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Published Sep. 30, 2021

Acoustic guitars are a timeless staple of popular music styles from rock and pop to folk and country thanks to their ability to deliver bright, shimmering tones and booming, full-bodied, sound projection. Unlike electric guitars, which require separate amplifiers to be heard, the bodies of acoustic guitars feature built-in sound boards and resonant chambers to achieve powerful volume without the need for electricity. This capacity for sound, combined with being portable and easy to play, makes acoustic guitars one of the most versatile and flexible instruments available. In this article, we’ll break down some of the things to consider when shopping for acoustic guitars and feature some of the best acoustic guitars available for players of every level.

How We Picked the Best Acoustic Guitars

Methodology

Acoustic guitars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and it can be difficult to distinguish one from another based upon appearance alone. In compiling this list, I looked at a few key factors that set these acoustic guitars apart from the rest of the pack.

Size and Playability: Guitar body size is the most significant factor in determining how compatible the guitar is for a particular player. This list includes smaller, 3/4-scale guitars as well as full-scale dreadnought designs to accommodate taller players with longer arms as well as smaller people and young children.

Sound and Build: Not all guitars are made out of solid wood; in fact, most are constructed using at least one or two varieties of laminate paper products. I selected both solid-top and laminate-top guitars to represent the whole spectrum of available sound varieties. Solid tops offer louder projection but are more fragile than laminate tops, which travel better while offering less sustain and more subdued tones.

Type of Strings: The prevailing acoustic guitar sound in popular music today comes from steel-string acoustic guitars, which feature bright, jangly tones. Nylon-string acoustic guitars sound fuller and rounder due to their softer construction. Each type of string has its merits: steel is louder and more prominent, but it’s harder on the fingers; nylon is softer to the touch yet harder to hear in loud settings.

Value: While the prices of professional musical instruments can reach well into the tens of thousands of dollars, you don’t need to spend nearly that much to enjoy lush tones and easy playability. The acoustic guitars on this list are priced in a range that’s accessible to most players of every level and benefit from being assembled from new materials using state-of-the-art machinery and equipment. This gives these instruments a great ratio of cost-to-value.

The Best Acoustic Guitars: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Alvarez AD60 Dreadnought Guitar

Bold and Responsive Sound

A solid spruce top and a unique bracing system give this guitar a robust soundboard that projects with ease. Alvarez

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Why It Made The Cut: Thanks to its timeless body shape and use of classic construction materials, the Alvarez AD60 has a familiar feel and a full tone that will please any music lover.

Specs:

  • Number of frets: 21
  • Scale length: 25.5 inches
  • Materials
    • Top: Solid spruce wood
    • Back and sides: Mahogany
    • Neck: Mahogany
    • Fingerboard: Indian laurel and rosewood
    • Bridge: Indian laurel and rosewood

Pros:

  • Offset internal bracing allows for louder projection
  • Solid spruce top offers high resonance
  • Classic body shape produces warm, full, and familiar tones

Cons:

  • Dreadnought size may be too large for some players
  • Slightly high string action out of the box

The Alvarez AD60 offers classic acoustic guitar tones and remarkable ease of sound projection thanks to its use of solid materials combined with novel construction details. It features a solid Sitka spruce top backed by a scalloped internal bracing that’s designed to allow a larger portion of the top to vibrate while playing, resulting in noticeably proud and loud tones and a dynamic range that makes the guitar very responsive and satisfying to play. The guitar’s sides, back, and neck are made of mahogany, a traditionally darker-sounding wood that rounds out the bright tones of the spruce top and results in a well-rounded tone overall.

The AD60 has a dreadnought body, which is the most prevalent design seen on the acoustic guitar market thanks to its capacity for volume and resonance. The dreadnought shape is among the largest available, featuring squared shoulders around the neck and a round bottom. While this shape produces a distinct and highly recognizable acoustic guitar tone, its size may feel cumbersome in the hands of players with shorter arms.

Straight out of the box, the AD60’s strings sit far enough from the fretboard to require a firm playing grip. While this isn’t unusual for acoustic guitars, users who prefer lower action may want to make minor adjustments to the neck via its truss rod mechanism. Bear in mind that adjusting the truss rod isn’t the preferred long-term solution for adjusting string action; if you’ll be playing this guitar regularly, it’s worth a trip to a technician to get it set up professionally.

Best for Beginners: Fender FA-15N 3/4 Scale Guitar

Easy to Play

This guitar features an easy-to-hold 3/4-size scale and soft nylon strings that are easy on beginners’ fingers. Fender

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Why It Made The Cut: Unlike traditional dreadnought steel-string guitars that can be bulky to hold and hard on the fingers, the FA-15 has a small body and soft strings that make it easy to play.

