When looking for a guitar for beginners, you may find it difficult to sort out the many options available. There are plenty of places to get cheap guitars, but are any of them worth owning? Discover seven of the best options for buying an acoustic guitar for beginners that balance price and playability.
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1. Orangewood Rey Mahogany Acoustic Guitar BundlePros:
- Full guitar starter pack for the price of some other guitars alone
- Fully professionally setup prior to shipping
- Every purchase benefits music education programs
- Satin finish won't stand up to much abuse
- Laminated wood pieces instead of solid top
- Gig bag could be thicker
Balancing all the factors, Orangewood might be making the best guitars for beginners right now as far as acoustics go. The company released their first guitars in 2018 after three years of trying to figure out offer quality instruments at affordable price point.
The company sent me a test unit of this model, the Rey. The most evident benefit right out of the box is that every Orangewood guitar recieves a professional setup before final delivery, and based on the many, many other inexpensive acoustics I’ve played over the years, this really shows. Particularly when buying online, it’s nice to know you won’t have to plan to drop an additional $50 or hour of your time on a setup.
A smaller, but still nice touch is that they’re all strung with Ernie Ball Earthwood strings during the aforementioned setup. So many other guitars at this price point arrive with already-toast strings that need to replaced immediately. Obviously, this doesn’t translate over the lifetime of the guitar, but it will give you a good idea of what it sounds like with decent strings right away.
The satin finish won’t do you any favors in terms of protection, but I certainly prefer it to the super-thick polyurethane that usually plagues cheap instruments. The sound and playability were both excellent for the price point, though booming lows and crystal clear highs aren’t to be expected here. It’s clearly an above-average beginner guitar or even a very good backup to a nicer machine, if you should need it.
The accessory kit includes a strap, clip-on tuner, capo, cleaning cloth, picks and a chord chart, all nicely packed in a branded box. They’re all on the cheaper side, but they do the job and will provide a fast start to any beginner. The included gig bag is somewhat thin, but the name is embroidered on it and is indeed nicer than the vast majority of free gig bags kicking around out there.
The Rey also comes in spruce, if you prefer. The Manhattan dreadnought shape is even cheaper and they offer a number of design and wood combinations. A portion of all sales benefit the Give a Note Foundation, which helps support music education programs.
2. Yamaha FG800 Solid Top Folk Acoustic Guitar BundlePros:
- Solid spruce top
- Revised construction offers sonic improvement
- Full guitar starter kit
- These are not the yellow label Yamahas of old
- Will likely benefit from a setup
- Gig bag could definitely use upgrading
A clear step up from the Yamaha Fd01S that appears in the bundle we included among the best guitar starter kits, the FG800 is an extremely reliable beginners guitar. As we discussed on our cheap electric guitar post, Yamaha’s long history of producing quality student instruments has resulted in the Pacifica line of electrics and the so-called yellow label line of acoustics.
Where other makers turn to laminated woods, Yamaha has chosen to seek out cheaper but still good-sounding woods for theirs. As a result, this guitar features a spruce wood top and okume back and sides, which gives is good overall resonance and warmth. Some of the clarity is rolled off to my ears, but a beginner is certainly unlikely to notice.
They should notice the tuning stability and overall good build quality. It’s very unlikely that this guitar will give you any problems, and it will probably kick around and see some love long after the player has moved onto upgraded instruments.
This bundle includes a gig bag, clip-on tuner, extra strings, strap, picks, polishing cloth, and an instructional DVD that covers both basic guitar maintenance and beginning playing instruction.
3. Fender FA-115 Acoustic Guitar BundlePros:
- Solidly built Fender product
- Easy-to-play neck
- Bundle includes everything needed
- Compared to electrics, Fender acoustics are only okay
- Tone can't match the Yamaha
- Almost certainly will require a setup
This guitar and the model that preceeded it is fairly ubiquitious, at least among guitarists. I don’t think I know a single guitarist who’s friend’s roommate didn’t leave one of these behind when they moved out of somewhere. Partly due to name recognition and partly due to the price point, my perception is that this guitar has a higher likelihood of appearing as the only acoustic guitar in an otherwise all-electric collection.
