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Acoustic Guitars Buying Guide: Find Your Perfect Match

Shopping for an acoustic guitar can be overwhelming without the right guidance! The confusion is visible simply due to the gazillions of options available. 

With diverse woods, hardware, and designs; figure out your top priority while getting an acoustic guitar. 

Before grabbing an acoustic guitar, take some time to know this instrument properly. 

First, understand the building blocks of a guitar. You’ll learn about the structure and materials used in an acoustic guitar from here. 

Secondly, note down your skill level, purpose, and budget to ensure your guitar aligns with all your preferences.

So today let’s devise a comprehensive buying guide to help you navigate the acoustic guitar market with ease. We will be covering all the ins and outs of an acoustic guitar to make sure you have the right guidance when choosing your new instrument!

If you’re at an intermediate level with acoustic guitar, you absolutely need to check out our guide featuring the 7 best intermediate acoustic guitars!

The Ultimate Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide

Acoustic guitars stand out as a go-to instrument among musicians of diverse genres. They are versatile and can fit most play styles.

What sets apart their electric counterparts? 

To truly grasp their essence, let’s explore a few of the building blocks of what makes up an acoustic guitar

1. Main Components of An Acoustic Guitar

Four essential components that make up an acoustic guitar. They are the body, neck, headstock, and bridge. The body integrates the sound hole, which projects sound from strumming strings. It is usually crafted from sturdy lightweight wood, with the neck linking the headstock. 

The headstock houses the tuning pegs through which the strings are attached to the body. The bridge transfers the vibrations string which also resonates with the soft timbre of an acoustic guitar. 

The choice of wood in crafting the neck and fretboard highly influences playability and performance. Light but rigid woods for the neck help maximize vibrational transfer affecting how rich a guitar sounds.

2. Body Sizes and Scale-Length

When researching body sizes, you’ll find that there are so many to choose from. From a small ¼ size to a full size, each size boasts a distinctive sound and characteristics. This resonates with different players and musical styles. Whether it’s the tender strumming or fingerpicking, there’s a size perfectly suited to every player’s needs. Here is a description of the common sizes.

1/4 Size 

These guitars represent the smallest standard size, tailored for children aged 4-6 years. It is a perfect entry point into the world of guitar playing for children. Though their size may limit tone depth, they are good enough for practice or casual playing.

1/2 Size 

Slightly larger than their 1/4 counterparts, 1/2 size guitars cater to children aged 5-8 years. It is a great step up in sound quality while remaining manageable for small hands. These guitars strike a balance between affordability and portability. Although they boast better tone and volume, they still have limitations in sound depth. The Yamaha CGS102A is a great option in this category.

3/4 Size

Ideal for children aged 8-12 or adults seeking a more portable option, 3/4 size guitars balance between size and sound quality. They have a more mature tone and are accessible for smaller hands. Their versatility makes them suitable for older children and some adults, with a good balance of portability and sound quality. 

7/8 Size

Slightly smaller than full-size guitars, 7/8 size guitars are an excellent choice for teens or adults with smaller hands. They offer nearly the same sound quality as full-size guitars but with a more manageable size. Expect great playability and sound projection on these guitars. The Ibanez GA35TCE is a top pick in this size.

4/4 or Full Size

Also known as 4/4 guitars, full-size guitars represent the standard for adults. They have a full-bodied sound with superior tone and volume. You will find more guitars in this size than you can imagine. Having been labeled a “full-size” acoustic guitar they can be a little less portable for some people. The Zager ZAD 900CE is a great example of a full-size acoustic guitar.

Check out the Zager easy-play guitar size (based on the convenience of the guitar players):

Dreadnought 41” Full Size ZAD20
ZAD20E
ZAD50CE
ZAD80
ZAD80CE Aura
ZAD900
ZAD900CE
OM Size40″ Orchestra Model ZAD50 OM
ZAD50CE OM
ZAD80 OM
ZAD80CE OM
ZAD900 OM
ZAD900CE OM
Parlour Size38″ Parlor SizeParlor Size Mahogany
Parlor Size Mahogany Electric
Travel Size36″ Travel SizeTravel Size Mahogany
Travel Size Mahogany Electric

Check out the hands-on review and compare our different sizes:

3. Tonewoods 

Various tonewoods are known to accentuate how an acoustic guitar sounds. It defines the tonal quality and longevity of an acoustic guitar. Among various tonewoods spruce is the most commonly used. It is known for its high density and bright sound. 

