A Frets Guide to Budget Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars are more reliant on the woods they’re made from and how well they’re designed and built than their electric counterparts.
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By definition, acoustic guitars are more reliant on the woods they’re made from and how well they’re designed and built than their electric counterparts. There’s a reason why a boutique-grade flat-top made from premium woods by a skilled builder sounds as glorious as it does. Get what you pay for? No doubt about it when it comes to acoustics. In fact, one could probably choose from a group of high enders with eyes closed and be happy with the result.

On the flip side, scoring a great acoustic guitar when you’re on a budget is a little more involved. Now you have to think about boring details like laminated versus solid construction, how well the woods were conditioned before a coating of polyurethane was sprayed on them, and the “X” factor of quality control in the factory where it was made.

Still, there are many good acoustic guitars available these days that offer a lot of performance for the money. Instruments on the more affordable side generally have laminated wood construction for the sides and back, and a surprising number of them have tops made of solid spruce, mahogany, or cedar. A solid top is an advantage from a tonal perspective, so it’s something worth paying a little extra for if necessary. Most acoustic guitars in the $700-and-under price range we’re looking at here are also equipped with a pickup system that typically includes an under-saddle piezo and a preamp module with tone and volume controls, a tuner, and perhaps a few more things to assist in getting a good sound through an amp or a P.A. system. Alternately, you might find a guitar without electronics that sounds fantastic, and if that’s the case, you can always fit it with an aftermarket system if you need to go electric—a soundhole pickup being the easiest to install.

Other things to consider when eyeballing any guitar is how good the neck feels and the quality of the setup. A big neck might seem like a great thing for tone, but if it feels awkward in your mitts it’s going to affect your playing. The frets ought to have smooth crowns and their tips shouldn’t feel scratchy as you slide along the neck. The action should be reasonably low, and make sure that chords sound tuneful when played in different positions. Poor intonation is an insidious tone sucker, so if a guitar doesn’t pass muster on this test, move on to something else.

There are many other things—some purely emotional—that can make or break a potential guitar purchase, so read reviews, try out as many guitars as possible, and ultimately let your ears and hands determine what to take home.
—ART THOMPSON

Breedlove

Passport Parlor
$499 Street
TYPE
Parlor-sized acoustic-electric
NEC K Mahogany with 25"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 19
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BODY Solid Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Fishman Isys+ USB
EXTRAS Mini USB out for connecting with computer or iOS device for recording or using effects apps
WEB breedlovemusic.com

Cordoba

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GK Studio
$679 Street
TYPE
Nylon-string acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany with 25.6"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 19
TUNERS Cordoba black and gold engraved machines
BODY Solid European spruce top, cypress back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Fishman Presys Blend
EXTRAS Gig bag included
WEB cordobaguitars.com

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Daisy Rock

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Sophomore Butterfly
$279 Street
TYPE
Cutaway acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BODY Mahogany top, back, and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Fishman
EXTRAS Cute butterfly inlays.
WEB daisyrock.com

ESP

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LTD TL-6
$499 Street
TYPE
Thinline acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany with 25"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 22
TUNERS Grover
BODY Spruce top, mahogany back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood with Graph Tech NuBone XB saddle
ELECTRONICS B-Band T7
EXTRAS Available with gloss black finish
WEB espguitars.com

Epiphone

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Masterbilt AJ-45ME
$599 Street
TYPE
Round-shoulder dreadnought
NECK Mahogany SlimTaper D profile with 24.75"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 20 medium
TUNERS Grover Sta-Tite, nickel
BODY Solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Shadow Sonic Soundhole preamp with Shadow Nano-Flex under-saddle pickup
EXTRAS Bone nut. Dovetail neck joint with hide glue.
WEB epiphone.com

Fender

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Teleacoustic Premiere
$449 Street
TYPE
Tele-shaped acoustic-electric
NECK Maple bolt-on with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Vintage style
BODY Flame-maple top, one-piece fiberglass back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood vintage style “Viking”
ELECTRONICS Fishman Isys III
EXTRAS Mini USB out for connecting with computer or iOS device for recording or using effects apps
WEB fender.com

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Gretsch

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9555 New Yorker
$599 Street
TYPE
Archtop acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany V shape with 25"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Vintage style
BODY Solid spruce arched top, maple sides and arched back
BRIDGE Rosewood, compensated
ELECTRONICS Vintage style single-coil
EXTRAS Antiqued semi-gloss sunburst finish
WEB gretsch.com

