27 of the best budget acoustic guitars in the world today
17th Nov 2014 | 09:00
When putting together this gallery of our best budget acoustic guitar picks there were three key factors to consider: how does it sound, how does it look and, most importantly for this gallery, how much does it cost?
Undoubtedly one of the most congested areas of the six-string market is the affordable acoustic guitars sector, where there are literally thousands of models and manufacturers to choose from.
This gallery contains the most popular and best-reviewed guitars we found. Among them there are some truly spectacular guitars on offer, acoustics that punch way above their weight and prove that affordable needn't mean cheap and nasty.
Not only do they all sound great, most - if not all - are easy on the eye, and best of all, they all retail at under £500 / $750. Some of these guitars will make great first instruments, and some will prove to be trusted partners for life - we'd suggest trying as many as possible...
A spruce-topped jumbo with plenty of projection and an extremely appealing price tag, the VJ100N isn't Vintage's only appearance in this poll.
The manufacturer has been turning out some incredibly likable and a characterful guitars in the last few years, and the VJ100N is another fine addition to the growing ranks of first rate Vintage acoustics.
Taylor Big Baby
Taylor is famous for its supremely playable acoustic necks and this model is no exception; in fact, due to its innovative and virtually heel-less design, there's better access to the upper frets with any regular full-body acoustic.
In short, however, this Baby plays like a dream, and when you feel this at home with a guitar you can play anything in any style. Obviously this guitar is not going to sound like a standard Taylor dreadnought; and in fact it's quite surprising to hear how unlike a dreadnought the Big Baby tone is.
"Constantly moving on, it's hard to keep up with Taylor's cauldron of steaming ideas, but someone's got to lead the way forward, and it seems we're in reliable hands."
The diminutive, but nonetheless fully formed 14-fret OMR-21 exudes class and heritage.
It has a solid Sitka spruce top, a satin neck, back and headstock crafted from laminated Indian rosewood and the mahogany neck appears of a high visual grade.
As a starter guitar for the serious student there's little to bemoan here and we suspect the OMR-21 will impress even the more experienced players.
"The perfect steel- string? Damn close. Affordable and classic-looking with a sound that punches above its price."
BUY: Sigma OMR-21 currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music
This Washburn baritone - we'll shorten it's name to LSB, aka Lakeside Baritone - is a large and deep, round-shouldered pre- dreadnought design that debuted in 1912. But the baritone scale length is more contemporary and, if our research is correct, unique.
Acoustic baritones are rare; aside from Taylor, Walden has the futuristic B-1E, and Alvarez's ABT60E is highly affordable. In addition to the bulk of the body, the scale here is the longest we've encountered.
It scored a very respectable 4/5 stars in our tests and we've included it here because a baritone on a budget like this is well worth a nod.
"For any creative musician looking to expand their pitch, this is a great place to start. It won't overly hurt the wallet, either... just your fingers!"
As you might expect from Epiphone's best selling acoustic, the DR-100 is a budget-minded guitar that dispenses with any extravagances in favour of good old-fashioned playability.
The spruce-topped dreadnought is conceived to be an all-rounder, from those first fumbled chords through to, well, wherever you want to go really. It's built to the usual Epiphone high standards, and it's guaranteed to make most guitars at the same price point look a little bit silly.
On the face of it, Walden is yet another guitar brand looking to make a dent in the budget acoustic market. But this isn't your average Asian-made guitar; it has a serious boutique pedigree, thanks to the presence of ex-Charles Fox luthier John Lee in the design chair.
This acoustic comes from the most affordable end of the series, and costs just £407. So what? Well, if similarly spec'd guitars were made by Taylor, for example, you'd be looking at paying a couple of grand more.
Oh, and any vintage-obsessives out there, this (like all the 600, 700 and higher-end Walden guitars) features a nitrocellulose finish. On paper at least, here's a brand perfect for our penny-pinching times.
