The Best Acoustic Guitar Review

Hey, and welcome to the website that searches for the best acoustic guitar! Whether you’re looking for your first guitar, or are a seasoned guitar pro, you should be able to find the information you need about each instrument on this site.

We aim to- not only show you the technical features of each instrument- but also go into a bit more depth and explain why each of these features is important. I mean, it’s all well and good knowing that a guitar has a 26″ scale (which is something you’ll see on the list of features)……but what if I told you that 26″ is longer than on a regular acoustic, and that means the frets will be spaced further apart on the neck? Wider fret spacings mean that larger stretches are a bit more difficult, but may suit someone with larger than average hands.

find the best acoustic guitar for your style and budget with our reviews

Our Candidates for ‘Best Acoustic Guitar’

We’ve been reviewing acoustic guitars for a while now- some are good, some bad. We thought it would be easier to put some of the best acoustics into a table, so that you can compare and decide for yourself which is your favourite.

We’ve been reviewing acoustic guitars for a while now- some are good, some bad. We thought it would be easier to put some of the best acoustics into a table, so that you can compare and decide for yourself which is your favourite.

PictureGuitarTypeReviewRating
Takamine Pro Series EF508KC NEXAll Koa AcousticTakamine EF508KC NEX review4.5
the taylor 114ce acoustic guitar in the auditorium styleTaylor 114ceGrand AuditoriumTaylor 114ce Review3.5
Ovation Standard Elite 6868AXElectro-acousticOvation Standard Elite Review4.0
Fender CD-160SE12 String GuitarFender CD 160CE 12 String Review3.5
Guitar for DummiesStarter SetAcoustic Guitar for Dummies Review4.0

What makes a good Acoustic Guitar?

What makes a good Acoustic Guitar?

What makes an acoustic guitar sound and play the way it does?

There are many things that go into an acoustic guitar. For example, when looking for the best guitar, there are usually three main things to consider:

…but, what makes an acoustic guitar sound and feel the way it does?

There are actually many things, and many luthiers and guitar companies spend a lot of time and money trying to solve this question. From the scale length, to the string gauge– and even the body size– there is a lot that goes into a top acoustic guitar!

There are some that would say that the best acoustic guitar is the one that looks the best. This is somewhat true, but the guitar that looks the best isn’t always the one that sounds the best- nor does it mean it’s the easiest to play!

The third major concern that many players have is the price. This is especially true of beginners, as who wants to spend a lot of money on an instrument, only to decide to give up playing a few months later?

Again, a higher price in no way guarantees a better instrument, but if you’re only willing to part with pocket change…let’s just say sometimes you get what you pay for!

Cheaper acoustic guitars are rarely the best in any category, and even the most faithful copies of more expensive guitars will usually cut corners somewhere.

The trick is to find out whether they’re just made with less expensive woods, or it’s something more serious- such as being poorly made by cheap labour!

Playability

The playability of a guitar- how easy it is to play- is probably the most overlooked factor. It’s easy to appreciate a guitar that looks beautiful, or sounds crisp, clear and resonant, but it can be more difficult to assess the playability.

This is even more true for a beginner- just the people who need a guitar that’s easier to play, are least qualified to judge!

However, there are certain factors that influence how easy your guitar will be to play. Remember: the best acoustic guitar isn’t always what looks or sounds the best, it’s often the one that you’ll enjoy playing the most.

So here are the main things you’ll want to be looking out for when selecting your acoustic guitar.

Body Size

a smaller bodied guitar will sound very different to a larger one, but may be easier to play

Probably the most obvious feature that you’ll need to look at is the size of the guitar’s body!

Acoustic guitars can range from smaller ‘parlour’ guitars (pictured), to full-on ‘grand auditoriums’. I’ll explain about the advantages of each specific type in a bit, as they affect how you hold the guitar, as well as how it sounds.

For playability purposes, the actual size of the instrument is very important. I mean, the ‘standard’ type of guitar you’ll find is a ‘Dreadnought’ style- and these tend to be fairly big.

Being larger is great in terms of volume- larger bodies resonate more and are generally louder. However, this is not so good if you’re a smaller build yourself!

The general rule is that people with smaller bodies, need smaller bodies on their guitars- and this rule also applies to children. Children may be better off with 1/2 or 3/4 sized instruments, however.

