rosewood fingerboard, Yamaha has chosen a popular trio of materials when constructing the TransAcousstic FG-TA. This combination helps to improve both the sustain and harmonics of the guitar, which become more apparent when it is amplified.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Onboard the Yamaha TransAcoustic FG-TA are two devices that provide you with several options regarding amplification. Firstly, the System 70 Preamp ensures that the authentic, vintage tone of the guitar remains present when it is plugged in. Then there’s the SRT Piezo pickup, which magnifies the best aspects of the guitar’s tonal output and sends them to an amplifier.
Bottom Line: The Yamaha FG-TA is another high-quality offering from the TranAcoustic range. It features the onboard effects unit that can be used to add layers of reverb and chorus to the output, and the sophisticated preamp and pickup combination provides a crisp amplified tone. The reliable trio of tonewoods used to compose the guitar’s body and neck enhance it’s sustain and harmonics significantly.
29. Gretsch G5022C
Review: Although Gretsch is best known for their extensive range of electric guitars and basses, they also produce numerous high-quality acoustic guitars, like the G5022C. With a cutaway body design and an immersive, jumbo tone, the G5022C is a joy to play.
The body is finished in gloss white, and gold binding sprinkled across the top gives it a truly unique appearance. Scalloped X bracing reinforces the guitar and adds stability, while the classic Rancher soundhole, which is triangular as opposed to the circular norm, produces a resonance that is individual to this one-of-a-kind instrument.
Build Materials: Gretsch has used an assortment of the finest tonewoods to construct the G5022C. With a maple back and sides, a rosewood fingerboard, and a mahogany neck, the guitar is highly playable, fairly lightweight, and produces a powerful, expansive output.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Onboard the G5022C is the revered Fishman Sonicore preamp and pickup system. A piezo device, it hones in on the best tonal qualities of the guitar and amplifies them in a clear and precise manner.
Bottom Line: The Gretsch G5022C borrows from the wealth of knowledge that the manufacturer possesses thanks to their decades of producing electric guitars. With a unique triangular soundhole, a trusted mixture of tonewoods, and an advanced pickup system, this workhorse is up to any musical task.
30. Cordoba C10 SP
Review: The final entry on our list of the best acoustic guitars available today, is the magnificent Cordoba C10 S. If you’re unfamiliar with Cordoba guitars, you’ve been missing out. They offer some of the finest acoustic instruments in the world, and always use the best quality materials to compose them.
The C10 SP is one of the original models from Cordoba’s popular Luthier series. It features a unique fan bracing pattern, a mechanism that allows the soundboard to vibrate with more freedom, and therefore making it more responsive to the tension of the nylon strings.
The result of the added soundboard responsiveness is a general boost in dynamics, and overall tone. For the experienced classical guitarist, the C10 SP is one of the best options out there. Spanish heel construction has been carefully included by Cordoba, and this allows for the whole instrument to vibrate harmonically.
Build Materials: Cordoba is renowned for being meticulous when it comes to the materials they use to construct their guitars. The C10 SP includes a solid Indian rosewood body, which is topped by spruce, and a fast-playing mahogany neck. The fingerboard, which is perfect for fast, technical players, is made from rosewood.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Some guitars simply don’t require onboard electronics – because they sound so good unamplified it would be a shame to potentially mar their tone. The Cordoba C10 SP is one of those guitars. It does, however, include high-quality hardware such as the two-way truss rod for added stability, and a complex fan bracing pattern.
Bottom Line: Over the years, Cordoba has built it’s reputation as arguably the top provider of classical guitars. The C10 SP makes that argument even more compelling, with it’s array of quality features and components. It is made from a fine tonewood blend and designed to encourage harmonious vibration throughout the instrument.
Choosing the Right Acoustic Guitar (Buying Guide)
In the rest of this detailed guide on acoustic guitars, we will cover each aspect of these wonderful instruments. Whether you’re an experienced guitarist or a complete novice, you’ll find useful information in the following sections.
Types of Acoustic Guitars Explained
Over the years, manufacturers have used various designs to make acoustic guitars. Each different type offers certain benefit’s and characteristics. Despite their appearances being very similar, the types of acoustic guitars are hugely impactful on tone, sound, and playability.
