What is the Best Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Brand?
Answering the question of what the best acoustic guitar brands are may be a highly subjective endeavour, however it is often an important question in need of answering, particularly for people who are relatively new to the instrument and would like to narrow down their search when looking to buy one.
In light of this, I set out to see if we could leverage the large amount of data we have accumulated about hundreds of specific models of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars in order to produce an objective report on the relative market sentiment about brands selling steel string acoustic guitars at all price points up to $2,000.
You'll notice that I've changed the question from one containing the subjective 'best' to the objective 'highest rated', this is because objectively answering the modified question serves some of the most important needs anyone has who wants to know what the best brand is.
I took the Gearank scores we have calculated for individual guitars for each brand and combined them using a weighted average to produce a rating for each brand. I can best explain this by saying if a hypothetical brand had 2 models and one of them had 99 rating sources and the other one only had a single rating source then the first model's ratings would contribute 99% of the final rating for the brand. An interesting statistic; we processed more than 17,000 sources for these calculations.
The nice thing about this approach is that it allows a direct comparison of the market sentiment of brands regardless of the average price of their guitars - this is because people generally don't rate a $100 guitar relative to a $2,000 guitar - instead they tend to rate it according to how good it is for what it is, rather than what it isn't.
If you're wondering how we calculate Gearank scores in the first place, then please read How Gearank Works.
Now that you know a bit about how it was done, here are the results...
Owned by Saga Music, the Blueridge brand has been steadily building a reputation for producing excellent 'pre-war' style guitars. This means their designs are based upon the types of guitars made and sold in the USA during the 1930's and earlier.
Many guitarists favorably compare Blueridge with Martin and Gibson Acoustics and they have the advantage of producing their guitars at much lower price points than similar options from those more expensive brands.
Selling for well under $1000 is one of their more popular models, the Blueridge BR-70 which is part of their Contemporary Series designed to produce pre-war tones while using modern materials and construction techniques to keep prices down.
Ovation Guitars broke with centuries of guitar making tradition by developing a hybrid material similar to fiberglass, which they patented with the name Lyrachord, and they use this instead of wood to create the bodies of their guitars.
Their innovation continued by developing a bowl shape guitar body - the result, at least to my ears and that of many other guitarists, is that the resulting tone of their acoustic-electric guitars is similar to those using traditional tonewoods in their construction. Unlike more radical brands like RainSong, they still use traditional woods for the tops of their guitars.
We guitarists can be slow to come around to new ways of doing things, heck we still prize the 1904 technology of the vacuum tube in guitar amplifiers, so it's a huge testament to Ovation's success that they've managed to be so successful while breaking the most sacred rules of guitar material and construction. Great examples of this are their Celebrity Elite CE44 and their entry-level Applause Balladeer AB24.
They produce a range of acoustic guitars including steel-string dreadnoughts and orchestra models as well as nylon string guitars, but it is definitely their student models which garner the brand's highest ratings.
You can find their budget friendly guitars in major national stores like Guitar Center and online through sites like Musicians Friend and Amazon.
Jasmine's highest rated model is the cutaway grand orchestra bodied S-34C which you can buy online for less than $100.
The Ibanez brand has a fascinating history beginning with Spanish luthier Salvador Ibáñez in the 1800's who's original guitars are revered by the likes of Eric Clapton and the select few who are either wealthy enough, or lucky enough to own one.
But that's not the Ibanez we know today, although the two are related.. Japanese company Hoshino Gakki began importing guitars made by Salvador Ibáñez's company to Japan in 1929. This was so successful for them that they started producing their own similar guitars under this name in 1935. They started making modern guitars simply using the name Ibanez in 1957 and then, not being ones to hold a grudge given that the US Army Air Force destroyed their factory in 1945, began exporting them to the USA in 1971, and as they say, the rest is history.
These days they have a large range of acoustic guitars and they are particularly strong in the entry-level market with the highly rated Ibanez AC240 OPN being a prime example.
