Buying Guide

Buying Guide: Acoustic Guitars

A Beginner's Guide to Choosing Which Acoustic is Right for You

Whether you're a beginner picking up your first guitar or an experienced player looking to build a collection, today's acoustic guitar market offers no lack of fantastic options to consider. From tried-and-true classics like Martin's D-18 dreadnought to newer forms and styles like Taylor's popular GS Mini series, there's an acoustic to match the needs and style of every guitarist.

There are hundreds if not thousands of distinct acoustic models being built today, and for newer players especially, it can be a lot to take in. With this guide, we're going to outline the major considerations potential buyers should weigh. And we'll offer a breakdown of some of the more popular styles of acoustic, along with some key picks for each. It's our hope that by scrolling through this page, you'll get a sense of what types of acoustics are out there and which is right for you.

Just Getting Started? Consider these beginner picks.

What to Consider When Buying an Acoustic Guitar

Steel String vs. Nylon String

  • If you're just getting started, you might get the advice to start with a nylon string or classical guitar. There are good reasons for this: Nylon strings are softer on the fingers and usually fall across wider necks, which can be easier for first-time guitarists to play. That said, many guitarists start on steel string guitars, which offer a more contemporary sound.

    If you are interested in exploring nylon string guitars, you can click on this link to jump down to some of our recommendations. The important thing is to get a guitar that will keep you inspired to learn and play.

Do You Need Electronics?

  • Acoustic guitars with electronics will have built-in pickup systems that allow them to be plugged into an amplifier or PA system. Often you'll see these models labeled as "acoustic-electrics" or designated with an "e" at the end of the model number. Though these guitars will be a little more expensive than their non-electrified counterparts, they're ideal for jamming with a full band or playing in a worship setting. Keep in mind: No matter what acoustic you end up getting, you can always add a pickup system later for relatively cheap.

Buying Used vs. Brand New

  • There are a lot of guitarists that default to buying a brand-new guitar. But if you're looking to land a great deal, you should absolutely consider buying used. One of the great things about buying a used guitar for a beginner especially is if you don't end up sticking with it, you can always resell the guitar for close to the same price you paid for it, recouping most of your initial investment.

    Here on Reverb, you'll find the largest selection of used guitars anywhere on the internet, with every purchase backed 100% through our protection services. We also have a vast selection of vintage acoustic guitars. Though vintage guitars can be expensive and are most commonly the targets of more experienced players, there are lots of cheaper vintage acoustics out there from the likes of Harmony, Yamaha, and others.

Price Range

  • Acoustic guitars range from $100 to $100,000 or more, but this does not mean that lower-end models aren't perfectly playable instruments. The technology that goes into modern guitar construction has become sophisticated enough that most of the big makers can churn out consistently high-quality guitars at reasonable prices. That said, when you shell out a bit more for an acoustic, there will typically be a noticeable improvement in playability and quality due to the use of higher-quality wood, construction methods, and components.

Brand Selection

  • There are some characteristics that have come to define the reputation of many of the big players. Taylor guitars, for instance, are known for their innovative shapes and features that have made them a go-to choice of modern singer-songwriters. Martin—the company that invented many of the main styles of acoustic—are often the go-to choice for vintage-style instruments.

    These days, you'll find that most big brands offer models in a variety of different styles. Big makers like Yamaha and Takamine offer dozens of reliable models, as do other brands like Seagull, Breedlove, and Eastman.

Choosing an Acoustic by Body Shape

Dreadnoughts, Minis, Jumbos and Everything in Between

For a lot of guitarists, the most important consideration when choosing an acoustic comes down to the body shape and style. There exists a wide range of different types of acoustic bodies, but typically, there are a handful of more common shapes that can be used to describe most of the acoustics on the market. Lots of these find origin in the designations made by Martin, and some have been solidified by Taylor and other makers more recently. The lines between these general families of acoustic aren't always super clear. For instance, there's not a strict definition of what makes a parlor guitar a parlor guitar, and often the term is used as a catch-all for all small acoustics with antique body styles.

Watch the video above for an overview of what seven of the main styles of acoustic have to offer, and keep scrolling for some recommendations in each category.

Dreadnoughts

For many years and up to the present, the dreadnought has remained the default form of acoustic guitar. These larger bodied instruments find origin in the Martin factory a century ago but really came of age during the expansion of radio, country, and rock music in the mid-20th century. The Martin D-18 and D-28 are the twin standard bearers of the genre, but today you can find dreadnoughts from essentially every guitar brand and at every price point, from the impressive Seagull S6 all the way up to handmade marvels from the likes of Collings.