Acoustic guitars can be broken down into three main categories. These are:
- Steel String Flattops
- Nylon String
Within these three categories, there are many subdivisions of acoustic guitar. Each type is designed for specific purposes and to suit certain styles of playing or musical genres. The main differences are found in the dimensions, joint techniques, materials, and designs of the instrument.
In the list at the top of this article, I included a mixture of acoustic guitar types. To know which type is the perfect match for your intentions and style of playing; it’s important to understand the impact that the different varieties of acoustic guitar have on their tone, projection, and playing comfort.
Steel String Flattops
Steel string models are the most popularly used acoustic guitars. In general, steel string flattops provide great versatility and are well suited to both fingerpicking and strumming styles of playing. However, one issue that classical guitarists often encounter when playing steel string acoustics, is that the resistance of the string can make intricate playing more difficult than their nylon-stringed counterparts.
There are three main body types which are categorized as steel string flattops. Let’s take a look at each one in detail. To read about all the different types check out our in-depth explanation of each type on our page dedicated to the types of acoustic guitars.
The most commonly used type of acoustic guitar; dreadnoughts produce the highest level of volume and the most prominent bass frequencies. One of the reasons dreadnoughts are so popular is their balanced tone across the frequency range. This quality makes them well-suited for singer-songwriters and solo performers.
CF Martin was the first manufacturers to produce the dreadnought body shape. It’s name is derived from an English warship, and it’s design features round shoulders with a neck that joins the body close to the 14th fret. Overall, the dreadnought is a very reliable body shape. It combines playing comfort, volume, and convenient size.
With a much smaller body size than the dreadnought model, parlor acoustic guitars are popular amongst folk musicians. Due to the reduced size, it’s much easier to hold this type of guitar, and they can be played for long periods without fatigue setting in.
The neck of a parlor guitar joins onto the body near the 12th fret, and it’s shoulders are designed to be more sloped than a stereotypical dreadnought. They also have a narrowed base to the body, making these guitars very comfortable and mobile. One of the reasons that folk musicians favor the parlor body shape, is that they can easily be transported from venue to venue due to their small dimensions.
As you can guess from the name, jumbo steel string acoustic guitars are amongst the largest body shapes in existence. Significantly bulkier than dreadnoughts, these guitars produce volumes that correlate with their sizable dimensions.
The main benefit that jumbo acoustics offer guitarists are a notable increase in volume. Due to the increased body size, there is more area for the string vibrations to resonate when they enter the soundhole. This creates a louder and clearer projection and is ideal for unamplified gigs or a sing-along around the campfire.
We’ve covered the three most common varieties of steel stringed acoustic guitars, but there are a few more that are worthy of a mention. The round-shoulder dreadnought body shape is a variation on the aforementioned dreadnought. Historically, the most prolific producer of these acoustic guitars is Gibson.
Guitars with the round-shoulder shape offer a number of benefit’s compared to the standard dreadnought. Their contoured body is great for seated guitarists, as it rests nicely on the thigh when playing. The tone is particularly defined in the mid-range, and the treble end glitters with singing harmonics.
First designed by Martin, the auditorium acoustic guitar is seen as a perfect middle ground between the minute parlor and the medium-sized dreadnought. The body shape has a distinctive hourglass figure, making it comfortable for guitarists who play sitting down. Tonally, auditorium guitars offer a deep and full-bodied bass end, which has made them popular amongst folk and blues guitarists.
Nylon String Acoustic Guitars
Compared to steel string acoustic guitars, nylon string alternatives are much easier on the fingers. They are popularly used for flamenco styles of playing, and favored by many guitarists who prefer to finger-pick rather than strum with a plectrum.
In terms of the sound they produce, nylon string guitars have a warm and immersive tone. They sound smooth across the fretboard and don’t produce any harsh tones in the upper registers. They lack the attack of a steel string model but compensate for that through the feel and textures they provide.