All of that is purely anecdotal, of course, but what isn’t is that this is a solid guitar. By and large, Fender is of course known more for their electrics, so their affordable Fender-branded acoustics fall into a bit of a weird part of the market. There are, indeed, cheaper Squier-branded acoustics following the model of their electric offerings, but this is decidedly better than those.
I’ve played a number of these and find them to be just as playable as the Yamaha FG800, though the tone isn’t quite on par. They tune up quickly and the necks are very approachable for the beginner. I’ve used the earlier model as a layering instrument on recordings and never suffered much in the way of fret buzz or other major complaints. This is a solid option, particularly if the name on the headstock is important to the would-be player.
This bundle includes a gig bag, clip-on Fender tuner, extra strings, picks, strap, instructional DVD and a free trial of Fender Play. Play is Fender’s online guitar instruction subscription service that can help newbies get comfortable very quickly.
They’ve also started offering a slightly upgraded Fender CC-60S model, too. My vote is for the tried-and-true FA line, though.
4. Oscar Schmidt OG2SM-R-U Acoustic GuitarPros:
- Extremely cool look
- Solid wood construction
- Unexpectedly good tone
- Somewhat unheralded brand
- Long-term reliability a question
- No bundle extras for the absolute beginner
Oscar Schmidt certainly doesn’t have the brand cache of Yamaha or Fender, but they do produce very tuneful acoustic instruments. On the whole, I think the brand is better known for their ukuleles, which are great little tone machines.
This guitar is no different, and it has a great look to match. Some beginner guitarists are going to get caught up in having something cool to learn on; there’s no getting around it sometimes. This solid spalted maple top looks like it costs much more than it does, while conferring benefits for tone. The back and sides are made of catalpa, which due to CITES restrictions and dwindling supplies of other species, is starting to find its way into PRS, Ibanez and Fenders worth much, much more.
In my experience, these sound great but generally develop issues after a few years. The tuning stability isn’t quite as good as other guitars, though since we’re talking about wood here, that certainly varies depending on the specific instrument. If you don’t mind having a brand that’s either unknown to most or looked down upon by some, you could get a fantastic looking machine to use while you learn.
5. Jasmine S35 Acoustic GuitarPros:
- Very inexpensive
- Solid spruce top
- Satin finish improves playability
- Not made for longevity
- Will require semi-frequent setups to battle fret buzz
- No gig bag or starter kit goodies
Another stalwart of the beginner acoustic guitar world is Jasmine, the KMC Music (who also make Oscar Schmidt) imprint that make what are essentially meant to be cheaper versions of Takamine instruments. Indeed, this guitar in particular could be mistaken for a budget Takamine GD20-NS, if you squint.
The reason for that is that over a decade ago, Takamine owned the production rights to the Jasmine line, but later sold it to KMC. Jasmine retained its branding and general lineup, which has not strayed far in the years since.
My first acoustic guitar was a Takamine G-series and a friend of mine at the time had a similar Jasmine model. The differences between them start, as in the example given here, with the price. The S35 is generally priced under $100, while similar Takamines generally hover under $300. There’s no question that the Takamine is a nicer instrument, but tripling the price for an absolute beginner makes almost no sense at all.
Right out of the box, you’ll need to set the action or have a pro set the action for you. It will definitely be too high and complicate the business of learning how to play, especially for kids. That’s easy to accomplish and since you’ll almost certainly need to replace the strings right away, it’s just a matter of getting it out of the way.