Neck Radius

What effect does the guitar's neck radius have on the instrument?

Next on the list is something that will be more obvious if you’re not a complete beginner: neck radius. This measures the curvature of the fretboard, and a larger radius means a flatter, thinner- but wider feeling- neck.

Smaller neck radii will create a thicker, deeper feeling neck that some players like. If you have smaller hands, however, this may be more of a hindrance.

Guitars with smaller neck radii (also called ‘fretboard radius’ or ‘fingerboard radius’), are said to be more comfortable for playing chords, because the necks are more curved, but flatter necks are better for lead playing.

So, if you’re buying a guitar to strum chords on most of the time, you might want one with a greater fretboard radius.

The Action

the best acoustic guitar should have a balance between low action, and no fretbuzz

Another thing that you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been playing a while is the action. The best acoustic guitar will probably have a low action- and this means that the distance between the strings and the frets is shorter.

It should be pretty obvious why this makes the guitar much easier to play! If you have to push each string further to play each note (higher action) it’s going to take more effort to play anything at all.

Unfortunately, this is the downfall of many cheaper models- and sometimes it’s not something easily fixed.

Always look for a guitar with a fairly low action, if you can- just make sure it’s not too low, as you don’t want the strings hitting the frets and buzzing against them when you play. Fretbuzz is the number one guitar tone killer!

Scale Length

the scale length of a guitar is measured from the nut to the bridge

Next, after considering the width and size of the neck, you’ll want to learn about something called ‘scale length’. It’s not quite as important as some of the other features of a guitar, but it’s definitely worth a mention here.

So, what is ‘Scale Length’, and how does it affect the guitar? Well, the scale of a guitar is the distance between the nut and the bridge- i.e. the length of the open strings. It’s important because of the physics of how a string vibrates.

Without wanting to bore you with the science, the pitch of a note on the guitar is determined by three main things:

  1. The length of the string
  2. The thickness of the string
  3. How tight the string is (or it’s ‘tension’)

Now, guitars with different scale lengths have different string lengths. This is important because- as we want the guitar to be tuned in ‘standard tuning’ most often- one of the other two factors has to compensate.

This essentially boils down to the fact that guitars with longer scale lengths will have to have the strings pulled tighter, when compared to a shorter scale guitar with the same string gauge.

It is for this reason that many guitar players prefer thinner, lighter strings on guitars with larger scale lengths, and thicker strings on shorter scales (average is around 25.5″).

The scale length also affects the fret spacing, because the frets positions are worked out by ratios. For example, the 12th fret will always be exactly halfway between the bridge and the nut- and all the other frets fit in between.

This means that guitars with longer scale lengths will have the frets spaced further apart.

Again, what exactly makes the best acoustic guitar for you will vary, but if you have larger hands, you may also prefer a larger scale length.

Intonation

The last- but by no means least important- thing that affects the playability of the guitar is the intonation. This is influenced by a combination of many factors- and a lot is down to the designer and builder of the instrument.

the intonation and action of a guitar are important things to consider when buying one

The intonation refers to how well the guitar stays in tune all over the neck. In some cheaper guitars, you’ll tune the open strings to standard tuning, and the notes at the 7th fret are slightly out of tune, for example. This is bad intonation and is to do with the way the guitar is made.

In fact, no guitar is perfectly in tune along the whole neck- as that would be fairly impossible with straight frets. Instead, the frets are placed in positions that give the best (most in-tune) note across all the strings. It’s very precise, and a poorly constructed guitar can mean that this alignment is slightly off- resulting in a guitar that literally cannot be in-tune!

There are a few things you can do to fix the intonation of a guitar when it’s off, but you shouldn’t buy a guitar with bad intonation in the first place. Again, this is a fairly technical point, but very important especially for beginners- as a guitar that cannot be in tune will never sound good.

Acoustic Guitar Body Styles

Of course, the wood isn’t the only thing that is going to influence how a guitar sounds. The shape and design of the body will also have a huge impact on the tone of the guitar.

Essentially, a guitar has two ’bouts’, the upper bout, and the lower bout. Those are the two parts you see on the body of an acoustic guitar with what looks like a ‘waist’ in between them. The size of the lower bout affects the bass response, and the upper bout affects the treble.