Guild

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M120E
$699 Street
TYPE
Concert-sized acoustic-electric
NECK Satin finished mahogany with 24.75"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 20
TUNERS Vintage-style open back
BODY Solid mahogany top, solid mahogany sides and back
BRIDGE Rosewood, compensated
ELECTRONICS Fishman Sonitone
EXTRAS Scalloped spruce bracing
WEB guildguitars.com

Ibanez

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Artwood Vintage AVN2-OPN
$499
TYPE
Parlor-sized acoustic
NECK Mahogany with 25"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 18
TUNERS Grover open gear
BODY Solid mahogany top, solid mahogany sides and back
BRIDGE Rosewood, compensated
ELECTRONICS N/A
EXTRAS Bone nut. Herringbone rosette. Ibanez Advantage bridge pins
WEB ibanez.com

Ovation

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Elite 1778 TX
$599 Street
TYPE
Cutaway acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany with 25.25"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Ovation die-cast
BODY Solid spruce or solid cedar top, mid-depth bowl
BRIDGE Rosewood, compensated
ELECTRONICS Ovation OCP-1K
EXTRAS Bass side rosette with multiple soundholes
WEB ovation.com

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Rogue

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RA-100D
$85 Street
TYPE
Dreadnought
NECK Nato with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Die-cast
BODY Spruce top, mahogany back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS N/A
EXTRAS Comes with Martin strings
WEB guitarcenter.com

Mitchell

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MX400 Exotic Wood
$379 Street
TYPE
Grand auditorium acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 20
TUNERS Chrome with black buttons
BODY Quilted-ash burl, bubinga, or ovangkol
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Mitchell CE304T
EXTRAS Choice of figured woods
WEB mitchellguitars.com

Peavey

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JD-AG3 Jack Daniels
$599 Street
TYPE
Dreadnought acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 20
TUNERS Die-cast
BODY Cedar top, mahogany back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS JD-AP system
EXTRAS Aged barrel finish with “Jack Daniels” inscribed on rosette
WEB peavey.com

Seagull

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Entourage Concert Hall CW QIT
$499 Street
TYPE
Cutaway acoustic-electric
NECK Silverleaf maple with 24.84"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Die-cast
BODY Solid cedar top, laminated wild cherry back and sides
BRIDGE Indian rosewood
ELECTRONICS Godin Quantum I
EXTRAS Built-in chromatic tuner. Solid pewter control plate.
WEB seagullguitars.com

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Schecter

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Robert Smith RS-1000
$579 Street
TYPE
Dreadnought
NECK Maple with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Grover
BODY Spruce top, maple back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS N/A
EXTRAS White pearl “stars and moons” inlays
WEB schecterguitars.com

Takamine

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GD71CE
$499 Street
TYPE
Dreadnought acoustic-electric
NECK Mahogany with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Die-cast gold with amber buttons
BODY Solid spruce top, rosewood back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Takamine TK-40D
EXTRAS Abalone rosette. Builtin tuner.
WEB takamine.com

Taylor

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GS Mini-e Koa
$699 Street
TYPE
Travel-sized acoustic-electric
NECK Sapele with varnish finish and 23.5"–scale ebony fretboard
FRETS 20
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BODY Solid koa top, koa back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Taylor ES-T
EXTRAS GS Mini Hard Bag included
WEB taylor.com

Yamaha

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LL6MHC
$499 Street
TYPE
Dreadnought acoustic-electric
NECK 5-ply mahogany and rosewood with 25 9/16"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Die-cast gold with amber buttons
BODY Solid Engelmann spruce top, mahogany back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS SRT Zero Impact Pickup
EXTRAS A.R.E. treatment on top wood. Hardshell case included.
WEB yamaha.com

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Washburn

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WD10SCE
$299 Street
TYPE
Dreadnought cutaway
NECK Mahogany with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 20
TUNERS Die-cast
BODY Solid Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Fishman Isys+
EXTRAS Custom wood inlay rosette
WEB washburn.com

Xaviere

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XV 580TSB
$369 Street
TYPE
Dreadnought
NECK Mahogany with 25.5"–scale rosewood fretboard
FRETS 21
TUNERS Gold plated with ebony buttons
BODY Solid Sitka spruce top, solid rosewood back and sides
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS N/A
EXTRAS Triple bound neck and body. Abalone purfling and rosette
WEB guitarfetish.com

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