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Best acoustic guitars 2021: The best guitars to buy from £60 to £2,400

Tanya Jackson
5 Oct 2021
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Looking to buy a new guitar? Don’t hit the shops until you’ve read our guide

Despite the evolution of technology over the past 100 years, something that hasn't really changed is the traditional form of the acoustic guitar. And it's likely to stay the same for the next century, too. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Remaining one of the major instruments responsible for the music produced today, acoustic guitars are going nowhere.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either a fledgling guitarist who’s so far scraped by on a friend’s instrument, or you’ve been putting the time in and want to reward yourself with a new guitar that you just can’t put down. Whatever brought you here, welcome, friend. Welcome to one of the most pleasurable shopping experiences you’ll have in your life.

It should not be rushed: this is the instrument you will take out at parties, jam along on with friends, perhaps even gig with. But before you hit the guitar shops and get dazzled by the hard sell, arm yourself with some prior knowledge of what to look for and what to expect. Or skip the middle man and buy from an online retailer.

Where do I start?

Buying a guitar can feel a lot like joining a tribe, with the different shapes and brands (and choice of strings) marking you out as a particular type of player. Of course what should matter is the quality of the sound, but which sound do you want? Trashy, rough, raw, boomy and metallic sounds give character, while genteel, delicate, balanced and crystal-clear sounds give nuance and definition. It’s down to individual preference, so if you’re not sure what you’re after, dig out those favourite albums – whether Bert Jansch or Lindsey Buckingham – and start doing some serious listening.

What difference does the shape make?

It’s not just a question of aesthetics: the shape affects the resonance (how the sound of you hitting the strings is amplified). There are two basic styles of shape, dreadnought and grand auditorium.

Dreadnought: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Jimmy Page – they all played dreadnoughts. Why? Because its big sound, especially at the bottom end, gave body to strummy songs. With its square shoulders and bottom, it can handle a little rough treatment. Add heavier strings to get an ‘iron’ feeling of weight and power and you’ve got a guitar that separates the grown-ups from the children.

Grand Auditorium: This looks different because it’s ‘pulled in’ at the waist. This shape stops the sound from rattling round the body of the guitar, giving it a lighter, brighter quality that lends itself to fingerpicking styles and more nuanced playing. It’s also easier to sit the waist over your knee – great for lounging on sofas.

Cutaway: These come in either of the two basic shapes above, with part of the guitar ‘cut away’ to allow your fingers to play further up the fretboard and therefore get higher notes and different tones from the lower notes.

Pick-ups: A microphone that’s either built in or that attaches to the guitar with a cable at the other end that you can plug in for amplification. A good pick-up can double the price of a guitar – bear this in mind if you’ve buying a guitar with one built in, as it says a lot about the quality of the unamplified instrument.

What do I do in the shop?

The first rule is: do not plug the guitar in. See if you fall in love with it without the pick-up – that’s the true tone of the instrument. The second rule is: get a couple of tunes ready to play, so you don’t resort to the panicky E/A/D formation. However good you are, you’d be amazed how self-conscious you feel when you sit down in front of staff who have nothing else to do all day other than practice.

What finish is the best?

There are different lacquer finishes on acoustic guitars, and this can make a slight chnage to the sound of the guitar as it is played. First of all, however, it's important to note that there is no such thing as a guitar without a lacquer finish, so perhaps don't ask that question in a guitar store or you might get an odd look.

Nevertheless, there are two main types of guitar finish:

  • Gloss: a thicker glossy, shiny finish that is smoother to touch
  • Matt: a thinner finish, rough to touch but doesn’t reflect light

The best way to understand the difference between these finshes is feel and tone. Guitars with a matt finish are slightly louder as the layer of lacquer is less heavy. In general, the thicker the lacquer, the more the sound will be dulled by the finish. Matt guitars have a thin coating so the finish will have little affect on the wood, compared with gloss finish guitars. However, gloss is easier to clean than matt.

What’s "action" when it’s at home?

"Action" is the distance between the strings and the frets and can be adjusted in guitars that have a truss rod – the long bolt running the length of the neck. Small action is great for accurate playing and easy fingering, but lower it too much and the strings will buzz against the frets when you give it a hard strum.

Nylon or steel-strung?

Children and classical guitarists play nylon-strung guitars: children because steel strings are too harsh on their fingers, and classical because the repertoire and style of playing demands that particular material. It is possible to learn both popular and classical styles, but unless you’re one half of Rodriguez y Gabriela, you probably won’t have enough time to master both. Start with one, expand later.

