How to Buy the Best Acoustic Guitar for Beginners

To find your best acoustic guitar, you’ll need to decide if you want a steel-string or a nylon-string guitar. Do you plan on playing your acoustic guitar in a band? You may want to consider an acoustic-electric guitar.

There are three types of acoustic guitar:

  • Steel-string acoustic guitar
  • Nylon-string or classical guitar
  • Acoustic-electric guitar

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How to Buy the Best Electric Guitar for Beginners

Buying a Steel-String Acoustic Guitar

This is the most popular acoustic guitar. The steel-string guitar is played in virtually all styles of music including: country, blues, folk, bluegrass, and rock.

Listen to a classic acoustic performance of “Suite – Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Steel-string acoustic guitars fit into virtually any style of acoustic music from folk to rock. If you’re into acoustic blues, bluegrass, rock or country, the steel-string acoustic is the guitar to buy.

Steel-string acoustic guitars come in a variety of standard sizes from small-bodied “parlor” guitars to large-bodied dreadnought guitars. Typically the larger the guitar body, the louder the volume. Consider your height and your hand size when choosing a guitar. If you’re under five-feet-four-inches tall, a dreadnought guitar may be uncomfortable.

Most guitar makers feature models priced in the $400 to $1,200 range. Some makers also produce the higher-end models. While others choose to produce an affordable line of guitars for the beginners.

Popular high-end acoustic guitar brands (with models over $1,500) include Martin, Gibson, Guild, Taylor and Collings. High-end guitars are made from select, solid woods (as opposed to laminated woods), and are often hand-crafted.

The great, Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison plays “Here Comes the Son” on a steel-string acoustic-electric guitar.

Popular lower-end guitar brands (starting from $200-$300) include: Takamine, Washburn, Yamaha, Ibanez, Fender, Epiphone and Seagull. You can find excellent, playable steel string guitars without spending a fortune. Lower end guitars will likely be made of laminate-wood tops which may not have the rich dynamics of solid-wood, but are perfectly adequate for most guitar players.

Examples include:

  • Seagull S6
  • Yamaha FG700S
  • Fender DG-8S

Acoustic Guitar Pricing Considerations

Pricing factors for acoustic guitars include the types of wood used. Is the guitar top solid wood or veneer? Hand-crafted parts will also drive up the price, as will fancy fretboard inlays, and bindings. The quality of the tuning pegs (hardware) will also be a cost factor.

Steel-string acoustic guitar players

  • Bob Dylan
  • Taylor Swift
  • Jack Johnson
  • Tracy Chapman
  • Tommy Emmanuel

Buying a Nylon-String or Classical Guitar

The sound of the nylon string, or classical guitar is softer and more mellow than the steel-string guitar. Besides classical music, you’ll hear nylon-string guitars in flamenco, bossa nova, and jazz.

Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia plays “Entre dos Aguas” on his nylon-string guitar.

The nylon-string acoustic guitar is also known as a “classical guitar” since it’s used in the classical guitar repertoire. But, it is also heard in a variety of other styles including folk, jazz, and Latin. So, I will use the more generic term of “nylon-string acoustic guitar.”

If you’re a beginner interested in learning fingerstyle guitar, I’d suggest going the nylon-string route. But if I were planning on using a pick for strumming and picking, I’d suggest a steel-string guitar.

Not Just For Classical Guitar

While the nylon-string guitar is designed for playing fingerstyle, nothing says you can’t use a pick (or plectrum). Watch Willie Nelson use his fingers and a pick on his well-worn nylon-string Martin guitar.

A Best Beginner’s Guitar

Some guitar teachers feel nylon-string guitars make good beginners’ instruments. The nylon strings are easier to fret and gentler on the fretting fingers than are steel-string acoustics. For fingerstyle playing, the nylon strings are much easier on the plucking fingers than steel strings.

John Williams plays classical-style nylon string guitar on Bach’s “Prelude from Lute Suite 4.

Because classical music is played fingerstyle, the neck of the nylon-string guitar is wider. The extra space between strings makes it easier to play fingerstyle. But that also makes it a bit harder to fret chords, especially for folks with smaller hands. If you’re looking to get a small person started on nylon-string guitar, you can find student-model classical guitars at 3/4 scale size and smaller.

Some popular classical guitars include:

  • Yamaha CG101A
  • Cordoba C5
  • Yamaha C40 package
  • Giannini GWNC1 Sevilha

Nylon-string acoustic guitar players

  • Willie Nelson
  • Andres Segovia
  • Earl Klugh
  • Sharon Isbin
  • Muriel Anderson

Buying an Acoustic-Electric Guitar

The acoustic-electric guitar is essentially an acoustic guitar. However, it has a built in pickup that lets you amplify the acoustic sound. Both nylon-string and steel-string guitars are available as acoustic-electric guitars.

It’s important to know that the acoustic-electric guitar is not a substitute for an electric guitar. An amplified acoustic-electric guitar is designed to sound like an acoustic guitar, but loud enough to be heard in a bar band, or even in an arena.

If you’re planning on playing in a band, or onstage, you’ll want to consider an acoustic-electric guitar. The alternative is to use a microphone and amplifier to amplify your acoustic guitar. Note that Paco de Lucia, in the video (above) is not playing an acoustic-electric guitar, thus the guitar needed to be mic’ed.

Eric Clapton performs “Tears in Heaven” on an acoustic-electric guitar.

If you plan to play acoustic guitar in a band, or on stage, you may want an acoustic-electric guitar. This is an acoustic guitar that comes equipped with a built-in microphone or pickup. Acoustic-electric guitars can be played acoustically, but they’re really designed to played through an amp.

Besides the built-in pickup, acoustic-electric guitars have a panel with controls for volume and tone (treble, bass, middle). Acoustic-electric guitars often feature a “cutaway” body style, an opening at the guitar’s lower shoulder to allow you access to the higher-note frets.

Other Acoustic-Electric Guitar Factors

Some things to consider before deciding on an acoustic-electric:

  1. The body size is usually smaller than standard acoustic guitars.
  2. Being designed for amplification, the string gauges and general setup can make these guitars easier to play than standard acoustic guitars. This also means the guitar is not particularly loud when played unamplified.

Eric Clapton and John Mayer perform an acoustic-electric duet of Broken Hearted.

Typically, beginners would not need an acoustic-electric as a first guitar. But, if you plan on performing or playing in a band, here are some popular acoustic-electric guitars:

  • Takamine G Series EG340SC cutaway dreadnought
  • Oscar Schmidt dreadnought
  • Jasmine by Takamine ES31C
  • Epiphone PR-4E pack
  • Yamaha F Series FX325 Dreadnought
  • Taylor Guitars 114ce grand auditorium

Acoustic-Electric Guitar Players

Most performers playing an acoustic guitar live, on stage, will use an acoustic-electric guitar, such as…

  • Al Di Meola
  • James Taylor
  • Martin Simpson
  • Michael Hedges
  • Leo Kottke