While many guitar companies began making acoustic guitars and later moved into electric guitars, Fender came at it from the other direction being the company that created the solid body electric guitar market with the Telecaster (then named Broadcaster) and only much later moved into acoustics.
Actually, company founder Leo Fender's first business was repairing tube circuitry equipment including radios, phonograph players, and home music amplifiers. He noticed the growing popularity of amplifiers for home music systems and branched out into selling music records and renting out PA systems he had designed from his repair shop. Then he got even more involved in music by making and selling Hawaiian lap steel guitars containing a proprietary pickup system which he bundled with his own newly designed amplifiers in 1945. The following year he changed the company name from Fender’s Repair Service to Fender Electric Instruments Company.
It wasn't until 1964 that Fender began to produce acoustic guitars, just one year before Leo Fender, suffering from health problems, sold the company to CBS. If you ever find a 'Pre CBS' Fender acoustic in the attic you'll have one of the rarest modern acoustic guitars in existence.
Although they are not widely regarded as a high-end maker of acoustic guitars, they are very well respected for the entry-level and mid range acoustics with the Fender CD-60 All Mahogany and Fender CF-60 being prime examples.
It seems like Taylor have been around forever, but compared to most big name acoustic guitar brands, Taylor are a relative newcomer on the scene having been founded by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug in 1974. They started out as an acoustic guitar company and that is their primary focus to this day and are now renowned the world over for the tone and quality of their instruments..
Taylor introduced a number of innovations including being the first to precision manufacture guitars using computer mills and they still make their high-end guitars in California as well as producing some of their more affordable lines in Mexico.
Their popular Taylor Big Baby BBT is a 15/16ths sized dreadnought manufactured in Mexico which is popular as both an entry-level guitar and as a travel or campfire guitar for those used to playing higher-end acoustics. A great example of their mid-range guitars is the Taylor 314 which is a bit more pricey and is made in the USA.
Artists who play Taylor guitars include Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown.
Because Epiphone has been owned by Gibson since 1957 you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the brand that simply makes alternative and cheaper versions of Gibson guitars. They do do that, in addition to making some of their own guitars, but their history runs deeper than that.
They began as an independent musical instrument company in 1873, in part of the Ottoman Empire which is now part of modern day Turkey, making stringed instruments such as lutes and fiddles - they relocated to the United States in 1903.. The founder's eldest son, Epaminondas Stathopoulos took over the company after his father passed away and later renamed the business to Epiphone Banjo Company in 1928 to rebrand the company and emphasize the fact theat they had changed to making more popular stringed instruments - the same year they first began making guitars. The name comes from 'Epi' which was Epaminondas' nickname, and the Greek word 'phone' meaning sound.
Today they make affordable versions of Gibson classics such as their popular take on the Gibson Hummingbird called the Epiphone Hummingbird PRO as well as their own designs which includes the extremely popular entry level guitar the Epiphone DR-100.
For a long time Yamaha were regarded as one of the best producers of student guitars but their reputation didn't go far beyond that. And it's true that they make excellent guitars for beginners, I am one of the many who originally learned to play on their student nylon string C40. BTW I'm one of those guitarists who thoroughly recommend initially learning to play on a nylon string guitar.
Over the last decade or so, Yamaha have become a widely regarded brand for all kinds of guitars, and in addition to their many student friendly nylon and steel string acoustics, they also make some very highly rated acoustic guitars such as the Yamaha AC3R (pictured)
Some of the notable musicians who play Yamaha acoustic guitars are Chad Kroeger from Nickelback, Ed Roland from Collective Soul and Joe Bonamassa just to name a few.
C.F. Martin & Company was founded in New York City in 1833 by Christian Frederick Martin, a man born when George Washington was still President, and who is reputed to have built the first ever acoustic guitar in the USA.