Specs:

  • Number of frets: 18
  • Scale length: 23.3 inches
  • Materials
    • Top: Agathis
    • Back and sides: Sapele
    • Neck: Nato
    • Fingerboard: Walnut
    • Bridge: Walnut

Pros:

  • Nylon strings cause less finger wear than steel
  • 3/4 scale is light and easy to handle
  • Includes gig bag for transport

Cons:

  • Ships with high string action
  • Laminate top projects less than solid wood tops

Fender’s FA-15 is a scaled-down take on a classic acoustic guitar design that features easy-to-play construction details, making it a good option for new guitar players. Instead of conventional steel strings, it uses nylon strings, which are easier on the hands and allow for easier fretting and holding of notes, especially for new players with softer fingertips. It has an easy-to-hold, 3/4-size body, and its small scale length of 23.3 inches helps beginning players to reach across more frets at once. Because hand discomfort is a commonly-encountered problem for first-time guitar players, these design details make the FA-15 a great first guitar choice.

This guitar’s laminate top combined with its nylon strings means that it doesn’t project as loudly as a full-size, steel-string guitar, so players of the FA-15 may struggle to be heard when playing music with others. Still, its sapele sides and back combined with the nylon strings render warm, round tones, especially when considering the guitar’s 3/4 scale. The strings are also a bit high off of the fretboard out of the box, but this can be fixed by filing down the bridge saddle or the nut slightly.

Best ¾ Scale: Martin LX1 Little Martin Acoustic Guitar

Small Body, Big Sound

The Martin LX1 projects with the volume of guitars twice its size. C.F. Martin & Co.

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Why It Made The Cut: High-tech laminate materials and a short scale make the LX1 incredibly light and strong, so it’s as resilient as it is portable.

Specs:

  • Number of frets: 20
  • Scale length: 23 inches
  • Materials
    • Top: Solid spruce
    • Back and sides: High-pressure laminate
    • Neck: Stratabond wood laminate
    • Fingerboard: Richlite paper composite
    • Bridge: Richlite paper composite

Pros:

  • Miniature design is perfect for travel
  • Extensive laminate construction adds durability
  • Solid spruce top for loud projection

Cons:

  • Tone lacks low-end presence of larger designs
  • Players with large hands may find it small

Martin’s LX1 is a miniature guitar made from incredibly strong laminate wood and paper materials, making it a portable and durable choice that’s a great companion instrument for traveling. While guitars made of laminate materials are generally less sought-after than solid wood due to their slightly reduced resonance, the LX1 uses a solid spruce wood top that counteracts some of this effect and allows the guitar to deliver uncharacteristically loud projection for its size. The rest of the LX1’s body—  including the back, sides, neck, and bridge—is composed of varying types of high-pressure wood composites that resist cracking, splitting, and denting much better than regular wood.

The LX1 is a travel-friendly guitar that’s scaled down to roughly 3/4 of a standard guitar’s size, so it has a smaller-than-average neck and frets. This makes fretting and playing chords much easier than normal, but users with larger hands may actually find the neck too small to comfortably fit their grip. The LX1’s small body also lacks some of the low-end resonance produced by larger-bodied guitars, so keep that in mind if that’s a sound you’re seeking.

Best with Nylon Strings: Cordoba C5-CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Nylon Warmth

The C5-CE offers lush tones and soft strings paired with a high-quality electric pickup. Cordoba Guitars

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Why It Made The Cut: An easy-to-play neck with a cutaway, solid mahogany and cedar construction, and a built-in preamp make the C5-CE one of the most versatile and best-sounding nylon-string acoustic guitars available.

Specs:

  • Number of frets: 19
  • Scale length: 25.6 inches
  • Materials
    • Top: Solid red cedar
    • Back and sides: Mahogany
    • Neck: Solid mahogany
    • Fingerboard: Rosewood
    • Bridge: Rosewood

Pros:

  • Built-in preamp with tuner and tone controls
  • Warm, rich sound
  • Soft nylon strings are comfortable to play

Cons:

  • Traditional wide-fret neck may be large for small hands
  • Smooth nylon tone isn’t bright enough for certain music styles

Nylon is the preferred material for classical guitar strings and historical acoustic guitar sounds, providing a softer playing feel and smoother tone than the prevailing steel designs of today. The Cordoba C5-CE is one of the best nylon-string acoustic guitars on the market thanks to its solid cedar wood top that gives it fantastic projection, and to its unique cutaway design that extends the neck’s playable area far beyond that of standard designs. It also hosts a Fishman pickup and preamp with a two-band equalizer, allowing users to plug directly into amplifier systems and custom-tailor the guitar’s tone without the need for a microphone. The C5-CE’s built-in preamp also includes a simple LED tuner display, allowing players to keep perfect guitar pitch at a glance.

Being a true classical guitar, the C5-CE has a nut width of 1.96 inches, which allows for ample string spacing and precise left-hand fretting. The downside to this wider neck is that it requires players to have good dexterity to achieve a clean sound without buzzing. If you’re looking for a nylon string acoustic guitar that’s tailored for smaller hands, the Fender FA-15N 3/4 Scale Guitar may be a better choice. Additionally, nylon strings provide a much smoother and darker tone than steel strings, so this guitar may not be the best choice for playing traditionally bright steel-string styles like bluegrass or country rock.