"Like the D810, the near faultless, well-priced all-solid G830 just needs to live a little to really impress."
The proliferation in mahogany-topped acoustics is a development that we wholeheartedly approve of. There's something delightfully earthy in their look, and in our experience, this translates to their tone, too. It's the same with all-mahogany Korean-built acoustic from Sigma.
Should you be looking for a bluesy belter or general all-round acoustic, then the SDM-15 is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. It's got the power to do the business acoustically, and if you require more volume, simply plug into the PA or a small acoustic amp and the onboard Fishman system will provide ballsy backup.
"This guitar has it all: classic looks, quality build, excellent playability, evocative sounds acoustically and plugged in, and an ultra-keen price. What's not to like?"
LAG Tramontane T66A
Where predecessor range, the Four Seasons, were relatively generic in their styling, the Tramontanes (the name comes from a wind that blows across southern France) have a distinctive appearance, thanks to the headstock design borrowed from Lag's Imperator solidbody electrics, where the central portion of the peghead is raised from the outer wings.
As the range's least expensive auditorium, the T66A has an all-laminate build of spruce and mahogany. The absence of a solid top might betray its entry-level status, but nothing else does, because the guitar has a cracking presentation for the money.
"Don't for one minute dismiss the T66A because of its laminated top. It should easily go the distance against similarly priced solid-top rivals, making it something of a snip. This Tramontane is a real find among budget folks."
Faith Naked Series Neptune
Money is tight for us all, and last year Faith took the wraps - and quite a bit more - off the straightforward, clearly cost-effective 'Naked' range.
With the Neptune, you're getting a beautifully constructed baby jumbo stripped of every single unnecessary extra. This is a guitar boiled down to its bare essentials, but don't let that turn you off - the Neptune plays like a dream, and while its utilitarian looks won't be for everyone, we're big fans.
We're getting a sense of déjà vu… That's the thing about acoustic guitars - they all tend to look the same.
As such, you might be forgiven for taking one look at the Yamaha FG700S and assume you've already been there, played that and bought the T-shirt. If there's a more traditional looking model on the market than this entry-level dreadnought, we'll eat our pitch pipes.
No-one's pretending the FG700S looks as wild as your BC Rich, but that's not the point. When you sit down with this model you will soon start to appreciate why it deserves your attention. This is how playing an acoustic should feel, but so rarely does. It's effortless, despite the fairly hefty body size, and doesn't make you sweat to dig out the (considerable) volume.
"A highly playable acoustic with a good tone."
Just look at it! The slotted headstock, the herringbone inlays, the vintage style tuners - this a tasteful little acoustic that subtly demands your fullest attention.
There's something about parlour size guitars that makes us want to sit on a sofa and fingerpick the day away, and this would be the guitar to do it with. Mahogany back and sides, a cedar top, and all those little visual details makes this a steal of a guitar for the money.
Make sure you try one, even if you're not necessarily looking for a smaller bodied guitar - this could be the one to make you think again.
The EL-00 is the sort of guitar you can imagine being nestled in the hands of a long-dead bluesman, in one of those weirdly formal photos from the '20s.
It certainly looks the part, with its tiny parlour sized body, short scale and sweet sunburst finish. Tailor built for playing the blues, if you've ever had a woman leave you, lost your job or attempted to sell your soul to intersection-dwelling demons, this is the guitar for you.
Are you an electric player looking to transition to the acoustic? Or maybe you're simply a person who appreciates style in any context. If that sounds like you, then the Fender Sonoran is the guitar for you.
Rocking that iconic Strat headstock, it makes standard acoustics look conservative. It's full of lovingly conceived little details, from the gently curving 'Viking' bridge to the chequered inlays and white button tuners. A tasty little retro acoustic with style to burn.
Faith Naked Series Mercury
If the idea behind this Faith was to create a highly affordable, cost-effective guitar, then it's an unqualified success.