The classical acoustic guitar has reduced dimensions in comparison to an average steel stringed model. Their size is similar to that of a parlor body shape, with a little extra width. Classical acoustic guitars are preferred by technical players who play intricate chord shapes and utilize the whole fretboard. They reduce the tension on your fingers, allowing for longer playing sessions with less stamina and effort required.
Flamenco Acoustic Guitar
The flamenco guitar is designed for the flamenco style of music, in which guitarists use fast runs, technical playing, and dynamic variations. These guitars have a very low action compared to other acoustic models, to minimize fatigue and accommodate for rhythmic tapping, a staple of the flamenco style.
Guitar Tonewoods Explained
The tone produced by an electric guitar is impacted by a number of different factors. There are the materials used to compose the body, neck, and fretboard, the choice of pickup, and the way that the electronics are configured. Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, are contrastingly simple. Indeed, if there are electronics fitted on an electro-acoustic, this will affect it’s sound, but the main impacting factor by far is the tonewoods that are used.
The wood configuration on an acoustic guitar doesn’t only affect the tone and sound it produces, it also affects it’s playability, longevity, recording ability, and volume. Certain combinations used for the neck, head, body, back, and sides produce different results. In the early days of mass producing acoustic guitars, manufacturers used different methods and tonewoods to construct their instruments.
In the present day, most manufacturers have their preferred tonewoods that they use to create their signature tone. There have been many changes to the old methods and materials that were used in decades gone by, which are largely due to concerns that surround sustainability. Certain tonewoods that were used for the mass production of acoustic guitars suffered huge reductions due to deforestation, and therefore restrictions have been put in place regarding many of these wood types.
But, with every obstacle comes a new opportunity. Despite the challenges faced by manufacturers to maintain the standard of acoustic guitars that they have produced for the past half-century without using many of the tonewoods that were available for the vast majority of that time, the industry has found innovative ways to achieve this.
The state of the acoustic guitar today is as strong as ever. Exotic tonewoods and creative combinations have allowed manufacturers to keep the instrument fresh and exciting for the constant stream of new generations of aspiring musicians.
Acoustic Guitar Top Tonewoods
When you pick up an acoustic guitar, the first thing you see is the top of the body. This section is not just aesthetically prominent, it also plays a significant role in the overall sound that the acoustic guitar produces. The top is sometimes called the soundboard and links the guitar’s strings to the body. Choosing the right tonewood for the top is a vitally important decision for a manufacturer.
Some of the most popular tonewoods used for the top of an acoustic guitar are:
The most commonly used tonewood for the top of acoustic guitars is undoubtedly spruce. The vast majority of manufacturers favor spruce on their steel string acoustics, due mainly to it’s unrivaled versatility. This tonewood is well suited to all styles of playing.
Spruce produces a wide dynamic range, with accurate articulation across the fretboard and smooth harmonics in the high-tones. The overall balanced tone of Spruce makes it suitable for both fingerpicking and plectrum strumming, hence why it is such a popular choice amongst acoustic guitar manufacturers.
Second only to spruce when it comes to acoustic guitar top woods, cedar has become increasingly popular in recent years. Although it was originally mainly used on classical nylon-string guitars, manufacturers have begun to use it more frequently for the tops of their steel-string instruments.
Slightly less dense than spruce, cedar produces a dark, mysterious tone. The overtones are rich and resonant, but there is a lack of high-end sparkle. Cedar is a relatively stiff-grained tonewood, and therefore it generates less volume. Finger-picking guitarists generally love cedar for it’s prominent overtones and stable frequency response, despite it’s lack of volume.
Acoustic Guitar Back and Sides Tonewoods
The wood that is chosen to form the back and sides of an acoustic guitar body plays a pivotal role in the tone that the instrument is capable of producing. These sections cause the amplification of certain frequencies and dampen others, therefore having a considerable impact on the overall sound of the guitar.
Manufacturers carefully select certain wood types to form the back and sides, as different combinations yield varying results. This explains why the tonewoods used for the back and sides of an acoustic guitar often differ from the wood used for the top.
Some of the most popular tonewoods used for the back and sides of an acoustic guitar are:
Mahogany was popularized by Gibson and Martin, who used it in their early acoustic guitars due to it being a less costly alternative to rosewood. Today, it is seen as a premium quality material with it’s unique properties.
