The Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners - Expert Advice

Guide to Guitars for Beginners

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For beginners to stay on course and improve faster - they'll need an acoustic guitar that sounds good, fun to look at, and easy on their hands. But with so many options available in the entry-level market, picking one that will make learning fun can be hit or miss.

This is where we come in, a team of 5 guitarists utilizing both experience (decades worth of experience in both playing and teaching guitar) and up-to-date market data to come up with a list of beginner-friendly guitars that are worth considering. Much like most of our guides, we feature only the best ones that you can readily buy within the mainland US. Each one are listed with important information and specifications, along with summaries of pros & cons from actual users.

Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners

Things to Consider When Buying a Beginner Acoustic Guitar

Before we get started, it is important for you to know that there’s no such thing as one ultimate guitar. Guitars, and instruments as a whole really, are very personal belongings. So before you commit to buying any of these, think really carefully on the information we’ve provided for you and what you (or the person you’re buying this guitar for) really wants. If you take the time to do this, you’re sure to buy an instrument that’ll be a perfect fit.

There’s a few different things you can look for that will help you diagnose potential problem areas or concerns. Even better, all you need to do to figure out whether or not a guitar is going to be a good fit is remember a few terms. Also, if you happen to buy a guitar from a local store or a pawnshop be sure to bring along a ruler (we’ll explain why below).

  • Things That Make a Guitar Easy (Or Hard) To Play

    Collected below are a few key terms that will help you diagnose potential problems with a guitar. We’d recommend reading through the following section once before you buy a guitar and reading it again once you receive it.

    Action

    Action is the distance between a guitars strings and the fretboard. If it’s too high (far away) the strings are hard to press down, and if it’s too low (close to the fretboard) the strings will buzz when you play them.

    Every guitar player prefers a different action, though generally the thickest string on a guitar should be 3/32” away from the fretboard and the thinnest string should be 1/16” inches away at the nut (the part of the guitar closest to the tuning pegs). The height of the strings at the twelfth fret (which is in the middle of the neck) should be roughly double the height they are at the nut. As long as the string height is somewhat close to the measurements above you shouldn’t have too many issues. If it’s significantly higher (like ¼”) you’re either going to want to get a set-up or buy a different guitar.

    Nut Width

    As previously mentioned, a guitar’s nut is what the strings pass through before the fretboard starts. It’s on the side closest to the tuning pegs and has six grooves for the strings to sit in.

    Nuts also come in different widths. Guitars with wider nuts have the strings spaced farther apart, and the opposite is true for guitars with thinner nuts. The two most common nut widths are 1-11/16” and 1-3/4”. Younger musicians, or those of you with smaller hands, may prefer something even thinner (though they won’t necessarily need it!).

    String Type

    There are two main types of acoustic guitars (there’s a third, but you’re not going to encounter an entry-level priced one): steel string and nylon string. Steel strings, which are steel plated with a bronze alloy, are harder to press down. Younger children (generally under 7), don’t have the strength to push these strings down.

    Nylon strings are obviously made from nylon. They're also significantly easier to push down than steel strings. However, they don’t sound like steel strings. Most guitarists are eventually going to want a steel string instrument, so if you buy a nylon string guitar either for yourself or someone else do so with the knowledge that you’re most likely going to have to upgrade in the future.

  • Body Type

    Guitars come in different body types, but since this article is just a general primer we’re not going to get into the subject in too much depth. Really, the only thing you need to know at this point is that the dreadnought body style is better suited to adults (the Rogue guitar we’ve listed in the product section is a perfect example of this body type) than children. Classical guitars (like the Yamaha C40), parlor guitars (the Epiphone EL-00 PRO), and the grand orchestra (the Jasmine) body styles are better suited to younger/smaller musicians.

    Below we’ve ordered the most commonly found body styles in order of biggest to smallest.

    • Jumbo
    • Dreadnought
    • Slope-Shoulder Dreadnought
    • Grand Orchestra
    • 000
    • Classical
    • 00
    • Parlor
  • What To Expect During Your First Few Weeks of Playing the Guitar

    The first month of playing the guitar is going to be the hardest. The reason for this is that when you start playing you don’t have any calluses, so playing your guitar for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a stretch is going to hurt the tips of your fingers. Though if you stick with it, by the time you’ve been playing for three or four months you’ll have a few good calluses built up.

