Playing the blues doesn’t require any fancy equipment or a state-of-the-art guitar. On the contrary, right from the times of Robert Johnson, it was made clear that all you need is strong emotion and some guitar skills.
Wait, so any guitar can be good to play the blues?
Well, the answer to that question is that there are some better than others.
Because I know that a huge number of companies are making great acoustics and this can cause you to lose the North in your compass, I went the extra mile, tried many guitars, and rescued the 7 best choices in the market today.
Top 3 - Acoustic Guitars for Blues
Read on, choose right, and paint the world blue with your new acoustic. Go get the hat, the boots, and the suit, because here we go!
Best Acoustic Guitars for Blues - Get Your Groove On!
Table of Contents
- Best Acoustic Guitars for Blues - Get Your Groove On!
- What String Gauge Should I Use to Play the Blues on My Acoustic?
- What Slide is Best for Acoustic Blues Playing?
1. Taylor 114e
The Taylor 114e belongs to Taylor’s most affordable line. That being said, the brand managed to put together a great combination of woods that can sound bluesy in the right hands.
To begin with, the Grand Auditorium body created by Taylor in 1994 does feel very comfortable. The waist of the guitar sits right on your lap giving you a great playing experience.
Moreover, the solid Sitka spruce top acts as a soundboard giving you that snap as you play; and since you’re so close to it because of the shape of the guitar, you can feel it vibrate as a single piece.
The back and sides are made of walnut (laminated) which gives the guitar a little depth and resonance that’s mild but never boomy. I tried taking this guitar out of its comfort zone by playing some loud open chords in the first position but it remained perfectly balanced throughout my test.
Speaking of which, the maple neck and ebony fretboard feel like a much more expensive instrument and focus this guitar’s tone on the mid-range. I tried some Son House and it passed the fingerpicking and slide tests.
When I moved on to playing some Bill Withers and chords started appearing in my repertoire, things got even more interesting because the low-end of this guitar is round and musical without getting muddy.
Perhaps, the only drawback that I can find in this guitar is that there’s no rosewood or mahogany involved in the construction. This causes the guitar to lose some of its sweetness making way for a more top-end-oriented sound.
For blues players, that is a capital sin. Nevertheless, I could get a lot of blues-certified tones from it.
2. Alvarez Delta 00E/TSB
The name Alvarez Delta comes from the Delta blues that rose to popularity after the Great Depression. Yes, the company took that guitar design and added a few modern tweaks.
Let’s begin by talking about the neck because it is made of mahogany, the quintessential blues tonewood. Also, it is shaped as a soft “V” that turns into a soft “C”. This might seem like a small detail, but if you’ve ever picked up a ’57 strat, you know that a V-neck is a bluesman’s best companion.
On top of that, an Indian laurel fingerboard makes a good imitation of rosewood. Therefore, I was able to play not only some Son House and Robert Johnson, but I could also do a fairly faithful “The Thrill is Gone” version on it too.
That sweetness to the sound shines through every note and paired with the solid Sitka spruce top and mahogany back and sides, this guitar sounds and feels like a blues machine (even the sunburst finish says so).
Perhaps, the only territory this guitar didn’t feel as believable was when I started strumming some bluesy chords. Don’t get me wrong, the guitar sounds very balanced with enough mids and high-end to cut through the mix. Yet, the small body couldn’t handle the bigger-than-life chords other shapes can.
For delta blues players, this is the perfect guitar. If your repertoire is a tad more varied, you might be better off looking somewhere else.
3. Martin 000-15M
Martin has been making amazing acoustic instruments for the past almost 2 centuries. Yes, Martin guitars have seen more stages, sound checks, and world tours than virtually any other guitar brand in the world.
There’s a reason behind this reputation that I call “The Martin Sound”. Believe me, the first time you strum an all-mahogany Martin like this pressing it to your chest, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The Martin 000-15M embodies that tone right out of the sturdy soft-shell case it comes with. Yes, although it features a relatively small 000 body shape, the low-end and growl that solid mahogany brings to the equation is uncanny. I played everything from “Crossroads Blues” to “Who do you Love” and everything sounded like a record.