Best Value: Yamaha FD01S Solid Top Acoustic Guitar

Full Tone

The FD01S sports a reliable and time-tested design in a stripped-down form, offering a satisfying and familiar sound for players on a budget. Yamaha

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Why It Made The Cut: With its solid spruce top, mahogany back and sides, and rosewood touches, the FD01S is constructed from the same materials as instruments more than twice its price.

Specs:

  • Number of frets: 20
  • Scale length: 25.25 inches
  • Materials
    • Top: Solid spruce
    • Back and sides: Mahogany
    • Neck: Nato
    • Fingerboard: Rosewood
    • Bridge: Rosewood

Pros:

  • Solid spruce top is more resonant than laminate
  • Rosewood neck for comfort and ease of play
  • Full tone and good projection

Cons:

  • Requires a setup out of the box for optimal performance
  • Dreadnought size is large for smaller players

Yamaha’s FD01S is a dreadnought acoustic guitar that’s made of solid spruce, mahogany, nato, and rosewood, giving it a sound and construction that’s very similar to more expensive guitars at a budget price point. Unlike most budget instruments in this price range, which feature laminate tops that are cheaper to produce, it has a solid top that offers pronounced volume and resonance. Combined with its sturdy neck and its soft, easy-to-play fingerboard, the FD01S is one of the best value acoustic guitars currently available.

Due to its relatively low cost, the FD01S isn’t manufactured with the same attention to detail lavished on more professional instruments. This results in a construction that requires user intervention and a professional setup to achieve the best results. Out of the box, the guitar’s strings are a bit high off of the fretboard and hard to press. Additionally, the FD01S has a standard dreadnought shape that offers bold, resonant tones but may be too large for smaller players to hold.

Things to Consider Before Buying an Acoustic Guitar

Portability

Acoustic guitars are technically more portable than electric guitars as they can operate without extra amplification equipment, but some acoustic guitars are larger than others. The best acoustic guitars for travel are 3/4-scale designs that take up less space than their full-size counterparts without being so small as to lose the volume and projection for which acoustic guitars are desired.

Size

Dreadnought, or full-size guitars, are often too large for kids and smaller players to hold comfortably against their bodies, and chord fretting on a full-size neck can be a painful stretch for people with smaller hands. Small guitar players will have an easier and more comfortable playing experience with a 3/4-scale acoustic guitar, as those designs have smaller necks and smaller bodies.

Sound

If you’re looking for a bright tone that’s appropriate for rock and pop genres, nothing compares to a standard, steel-string acoustic guitar. Steel strings feature sharp attack and extended high-end frequencies that are perfect for cutting through recording mixes or projecting in a room filled with other musicians. For soft tones that are better suited for solo performance, classical music, and some styles of folk music, nylon-string designs provide a rounder, warmer, and overall more delicate sound that can be much easier on the ears over extended periods.

FAQs

Q: What strings are best for acoustic guitar?

Strings for both electric and acoustic guitars come in a wide variety of thicknesses and sets. There is no “best” string for acoustic guitar, as some players will prefer the feel of a thin string, while others may prefer a thicker string. For the best all-around performance, a light-tension balanced set like the D’Addario EJ16-3D should offer a sound and feel that please most users. For nylon-string acoustic guitars, the D’Addario EJ45 offers well-rounded sound and normal tension.

Q: Is acoustic guitar harder to play?

Because acoustic guitars tend to have slightly thicker strings than electric guitars, they require slightly more force to press down and fret notes without creating a buzzing sound. This, combined with the fact that they don’t typically include pickups to amplify their sound, means that acoustic guitars require slightly more force and effort to produce a clean, clear sound than electric guitars.

Q: What’s the difference between classical and acoustic guitar?

Modern classical guitars more resemble the earliest guitar designs than do modern steel-string acoustic guitars, and they’re set apart by a few key design details. The most significant is classical guitars’ use of nylon strings, which is smoother, softer, and warmer-sounding than the conventionally bright and present sound of modern steel-string guitars. It should be noted that classical guitars fall into the category of acoustic guitars, as they’re primarily designed to project sound without the use of electronic pickups and preamps. Therefore, they’re best designated from steel-string acoustics by the specification of their string type.

Final Thoughts

For a classic acoustic guitar sound that’s bright, full, and resonant, look to a dreadnought guitar with a solid spruce top like the Alvarez AD60. A 3/4-scale design like the Martin LX1 is a better choice for travel use thanks to its durability and smaller size that players with small hands may also prefer. Beginning guitarists will enjoy the softer nylon strings of the Fender FA-15N 3/4 Scale Guitar, and players of every level should consider the Cordoba C5-CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar for a well-rounded and full-bodied nylon-string guitar tone.

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