But aside from the clean design and impressive attention to detail, this all-solid wood guitar sounds good and plays exceedingly well - especially at the price. If it's sound and playability that you value over unnecessary appointments, this is a very good place to start your search.
"If you pick more than you strum, you need a parlour. The choice is wide, but add this Faith to your list - it's impressive on all levels."
That's right, it's another Vintage - are you getting the message about this brand yet?
With three guitars in this gallery and more models that didn't quite make the cut hovering just outside, one thing is clear: Vintage acoustics have a lot of fans out there.
It's the result of a simple philosophy, of which the central tenet is to build great, affordable guitars that people won't be able to put down - guitars like the V400N.
The most popular Vintage dreadnought in this poll, it's an all-rounder with a nicely balanced tone that you'd be doing a disservice to if you didn't try the next time you're in a guitar shop.
Production of Sigma Guitars, the affordable range launched by Martin in the '70s to keep Japanese competitors at bay, ceased in back 2007.
But the brand was recently purchased from Martin by AMI, a German-based distributor of high-end acoustic and classical guitars, and has since been re-launched. Completing something of a complicated circle, Martin Guitars' UK distributor, Westside Distribution, is now importing Sigma Guitars into the UK, and they're currently causing a big splash among acoustic guitarists - not to mention making a big impact on this gallery.
When pitted against a range of similar and more expensive dreadnoughts, the DR-28 performs remarkably well. Tone is obviously a subjective issue but we'd suggest that you'd struggle to find a 'better sounding' dreadnought at this price point.
"A superbly well-built dreadnought, bursting with tone and representing excellent value for money."
An all-mahogany gem of a guitar, the concert sized M-120 is a great looking, great playing acoustic that is the perfect partner for folk pickers or singing strummers.
An affordable Guild with a compact body and small neck, it sounds as good as it looks - and it looks good enough to eat. Double thumbs up from us for this little beaut...
Yamaha's LL series is home to one of its most played and respected acoustics, the LL6.
It's a tasty little number, what with the spruce top, gold hardware and general air of class, with a modified dreadnought shape to help it stand out from the crowd.
It's hovering at the top end of our budget price point - closer to £500 than £150 - but even costing that much, the LL6 is a snip. A guitar for life with a price for 2013 - we'll drink to that.
It never ceases to amaze us just how high the quality of entry level acoustics is nowadays. Fender's CD-60 is a case in point, an enduring budget guitar - street prices rarely stray above the £100/$230 - with quality to burn.
It's guitars like this - playable, pretty (it's available in a bunch of finishes, and there's even an all-mahogany version on the market now) and great fun to play - that are the foundation of life-long love affairs with the instrument.
It's no real surprise that it's one of Fender's best selling acoustics. It's so well put together, and priced so competitively, that the CD-60 basically sells itself. If you're thinking of dipping a toe in acoustic waters, you could do a lot worse than starting your unplugged strumming with one of these...
It's got the looks, and considering it's a fraction of the cost of a Gibson Hummingbird, Epi's affordable version has got the tones too.
If you're looking for a bit of that iconic Gibbo mojo but can't stretch to the several thousand pounds said mojo costs, then Epiphone's Hummingbird is an attractive viable alternative.
A great player, with plenty of personality and an admirable attention to the details that have made the Hummingbird an institution among players the world over, we'd be willing to wager that should you find one of these in your hands you'll struggle to put it down.
The F310 has been proving that affordable guitars can do the business for donkey's years now.
A spruce topped dynamo that punches way about its weight, it's perfect for smaller hands with a slim neck that beginners won't struggle to get to grips with and is built like a tank.
Tonally bright as a button and capable of surprising projection, it's capable of accompanying guitarists on a budget from bedrooms to open mics and beyond.
If you aren't aware of Sigma, you need to become acquainted with the brand, and quick. The narrow-waisted S000M-15 looks, at first glance, like the plainest of Janes, but in fact, its a player's guitar of the finest calibre.