I had to go online to find out where the snap and top end come from in this guitar and it turned out that Martin used solid Sitka spruce for the bracing of the solid mahogany top. As a result, the guitar can sound mellow and melodic, ideal for small phrases full of soulful bends and vibratos, but it also sounds larger-than-life when playing chords.
I own a Martin D15M which is much bigger in physical size but the difference in volume and tone was very small.
Perhaps, the only drawback of this guitar is that you have to buy an aftermarket preamp system to plug it in if you’re playing out. Other than that, you can play the blues on this guitar night after night.
4. Yamaha FG800
This acoustic guitar from Yamaha can help you get started on the blues and play it until you become a proficient player. How so? Well, this guitar offers great build quality, and also a solid top.
It’s very uncommon to find a solid top in a guitar with such an entry-level price tag. This is important because the top is the soundboard of the guitar, projecting the sound. Mostly, when you pick up an entry-level guitar, sustain, projection, and harmonic overtones sound quite “dead”.
This is not the case, because although the back and sides are made of laminated nyatoh (nato) and okoume, affordable replacements for mahogany, the guitar sounds articulate and musical. I was able to play some decent Jimi Hendrix and Cream tunes with it.
When it came the time for fingerpicking and slide playing, the size of the laminated body ate most of my nuances and the result was not defined, but rather muddy.
Finally, the neck offers a walnut fingerboard, which is kind of odd but works perfectly adjusting the guitar’s midrange, and has a satin finish on the back making it one of the most comfortable on the list.
If you’re strumming a lot, or are a blues singer-songwriter looking for a guitar to accompany your words, this is a great choice.
5. Epiphone Hummingbird Studio
It’s very hard to miss the stunning looks of a hummingbird guitar. Yes, ever since it was introduced to the market, it became an icon and a synonym for outstanding songwriting.
Having played the real thing, the question for me was, can this Epiphone version make justice to the original, groundbreaking instrument released in 1960?
Well, as a blues player, I could only pull off certain aspects of my playing.
Indeed, after I got beyond my initial awe because it really looks stunning with the cherry sunburst finish and the hummingbird pickguard, I tried some fingerpicking and slide on it without great results.
Although it offers the combination of a solid Sitka spruce top with laminated mahogany back and sides, it is not defined enough not to be muddy when you abuse the sixth string.
That being said, when I moved on to chords playing some righteous Rolling Stones tunes like “Dead Flowers” or “Wild Horses” the guitar really shined. Yes, the dreadnought shape works great with chords giving you that grandiloquence you need to make a single instrument sound like a whole band.
So, if you’re a fingerpicker or a lead guitar player, this guitar might feel too big in sound and in physical size. On the other hand, if you’re a strummer, the X-braced mahogany and spruce body will quench your thirst for righteous acoustic blues guitar tones.
6. Ibanez AW54
Ibanez managed to create a guitar that’s different from everything else on this list. Yes, this guitar is entirely made of alternative woods which keeps the costs down while delivering the tones only an all-solid guitar can.
Right off the bat, picking this guitar up, what I felt was that my fingers were able to feel the actual porosity of the wood. This guitar was named OPN by Ibanez, which means open pore natural and it’s completely true. The finish is thin enough to protect the wood and let you have an experience with it.
Now, in terms of sounds, things are a little different.
To begin with, the guitar’s body is entirely made of solid okoume. The neck is also solid nyatoh, and the fretboard and the bridge are made of ovangkol. These are alternatives for mahogany and rosewood. Therefore, the tones you get from this guitar are dark and sweet. I was able to play believable renditions of timeless classics like “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” or “Fishin’ Blues”.
Yet, the feeling that I got was that this guitar, when compared to the real thing, is its low-definition version. Yes, whereas solid mahogany offers detailed and focused lows with dark and powerful mids, okoume and nyatoh sound a little less defined, boomier, and muddy.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great instrument for the price and for beginners and intermediate players.
In a nutshell, any blues player (fingerpicker, slide player, or strummer) that doesn’t have a budget big enough for the real deal will find here a great instrument to play the blues night after night.
7. Seagull Guitars S6
This Canadian company has been handcrafting outstanding acoustics for the past quarter of a century employing half the population of a small Quebec town called La Patrie.