Mahogany has a dark, brown-red color, making it one of the more distinctive tonewoods. It’s extremely hard and dense, which makes the tone it produces exceptionally warm and full-sounding. The more dense variations of mahogany produce a very similar tone to rosewood. In general, it has a crisp, articulate tone with a slight boost in the mid-range frequencies.
The tonal characteristics of mahogany gradually change as the wood matures. The tight, focused tone begins to morph into a sound that is rich in overtones, coloration, and expression. This process makes aged mahogany acoustic guitars very sought after by music purists. Stylistically, acoustic guitars with mahogany back and sides are well suited to genres such as blues and country.
One of the most popular and long-standing tonewoods used for the construction of acoustic guitars is rosewood. Used predominantly for the back and sides, this material’s musical history spans for many decades. Two main types are commonly used by manufacturers – East Indian rosewood, and the rarer, pricier Brazilian variety.
Acoustic guitars that have Brazilian rosewood back and sides are highly-sought after instruments. That’s largely down to the distinguished appearance it boasts, and the bright, well-rounded tone it produces. The issue with Brazilian rosewood is that it’s use has been halted by modern regulations to protect the tree species and ensure it’s survival.
Therefore, East Indian rosewood has become a more popular type. This tonewood is less expensive than the Brazilian variety, but it still produces the sweet, rich tones. The main difference between the two is in their appearance East Indian has a dark brown color with a fairly straight grain pattern, whereas Brazilian rosewood includes slight hints of red, grey, and sometimes purple.
Originating in the forests of Africa and with some similarities to mahogany, Sapele is another popular choice for acoustic guitar backs and sides. One of the main reasons this wood type has grown in popularity in recent years is due to it’s environmental protection measures, which ensure that the trees are harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.
In appearance, Sapele has prominent, deep grains. It’s aesthetics bear a striking resemblance to mahogany, although Sapele has slightly lighter colors and is more likely to include stripes. Tonally, Sapele provokes a powerful bass output, with plenty of resonance in the mid-tones. The treble end is full of expression and definition, making this wood type ideal for a range of musical styles and genres.
A relatively affordable tonewood, walnut is used for many entry-level acoustic guitars. Compared to some other exotic woods, it is much easier to source and manipulates to create the back and sides of the guitar. In terms of sound, it sit’s somewhere in between mahogany and rosewood, with a powerful midrange and slightly darkened overall tone.
Acoustic Guitar Neck & Fretboard Woods
In the majority of cases, the necks of acoustic guitars are made from one of two materials maple, or mahogany. Both of these tonewoods are renowned for being very easy to build with, and resistant to damage that can be caused by string tension.
Conversely, acoustic guitar fretboards are made from a variety of materials. Although the wood that makes up the body is arguably the most impactful material on tone, the fretboard is the part of the guitar that your hands will touch the most, and therefore it needs to combine ultimate comfort and smooth playability.
Some of the most common fretboard tonewoods are:
For a long period of time, rosewood was seen as the industry standard material for acoustic guitar fretboards. However, when regulations were put in place, manufacturers couldn’t rely on it as heavily as they had done for many years. With the population of rosewood trees once again on the up, it is a matter of time before it resurges as the industry moves towards more sustainable production.
Brazilian rosewood was the variety that took the biggest hit under the new regulations, which propelled Indian rosewood into a newfound position of popularity. One of the reasons rosewood is such a wonderful material for an acoustic guitar fingerboard is it’s exceptional durability. It doesn’t fade in appearance or wear out like other tonewoods have a tendency to. Additionally, it produces natural oil so doesn’t require a finish. This natural oiliness makes rosewood smooth and soft under a guitarist’s’ fingers.
Being a particularly dense tonewood, maple produces a bright, clear tone with plenty of volume across the frequency range. This material is more commonly used for fretboards on electric guitars, but in some cases, manufacturers will use it for acoustic models too.