The selection of tonewoods gives each acoustic guitar a personal sonic characteristic.

TonewoodUse and Sonic Characteristics
MahoganyThis tonewood produces a warm sound with a well-rounded tone. Mahogany is commonly used for backs, sides, and necks. It can make a guitar heavier due to its density and works well for fingerpicking or blues. 
Indian RosewoodPopular for backs and sides, Indian Rosewood provides a warm, well-balanced tone with increased resonance. Its scooped midrange highlights both lows and highs. It is lighter than mahogany and is a preferred choice for many acoustic guitarists. 
SapeleSimilar to mahogany in tone, sapele is a little denser. Expect a more pronounced treble and mellow tone from this choice of tonewood. It is highly durable and commonly used for backs, sides, and necks.
KoaWith Koa you get a balance between the crisp sound of rosewood and the warmth of mahogany. It is used for backs and sides, producing fantastic acoustic guitar tones.
MapleKnown for its bright, crisp tone, maple is commonly used for backs, sides, and necks. It provides a clear sound with minimal sustain or overtones. This is typically found on larger, jumbo-sized guitars to accentuate high frequencies.
Spruce (Sitka, Engelmann, and Adirondack)Primarily used for guitar tops, spruce offers volume, presence, and a well-balanced, sound. Variants like Sitka, Engelmann, and Adirondack Spruce offer nuanced tonal differences. Sitka is known for its dynamic range, while Engelmann is best for strumming. Adirondack is desirable for its louder projection and strong overtones but comes at a higher cost.
CedarSofter than spruce, cedar resonates more freely. It produces a warm and vibrant tone ideal for fingerstyle playing. It is commonly used as a wood for guitar tops.
Walnut Walnut is a fairly new alternative to mahogany for guitar bodies. They are most accentuated in the midrange tones and have a similar density of koa. 

4. Acoustic Guitar Neck Shapes & Nut Width

The neck shape and nut width of an acoustic guitar have a great effect on its playability. A comfortable neck profile enables easy playing. The nut width determines the neck’s width whereas string spacing impacts fretting and chording. Check out the range of neck shapes and nut widths available to find the best fit for you.

Acoustic Guitar Neck Shapes 

  • Classic C Neck: The classic C shape has a rounded contour, accommodating various playing styles and hand sizes with differing depths.
  • Modern C Neck: This is slightly flatter and thinner than its classic counterpart. The modern C shape offers comfort and versatility, particularly if you have small hands.
  • D Neck: The D-shaped neck is robust and less tapered towards the headstock. It provides an increased grip, favored by players with larger hands like John Mayer. 
  • U Neck: Recognized for its significant heft and rounder profile, the U shape, gives the player the most grip. You will find them mostly on vintage or reissued models of classics.

Nut Widths

  • Standard Nut Width: Ranging from 1.6875″ to 1.75″, steel-string acoustic guitars with six strings typically come with this standard width. It helps in comfortable fretting and string spacing.
  • 12-String Nut Width: 12-string acoustic guitars feature a wider nut width measuring 1.875″. This is to accommodate the additional strings while maintaining playability.

5. Truss Rod

A truss rod is a metal rod positioned within the guitar neck’s center. It is the backbone of the neck from bending under string tension. Virtually all steel-string acoustic guitars feature a truss rod nowadays. It is highly recommended in case you need to make neck adjustments. 

6. Acoustic Guitar Fingerboard Radius

The fingerboard radius determines the curvature of the fingerboard on an acoustic guitar. A flatter radius is great for playing chord progressions. A rounder radius facilitates bending notes, vibrato, and tapping. The most common fingerboard radius in acoustic guitars ranges between 10 and 15 inches. Classical guitars have an almost entirely flat fretboard, approximately 20″. 

7. On-Board Amps 

Acoustic-electric guitars provide the convenience of built-in electronics for amplification. This eliminates the need for external microphones. They have built-in pickups and preamps that guitars allow for the natural sound to be shaped and projected onto loudspeakers 

Common acoustic-electric guitars are priced a bit higher than their acoustic counterparts. When choosing between an acoustic and an acoustic-electric guitar, it’s essential to consider exactly how much you will be playing your guitar plugged in.

