Five Quality Acoustics Under $500

Finding an acoustic guitar without spending thousands of dollars is easier than ever these days. Problems arise, however, when trying to find a high-quality instrument without breaking the bank. Many of the low-end acoustic guitars these days suffer from quality control issues, including bad setups, faulty intonation and uneven dynamic response. Low-grade wood or laminate (non-solid wood) construction often result in a less than desirable sound. To help you sort through all the different options out there, I’ve compiled five high quality instruments that retail new for under $500.

To narrow things down, here are the criteria I used:

1) No laminate tops. If it’s not a solid wood guitar, it’s not on this list. Any guitars with laminated back and sides will be noted in the reviews.

2) Utility before beauty. I’m not considering electronics or cosmetics in this list - simply the best guitar you can buy for under $500 bucks. Some of these may not have onboard electronics and may cost more with that option included (See my article on choosing a pickup for your guitar if you need to add one later).

3) Real feel trumps what's on paper. I only recommend guitars that I've played. If there’s a brand that I overlooked, it's simply because I haven’t actually held it in my hands and played it. I would never recommend a guitar I haven’t played extensively. That being said, if there’s a guitar you feel I should have mentioned, let me know in the comments section.

My personal preference in acoustic guitars tends towards smaller bodied designs, as I'm primarily a fingerstyle guitarist. Smaller body sizes tend to have more individual scoring clarity to my ear (just take a look at Tommy Emmanuel's signature acoustic), but I've included guitars with several different body types. Many of the guitars I mention here come in different body sizes within the same series.

It should be noted that no guitar companies paid me to try their guitars or review them for this article. With all that settled, here are my five choices for the best guitars under $500.

Yamaha LS6M

Yamaha LS6M

The Yamaha L series of acoustic guitars has been a favorite of mine for the past few years. Their aesthetics, workmanship and playability have been the most consistently high-quality from any of the big names in acoustic guitars. They play perfectly right out of the box, and I have yet to find an intonation issue or uncomfortable action with Yamaha acoustics.

The LS6M is a smaller bodied guitar with a lot of punch and resonance that is ideal for fingerstyle guitarists, comparable to a 00 or OM-style body design. It features a solid Englemann Spruce top and solid Mahogany back and sides, which is a combination with ample balance and even tone throughout the guitar’s range. The lows are punchy and loud, while the highs are not too brittle or harsh.

I found this guitar to be quite enjoyable to play, and it compares nicely with instruments costing twice as much. The look of the guitar is very traditional and elegant, with incredible attention to detail. The fretboard inlays and rosette, for example, look like they should be on a much more expensive guitar. This is also the only guitar in this list with a high-gloss finish. To be perfectly honest, I thought I was playing the wrong model guitar when I tried it out and had to double check the model number to make sure.

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Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500RCCE

Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500RCCE

The Epiphone Masterbilt series is a throwback to the company's 1930s acoustic guitar line. Though it originally included multiple models when it was first introduced in back in 2000, the only model remaining in production from that line is the EF-500, modeled after the OM or "Orchestra Model" body style of the guitars from that era.

The EF-500 sports a solid Cedar top and Rosewood back and sides with a wider 1.75 inch nut, which makes it an ideal choice for fingerstyle guitarists looking for a well-built acoustic guitar that won't cost thousands of dollars.

Everything about this guitar has a vintage vibe. From the abalone rosette to the vintage gold tuners and aged binding, the aesthetics of the this guitar are a definite throwback to wartime-era acoustic guitar design. On the flip side, it does include some very nice modern amenities, such as Epiphone's proprietary E-Sonic 2 dual pickup system and a setup done with a Plek machine to ensure playability. The inlay work and cosmetic attention to detail are amazing, and the natural wood finish of this instrument allows the tone to really shine through. The action on the model I played was very low and comfortable, without any fret buzz. The slim profile neck was very comfortable and fast, with a feel like an electric neck. This is by far the most "shredder-friendly" acoustic I tested for this article.

Personally, I love the Rosewood/Cedar combination of woods in this guitar. It's not a guitar that will cut through the mix of a large ensemble, but this wood combination will offer subtle, less shimmering highs, deep rich lows and a very complex sounding midrange that is perfect for the solo performer or fingerstyle guitarist. I owned one of these guitars for several years until it was stolen. Revisiting the guitar while writing this review actually makes me want to buy another one!