Add to that the fact that a larger body size will naturally have more low frequencies and be louder anyway, and it becomes quite complex! However, there are some general guidelines you can follow to find the best guitar for you.

These are some of the main body styles you’ll find on an acoustic guitar, and how they sound. You should also note that any of these guitars can have a ‘cutaway’, which is a small section taken out of the body near the neck so that you can reach the higher-pitched notes.

Classical

The first types of true guitar to exist, and the one you should be familiar with first, is the classical guitar(also known as the “Spanish guitar” or “Spanish Classical”). These guitars are usually strung with nylon strings and played using the fingers only.

Although this category of acoustic guitar includes many variations (including the flamenco guitar), the design we see today is based on the designs of Spanish luthier Antonio Torres Jurado, who lived and worked during the 19th century.

The tone of these guitars tends to be softer than that of other types of guitar, and the strings can be easier on your fingers (because they are softer). The neck of these types of guitar also tend to be wider, which makes it a bit easier to play the individual notes of chords (as you would when playing classical music on the guitar).

These factors often make classical acoustic guitars the best acoustic guitar type for beginners.

Dreadnought

a dreadnought style acoustic guitar with 12 strings

The dreadnought guitar (pictured) was invented by the Martin guitar company, and produces a deep, resonant sound. It was named for it’s large size, after the British battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought (whose name actually means ‘dread-nought’ or ‘fears nothing’), and is probably the most common guitar shape you’ll see.

This type of guitar also comes in two styles- standard (square) or round-shouldered- and there is much debate as to which is better. The round shoulders allow more balance between the bass and treble frequencies, but many would argue that the strength of this style lies in it’s loud, beefy bass tone.

Jumbo

With a lower bout of over 16 inches across, this is probably the largest type of guitar on the market. The larger body makes for a nice, rich bottom end that is especially suited to strumming and rhythm playing.

This guitar is also probably the loudest when unamplified, and works well around a campfire or in a similar situation. The rounded upper bout also helps note clarity and definition, which would otherwise be drowned out by the bass.

Both the jumbo and the dreadnought styles are fairly large, and this may cause issues for smaller guitarists. They are also both very bassy, with a lot of low end in the tone.

Auditorium

the taylor 114ce acoustic guitar in the auditorium style

The standard auditorium guitar (pictured) is smaller than a dreadnought, measuring around 15 inches across the lower bout. Although larger varieties- including the ‘grand auditorium’ can be wider than this, competing with a dreadnought.

This body style offers more of a balance between bass and treble response, and is the standard for smaller to medium sized guitars.

Concert

The design of the ‘concert’ guitar was inspired by the classical guitar, but with steel strings instead of nylon. Although they are small by today’s standards, they were considered fairly large when they were first introduced, as they are bigger than their classical cousins.

The smaller bodies of these guitars make them very comfortable to play, but also one of the quietest guitars. Their tone tends to be less boomy, and sweeter than with larger bodied styles, and for that reason they are well suited to fingerpicking.

Parlour Guitar

The parlour guitar is the smallest model of guitar. These styles produce a lot less bass than other acoustic, but the tone is much more focused and less muddy. This type of guitar is great for fingerstyle playing, but not so good for strumming- as they are definitely the quietest.

These guitars also work well with smaller guitarists, and even children that are too big for 3/4 sized regular guitars.

Construction

Look carefully at your new guitar for construction and build quality flaws

Talking about the construction, you should look for any obvious flaws in the guitar before buying- which is usually a sign of the standard of the rest of the guitar. In each review, I discuss the build quality of the instrument and how this affects you.

As I mentioned before, the guitar is a finely tuned piece of equipment, and being only millimetres off can mean a big difference. There are also other factors that can ruin a guitar- such as: rough frets, loose tuning pegs, and just bad wood joints. All of which can affect your playing experience and also the reliability and durability of the instrument.

The best acoustic guitar works by you (or someone) plucking the string, causing it to vibrate. This vibration is then transferred into the top of the guitar body (the part with the bridge), and this is why the top is also known as the ‘soundboard’. This vibration is then transferred to the air inside to body of the guitar.

Now, the shape of the body will determine how this air vibrates and produces the sound. That’s the basic story, but it really is more complex than that, as every part of the guitar really vibrates and contributes to the overall sound.