    Your main concern should be overplaying. We know it’s tempting, especially when you first get your guitar, to play for long periods of time. However, if you do this before you’ve built up the proper musculature you can actually cause permanent damage to your body. So when you’re just starting, take a 15 minute break for every 30 minutes you play. You can extend these times when you’ve been playing for a longer period of time, though make an effort to not exceed two hours in one sitting.

  • Tips on Practicing

    Everyone learns differently, so it’s hard to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to practicing the guitar. With that being said, the most important thing to remember is that learning the guitar is a process. No one is awesome at playing an instrument when they first start. In fact, most musicians struggle for a while before they really start learning. So even though it may be difficult, just keep working at it.

    Also, if you’re not going to invest in guitar lessons most musicians have a pretty good experience with Hal Leonard books. The company also publishes books on different styles for more advanced musicians. There’s also a ton of great YouTuber’s creating lessons. Literally all you have to do to find them is type “Beginner Guitar Lessons” in YouTube’s search bar and you’ll find what you need to get started.

  • Advanced Topics

    We didn't want to include a lot of additional information which could be confusing for beginners and which isn't necessary for anyone just starting out. However, if you'd like to read more advanced information about things such as Tonewoods, Scale Lengths or Acoustic-Electric Guitars, then please read Tips for Acoustic Guitar Buyers.

What is the Best Guitar for Short Fingers?

The best guitar for short fingers is the Jasmine S-34C, having the narrowest nut width in this list. It also helps that it has a compact body profile. Coming in close second is the Epiphone EL-00 PRO, with its parlor style body and equally narrow neck profile.

The Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners - Detailed Descriptions

Rogue RA-090

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 1100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$75
Rogue RA-090 6 String Acoustic Guitar

Some people are dismissive of Rogue instruments because they’re unabashedly focused on beginners. But it is what it is, cheap enough to be accessible for those who want to test the waters of guitar playing, with enough quality to keep them playing. Note that this guitar is a full-sized dreadnought, which is quite big, especially when considering the price, which means it has fuller acoustic sound, the downside being it maybe too bulky for aspiring guitarists with smaller frames. The nut-width (how wide the guitar is towards the headstock) is also standard sized, which may make it hard for musicians with smaller hands to play.

Specifications

  • String Type: Steel String
  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Top: Not specified (probably laminated whitewood)
  • Body: Whitewood
  • Number of Frets: 20 - 14 open
  • Scale Length: 25.375"
  • Nut Width: 1.67”

Pros
Just about any guitar that sells new in the sub-$200 range is going to require a set-up to play and sound at their best, which on average can generally be done for somewhere between $30 and $60 depending on your area. Guitars that have had a quality set-up, regardless of the initial price, will generally feel the same to play as instruments that occupy the $200 to $300 range. With that in mind, this means that (going by this instrument’s street price) you could pretty easily get a guitar that feels like a $300 instrument for as little as $100 (before tax).

Editor's Note: Many beginners don't get a set-up done and usually don't have any major issues. Occasionally the strings will be a bit too high making them a bit harder to play, or a bit too low causing fret buzz. If you're unsure about getting a set-up done, you can show it to someone with experience, like a guitar teacher, and they'll let you know whether or not a set-up is worthwhile for the guitar you bought.

Cons
Unfortunately, this guitar is never really going to sound awesome because it’s not made from a wood that’s going to give it a rich tone. But really, if you’re buying this for a beginner they’re not going to know enough to worry about it. We’ve omitted a section on tonewood from this guide to keep from overloading it, but if you're interested you can read more about guitar woods here .

Overall
If you're looking for something affordable to test the waters of guitar playing on, then check this guitar out.

Jasmine S-34C

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$120
Jasmine S-34C

Jasmine’s S-34C is a significant step up from the Rogue above. The main benefit it has over the Rogue is that the top of the guitar is made from spruce, which is classified as a tonewood, which is generally expected to sound better. Note that this one has a wide nut width at 1.75", which can be good for fingerstyle but can be an issue for those with smaller hands.