But why is that important? Well, it’s important because this guitar is made entirely from locally-sourced woods. Yes, the solid cedar top and the three-piece laminated wild cherry back and sides grow nearby the shop. Moreover, the neck wood is also a local species, the silver leaf maple.
This was not the first Seagull guitar I’ve tried in my life and it always surprises me the level of detail in the construction. Seagull really takes craftsmanship to the next level.
Sitting down to play it, I tried some classics and some oddballs like “Mean Woman Blues” and “Poor Boy’s Long Way from Home”. The response was well-balanced and accurate. This means that the wood combination works making this guitar an instrument with great projection and articulate lows.
The problem was when I got to some fingerpicking and slide work since the big dreadnought body ate most of the nuances in my playing and the slapping with the thumb fell too thunderous and brought mud to the sound rather than the uplifting, midrange-focused tones I was expecting.
Nevertheless, the rich harmonic overtones coming from the cedar top are great for chords, arpeggios, and songs. So, for blues players looking for a big-body acoustic to play chords and songs, this is a great guitar. It might feel a little too boomy for fingerpicking and slide work.
What String Gauge Should I Use to Play the Blues on My Acoustic?
Guitar strings are, perhaps, one of the most important aspects of your instrument when you’re playing it. Do they affect your guitar’s tone? Furthermore, can you withstand an entire show playing a heavy gauge; is it worth the extra effort?
Well, I’m here to address your doubts. So, let’s divide this response into three different scenarios: blues fingerpickers/slide players, lead blues guitar players, and blues strummers.
Blues Fingerpickers & Slide Players
The main need of a fingerpicker and a slide player is tuning stability. This is especially true for fingerpickers since the pull and slap on the strings can make them go out of tune easily.
For slide players, accuracy is the name of the game and those microtones can really ruin your performance. So, what I recommend is heavy strings 0.12, 0.13, and 0.14.
PRO TIP: If you’re currently playing light-gauge strings, try going up little by little. Try going from 0.10 to 0.11 first, then move to 0.12, and so on.
Lead Blues Guitar Players
Lead guitar players have a double task when playing lead on an acoustic. Yes, you don’t have the help of a pedal, so the guitar needs to sound round, full, and cut through the mix with single notes.
The thing is that if you use too heavy strings, you’ll end up needing help for every bend; and blues players bend a lot. So, my advice is to look for lighter gauges but nothing lower than 0.10.
Also, look for a maple/ebony or maple/rosewood guitar neck to cut through the mix.
For those who enjoy playing chords with the added 7th or 9th and strumming the night away, the best choice is 0.12 strings. That’s what I put on my Martin and it brings the perfect balance of strength and detail you need.
Plus, it’s not so heavy on the fingers. Finally, if you feel you can pull it off, try some 0.13s to see how they feel (don’t forget to adjust the neck accordingly).
PRO TIP: Strings are the cheapest tone experiment in the world; therefore, feel free to change them and experiment. Bear in mind, though, that every time you move up in string gauge, you have to have the neck of your guitar professionally serviced to match the string’s pulling force.
What Slide is Best for Acoustic Blues Playing?
Acoustic guitar players who love to play the blues in the delta style need a slide to complete the equation. Traditionally, there were the three typical materials: glass, brass, and chrome.
While the glass slide is smooth-sounding, light, and accurate, they’re fragile and lack some of the low-end you get with a brass slide. The thing about brass is that it’s quite heavier, which can make a beginner lose accuracy drastically.
Finally, the chrome slides sound a tad harsh on bronze strings and you might give away your guitar’s low-end and top-end.
So, what slide should you get? Well, porcelain and ceramic slides bring all the best elements I just mentioned into a single product. Yes, you get the smoothness of glass, the low-end of brass, and the attack of chrome.
What’s the only drawback? They can break easily, but if you take care of them, they’ll give you lots of joy.
The Bottom End
Playing the blues is a perfect way to find your own voice and pour your feelings into the shape of a song. The right instrument to play the blues is the one that can translate that pure emotion and make others resonate with it and with you.
Pick the one on this list that inspires you to play the most and turn your world blue.