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How To Choose An Acoustic Guitar

Updated on May 21, 2011

Playing an acoustic guitar can be such a rewarding experience on so many levels. Two benefits come to mind - it is so relaxing even therapeutic to play and it is lovely to listen to (if played well!). The natural sound from such guitars is unparalleled. Just for clarity sake, an acoustic guitar is one that is designed to be played without the aid of any external attachments i.e. an amplifier. That in itself is advantageous to you if you want to carry around your guitar and play anywhere at anytime.

A question that is commonly asked especially by persons who are looking to purchase their first guitar is, "What is the best guitar to buy?". To be straightforward with you, the answer to such a question is very subjective. How a guitar feels and sounds to one person may be ideal, but to another person that same guitar may also sound great but feels a bit uncomfortable to hold. The truth is that no two guitars sound alike, and from this reality amongst others, the real question is:

"What is the acoustic guitar that suits me?"

To help in choosing a right acoustic guitar for you, these are some guideline questions with a bit of explanation for each.

Illustration by Fet  (ID:8924176 @ Shutterstock)
Illustration by Fet (ID:8924176 @ Shutterstock)
  • What kind of guitar? There are several types of acoustic guitars, but for simplicity, acoustic guitars can be categorized into steel/bronze stringed guitars and nylon-stringed guitars.  Steel/bronze stringed guitars are the most commonly bought type, and are used for a number of musical genres including Rock, Pop, Blues and Country music. The strings typically last a reasonable time before you need to change them, but they can be weary on the fingers.  Nylon stringed guitars are definitely easier on the fingers, and the neck of these guitars are generally wider than those of their steel/bronze stringed counterparts. This allows for heavy fingering which is associated with Classical and Flamenco music.

  • Type of wood? Spruce is the type of wood that is most commonly used for constructing acoustic guitars. Guitars made from Spruce are less expensive than others. On the other-hand, guitars made from materials such as Cedar, Koa, Rosewood, Mahogany, Jacaranda and Maple are more expensive and this not only has to do with the value of the wood, but also the tone derived. Different wood will produce different tones. If you are more in for designer guitars with elite tones, and are willing to pay over a thousand dollars, then think about guitars made from these types of wood.
  • Built in pick-up and equalizer? If you are going to play before audiences and even in a band, consider choosing a guitar with a built-in pickup system and equalizer. These guitars are usually categorized as Acoustic-Electrics. This can be more convenient than having to buy a separate pickup for amplifying your guitar. With a built-in system, all you will need to do is attach the relevant cable (typically 1/4 inch cable) from your guitar to the amplifier.
  • Comfortable to hold and play? ~ This is one of the MOST important things to answer the question earlier. You need to hold the guitar that you are thinking of purchasing in your arms and strum, pick and finger. Just because it looks good, and even sounds good doesn't necessarily mean that it is going to feel good. Take some time at a guitar store and try them out before deciding to purchase. 

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  • Left handed guitar? ~  The truth is that this is a right-hand world, but if you happen to be a left-hander, there are guitars designed for person whose more co-ordinated hand is the left. Keep this in mind when choosing your guitar.
  • Color & Design? ~ Choose the color that suits your personal taste. The design of a guitar may be due to practical considerations such as Cutaway Dreadnought that has a cutaway for access to play higher up on the fret. Guitars vary in size, and if your hands are relatively small, then consider a smaller guitar. Generally, the design of acoustic guitars are in relation to the type of genre they are associated with.
  • Cost Range? ~ Keep your budget, but understand that you may be sacrificing quality the cheaper you go. Nonetheless, there are acoustic guitars that are of very good quality that you can consider - even under $300.
  • New or used? ~ This is a question for you if you are seeking to save a bit more money. Used guitars will be cheaper, but you have to be careful that the guitar is thoroughly examined. There are hidden damages that a guitar can have. Check the knobs to see that they are functional, the fretboard, the neck and the tone when you play.
  • Brand Recommendations? ~ Personally, I use a Yamaha and a Hohner which I have been using for years without virtually any trouble, except that I have to get a knob changed on my Hohner which is 10 years old. There are other great brands not limited to but including Fender, Ovation, Gibson and Ibanez.

Choosing a reputable brand is a good idea, but maintenance of your guitar is what will make it truly last.


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      Simon Joseph james 4 years ago

      Good article, cover all of the relevant considerations that have to be made when purchasing a new guitar. If you are planning on spending a lot of money I would recommend that you try out at least 10 models before you make an informed decision. Often your dream guitar may not play as well as another model, so it's always advisable to open your self up to a few options!

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      types of guitars 6 years ago

      Really a valuable article. It will be helpful for choosing guitar for newbies. Thanks for this article....

    • lightning john profile image

      lightning john 7 years ago from Florida

      Winsome I had a 1941 D-18 Martin once, and I was shocked to find out that the 60s model D-35 are worth more money! Cool inventory of boxes you have there!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Great hub BE. May I be so bold as to suggest my personal favorite (and that of many legendary guitarists) the Martin D series guitars.

      "In 1916 Frank Martin would help a man name Harry Hunt design what was known as a "Dreadnought" guitar.

      In 1931, Martin and Comany would incorporate the dreadnought design to create the now famous and revolutionary Martin Dreadnought guitar. It is said that the Martin designed dreadnought acoustic guitar is the design that many other manufacturer's dreadnoughts are based on. During the 50's and 60's Martin Guitar and Company's success grew dramatically and even at times had a three year backlog!"

      I love my Martin D-35, but the D-18's have been used by more famous musicians than I can name. I also have a nylon and steel string Yamaha (early ones made in Japan) and a Taylor, but my split-back rosewood 1967 Martin is the treasure.

    • theblackedition profile image

      Shane Brown-Daniels 7 years ago from Jamaica

      @Angelique ~ Thanks!

      @lightning john ~ Hohner is awesome, isn't it! Thanks bro.

    • lightning john profile image

      lightning john 7 years ago from Florida

      Thank you, good writing.

      I currently have the Hohner O series acoustic. It is one of the best sounding guitars that I have ever heard for the money. Everyone thinks it's a 1000.00 guitar, until I tell them.

    • Angelique Loux profile image

      Angelique Loux 7 years ago from Ohio

      Great hub!