This guitar’s body falls into the “Grand Orchestra” category, which is rounder and slightly smaller than a dreadnought. The difference isn’t dramatic, but a Grand Orchestra is definitely more manageable for children or smaller framed adults. The body also has a cutaway, which is when a chunk of the body is removed to make it easier to play on the upper frets. This really doesn’t matter on a beginner instrument, but many guitarists will appreciate its inclusion when they advance.

Specifications

  • String Type: Steel String
  • Body Shape: Grand Orchestra
  • Top: Laminated Spruce
  • Body: Sapele back & sides
  • Number of Frets: 20 - all open due to the cutaway
  • Scale Length: 25.5"
  • Nut Width: 1.75"

Pros
The size of this guitar makes it a good fit for children age 12 and above, or adults, and this is reflected in reviews. Still, its rounder shape makes it manageable even for younger players. Value for money and playability are two things that many users rate it highly for, while others appreciate its overall build quality. There are also plenty of users who are satisfied with its tone, but don't expect it to sound like more expensive solid top acoustics.

Cons
As mentioned above, the nut-width maybe a bit too wide for some, but then again, some teachers (myself included) prefer starting off young players with wide neck acoustics to help them stretch their fingers and to allow for better spacing. Much like many entry-level guitars, getting one with good setup out of the box is a hit or miss, thankfully there were more hits than misses when we analyzed market feedback .

Overall
This is a practical and functional great value acoustic guitar for beginners who are not too fond of the dreadnought shape.

Epiphone DR-100

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 1650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$139
Epiphone DR-100 6 String Acoustic Guitar

Gone are the days when Epiphone was looked at as just cheap alternatives to Gibson guitars. These days, they are respected for guitars that nicely balance value and quality. Case in point is the DR-100, a true to form dreadnought that is priced incredibly low but with decent specs and cosmetics.

It doesn't stray off from the beaten path, rather everything about this guitar is familiar, from its body shape, to its playability, down to its old school appeal. This familiarity also reduces the need for technique adjustments when students level up to more expensive guitars.

Specifications

  • String Type: Steel String
  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Top: Select Spruce (laminated)
  • Body: Mahogany
  • Number of Frets: 20 - 14 open
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Nut Width: 1.69”

Pros
The Epiphone DR-100, while not known for great tone, is consistently praised for being durable and well-made. And since it has a slightly smaller nut-width, it may end up being a touch more comfortable for those with smaller hands.

Cons
The only potential drawback of this guitar is that it doesn't have a solid top. It also suffers from the usual downside of a dread acoustic, it body is probably going to be too bulky for younger musicians and smaller adults.

Overall
If you're a fan of the dreadnought shape and you're looking for a practice guitar that will require minimal technique adjustments when you move to a more expensive one, then this is your best bet for value.

Yamaha C40 MkII

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Yamaha C40II

The Yamaha C40 MkII is a nylon-string guitar that's widely used by beginner and classical guitar students. Compared to steel strings, nylon strings are are significantly easier to fret, making this guitar ideal for new players, however note that it has a wide nut width following traditional specs, which maybe a bit too wide for those who are used to slim profile neck acoustics. Also note that the tone of nylon strings is also dramatically different, which can be good or bad depending on the preference of the one who will use the guitar.

While the Yamaha C40 is not overly impressive on paper with its basic specs and laminate spruce top, it trumps others with its legacy and longevity. There are simply so many guitar players who started / studied guitar via the C40, myself included.

Specifications

  • String Type: Nylon String
  • Body Shape: Classical - a little smaller than a Grand Orchestra
  • Top: Laminated Spruce
  • Body: Meranti back & sides
  • Number of Frets:: 18 - 12 open
  • Scale Length: 29.5625"
  • Nut Width: 2.0625"

Pros
The cool thing about buying this guitar is that because it’s a nylon string instrument you probably won’t have to invest in a set-up. Because nylon strings are so much easier to play, and exert less force on the body, the odds are much lower that a beginner musician will need the guitar adjusted in order to play it easily. Tone is also consistently praised, which quite special considering this is an entry level guitar. Durability is also an important factor that helps keep the C40 relevant, I for one can still play my over two decades old Yamaha C40, and still looks and plays good, albeit a-bit battered because of use.