One of the reasons darker woods are popular for fretboards on both acoustic and electric guitars, is they are considered to be more aesthetically pleasing. Due to maple being brightly colored, it is more rare to find it on an acoustic guitar fretboard. With that being said, it is often used for this purpose when the body tonewoods produce a dark-sounding tone because maple has the ability to even it out and restore balance.
Another popular choice for fretboards on acoustic guitars is ebony. This distinguished tonewood has been a favorite amongst guitar manufacturers for decades, both on acoustic and electric guitars. With it’s classy dark appearance, it blends well with most other tonewoods that are commonly used for the instrument’s top, back and sides.
Ebony’s density and smoothness make it a great choice for a fretboard. It produces large amounts of natural oil, which allows it to remain unfinished and still boast the playability of other treated fingerboard woods. Some guitarists like to use the term “fast” to describe ebony fretboards, meaning it enhances their ability to move up and down the frets at a pace. For technical guitarists, it’s a great choice of tonewood.
Finally, another tonewood that makes a great choice for the fretboard of an acoustic guitar is walnut. Similar in feel and density to rosewood, walnut isn’t as popular for fretboards simply due to it’s appearance. Due to it’s relatively light color, walnut doesn’t suit the dark/light body and fretboard combination that is modernly favored by guitarists. Despite this, when it is used, it provides effortless playability and a bright, articulate tone.
Electric-Acoustic Guitars Explained
Acoustic guitars are ideal for intimate performances, but in a noisy environment, the projection they provide isn’t loud enough to overpower background noise. Therefore, manufacturers decided to use some of the technology incorporated into electric guitars to make their acoustic counterparts capable of being amplified.
Electric-acoustic guitars provide musicians with the best of both worlds. You still get the resonant tone of an acoustic guitar, with it’s rich harmonics and comfortable playability, but you can also plug it into an amplifier and project the sound to a large audience with impressive clarity.
In theory, the method used to turn a basic acoustic guitar into an electro-acoustic model is the same method used on an electric. A device called a pickup is installed, along with various electronic components. An instrument cable is then plugged into the output of the pickup and sent into an amplifier, direct input, preamp, or mixer. The pickups used on electric-acoustic guitars are notably different from those used on electric models.
Magnetic pickups are fitted inside the soundhole of an acoustic guitar. They consist of an insulated copper wire that is wrapped around a magnet. This creates a magnetic field, which is affected by the vibrations made when the guitar strings are played.
These pickups are identical to those used in electric guitars. They produce a warm, expressive tone, and hone in on the finer details of the instrument. They are also very easy to install, too. You simply place them inside the soundhole and attach them with screws.
There are, however, a few drawbacks to magnetic pickups. Firstly, they are renowned for struggling to capture the resonant frequencies inside the guitar’s body. This result is a slightly duller tone than your acoustic guitar would produce unplugged. Feedback issues are also common, and magnetic pickups aren’t compatible with classical guitars.
An alternative to magnetic pickups is piezo, or transducer pickups as they are sometimes called. These work by converting the vibrations of the strings being played into an electrical signal, which is then amplified. Piezo pickups are positioned between the bridge and the bridge saddle so that the pressure fluctuations from the strings are able to alter the voltage of the piezoelectric device.
Piezo pickups don’t capture any of the resonance from the guitar’s body, and instead, their output is more focused on the attack of the strings being played. Their sound is often bright and articulate, nonetheless. They are considered to be more reliable than their soundhole counterparts, simply because they aren’t as susceptible to feedback. They are, however, notoriously difficult to fit.
The third type of pickup commonly used to amplify acoustic guitars is internal microphones. These devices are placed inside the guitar’s body and pick up the sound in exactly the same way a vocal microphone would.
Like all microphones, internal pickups provide a natural representation of the instrument’s tone. Compared to piezo and magnetic pickups, they capture more of the resonance from within the body. This results in an authentic sound that remains true to the original.
The obvious downside to microphone pickups is feedback. The mic has to be positioned very precisely to avoid feedback loops from being created. Also, microphone pickups aren’t particularly strong and therefore are often combined with soundhole pickups to blend resonance with output power.