The best acoustic guitars to buy from £60 to £2,420

1. Stretton Payne 3/4 Sized Nylon String Classical Guitar: Best kid’s guitar

Price when reviewed: £60 - Buy now from Amazon

This represents fantastic value for money, especially when you consider all the extras you get. But first the guitar: it’s nylon-strung and so is gentle on the fingers and produces a pleasant, pure tone. We're not expecting concert-quality for this price, but it's good enough for learning how to play and won’t ruin your Sunday afternoon in the way a child’s violin practice will. You get an electric tuner to keep the six strings perfectly in tune, a strap to hang it over your shoulder, a bag, a set of plectrums, online guitar tuition and a set of pre-tuned nylon strings, although they'll always need to be retuned if you've had it delivered to your door. The ¾ size makes it ideal for children, although it can be used as an adult's travel guitar and from personal experience, it will keep your fingering technique in tiptop shape and stop you being lazy with difficult chords.

Key features – Length: 91cm; Pick-up: No; Comes with: Strap, bag, tuner, plectrums, online lessons

2. Lindo Feeling Series Electro-Acoustic: Best entry-level with a pickup

Price when reviewed: £190 - Buy now from Amazon

Representing an excellent entry-level adult guitar that is ready to be played acoustically or plugged straight into an amp, the Lindo looks good and sounds good. It has an in-built truss rod – a sign you’re getting into the price range of decent-quality guitars. It comes with an integrated pickup with a built-in tuner and mini-equalizer which gives a decent sound straight into an amp.

Key features – Length: 104cm; Pickup: Yes; Comes with: built-in tuner, carry bag

3. Washburn Rover N Travel Acoustic Guitar: Best travel guitar

Price when reviewed: £128 - Buy now from Amazon

Many travel guitars, which are aimed at festivalgoers and songwriters on the move who don't want to carry round their best guitar, are simply ¾ length or children's guitars, but this Washburn has been designed from the start with the roaming musician in mind. It has a spruce front and mahogany back and sides. The body is what grabs the eye, though. Looking like it's shrunk in the wash, it measures just 85cm long and 25cm wide, meaning it can get on most flights and sit on your lap or between your legs with no trouble on a coach or car. The sound is certainly tinnier than full-sized guitars and if you have more money, you might want to splash out on the £650 Little Martin LX1E (as used by Ed Sheeran on stage), but for under £150, the Washburn represents the perfect solution for holidays.

Key features: Length: 85cm; Pick-up: No; Comes with: Carry case and strap

4. Guild F2512E Jumbo: Best 12-string

Price when reviewed: £450 - Buy now from Amazon

Twelve-string guitars, where identical or octave-separated strings are strung right next to each other, sound gloriously harmonious anyway and by adding an oversized jumbo body with its characteristic arched back, Guild has created a beautifully big sound with excellent sustain. The maple body gives a bright, jangly sound, while the Indian rosewood neck, pearloid rosette (the border around the sound hole) and 1950s-era tortoiseshell pickguard makes it look pretty classy, too.

Key features – Length: 123cm; Pick-up: Yes; Comes with: Gig bag with shoulder straps and pocket

5. Taylor 114ce Grand Auditorium: Best mid-range guitar

Price when reviewed: From £479 - Buy now from Amazon

Walnut woods give a lovely ring to higher frequencies, and a warmth to mid-range notes and these qualities are obvious when playing this guitar, of which the back and sides are in this wood. The Venetian cut-away allows access to the higher end of the fretboard, and the body has enough to sustain to give clarity where it can often sound muted on an acoustic. Add Taylor’s custom Expression System 2 pick-up for an extra £200.

Key features: Length: 109cm; Pick-up: Optional; Comes with: Gig bag

6. Martin D-28: The king of acoustic guitars

Price when reviewed: £2,419 - Buy now from Amazon

If there's one guitar by which others are judged, it's the D-28. Think of any guitarist, and there's almost certainly a recording of him or her playing it. With a sitka spruce top, rosewood back and sides, and a dreadnought body, it has the characteristic booming bass and mid-range sound – yet its higher registers are as sweet and clear as a grand auditorium – making it the guitar of choice for fingerpicking guitarists. The D-28 is often called "piano-like" because of the clarity of its bass registers, which is astonishing when you think of the size and warmth of a piano's lower end. If you’re going to a guitar shop to try some models out before buying, treat yourself to a play on one of these. No-one needs to know you can’t afford it.

Key features – Length: 100cm; Pick-up: No; Comes with: Hardcase

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