Dreadnoughts at a glance:

  • Historically most common type of acoustic
  • Created and popularized by Martin but now offered by most guitar companies
  • Reliable all-arounder, a good choice for virtually any style of music

Mini and Travel Acoustics

While sometimes cast as little more than toys or novelties, mini or travel-sized acoustics have come a long way in recent years and are increasingly considered to be perfectly viable instruments for even the most seasoned of players. A lot of this change in perception has to do with makers like Taylor building these diminutive instruments with the same rigor and quality as some of their more standard models. The Taylor GS Mini, for instance, is one of the most popular models on the market, with many of its adherents choosing it as their first instrument. If you're just getting started, you might find the smaller necks and fretboards of this class of instrument particularly inviting.

Mini acoustics at a glance:

  • An increasingly respected class of guitar
  • Often smaller-scale versions of other popular models
  • Popular with beginners, especially those with smaller hands

Orchestra and Auditorium

With origins going back to the late 19th-century, there's a range of guitars called auditorium, grand auditorium, orchestra, OM, or several other subdivisions therein. It's in this bracket that the exact breakdown of sizes and categories gets murky brand to brand and era to era, but overall these guitars feature shorter and shallower bodies than the more common dreadnoughts.

Grand auditorium models are typically at the larger end of this range and are worth specific attention due to the popularity of Taylor's Grand Auditorium design, which includes any Taylor with a "14" in the model number. These guitars have proven extremely popular in recent years and are known for their wonderful tonal balance, with accentuated high and low frequencies that comfortably accommodate a singing voice. Taylors like the 214ce also include excellent onboard electronics, making the guitars a popular choice for gigging musicians. Martin also makes its share of auditorium and orchestra models, usually demarcated with "OM" or "000" in the model number.

Grand Auditorium acoustics at a glance:

  • Smaller than dreadnoughts but larger than concert and parlor-style guitars
  • Orchestra, OM, etc. also fall in here
  • Currently epitomized by Taylor models

Concerts

Concert-sized acoustics are similar to auditoriums and are often confused with one another. The exact definitions of what makes an auditorium an auditorium and a concert a concert vary based on brand and era. Overall, concert guitars are smaller than auditorium models, with smaller bodies and shallower depths front to back. Great for folk, blues, and fingerpicking, concert guitars afford a lighter attack with a bright, balanced, yet low-heavy sound. Grand concert models are slightly larger, but in the same family overall.

The long-standing Martin 00 series falls into this category, as do a number of Taylor models, including their Grand Concert line, which is designated by a "12" in the model name.

Concert and grand concert acoustics at a glance:

  • Smaller in size that auditorium and orchestra models
  • Delicate voicing considered great for fingerpicking styles

Parlor Guitars

Perhaps the oldest form of steel string acoustic, parlor-style guitars have seen a resurgence in recent years with more and more companies offering 19th century–inspired acoustics. These models often sport old school flourishes and appointments like ornate body finishes and more triangular neck profiles. These guitars are fine for beginners but have proven especially popular with players looking to have a spare, reasonably low-volume guitar to have around the house or in the office. There's no specific definition for a parlor guitar, so this category includes a variety of different shapes unified by smaller, thin bodies.

Parlor Guitars at a Glance

  • Hearken back to 19th-century guitar designs
  • No specific definition, includes a variety of shapes
  • Sometimes built with more triangular neck profiles

Jumbos

Closely associated with Gibson and the iconic SJ-200 model in particular, the jumbo-sized acoustics are the biggest of the bunch. These guitars are popular in country music and some strands of folk and have been used by Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, and Bob Dylan, to name just a few. Often these guitars feature maple back and sides, which fosters a bit sharper of a tone than the more common mahogany and rosewood varieties.

Jumbos at a glance

  • Epitomized by the Gibson SJ-200
  • Often use maple for the body construction, which gives a snappy, focused tone

Classical and Nylon Stringed Acoustics

Nylon string or classical guitars stand in sharp contrast to the various steel string instruments described above and represent a distinct lineage. Needless to say, classical guitars are essential for playing classical guitar music, but you'll also find the dulcet tones of the nylon string on a huge variety of latin, pop, jazz, and even rock records. New guitarists are often pointed to nylon-stringed instruments as the softer nature of the string material can be easier on the fingers.

Classical guitars at a glance

  • Use softer nylon strings, which produce a much different tone than steel strings
  • Softer strings can be easier on the fingers for new players
  • Essential for variety of traditional and latin genres, but also used in plenty of modern pop and rock recordings

Used Acoustic Guitars

Learn More About Acoustic Guitars