Learning to play the guitar is incredibly rewarding, occasionally frustrating, and potentially very expensive. To counteract that last point, we’ve tracked down the best acoustic guitars for when you’re starting out.
Now, picking out your first guitar is a tricky business. There’s a lot to take in. What size do you need? Do you need nylon or steel strings? What the heck is the difference? We can answer that one! Steel strings generally provide a crisp and brighter tone than nylon, but nylon sounds good and mellow which is perfect for classical or folk music. Each string type will feel different under your fingers too. Nylon strings will feel better early on because they have less resistance so they’re easier to play, but it’s worth sticking with steel strings if you’re planning on making this a long term endeavor. They’re harder to push down and you’re going to develop callouses on your fingers, but it will help you develop more finger strength in the long run.
There’s also the issue of what body shape to go for. Dreadnought, Jumbo, or Parlor sounds understandably baffling when starting out. Essentially, Dreadnought is what you’re thinking of when you think of the ‘typical’ acoustic guitar. It’s the most popular guitar shape out there and for good reason. It typically creates strong and loud sounds that lends itself to popular guitar-led genres like pop and rock. It’s a solid starting point for most beginners.
The Jumbo acoustic has a bigger body (hence the name) which means more room for air inside their body which means they provide more punch and volume to their sounds. However, that won’t be for everyone and it’s generally a slightly less versatile option than pursuing the Dreadnought route when starting out. It’s worth contemplating further down the line as the results can sound amazing once you know what you’re doing.
A Parlor guitar is thinner and often less wide than a regular-sized guitar but with an elongated body, so they produce a different sound to either Dreadnoughts or Jumbos. The distinctive tone lends itself well to blues and folk music, but again, that might not be an immediate concern when you’re new to guitar playing.
What you do need to know is that every new guitar needs to be properly adjusted for easy playability and accurately tuned before you play it. Whatever you pick, make sure you check out YouTube for tuning guides or—if you have an Amazon Echo—our guide on how to do it via that.
However you choose to tune your guitar, here’s what you should be buying.
Best Bundle: Fender FA-115 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar ($160)
Fender is a name that you’ve almost certainly heard of, even if you’ve never picked up a guitar before. That’s a reflection on the good quality of Fender guitars. This beginner’s bundle provides you with a full-size Dreadnought body that is ideally suited for any type of music. It has a 20-fret rosewood fingerboard which might not sound like much to you yet but means you’ve bought a good quality guitar at a decent price. This guitar will last you as you progress through your guitar playing journey until you feel like splashing out a little more.
The bundle refers to the inclusion of a digital tuner (which significantly simplifies tuning your guitar), extra strings, picks, a guitar strap, a bag to store everything, along with an instructional DVD. Combined, it’s the perfect place for you to start.
Best Budget Choice: Martin Smith 6 String Acoustic Guitar ($85)
If your budget is tight or you’re not entirely convinced if this is going to be a long term hobby, the Martin Smith 6 String Acoustic Guitar is a good budget pick to go with. For the price, you get a steel strung guitar with a slimline contoured body that means it’s easier to grip onto in a more natural way. Granted, it’s not quite as stylish or as premium feeling as the Fender but it is half the price.
If you’re a little worried that playing the guitar isn’t for you, it’s a good option to take. It’s also regarded as a little easier on your hands if you have small hands.
Alongside the guitar, you get a bag, some picks (although, they’re not the best quality), and a tuner. This is for when your heart says Fender but your bank account says make some cutbacks.
Best Premium Choice: Yamaha FG830 ($300)
Maybe you’ve borrowed a friend’s guitar for a while and you know this is the hobby for you, or maybe you’re simply determined and want to go all-in. Whatever the reason, if you want to throw a few hundred bucks at this new hobby then the Yamaha FG830 is the guitar to buy. For the price, you only get the guitar. Don’t expect a bundle of extras. However, this is a great guitar. One that’s a bit of a bargain for the price.
It has a solid Sitka spruce top, rosewood back and sides, along with a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Besides looking great, it also sounds great and feels similarly awesome under your fingers. Of course, you can spend thousands to get a superior guitar but at this price point—you can’t go wrong.
Best For Kids: CNBlue Beginner Guitar ($60)
A full guitar can be a little big for a child learning to play the guitar. That’s where the CNBlue Beginner Guitar is worth checking out if your child is keen to learn to play. It’s too small for an adult to properly get to grips with but it’s the perfect size for pre-teens and small teenagers to jam with. This guitar is only 30 inches long but still provides a fully proportional dreadnought body so your child gets the same experience but squashed down for them.
It uses nylon strings which are best for mellow sounds but like we said earlier, when you’re just starting out, you don’t need to focus so much on the tone side of things. If you’re interested though and thinking ahead, the solid basswood promises a smooth sound. It’s a good starting place for your youngster and they’re sure to be a fan.