Know Your Acoustic Guitar  

Before buying an acoustic guitar you must also know the types of acoustic guitars, woods, and body shapes available. Let’s get down to detailing these below.

Different Types of Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars come in various styles, each offering distinct characteristics in terms of both sound and playability.

  • Nylon String: The nylon string acoustic guitar, the oldest style, is commonly used in schools. They have gentler strings, making it ideal for beginners and young children. With wider string spacing, fretting notes is easier without muting or fretting other strings.
  • Steel String: The steel string acoustic guitars are the most common one you can find. They are usable across many music genres as they offer fuller and richer sound compared to nylon strings. Common genres that they are used in are folk, rock music, pop, and country like Johnny Cash.
  • Acoustic Electric: Acoustic-electric guitars allow steel string players to amplify their sound without using a microphone. Equipped with built-in pickups, these guitars can be plugged directly into a PA system or acoustic amplifier.
  • Hybrid acoustic: Hybrid acoustic guitars combine features of both acoustic and electric guitars, incorporating both types of pickups. This versatility enables players to explore a wider range of styles and experiment with different string types. 
  • Resonator guitars: Resonator guitars utilize a resonating metal cone inside the body. They produce a unique bright tone and significantly louder sound than conventional guitars. Resonators are a popular choice nowadays in blues and bluegrass music for their distinctive sound. 

Get expert insights with Zager’s ultimate guide on How to Restring an Acoustic Guitar.

Woods

When choosing an acoustic guitar, the choice of woods plays a big role in shaping your desired sound. While tonewoods are crucial for tone production, there are primarily two options laminated/layered woods or solid woods. 

Typically, this choice can be determined by your budget. Lower-priced guitars often feature laminated wood selections. Higher-end models boast solid tops crafted from a single piece of wood.

Remember that this distinction doesn’t refer to the number of pieces forming the top but rather how they are constructed. Laminates consist of thin layers glued together, while solid wood tops are made from a single piece. 

Solid wood produces a more resonant sound as they are crafted from one big piece. However, they are usually more expensive and can cut your budget significantly. Another thing to note is that woods such as solid spruce can mature over time, enhancing their sound quality.

Body Shapes

Selecting the right guitar size can be fundamental to how well you love playing your guitar. 

Here are the common body shapes available for you to pick from:

  • Parlour: This was first developed to be a budget-friendly alternative to the industry standard shapes. Parlour guitars gained popularity in the late 1800s with deep and warm sound despite their small size. Modern engineering since then has enhanced their resonance, making them favorites among traveling musicians. The Martin 0 is a great example of a modern-day parlor guitar.
  • Grand Concert: Slightly larger than parlor guitars, the Grand Concert maintains a mid-range focus with enhanced projection. It is ideal for artists like John Mayer seeking a powerful bluesy tone suitable for larger venues.
  • Orchestra Model: Designed to meet evolving music styles, the Orchestra Model offers a larger body perfect for strumming. it delivers a fuller sound favored by folk and singer-songwriter musicians like Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton.
  • Dreadnought: The most common for strumming or flatpick-style players is the Dreadnought. It produces a deep, warm sound, making it the most common acoustic guitar type. Zager has a great offering in this body shape with the ZAD900CE alongside industry leaders like Martin.
  • Jumbo: Characterized by its large body, the jumbo guitar delivers a powerful sound, ideal for heavy-handed strumming styles. Jumbo Guitars have been a staple in country, rock, and pop music since it was made famous by Gibson in the 1930s.
  • Grand Auditorium: Introduced in 1994, the Grand Auditorium is versatile and adaptable, combining elements of dreadnought and OM designs. It is a go-to choice for performers needing a single guitar to cover diverse musical styles.

Why Are You Buying an Acoustic Guitar?: Two Questions To Ask 

When considering buying an acoustic guitar, it’s essential to align your purpose and budget with your skill level. 

  1. What’s Your Skill Level?

If you’re new to playing guitar, opting for a well-built, mid-range instrument is a wise choice. Modern manufacturing techniques have made it possible to find affordable guitars that sound great while also being beginner-friendly. On the other hand, if you’re on the more advanced level you can test out different tonewoods to understand how much of a difference each makes to your playing.

  1. Defining Your Purpose: Why Buy a Guitar In The First Place? 

Your purpose plays a big role in determining the right acoustic guitar for you. Are you planning to perform with a band or at open mic nights? If so, an acoustic-electric guitar might be the way to go. 