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Seagull S6

Seagull Coastline S6

Seagull has been making some of the best entry level acoustic guitars for years now, and I have always been a fan of these instruments. Seagull is part of the Godin guitar family (if you've played a Godin, you know they make high quality instruments), so all of these instruments are made in Canada at the Godin factory using locally sourced Canadian tonewoods. The S6 model is their entry level acoustic and best-selling model for good reason.

The S6 features a solid Cedar top and Wild Cherry back and sides, which appear to be laminate from their website. The unique look of Seagull's dreadnought design is instantly recognizable for its slightly squared-off design and signature thinline Seagull headstock. There isn’t a trace of any high gloss finish on this guitar, and the neck is very comfortable and easy to play.

The neck of the S6 is made of Silver Leaf Maple and is probably my favorite carve of the five guitars I reviewed for this article. It has a very unique feel to it, like an usually comfortable U-shape with a smooth, unfinished feel.

The combination of the Cedar and Wild Cherry (which is voiced similar to Mahogany in terms of its tonal characteristics) lends a very rich yet subtle voice to this guitar. It's not overly bright or overly dark, but sits in a comfortable middle ground that works great for all different playing styles. The larger dreadnought shape gives some added punch to this guitar, so it's by no means a soft instrument. Getting a sound this rich for a street price of $419 is unheard of. Granted, the electronics and finish options increase the cost, but for a bare-bones acoustic, you can't do much better than this one.

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Breedlove Concert Mahogany

Breedlove Pursuit Concert E Mahogany

A Breedlove guitar under $500? You're kidding, right?

When I think of Breedlove guitars, the first thing that comes to mind are the high-end custom guitars with beautiful inlays that cost about as much as a new car. So when I heard from a friend that there was a Breedlove guitar for under $500, I had to check it out. I've always been a fan of these guitars, and this guitar was no exception.

The Breedlove Pursuit Series was designed for fans of Breedlove guitars without an extra four grand to spend on a high-end custom model. I chose to review the Concert Mahogany model for this article, but the series also includes a dreadnought for the same price if that body style is more to your liking.

The solid Mahogany top on this guitar is a gorgeous dark brown color, making it a strikingly beautiful guitar to look at. The combination of Mahogany and Sapele laminate back and sides make it the most uniquely voiced of the guitars reviewed here. Sapele voices very similarly to Mahogany, so one could think of this as an all-Mahogany guitar without the price tag associated with it. The abalone dot inlays and rosette stand out from the dark top wood and Rosewood fretboard.

Although this guitar is made in China, it (like all Breedlove guitars) is inspected and set up in their Bend, Oregon factory to ensure quality and playability. The neck carve may be a little thin for some players, but for electric players that want to switch over, it will feel right at home. Their pinless bridge design is one of my favorites. Anyone who's lost a bridge pin on a dark stage will appreciate this design choice.

The Breedlove Concert Mahogany series also features a Fishman ISYS-2 electronic system, which uses a dedicated USB port for digital recording in addition to an standard analog output. Although I did not have the ability to test out this feature and doubt you could get a good recorded acoustic tone straight from a USB port, it could be potentially useful for tracking with computer notation and recording software.

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Takamine G Series

Takamine GD51CE-BSB

In 2013, Takamine introduced their redesigned G-Series of instruments with a focus on quality at a more accessible price point. Their GD51CE model combines the quality that Takamine guitars have been known for with features that should raise the cost to three times what it is.

The GD51 is a dreadnought with a solid Spruce top and Rosewood back and sides, making it the most traditionally designed guitar on this list in terms of tonewood and body style. The unique split bridge design is a welcome addition for anyone who's had trouble maintaining the intonation of their acoustic. The Mahogany neck and Rosewood fretboard feel very comfortable to play, especially in larger hands. Although this guitar does not have the high-gloss finish of more expensive guitars, it still has a quality feel.

The G-Series features Takamine's TP-4TD pickup and preamp system, which includes a very visible, easy-to-use built-in tuner. The pickup system takes up the entire bass bout side of the guitar, but its placement here does allow for easy access to the controls, so I suppose it's only a minor complaint.

Overall, the Takamine GD51CE is the most traditional sounding of the five and would be a great place to start for anyone looking for a good beginner acoustic-electric that can cut through the mix.

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Please keep in mind that these models are just starting points. If you’ve played a great guitar that retails new for under $500 that I didn’t mention, suggest it in the comments below. As always, you can find some fantastic guitars for under $500 right here on Reverb!

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