This means that a loose connection or sloppy glue joint somewhere on the guitar can really affect the tone, as a bad joint wont transfer vibrations as easily. This kills some of the resonance in your tone.

This is why it’s really important to assess the quality of the guitar!

Also, I should mention that the way a guitar is made also influences the soundboard of the guitar, and how it vibrates. There is something called a ‘bracing’ inside the body of each guitar to reinforce the structure. Regular acoustics have an x-bracing system, which means two bits of wood crossed over under the soundboard, holding it in place.

So, we need the soundboard to vibrate, but we also need to keep it in place on the guitar (so that it doesn’t fall off). The balance of these two factors will be decided by the type of bracing system in place. Top acoustic guitars usually have an X-bracing that allows the top of the guitar to resonate freely.

Tonewoods

classical style acoustic guitars tend to use different tonewoods to steel strung guitars, it's all a matter of style

Probably not of any concern for a beginner, but the woods that a guitar is made from can really affect the sound. As I mentioned, the sound of a guitar is produced- ultimately- by the vibration of the wood, which is transferred to the air. Therefore it makes sense that a stiffer, harder wood will vibrate and resonate differently to a softer one.

In guitar terms, the wood affects the bass and treble response of the instrument, and also it’s volume and projection. Because of this, many woods are favoured for either the soundboard (top), the back and sides (of the body), or the neck of an acoustic.

Spruce

Spruce is a softwood, and is probably the most common wood used for acoustic guitars. It is very often used for the soundboards of acoustic guitars, but also for violins, lutes, mandolins and other guitars. Luthiers like it because of it’s high stiffness to weight ratio- meaning it will vibrate more freely (stiffness transfers vibrations, bu weight would slow that down).

The most common form of spruce used in guitar tops is sitka spruce. The stiffness and light weight of this wood produces a strong fundamental tone, and gives guitar a larger dynamic range (loud to quiet). However, it can lack resonance when played at very low volumes.

Spruces can also produce a ‘bearclaw’ pattern, which is a series of shimmering, asymmetrical waves in the grain of the wood. This usually happens with older, more mature trees, and is an indicator of quality that will only be seen on the best acoustic guitars.

There are many other varieties of spruce that could take up a whole article by themselves! I’ll explain about any specifics in each review.

Cedar

Cedar is another softwood, which has been used since the 1950’s on the tops of guitars. This wood doesn’t have as much projection as spruce, but it can support a lot more bass resonance. This means that the tone of these guitars can be boomy and strong for lower notes, but it can sometimes sound muddy.

Because of these properties, cedar is very well suited to smaller guitars that may not have much of a bass response otherwise.

Mahogany

Mahogany isn’t regularly used for the soundboard of an instrument, but it is often used for the back and sides. It lacks some of the lower end frequencies of- say- rosewood, but adds a lot to the overtones of the guitar.

The lower amount of bass resonance from this wood probably explains why it’s more rarely used on the soundboard. However, when used for the back and sides this wood really adds a depth to the tone.

Maple

Maple is very similar to mahogany in it’s tonal characteristics, which is probably why it’s also a favourite for the back and sides of an instrument. It’s a lighter colored wood that is traditionally used for the back and sides of instruments from the violin family.

Maple is a great material for the body of any acoustic instrument because of it’s sustain, and the way it allows the qualities of the topwood to shine through.

Rosewood

Although Brazilian rosewood is generally preferred, it’s not as available as it’s Indian cousin. This is why you’ll see many guitars being built from Indian rosewood, especially less expensive models. This wood is also a hardwood that’s used mainly for the back and sides of a guitar.

Both Brazilian and Indian rosewood impart quite a dark tone to the instrument as the lower notes are very clear and defined. It also produces strong mid- and high- frequencies due to the stiffness of the wood.

Lamninates

The woods above are probably the most common types you’ll find in a guitar. However, you should also be aware of wood laminates. This is where there are several layers of wood glued together, and is a much cheaper way to make a guitar.

Although the best acoustic guitar is probably not made with laminates, many budget models are. It’s not something you should outright avoid when purchasing a guitar, but just be aware that there are better materials out there.

Other Things to consider

Right, so those are probably the most important features you’ll want to look for in the best acoustic guitar, but there are a few other things to look for that weren’t covered in the above.

