When you ask professional guitarists why they started playing, they almost all answer the same way: “It was the sound of the instrument.” This is especially true for those who pick up acoustic guitars, because the player is in control of sound production (amps and effect pedals aren’t necessary), and therefore the aural quality is readily apparent. With six steel strings and a body made up of carefully selected tonewoods, each acoustic guitar has a unique voice. Acoustic instruments also magnify the attributes of the performer. The touch and sound of a player, though also evident with electric guitars, are most readily on display in acoustic guitars; they are wonderfully transparent instruments.

When you strum an acoustic guitar, you hear two things: the woods it’s made out of and its construction. No matter the quality of woods used, if a guitar is poorly built, it will have a lackluster sound. Typically, the top (soundboard) of an acoustic guitar is either spruce or cedar. Spruce-top guitars lend themselves to a wider range of timbres and are typically brighter sounding. Cedar-top guitars, on the other hand, have a warmer, darker sound that is smooth and rich. The backs and sides of acoustic guitars are typically built of either rosewood, for a brighter, more responsive guitar, or mahogany, for a darker-sounding instrument. Interior braces influence the sound of an instrument and a great builder can shape and tune an instrument with millimeter adjustments to bracing. Every small detail of an acoustic guitar will affect its tone, from the material of the nut and saddle to the shape and angle of the neck. Though there are countless options on the market, the following instruments offer the best value in the consumer price range.

Beginner

Great Tone at a Fraction of the Price

Yamaha FG730S

The FG730S offers incredible value with a solid Sitka spruce top and rosewood back and sides, offerings infrequently found on instruments of this price. Buy it as a first guitar or an instrument to take to the cabin or the beach — you won’t be disappointed.

Blueridge Historic Series BR-143 000

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Blueridge aims to offer traditional, vintage-style guitars at accessible prices. The Historic Series BR-143 certainly delivers beautiful tone and design, with a solid spruce top, mahogany back and sides and hand-carved interior braces. The smaller OOO body style produces sounds suited for everything from fingerstyle to percussive strumming.

Takamine GN93CE

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Stepping it up, the Takamine GN93 combines a solid spruce top and rosewood back and sides with the company’s own TK-40D onboard electronics. The TK-40D is a preamp featuring a built-in tuner and versatile EQ controls for the times you need to plug in. The GN93’s neck profile fits most any hand type and the cutaway allows for easy access in the high register. With a well-balanced sound and professional construction, you can’t do much better for an acoustic with electronics in this price range.

Mid-Level

Sophisticated Taste, Affordable Options

Lag Tramontane T500A

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An aesthetically appealing instrument, the T500A has a high-gloss French satin finish and features exotically striated, select Indonesian Rosewood on its back and sides. The dark Mozambica Ebony fretboard stands out in bold contrast against the instrument’s spruce top. The Lag’s sound is well balanced and the instrument holds its own with guitars that cost twice as much.

Taylor 214 Deluxe Grand Auditorium

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The 214 Deluxe offers the characteristic bright Taylor sound and refined look for half the price of other Taylor models. With an Indian rosewood back and sides, a Sitka spruce top and a Grand Auditorium body shape, this is a guitar that will serve you well in a variety of musical settings. The full sound will stand up in accompanying settings, yet the tonal nuances will shine during a quiet solo set.

Seagull Maritime SWS Rosewood SG

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Seagull’s Maritime SWS has a body that is slightly smaller than a standard dreadnought guitar and is made with a spruce top and rosewood back and sides. The custom-polished finish allows the guitar to age well and the tone to become richer over time. Seagull also takes extra time in refining the angle of the neck in relation to the body (offering greater stability and better sustain).

High End

The Sky’s the Limit

Larrivee OM-40

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After years of research and testing, the OM-40 features Jean Larrivee’s first new bracing pattern in over four decades. The result is a guitar that has a balanced, clear tone that is also loud and responsive. The OM-40 has a rosewood back and sides, a Sitka spruce top and a bone saddle, nut and bridge pins. A nice addition at this price point, the Grover 18:1 open-back tuners make fine-tuning a breeze.

Breedlove Oregon Concert

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The Oregon Concert mixes Breedlove’s original body shape with tonewoods from the Northwest: a Sitka spruce top, myrtlewood back and sides and a maple neck. The guitar’s tone is lively with a full midrange and the instrument has beautiful sustain. The slimmer neck profile, hand polished in a semi-gloss, will appeal to all types of players.

Martin HD-28

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The HD-28 is arguably Martin’s most popular model and features a Sitka spruce top and East Indian rosewood back and sides. Played on countless albums over many decades, this dreadnought is a flatpicker’s dream and will respond to every nuanced strum. Founded in 1833, Martin knows a thing or two about building guitars that will age gracefully.

Collings OM2H

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A personal favorite, Austin-based Collings spares no detail in the construction of their instruments. A Sitka spruce top with a pre-war style scalloped bracing and an Indian rosewood back and sides come standard on the OM2H and the modified V-neck profile in conjunction with a medium fretwire make this guitar a joy to play. The OM-size body is at home in both fingerstyle and flatpicking genres and gives an immediate response to any articulation.

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