Spend a little time, with it, and the guitar begins to exude its own special beauty. Should your tastes be for smaller-bodied guitars, or you describe yourself as more picker than strummer, the S000-15 will fit such needs admirably.
"Given its remit, as an instrument providing a certain style and sound within a competitive market at perhaps the most aggressive price point, the S000M-15 not only hits the bullseye, but splits the arrow down the centre with the next shot."
BUY: Sigma S000M-15 currently available from:
Martin Little Martin LX1
It's no surprise that this plucky little Martin is so high in the list - after all, you might as well rename this guitar the Ed Sheeran.
The ginger fury (as literally nobody calls him) has made the LX1 his own, playing the travel sized acoustic throughout his rise to fame, so it surprised no one when Martin awarded Ed his own signature model (check out our review of below).
And really, it's a lot of guitar in a tiny package. Spruce topped, with Martin HPL (that's high pressure laminate, abbreviation fans) back and sides, it projects beautifully and has a wonderfully playable neck.
If you don't mind people asking why you're playing a child's guitar, the LX1 is well worth checking out.
"Ed Sheeran's Lil' Martin is the perfect guitar to bring out the inner troubadour in us all. Superb on all counts."
LAG Tramontane T100D
French maker Lag has been producing guitars for over 25 years, but it was only in 2005 that the company introduced its first acoustics and the popular Tramontane range three years later, in 2008.
As dreadnoughts go, this is a bit of a belter. It's loud, quick on the attack and packs a decidedly healthy dollop of warmth-infused bottom end without muddying the overall delivery. The build quality and detailing are excellent considering the keen price; it looks expensively stylish and sounds the business.
"A hearty welcome to the ranks of affordable, eager-to-please dreadnoughts."
Vintage VE2000GG Gordon Giltrap Signature Model
The VE2000GG is a curious looking guitar. Fans and followers of Giltrap will be familiar with its unusual shape, but first time viewers are struck by the sweeping lines and ultra-tight waist. In essence, somewhere between a Grand Auditorium and an 000; the upper bout more 000, the lower bout more Grand Auditorium.
It's not a loud guitar, particularly when compared to similar priced folk and OM shaped competitors, but what it lacks volume it makes up for in character. Rob Armstrong's unique body design creates a warm, sweet tone which bridges the gap between the rich, fullness and clout of a larger bodied guitar with the bright, sweet, clarity of a smaller body.
"A visually-unique electro suitable for collectors and acoustic enthusiasts alike."
We are professional reviewers. We must not allow ourselves to be blinded by superficial factors, such as the glorious tobacco finish that evokes pre-war juke-joints, or psychological ones, like the stamp of renowned Chicago gear god Washburn on the headstock. Also, we must stop drooling.
Let our ears be the judge: the WD7S is big, bold and boomy, like the sound a 'classic' dreadnought makes in your head. When you're strumming with a pick, the sound is crystal and authoritative without being abrasive, and when you apply fingers, the output softens up in convincing fashion, bringing in a really mellow warmth that revitalises riffs and implies this model is pretty expensive - which, of course, it isn't...
"When it comes to big performance on a tight budget, this workhorse from the Windy City comes up trumps."
BUY: Washburn WD7S currently available from:
Faith Eclipse Mercury
The Eclipse Mercury is small in stature, but it has shoulders broad enough to support all your hopes and dreams. A glossy parlour-sized electro, packed full of bells and whistles, and with some seductive curves, this is an awful lot of guitar in a pint-sized footprint.
The attention to detail here is impressive, and there are plenty of details to get right, from the flawless high-gloss finish to the binding, well-suited abalone rosette and mother-of-pearl inlay at the 12th fret.
"It seems Faith gave the Eclipse Mercury sophisticated looks to reflect the first-rate technology it hides under the hood. It's a combination with all sorts of potential, and makes the Eclipse Mercury a versatile and exciting tool in the armoury of even the most technophobic guitarist."