It is rare for any brand, let alone an entire company, to stay in business this long and their longevity speaks volumes to the exceptional quality of their instruments. Although they did dabble in electric guitars and basses for a short time, today the company is dedicated to making the finest acoustic guitars possible just as they were over 180 years ago.
Over their long history Martin guitars have been played by artists as diverse as Mark Twain. David Crosby, Chris Cornell, John Mayer, Valerie June and Ed Sheeran.
Today, if you shop around, you can pick up the Martin D-200 Deluxe for a mere $119,999, but if that doesn't suit your style you can always go for the Martin D-15M which we announced as the highest rated acoustic guitar between $1000 and $2000 in October 2016, or the Martin DCPA4 Rosewood which we announced as the highest rated acoustic-electric guitar in the same price range at the same time.
Our data shows that if I had only considered brands making guitars worth more than $1,000 then Martin would have been the highest rated acoustic guitar brand.
Thanks largely to Les Paul, Gibson is one of the most iconic brands for electric guitars, but they were producing acoustic guitars long before that.
The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd. was founded by Orville Gibson in 1902 in Kalamazoo, Michigan when he brought in a consortium of investors to finance expansion to keep up with demand. Orville had been selling his hand made instruments since 1894 and was awarded a patent for his one-piece designed mandolin in 1898. He also invented Archtop Guitars around that same time by applying similar lutherie techniques to those used on violins.
Their first flat-top acoustic guitar was produced some time shortly before 1910, but at that time their flat-tops were still a long way behind Martin in terms of popularity. It wasn't until 1923 that they began to seriously break into the flat-top acoustic guitar market with their signature Nick Lucas Special model and began to give Martin a run for their money.
By the end of the 1930s, Gibson was firmly established as one of the leading acoustic guitar manufacturers alongside Martin if not out in front of them.
One of Gibson's pre-war guitars, the J-35, was later revived in 2013 as an acoustic-electric guitar and in October 2016 we named the modern Gibson J-35 as the equal second highest rated acoustic-electric guitar between $1,000 and $2,000 - second only to Martin.
Some of you may not be all that familiar with Seagull, however they have an almost cult-like following where devotees of the brand don't like it, they love it!
Seagull hails from La Patrie, Quebec in Canada, where more than 200 of the 750 population are said to be involved in making guitars - some of you will recognize the village name as another highly regarded guitar brand - LaPatrie, which is also owned by Seagull's parent company Godin Guitars. In fact, Seagull was founded in 1982 by Robert Godin.
Seagull set themselves apart by producing all of their guitars with solid tops in addition to making them by hand - and they do this from their budget models all the way up to their top of the line guitars.
Another thing that endears them to many guitarists is that they source 100% of their woods from sustainable sources and they use hydro-electric power. When it comes to the environmental footprint of a guitar, this is an area where Seagull are out in front and the big name brands, who while working hard to improve their own environmental impacts, are still playing some degree of catch-up.
We currently recommend the very popular Seagull S6 Original Cedar Slim as one of the leading beginner guitars and we named the Seagull Maritime SWS SG as the equal second highest rated acoustic guitar between $500 and $1,000 in October 2016. And in August of 2017 we named the Seagull Entourage Rustic CW QIT as the highest rated acoustic-electric guitar under $500.
If you're interested, you can find all the brands that were contenders in our Music Gear Database.
An additional note on the methods used; although we gathered rating and review data from guitarists around the world, we only considered brands that can be found at major online music gear retailers located in the United States. This means that fine brands like Maton from Australia (played by Tommy Emmanuel) weren't included - the same goes for some respected European brands. Also, only full sized guitars, or ones very close to it, were included in the data set - had we included smaller parlor guitars then this may have boosted Martin and also Gretsch might have made the list.
Digging into the data like this produced a couple of surprises for me. Takamine just missed the cut where I expected them to land at around the 9th position and I didn't expect Jasmine to make the list at all, but clearly many beginner guitarists won't have been at all surprised by this result.
So what surprises you about the brands that other guitarists like and don't like as much? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.