There is a multitude of options when it comes to stringing an acoustic guitar, with different materials and gauges suiting particular styles of playing. The majority of strings in production are made from a combination of steel and nickel. The three thickest steel strings, which are the ones that produce the lowest notes, are often coated in nickel plating.
Steel strings are great for aggressive styles of playing. They produce plenty of attack, resonance, and power across the frequency range. They are by far the loudest string types and are therefore commonly used for live performances.
The one issue with steel and nickel strings is that they are much more rigorous on a guitarist’s fingers. Fatigue is likely to set in after long periods of playing steel strings, no matter how flawless your technique is. Thankfully, nylon strings provide an easier alternative.
Nylon strings are used on classical and flamenco guitars. They are much easier to press down against the frets and are therefore preferred by highly technical players who use complex chord shapes. The lack of tension allows the strings to be pressed more easily, reducing the wear and tear on the fingers and allowing guitarists to play for much longer periods. Nylon strings are much quieter than steel and nickel ones, which makes them unsuitable for loud environments.
Acoustic Guitars & Effects
Acoustic guitars are often blended with a variety of effects. Due to the versatile nature of the instrument, it is highly compatible with a range of audio processing options. Possibly the most common effect to be used with an acoustic guitar is reverb, due to the element of space it creates. Reverbs interact particularly well with the mid-range and treble end of an acoustic guitar, decaying the notes and the attack from the strumming or picking.
For more ambient textures, the delay is a great effect to use in conjunction with an acoustic guitar. Depending on the length of the delay, it can be used to add subtle echo, artificial double tracking, or when used in more extreme measures, it can turn the acoustic guitar into layers of repeating harmonics. Delay is often used with a tap tempo function to synchronize it to the rhythm of a song. Without setting the tempo, it becomes chaotic and random, which isn’t always a bad thing, but may throw off the timing of a drummer!
Modulation based effects also produce interesting results when combined with an acoustic guitar. The effects that fall under this umbrella include phasers, chorus, flangers, auto rotary, and tremolo. Chorus in particular sounds great with an acoustic guitar, adding thickness and a slight warble to the rich harmonics. Phasers and flangers are less subtle, but used in small amounts can also add warm overtones to the guitar.
Gain based effects are less commonly used with acoustic guitars. However, in genres such as Mississippi blues, guitarists often add some overdrive to their acoustic sound. This creates a crunchy, saturated tone that is perfect for playing rough n’ ready blues licks.
Dynamic pedals are also commonly used together with an acoustic guitar. These are less intrusive effects but play a significant role nonetheless. Compression is a great effect for boosting up the quiet frequencies of an acoustic guitar, and reigning in any spikes in the audio. EQ is used to sculpt the frequency response of the instrument and is an essential tool when mixing recorded acoustic guitar.
Recording Acoustic Guitar
When it comes to recording an acoustic guitar, there are many methods used by engineers to produce the desired effects. If the guitar is electro-acoustic and has a fitted pickup, one option would be to send the output straight into the direct input of an audio interface. The only issue with this method is that the tone of the recording will be largely dependent on the quality of the pickup, and there is likely to be some electrical noise present in the signal.
The more conventional method used for recording acoustic guitar is to capture it using a single condenser microphone. Condensers are well suited to recording the acoustic guitar because they pick up the finer details and slight nuances of the instrument. The treble end of the guitar is well suited to the frequency response of a condenser.
Another popular method is to record with two identical condenser microphones, usually of the shotgun variety, using XY positioning. This requires the two mics to be placed at the same angle and height as one another, so that phase cancellation occurs. The two microphones pick up the high end, mid, and bass frequencies of the guitar, resulting in a balanced recording.
When using a singular microphone to record acoustic guitar, it is common to position it around the 10th or 12th fret. This ensures that the attack from the strumming or fingerpicking is captured, and the resonance from the soundhole is also sent into the microphone’s capsule.
After reading this comprehensive guide on acoustic guitars, you should now have a better idea of which particular one you’re looking for. All of the acoustic guitars featured in this article are a joy to play, but many varying features make them well suited to certain styles of playing. To make the right decision, it’s important to establish to tone that you’re aiming for. Comfort is another important quality, but an acoustic guitar will rarely lack in this department.