We all know that the guitar is by far the coolest instrument – at least that’s what guitarists tell us! And many of the world’s great guitar players and songwriters started on acoustic. Keith Richards speaks fondly of the acoustic guitar that hung on his grandfather’s wall and captured his imagination of a child – and that famous guitar sound in the Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash was actually created by recording an acoustic guitar at a very high level into a tape recorder.
In this blog, we’ll look at the different options for beginners and try to answer the question of what is the best acoustic guitar for beginners and also what is the best acoustic guitar overall. We’ll also delve into some of the best acoustic guitar songs and look at how these can be learned to perfect specific techniques.
What Is An Acoustic Guitar?
When we talk about acoustic guitars, we are generally talking about hollow-bodied wooden guitars that generate a sound without needing to be connected to an amplifier like an electric guitar.
Acoustic guitars generally have 6 steel wound strings and are common in pop, rock and folk music. In the world of acoustic guitars, you will also come across acoustics with a thicker neck and 3 lower steel wound strings and 3 nylon strings. These are often called Spanish or Classical guitars and have a specific sound associated with the fingerpicking style of Spanish and classical guitar music.
You might also hear talk of some other kinds of acoustic – namely the electro-acoustic and the semi-acoustic guitar. The term electro-acoustic refers to an acoustic guitar that has been equipped with a pickup so that it can be plugged into an amplifier or PA – this is the kind of acoustic you’ll see on a big stage. A semi-acoustic guitar is a type of electric guitar which has hollow chambers inside the body and often has f-holes giving a unique electric guitar sound. (The Gibson ES-335 and the Rickenbacker 330 are probably the most recognisable semi- acoustic guitars).
How To Start Learning Acoustic Guitar
The wonderful thing about the acoustic guitar is that when you are learning, it doesn’t take much to see real progress and start playing songs. And because it’s acoustic, it can be something you grab whenever you get a few minutes to play and requires no set up.
A lot of beginners will have an instrument teacher which is a great way to start but if you are teaching yourself, my advice would be to start by learning songs. There are loads of tutorials on YouTube and you can find Guitar Tab (a simple form of notation) online as well. Songs like House of the Rising Sun by the Animals, Wonderwall by Oasis, Good Riddance (Time of your Life) by Green Day and Hey There Delilah by Plain White Ts are all great songs to start with.
It’s a good practice to start by making the chord shape and play one strum for each bar – this way you start with teaching your chord hand (this will be your left if you are playing a guitar in the standard orientation and your right hand if you are playing a lefty guitar. It doesn’t matter which orientation you pick – just choose whichever feels most comfortable for you) how to change chords smoothly and you can play along with the record more easily.
As your chord hand gets more comfortable you can start adding more rhythm to your strumming. Once you’ve mastered strumming, you can also start working on fingerpicking. A lot of beginner guitarists struggle with fingerpicking – generally this is because guitarists try to run before they can walk and start trying to master the famous Travis picking pattern quite early on (this uses the thumb to play bass notes on the 1 st and 3 rd beats of the bar to mimic a bass player whilst the other fingers dance around that pattern).
It’s best to start right at the basics and pick every note of the chord cleanly in order, then move to pinching patterns and finally onto the Travis pattern (named after legendary guitarist Merle Travis) – there are tons of videos on YouTube that can help with this.
The Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners:
#1 – The Yamaha FGX800C
This is probably one of the best acoustic-electric guitar models on the market in this price bracket. As a dreadnought style of acoustic, this guitar has no cutaway where the neck meets the body and the body itself is quite large to give a nice rich sound. The mahogany back and sides and spruce top mean that the guitar will sound sweeter as it ages and the built in pickup allows you to plug in for when you hit the stage.
#2 – The Ibanez AC240
This is Ibanez’s ‘artwood’ range and is designed to be more of a concert acoustic. This means it has a big body in order to project more sound and it also has a shorter scale neck which some beginners will find easier to play, especially if you are fingerpicking. The body is all mahogany so it sounds great and the artwood style looks incredibly cool.