This is a quintessential learner’s guitar. It’s great for dragging to lessons without having to feel too precious about it. The choice to go with a satin finish is, I think, better for newbies. Other guitars on this list are positively dripping in ultra-thick poly, which makes them sticky and slows down chord changes. The ligher finish also means that these cheaper instruments can resonate a little better but more importantly, can compensate for the tendency of these instruments to be harsh and a little too bright.
Truthfully, the tone is nothing to write home about. The spruce top is about as thin as physically possible and nato can be hit or miss as it is, but especially in laminated plywood form as it is here on the back and sides. Tuning stability can be something of a struggle, but a new guitarist should get used to tuning up frequently and using that as an opportunity for ear training.
All that said, for what it is, it’s actually a strong contender. It’s popular and well-received and properly looked after, will certainly do the job perhaps for longer than expected. In a sense, these guitars represent a feat of manufacturing since it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t get a guitar anywhere near this good for this price, so you should take advantage of progress.
If you had your heart set on a starter kit, upgrade to the Jasmine SC34C NEX, the other top-selling Jasmine model, which is a grand orchestra body style as opposed to this dreadnaught.
6. Rogue RA-090 Dreadnought Acoustic GuitarPros:
- Sturdy construction
- Color options
- Dirt cheap
- Over-laquered neck is sticky and slow
- Can be bright and harsh
- Expect fret buzz
Probably the least expensive acoustic guitar deserving of a recommendation is likely this option from Rogue. You can certainly go cheaper with something like a Best Choice Products Beginner Acoustic, which at the time of this writing was roughly the same price but also included the starter kit goodies. Even Rogue offers a less expensive option if you’re okay with something less than full size, as their Rogue Starter Acoustic is 7/8 scale.
The fact is, though, they just aren’t really very good, particularly compared with the RA-090. Surprising is probably the word best used to describe this offering, which comes from a brand known for also making a halfway decent cheap mandolin. (In fact, if you’re looking to start a bluegrass band this weekend, you can get a bundle with both of them together.)
The solid construction is surprising, the projection is surprising, and the fact that you can get an acoustic guitar likely to last more than a couple of years for under $90 is also surprising. This is the price of taking three people to Red Robin, even if you only get one beer each, and could be the gateway to a lifetime of playing guitar. You’ll have plenty of time to invest in nicer gear later on, but not if you never learn how to play.
The fact that this is heavily coated in poly means that it can take a few shots here and there, but also means that it’s probably going to be on the bright to the point of harsh side. Finer acoustics with better wood and more careful finishing have a certain lower-mid warmth that’s difficult to recreate at this price point, but still, you’ll be heard loud and clear.
Playability is not quite on par with the options at the top of the list, but of course, the price reflects that. And while construction is solid, probably even slightly exceeding that of the Jasmine depending on the individual guitar, the neck is made of nato and the entire rest of the guitar is laminate plywood – no solid tops here. The tuning machines are imprecise and fairly difficult to turn at first, but that is also expected.
If you’re considering something at this end of an already-inexpensive market, we would be remiss if we didn’t draw comparisons between this Rogue and a couple of other options. First, Donner makes the DAG-1C complete with a starter bundle. Altogether, it’s probably still not as cheap as the Rogue, but Donner makes some decent cheap guitar effects pedals, so they at least know the market they’re addressing.
Perhaps even more intersting is the fact that there is an AmazonBasics Beginner Acoustic Guitar, also with a starter kit, which looks suspiciously like the natural colorway of the Rogue. The wood on it is better, but it’s also an Amazon-branded guitar and is somewhere around $40 more at the time of this writing.
7. Loog Mini Acoustic Guitar for Children and BeginnersPros:
- Excellent for younger players
- Cool styling and above-average build quality
- Companion app for learning to play
- Small body won't pay dividends for tone or projection
- Perhaps a bit pricey considering what's available in full-sized guitars
- It appears to be missing three strings
If you want to take an entirely different approach, Loog has created this ultimate beginners guitar entirely focused on fast-learning, regardless of age. There’s a lot to unpack about this model, but the first thing to note is that this is a nylon string guitar, not steel. Every other pick on this list is a steel string, which is by and large the more popular choice for today’s guitarists.
