What is the Best Highest Rated Acoustic Guitar Brand?
Apart from curious guitarists, we find many newer musicians who are interested in getting their first 'serious' guitar ask the question, "what is the best brand to get?" This article seeks to help people in that situation.
You'll notice that we'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.
As we are a data driven organization, we have used our extensive database of guitars which includes ratings of each model based on feedback from thousands of guitarists that have owned or played them. In short, the list below represents the opinions of thousands of guitarists rather than what appeals to our personal tastes.
Only brands selling guitars priced below $2000 were eligible. Before you post in the comments section asking why brands like Gibson, Collings, Maton etcetera, don't appear below, please read the Methodology section at the bottom of this article.
So without further ado, here are the results of our research for this new 2022 Edition...
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 under $1000 is one of their highly rated models, the Blueridge BR-70. For the price, it comes with solid sitka spruce top and premium aesthetics, courtesy of its generous use of abalone and mother-of-pearl inlays. It sports a design based on pre-war '30s era dreadnoughts, but built using modern production methods to keep the price accessible.
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 that 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 the Dove, Hummingbird, J-45 and more. They also put out acoustics that feature their own designs, including the extremely popular entry level guitar the Epiphone DR-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 AW54 being a prime example.
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.
Gretsch Guitars gained popularity in the '50s for their Filter'tron pickup equipped electric guitars, popularized by virtuosos like Chet Atkins, Brian Setzer and more. But prior to that in the '30s, they dabbled in acoustic guitar production with much success, under their sub-brand "Rex". And these old school Rex guitars now serve as the inspiration for their current line of acoustics.
One of their highly rated acoustic guitars is the Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy, an affordable parlor style acoustic reminiscent of old Rex models, well loved for its compact size, easy playability, and warm tone.
Gretsch acoustics have easily distinguishable aesthetics that set them apart from other brands. Some even come with triangular shaped sound holes, along with pickguard shapes and hardware that resemble their electric guitar designs.
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, from student-friendly nylon guitars, to highly rated steel string acoustics such as the Yamaha FS800 (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.
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. These days, they still make their high-end guitars in California, but they have expanded into mid to low tier markets by producing some of their more affordable lines in Mexico.
The Taylor Academy 10 is a good example of their successful foray into beginner tier guitars. Impressing even experienced musicians with its specs and build quality, while retaining a relatively accessible price tag, this beginner friendly guitar comes with a beveled armrest that makes it more comfortable for your right arm.
Artists that play Taylor guitars include Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown and more.
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, a sub-brand of Godin Guitars, started by Robert Godin himself back in 1982. It is said that 200 out of the 750 population of La Patrie are involved in making guitars, hence the reason why Godin used to have a LaPatrie brand for their nylon guitars. Note that Godin has recently dropped the LaPatrie brand, opting instead to use their main brand, Godin, for their nylon string guitar series.
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.
The Seagull S6 Original is a great showcase of Seagull's quality, with its solid cedar top, modified dreadnought shape, and narrow headstock that results in its unique appeal and tone.
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 well respected for entry-level acoustics, with the Fender FA-115 being a prime example. Interestingly, the company allows affordable acoustic guitars to carry the main "Fender" label, while assigning affordable electric guitars to the Fender Squier sub-brand.
From its humble workshop beginnings, Guild Guitars rose to fame in the '60s as an acoustic guitar manufacturer, competing toe to toe with top brands like Martin. While their designs doesn't veer from familiar territory, Guild made a big impact in the acoustic guitar industry by being the first to mass produce a cut-away model. These days, cutaway models are industry standard, especially for acoustic-electric guitars.
Their success in the '60s was ultimately short-lived, ending up being sold to Fender, and more recently to Cordoba. Thankfully, all is not lost because guitarists have been noticing big improvements in Guild guitars' quality under the ownership of Cordoba. And this sentiment is reflected in reviews across multiple retailers. In particular, the Guild M-20 is being raved about for its build quality, which in turn results in good playability and tone.
Compared to other brands, Guild is relatively a small manufacturer, which means delays in production and releases. Fans are hoping for Cordoba to ramp up the production, and for the company to come up with modern reproductions of iconic Guild acoustics, including their 12-string models.
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.
The Martin D-15M together with the Martin 000-15M are Martin's best rated acoustics in the sub $1,500 price range. And as a testament to the brand's attention to detail and quality, both models have attained almost perfect ratings across multiple review platforms and retailers.
Martin offers even better options for those who have more though, including a $119,999 guitar called the Martin D-200 Deluxe. They also have mid-tier market offerings, which include their popular LX and Jr. series.
For a brand to be eligible for consideration they had to have their acoustic guitars for sale from major American retailers such as Guitar Center, Sweetwater, Amazon, Sam Ash, B&H etc.
We took the Gearank rating scores we have calculated for individual qualifying guitars for each brand and combined them using a weighted average to produce a rating for each brand. We can best explain this by saying that if a brand had 2 qualifying models and one of them had 99 review/rating sources, and the other model only had a single source, then the first model's ratings would contribute 99% of the final rating for the brand.
Only ratings for guitars that met the following criteria were included in the data set:
- Steel string acoustic
- No electronics (acoustic-electric models were excluded)
- Maximum street price of $1,999.99
Using these criteria meant that some well known brands weren't eligible for consideration. Some examples of brands that weren't included in the process:
- Collings - aren't available from the major retailers - here is a list of their dealers.
- Gibson - all their acoustics sell for more than $2000
- Maton - is an Australian brand (played by Tommy Emmanuel) only sold by smaller specialty guitar sellers in America at prices above $2000
We ended up processing the ratings of more than 110 individual models from the following 28 brands: Alvarez, Antonio Giuliani, Blueridge, Breedlove, Bristol, Cigano, Dean, EKO, Epiphone, Fender, Gretsch, Guild, Ibanez, Jasmine, Journey Instruments, Larrivee, Luna Guitars, Martin, Paul Reed Smith, Recording King, Rogue, Seagull, Sigma, Takamine, Taylor, The Loar, Washburn and Yamaha.
This gave us over 27,100 rating sources to process and you can see a list including the individual models in our Music Gear Database. For more information about how we calculate product ratings see How Gearank Works.
The nice thing about this approach is that it allows for 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 at being what it is, rather than what it isn't.
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.
About the Authors
He's written about and researched music gear for many years, while also serving as a music director at his local church, in addition to teaching guitar, bass and mentoring young musicians.
In addition to being a singer / guitarist he has worked on the business side of music as an artist manager, event manager, producer, and a music publisher talent scout.
Main/Top Image: Produced by Gearank.com.
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