Acoustic Electric guitars feature built-in pickups and preamplifiers, allowing you to plug into amplifiers or sound systems. Additionally, acoustic-electric guitars offer mobility and versatility, seamlessly transitioning from unplugged to amplified. However, if you are not looking to do so, you can always save a few bucks with a fully acoustic guitar!

39+ Acoustic Guitar Terms To Be Familiar With

Here are some guitar terms you can familiarize yourself with down the line.

Guitar TermsDescription
AbaloneHard shell lining is used for decorative purposes on guitars
ActionDistance between frets and strings
AttackInitial sound a note makes when struck
BindingStrips to strengthen and enhance guitar appearance
Bolt-on neckNeck attached to the body with bolts
BookmatchingMatching two wood pieces for guitar tops or backs
BoutCurved areas above and below the guitar’s waist
BracingInternal support structure for guitar integrity
BridgeWood piece anchoring strings and transferring vibrations
Bridge pinsPins anchoring strings in place on the bridge
CapoDevice to raise guitar pitch by attaching to fret
CutawayGuitar body style with contoured upper bout
DecayVolume loss from note’s maximum to silence
DovetailInterlocking joint attaching the neck to the body.
FiguringPattern of Wood Grain.
Fingerboard (Fretboard)Guitar neck playing surface with frets.
FinishThe neck’s lowest point widens to body attachment.
FlameWood appearance shimmering with light.
Fret markersInlays serve as a visual position reference.
Gig bagLightweight case for guitar transport.
The HeelThin wood plies glued for the guitar surface.
InlayDecorative designs on guitar parts.
IntonationRelationship of tones on the fretboard.
LaminatedThe point where the neck joins the guitar body.
LuthierStringed instrument maker.
MarblingNatural patterns and color variations.
Mother-of-pearlLining from mollusk shells for inlays.
Neck jointTonewood visual characteristic with a wavy appearance.
PearloidSynthetic alternative to mother-of-pearl.
Pick (Plectrum)Thin plastic piece striking guitar strings.
PickguardThin plate protecting guitar top from scratches.
PickupElectronic device sensing string vibrations.
Piezo pickupCrystal structure sensing compression changes.
QuiltedThe neck is glued to the guitar body.
RosetteDecorative inlay around guitar soundhole.
Saddle (Bridge nut)Spaces strings at the bridge, transferring vibration.
Set neckWood is responsible for the guitar tone.
Soundboard (Top)The neck glued to the guitar body.
SoundholeHole projecting guitar sound.
WaistNarrowest guitar body portion.

Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide Reddit

Here are a few Reddit threads that can help you buy your first acoustic guitar:

Frequently Asked Questions

What Guitar Should I Buy For A Beginner? 

For beginners, it’s recommended to start with an acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitars are generally easier to learn due to their simpler setup. The need for additional equipment like amplifiers is not necessary when just starting.

Which Guitar Is Best For Beginners: Acoustic Or Electric? 

Acoustic guitars are often recommended for beginners because they are easier to learn and require no additional equipment. However, if you’re more interested in playing electric guitar and are willing to invest in an amplifier, electric guitars can also be suitable for beginners.

What Acoustic Guitar Strings Should I Buy? 

For beginners, it’s advisable to start with light gauge strings as they are easier on the fingers and require less pressure to fret notes. Brands like D’Addario, Zager, and Elixir are popular choices for acoustic guitar strings.

So, Which Acoustic Guitar Are You Picking Up? 

In the world of acoustic guitar, there are so many manufacturers dishing out gems nowadays. Apart from the classics from Martins, Fender, and Taylor, there are many more affordable alternatives. Over the past decade, Zager have been causing a stir in the guitating world with their various models. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much you pay for your acoustic guitar or how famous the company is. As long as you’re comfortable holding and playing your guitar it will be a right fit for you. 

So try to have the best understanding of our buying guide and be sure to come home with an acoustic guitar that will be both fun to play and great to admire from afar!

Author Avatar
WRITTEN BY
Jolene
Jolene, a guitar enthusiast whose journey began by watching their uncle Dennis Jr. craft guitars. Growing up surrounded by the mesmerizing process of guitar creation, Jolene developed a profound appreciation for the artistry behind these instruments.

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