There are still plenty of nylon string players out there, with the general archetype that they play in the classical style. Nevertheless, the notes are still in the same place and sensitive fingers can sometimes find the nylon easier to learn on as they don’t create the same friction as their metal counterparts. In fact, one of the most ubiquitous guitars in existence has got to be some version of the Yamaha Student Series Classical Guitar, which almost everyone has sitting in a closet somewhere for those rainy days.
But while that venerable Yamaha is priced at over $100 no matter which scale you opt for, this guitar keeps the price low by elminating three strings. Retained is the detail-oriended design and cool styling, but by focusing on just three strings, learning on this can reduce the overwhelm. They’re also physically quite small, something like half the size of a normal guitar, but with a fully hollow, electric-style body that allows even small kids to comfortably hold it.
The design is focused on allowing easy fretting, thanks to the choice of nylon strings and low action. Hand strength, note selection and overall coordination are emphasized, particularly when you consider the flash cards and companion app available with it. Ease of use and understanding is the primary focus here.
To that end, given the small body, nylon strings, and the fact that there are only three of those strings, you’re not likely to take this to a recital anytime soon. It’s not meant to belt out tunes loud enough to be heard on the street while busking, so adjust your expectations accordingly. Considering the price of the Rogue, it’s also probably a touch expensive for what it is. Still, attention and care has been brought to the specific issues this guitar solves, and they look pretty cool while doing it.
Loog also offers the Loog Pro Acoustic, which is a bit louder than the Mini. Or, if you’re thinking of straying from acoustics, they have an electric guitar, too, although in 2019 when Squier Bullets are better than ever and $50 less in some cases, I’m prepared to call them overpriced. They weren’t really made to compete with those, though, so your mileage may vary.
When first learning how to play guitar, or even expressing an interest in it, one of the initial questions is: Should I learn to play guitar with an acoustic or electric?
There are arguments for both sides and they're all valid. Electrics are somewhat easier to learn on in terms of fretting. The action tends to be lower and that eases discomfort in the fretting hand. However, electric guitars require at least a small practice amp and a cable to connect them, which introduces hurdles when it comes to actually playing.
Some think that learning on acoustic offers a variety of advantages. First, though it will be somewhat more difficult to start, you'll develop hand strength faster. You'll also be learning open chords first, most likely, and strumming open chords on an acoustic guitar is one of life's great joys. Plus, if you go to lessons, you'll only need to show up with the guitar itself and the lesson can begin. No need for any setup time.
After learning, most guitarists have both, even if they tend to play one or the other. Even nearly-full-time electric players will find themselves composing or noodling on their acoustic, and they're irreplaceable while camping. My first guitar was an electric, but I actually borrowed an acoustic for a long time for going to my lessons.
This list focuses on the best acoustic guitars for beginners, which does not always mean the cheapest. There are many, many cheap acoustic guitars out there. If price is your only criterion, it's pretty much a point-and-click proposition out there these days.
The options on our list bring a bit of balance to the equation. These are guitars that will last more than six months, won't be overly frustrating to play or tune, and sound pretty good, especially for their price. It's easy to make a cheap guitar; it's somewhat more difficult to make a cheap guitar that sounds good and stays in tune.
That said, if you look through our list and think it's a bit too cheap, that's probably a fair assessment. Honorable mentions that are a little spendier for the committed beginner include the Taylor BT2 Baby Taylor Acoustic Guitar, Ibanez AW54OPN Artwood Dreadnought, Alvarez Regent RD26 Dreadnought Acoustic, or the Martin LXK2 Little Martin Koa. As with all things, the sky is the limit, but if guitar proves to be a phase rather than a pursuit, limiting the budget somewhat is a pretty good idea.
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