Tuners

The construction and quality of the tuning pegs is very important. The gears need to hold the string at the right tension, and not slowly unwind as you play the guitar. They should also be stiff enough to allow small adjustments and accurate tuning, but not so loose that you’re winding them forever to get in tune!

Finish

This has a lot to do with how the guitar looks, which- as I already said- isn’t the most important thing to look at. However, the quality of the finish not only belies the quality of workmanship that has gone into the instrument, it also affects the tone.

Remember when I was talking about tonewoods, and saying that heavy woods will slow down the resonance and vibrations? Well, when you add paint, or lacquer to a guitar wood, you’re adding weight. This weight can influence how the guitar vibrates, and sometimes a heavy coat of paint will kill any overtones and hurt the guitar’s sound.

Nut Material

The nut is the part between the head and the fretboard that the strings are fed through to keep them in place. The material that this part is made from can show the difference between the best acoustic guitars and more cheaply made instruments.

The main material that you’ll see in a high end acoustic being used for the nut is bone. Although other options do exist, bone nuts are generally considered the superior option.

Lower quality guitars can have nuts made of plastic, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad choice. Yes, it’s a cheaper material to use, but there is some debate about whether the nut material really makes such a difference to the tone.

However, there is no debate about how plastic nuts will wear out much quicker than bone, as the strings will wear down plastic more easily.

In each review on this website, I’ll guide you through whether or not I think the manufacturer has made a good decision regarding nut choice. The nut will only ever influence the sound of the open strings anyway, because as soon as you fret a note it’s taken out of the equation.

Some guitars even have a ‘zero fret’ so that the open strings are essentially fretted at ‘fret zero’. This configuration allows the fretted notes and the open strings to sound fairly similar- as now all the notes on the guitar are ‘fretted’ in some way or another.

Fretboard Inlays

fretboard inlays on a guitar

OK, we’ve done most of the important stuff by now, so lets look at fretboard inlays. These are the little dots on the fretboard that mark certain frets (usually the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets). They’re not found on many classical style guitars, but they can really help when finding your way around the fretboard.

Again apart from their function of marking the frets, the rest is purely cosmetic. Standard fretboard inlays are just white dots, with a double dot at the 12th fret, but custom designs do exist. From more minimalist square designs, to diamonds or logos, right up to entire works of art can be inlaid on the fretboard of the guitar!

Electronics

While we only deal with acoustic guitars on this website, there may come a time when you’ll want something a bit louder. Obviously an electric guitar isn’t always the best choice in this situation- as an electric guitar doesn’t quite sound the same.

The solution? Well, you could use a microphone to mic up the guitar, but that brings up more issues of correct mic placement and the acoustics of the room. The other option is to have a pickup installed in the acoustic guitar, as with an electric.

I’ve already covered some of my favourite methods of amplifying an acoustic guitar here and here, if you have to work with a solely acoustic instrument. However, there are also guitars with pickup mechanisms already built in- electro-acoustics.

So, it’s worth thinking about how you will be using the guitar. Are you going to be recording or playing on stage a lot? If that’s the case, you might be better off with an electro-acoustic. The same goes for recording the guitar, although it’s personal preference whether a mic would actually be better for this.

Cutaway

an acoustic guitar with a cutaway

The cutaway is- as I mentioned before- a small section taken out of the body of the guitar to allow better access to the higher frets. This feature is great if you plan on playing high notes a lot, as on a regular acoustic the body (along with the heel) of the guitar can get in the way.

However, because this changes the body shape of the guitar it also influences the tone a small amount. So, if you know that you’re going to be mostly strumming chords (which is the majority of players), then a cutaway may not be the right option for you.

The guitar pictured to the right features a cutaway.

Price

This one probably shouldn’t be the last item on the list, but it’s important to remember that the best acoustic guitar isn’t always the most expensive. I hope the points I’ve brought up here should explain why that isn’t the case, but we all have out budgets to consider.

If you’re really tight for money on buying your first guitar, then I suggest checking out the ‘beginner guitar‘ section, as there are some fantastic deals on starter sets. These include all you need to get started with the instrument, and are usually at very affordable prices.

If you’re looking for a more high end instrument, then please consider the factors I’ve mentioned here to find the best acoustic guitar for you. I really don’t want to see you spend your hard earned cash on the most expensive acoustic you can find, only to find that it’s unsuitable for what you want to play!

Leave a Reply