Cons
We would caution you that if the person playing this guitar doesn’t like classical music, and is at least 12 or older, you should get them a steel string guitar instead. A classical guitar sounds very different than a steel string guitar, and while the Yamaha C40 doesn’t sound bad it won’t give them the tone they’re going to want.

Editor's Note: I personally began learning guitar on a C40 (original version). The wider nut width of classical style guitars can make them easier to play for people with thick fingers because there is more space between the strings.

Overall
If you're aiming for traditional classical guitar tone and playability at a modest price then this is your best bet.

Ibanez AW54

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Ibanez AW54 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar

The Ibanez Artwood AW54 is a classic looking dreadnought with Ibanez' brand of playability and value for money. Speaking of easy playability, this guitar has a neck that's around 0.83" thin, topped with an ovangkol fingerboard with a 15.75" radius.

The AW54 sports a solid top crafted from renewable wood called okoume, which lets you enjoy the vibrancy of a solid top acoustic at a price point that beginners will appreciate. The body follows the classic dreadnought shape, a nice contrast to the guitar's modern tonewood selection and playability.

Specifications

  • String Type: Steel String
  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Top: Solid Okoume
  • Body: Okoume back & sides
  • Number of Frets:: 20
  • Scale Length: 25.6299"
  • Nut Width: 1.69"

Pros
Users are simply pleased with the overall performance of the AW54, from its easy playability to its warm yet open tone. Value for money is definitely Ibanez' strong suit in the acoustic market, as reflected by many reviewers who feel that this guitar gives them more than what they paid for. Build quality is also often commended, of which I concur because I am also a proud owner of an Ibanez acoustic that is still very much playable many years after I brought it - it was actually my first "stage" guitar and still holds a special place in my heart.

Cons
Not many complaints about the particulars of this guitar, although there are some who are not too keen on the use of okoume wood over mahogany. Still, there are more people who appreciate the use of alternative renewable wood, even more so when they experience how light it is.

Overall
The Ibanez AW54 should be high on your list if you're looking for a solid top acoustic guitar that's easy to play.

Yamaha FG800

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Yamaha FG800 Acoustic Guitar

Yamaha's ability to mass produce and release affordable guitars with good quality is really impressive, to the point that its almost unfair for their competition. This is even more obvious when when considering their success across many different instruments and price ranges. As such, it's no surprise to see Yamaha hoarding multiple slots in this guides, thanks to the many positive reviews that their guitars are getting.

The FG800 in particular is as close to a traditional dreadnought as you can get, complete with a solid spruce top that will otherwise be outside the price range. They also implemented scalloped bracing for this model which ups the sonic quality even more. The neck doesn't stray too far off from traditional specifications, the end result being a classic looking and familiar playing instrument that many appreciate.

Specifications

  • String Type: Steel String
  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Top: Solid Spruce
  • Body: Nato Back & Okoume sides
  • Number of Frets:: 20
  • Scale Length: 25.5"
  • Nut Width: 1.692"

Pros
"Money well spent" is a three word statement that nicely summarizes market response. Users believe that this guitar is a great deal given its specs, and it also helps that it is backed by Yamaha, a brand that's well known for quality and reliability. Playability is also often commended, even experienced guitarists comment that this guitar is very comfortable to play.

Cons
There are a few who report about high-action / poor setup issues, but that's only from a small number of reports, and there are others who nitpick on minor cosmetic issues.

Overall
Thanks to the Yamaha FG800, beginners and the budget conscious can now own a good quality solid-top dreadnought at a very affordable price.

Epiphone EL-00 PRO

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$369
Epiphone EL-00 PRO Parlor Guitar

The Epiphone EL-00 Pro is based on smaller "parlor" style flat top acoustics that they were building prior to being owned by Gibson. This smaller body makes it viable for younger players, while older players appreciate its traditional "blues box" appeal. And it's not just about looks because Epiphone equipped this guitar with a solid spruce top, supported by mahogany back and sides, following after classic designs.

Finally, this guitar is equipped with a discretely positioned Fishman Sonitone soundhole preamp, paired with Fishman's Sonicore pickup. This ups the utility of this guitar even more, making it a stage worthy acoustic-electric guitar that can be plugged into an amp when needed.

