On the surface, acoustic guitars can seem like fairly simple instruments. But the truth is that they are just as varied as electric guitars.
For that reason, it can be hard for beginners to decide on their first acoustic guitar. Similarly, experienced players can be unsure when they are looking to upgrade.
Acoustic guitars can cost as little as $100 dollars, all the way to thousands. But what is the difference? And what should you be paying for a beginner, intermediate, or professional level acoustic guitar?
Let’s break down each group and take a look at some of the best instruments that each has to offer.
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Beginner Level Guitars
If you are just starting out and are buying your first guitar, you probably don’t want to spend a ton of money. The good news is that there are plenty of great acoustic guitars that are very affordable.
Beginner acoustic guitars are generally between $100 – $400. Plenty of well-known brands make beginner-level guitars as well. That means that even at such a low price range you are still getting high-quality instruments.
Beginner guitars are also much more accommodating to, well, beginners. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and scale lengths to be as comfortable as possible for anyone just starting out.
The Ibanez PF2MH, for example, has a 3/4 size dreadnought body, slightly smaller than a regular dreadnought. Or the Cordoba Mini II which has an even smaller body, as well as nylon strings. Perfect for any children that want to learn to play without the discomfort of a large body and steel strings.
Of course, there are also plenty of more traditional acoustic guitars for beginners. Yamaha is one of the most common brands, with plenty of different beginner-level instruments. A few standouts include the FS800 and the APX600 if you want an electro-acoustic.
You will also usually find bundle deals in this price range. These are aimed directly at beginners and bundle the guitar with a carrying bag, like the Yamaha APXT2EW. But you can also get bundles that come with straps, picks, and strings along with a carrying bag, like the Fender CD-60S.
While there are plenty of great guitars in this price range, it is important to remember that they do have their shortcomings. Companies use a lot of cost-cutting measures to bring down the price of guitars as much as possible.
One of the biggest methods is to use cheaper woods. While cheaper woods like Koa and Ovangkol are still very good, they do lack a bit of tone compared to more expensive woods like Rosewood and Mahogany.
Their construction is also of lower quality. They are more prone to breaking at the joinings and edges and necks tend to bend much more.
Their hardware, like the tuning machines, are also much cheaper, often plastic or plastic feeling. The electronics in electro-acoustics are also much cheaper and tend to fail much faster.
Intermediate Level Guitars
Intermediate acoustic guitars start at around $400 and go up to $1000. Guild, Yamaha, and Ibanez have a few great guitars at the low end of the intermediate group.
Intermediate also sees the introduction of many great series from different companies. Ibanez’s Artwood series is very fun to play and feels like their electric guitars, except acoustic.
You also start to find a few highly regarded and sought-after brands in the intermediate level. Two such brands are Taylor and Martin.
This brings up an important point, can you gig with intermediate-level guitars? And the answer is…absolutely.
While guitars of this level aren’t made with the same high-quality materials as professional acoustic guitars, they are more often than not made with the same level of care and craftsmanship.
These guitars aren’t just meant for hobbyists. Plenty of professional guitarists perform and record with acoustic guitars that don’t cost thousands of dollars.
I would also like to give a quick mention of some of the more interesting guitars in this price range. The Traveler Guitar Escape Mark III if you want something that is easy to take with you on trips, and the Yamaha SLG200S that plugs straight into headphones for silent practice.
Professional Level Guitars
Starting at $1000, professional-level acoustic guitars make up the bulk of the acoustic guitar market. Taylor and Martin largely dominate this group with their excellently crafted, high-end guitars, but there are plenty of other brands that offer guitars that are just as fantastic.
On the Martin side, you have the fantastic D12-E Road Series which might be one of their most popular, and for good reason. These are really comfortable guitars to play and sound equally great. If the D12-E isn’t to your liking, the SC-10E features a thinner body and a generous cutaway.
At the higher end, the Taylor 324ce is one of the best acoustic guitars I have ever played. Everything about it just feels and sounds perfect. And Martin’s D28 is a similarly fantastic playing experience.
If you are looking for something completely different, then Journey Instruments makes some of the most unique acoustic guitars. The OF660 is a great example of their instruments. Not only does it have a unique body shape, but the body is made from carbon fiber instead of wood.
This makes the guitar much lighter than one made from wood. They also don’t sound all too different from wood instruments, so you don’t have to worry about losing out on tone.
There are also a few brands that are more known for their electric guitars that make some of the best acoustic guitars around. Most notably perhaps is Gibson. While their sister company, Epiphone, mainly makes beginner and intermediate acoustics, Gibson only makes professional-level guitars.
A personal favorite of mine is Fender’s Acoustasonic range of guitars. These acoustics are perfect for people like me who might be more comfortable with electric guitars. They are essentially electric-sized acoustic guitars. The Acoustasonic range also comes in the three famous Fender body shapes: Stratocaster, Jazzmaster, and Telecaster.
Professional-level acoustics are also the widest in terms of price, with many costing thousands of dollars.
Of course, you are paying for the highest quality instruments. These instruments are made with the best woods around and high-quality hardware and electronics.
A big factor in their price is also how they are made. These are all handcrafted, often taking months just to build one instrument. They are also built to last for many years, even decades.
Custom Built Acoustics
Custom-made acoustics are a bit difficult to give a good price estimate on. Every aspect of the instrument is going to have an effect on the final cost, from the type of wood used to the hardware, and electronics. Even the luthier building your guitar is going to affect how much it costs.
Some luthiers might do it more as a hobby and won’t charge as much, while others might have a lot of name recognition and be able to charge a premium for their services. Generally speaking, you can expect a custom-built acoustic to start at around $3000.
The obvious advantage of having a guitar built is that you have complete control over every aspect of it, the wood you want it to be made from, the shape of the body and neck, and the tuning machines you want.
I can’t talk about acoustic guitars without also talking about 12-strings. They are unique instruments that have a lot of depth and character that you just can’t find on a standard 6-string.
It might be easy to assume that 12-strings are more expensive than their 6-string cousins. Due to their slightly different construction and increased number of strings.
Fortunately, 12-string acoustics can be found across all three groups of beginners, intermediate, and professional, which gives everyone the opportunity to own a 12-string regardless of skill level or budget.
At the beginner level, the Epiphone Songmaker is a fairly straightforward acoustic guitar that is perfect for anyone who wants to start learning how to play 12-strings. On the electro-acoustic side, you have the Ibanez AEG5012 that sports a convenient built-in tuner and cutaway to reach those higher frets.
For intermediate level, Fender has a 12-string version of their Tim Armstrong Hellcat signature. Then there is the Ovation Elite Celebrity which provides a deeper resonance with its unique soundhole design.
And for the professional guitarist, the Taylor T5z is a semi-hollow body that can pull double duty as both an acoustic and an electric guitar. While the Martin HD12-28 is one of the most full-sounding 12-strings with a massive sound.
So, to sum up, good quality beginner acoustic guitars cost around $100 – $400, intermediates range between $400 – $1000, and professional acoustics are $1000 and more.
But don’t be scared that you aren’t getting a high-quality acoustic if you are paying less than $1000. There are plenty of affordable acoustic guitars out there that can perform just as great as the most expensive guitar. It all comes down to how you use it.