#3 – The Jasmine S-34C
The Jasmine S-34C is another concert style guitar, so there is a large body designed to generate a relatively loud sound. In contrast to the Ibanez, the Jasmine is a full-scale neck which is really playable and it also has a venetian-style cutaway where the neck meets the body. This allows you to play some of the higher register notes up the neck and if you’re looking to play pieces like Classical Gas by Eric Clapton, they will be much easier to play on a guitar with this kind of cutaway.
#4 – The Yamaha FS800 Folk
This acoustic is not dissimilar to the FGX800C mentioned above but there are some key differences worth highlighting. This is much more a guitar aimed at folk players, so the body is relatively compact which gives a tighter and more focussed sound. The small body can also make the guitar feel quite comfortable to play and of course it also makes it quite a light package if you’re carrying it around with you. Also worth mentioning is the Sand Burst colourway which is really cool.
#5 – Yamaha APX 600
The APX range are Yamaha’s acoustic range that are aimed at musicians performing live in bands. The guitars in the range are all incredibly playable with the difference between the different models the quality and number of pickups for when you are plugged in and also the hardware materials (the machine heads for tuning the guitar, etc.).
The APX600 is probably the best acoustic electric guitar on the market. The pickup includes a proprietary SRT Transducer which helps reduce feedback and transmits the sweetest tones from the guitar. It’s also worth noting that the Yamaha APX range also has the unique oval shaped sound-hole which helps provide a much fuller tone, especially in the low and low-mid frequency ranges. I would say this is arguably the best acoustic guitar under 500 available.
#6 – Mitchell T331
This is a really good-looking guitar made of striped mahogany and the great thing about these instruments are that they are incredibly well made, playable and with a friendly budget. This is probably the best budget acoustic guitar on the market. It has a nice compact body constructed from a lovely tone wood and what’s really nice is the slim C profile neck which tends to be a really comfortable fit for guitarists just starting out.
The High End
Acoustic guitars can run to astronomical costs when you go to higher end of the scale. The best acoustic guitar brands (or at least the most well-known) are probably Martin and Taylor, although there are a number of other exciting boutique acoustic guitar brands out there including Cole Clark and Maton and of course the big guitar houses like Gibson and Fender also have their own top quality acoustic guitars on offer.
The classic professional grade acoustic is the Martin model D which is a wonderfully playable and great sounding guitar which has been used on thousands of records. There is also the Gibson jumbo which is a large-body acoustic guitar that sounds amazing – in fact, many would argue it’s the best sounding acoustic guitar out there. If you’re looking for something a bit different, I would also recommend the Martin Whiskey Sunset parlour guitar.
Parlour guitars are a slightly narrower, longer body often used in traditional blues and the philosophy behind the Whiskey Sunset model was to take a classic catalogue guitar but build it by hand with only the finest materials and the result is a guitar that oozes character.
Our Final Thoughts
Acoustic guitar is one of the most accessible instruments in the world and also one of the most fun to play. There was a time when good acoustic guitars at a lower price point were very difficult to find but over the last 10-15 years, production techniques have greatly improved and now it is quite easy to find a great sounding instrument at a low price.
What is the best sounding acoustic guitar?
To be honest, this is something that is totally subjective and everyone will have their own thoughts on what sounds great. The other thing to note is that when it comes to guitar – whether electric or acoustic – a lot of the sound of instrument is in the fingers and style of playing which is why you get such unique playing styles and sounds even though the instruments are similar.
You might be wondering about what are the best acoustic guitar strings. This is again a pretty personal choice but generally speaking Martin, D’Addario and Ernie Ball Earth Woods are all pretty good. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend lighter strings which are easier on the fingers – for acoustics this is .10s or .11s. If you’re recording, then it’s often a good idea to go as heavy as you can manage to get the fullest tone.
Finally, for a bit of inspiration of how acoustic guitar can be played in different ways, check out Andy Mckee, Jon Gomm and Tommy Emmanuel.
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