Specifications

  • String Type: Steel String
  • Body Shape: Parlor
  • Top: Solid Spruce
  • Body: Mahogany back & sides
  • Number of Frets:: 19
  • Scale Length: 24.75"
  • Nut Width: 1.68"

Pros
Fantastic and terrific are two descriptive words that nicely summarize market sentiment. Users who are drawn to its compact parlor shape have mostly good things to say about the guitar.
Many also appreciate its old school design and overall workmanship. While the plugged-in sound is not as anything to write home about, it does provide satisfactory tone, as attested to by many reviews and recommendations.

Cons
Note that this guitar is smaller than usual, and it has a slightly shorter scale length, so this is not for those who are looking for a standard size acoustic.

Overall
With its great specs and old school appeal, I consider beginners who start out with the Epiphone EL-00 PRO to be extremely lucky.

Taylor Big Baby BBT

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 325+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$449
Taylor Big Baby Acoustic Guitar

As you probably guessed from the name, the Taylor Big Baby is smaller than your average guitar. However, it’s only 1/16 smaller than an average dreadnought. While the difference between a full-sized guitar and the Big Baby will be readily apparent, it’s not dramatically smaller. The neck is slightly thinner than the industry standard, so it will be more comfortable for those of you with smaller hands.

Specifications

  • String Type: Steel String
  • Body Shape: Dreadnought (15/16 size)
  • Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Body: Sapele Laminate back & sides
  • Number of Frets: 20 - 14 open
  • Scale Length: 25.5"
  • Nut Width: 1.6875"

Pros
The main draw of this guitar is that it’s a bit more comfortable for younger musicians to play but still has the tone and volume of a full-sized instrument. It compares really favorably to any instrument in this price range, and there’s nothing about it that suggests it wouldn’t be a quality investment.

Cons
And while we have a positive impression of every guitar we mentioned (because if our data shows they are lacking they don’t make it on any of our recommended lists), we will say that the Taylor Big Baby is a very good instrument. Not merely a good instrument for the price, just a good instrument plain and simple. It has a high enough sound quality that, should you decide to, you could easily gig with this guitar. It also has the volume necessary to compete with any dreadnought in the sub $1,000 price range.

Overall
The only thing you should be concerned about with this instrument is whether or not you, or the person you buy it for, are going to stick with it. There are much cheaper options available that still sound okay, so unless you’re sure whoever is playing this instrument is going to continue doing so we would recommend looking at budget alternatives.

Beginner Acoustic Guitar Selection Methodology

First published on Jul. 14, 2017 while the most recent major update was published on Aug. 28, 2019 by Alexander Briones with contributions from Mason Hoberg.

All the Gearank.com staff and this guide's author play acoustic guitar, so between us we decided that the main criterion for the guitars to be considered for this guide is that they should be relatively easy to play. With that in mind, we created a list of candidates that had suitable nut widths, scale lengths, body types, and string types, that we know from experience will make learning to play as painless and enjoyable as possible to help beginners get through the first few weeks of learning and practice. We only included 6 string guitars that were available from major online music gear retailers in the USA, and which had street prices under $500. There were 16 models on our short list which we then narrowed down to those you see above. If you'd like to know how the Gearank scores out of 100 were calculated then please read How Gearank Works.

Further Advice

If after reading this guide you still have some questions about buying a first guitar that isn't answered above, please feel free to post your question in the comments section below and we'll try to help you as best we can.

Comments

Hi. A senior beginner here.

Hi. A senior beginner here. I appreciate your advice on guitars for beginners. I am considering some steel-string acoustics from Yamaha, specifically the FS800 series(Concert body type) and The Yamaha FG800 series (Dreadnought body type). I have also come across the Epiphone Hummingbird Artist acoustic, and am interested in that as well. Just wondering if you would have any thoughts on any or all of the above. Thanks very much for your time. Matt

The Yamaha FG800's edge is

The Yamaha FG800's edge is its solid spruce top, while the Epiphone Hummingbird's advantage is its aesthetic appeal. Note that we don't have data for the FS800, but being from Yamaha, I wouldn't be surprised to find it doing just as well.

Although outside the scope of this guide, the guitars you mentioned are reasonably priced and similarly rated. So it'll mostly boil down to your preference: either you want to go for a solid top with conventional appearance, or a premium looking guitar with laminate top.

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