30 of the best mid-range acoustic guitars
21st Nov 2012 | 09:30
Best mid-range acoustic guitars
So, you want to buy an acoustic guitar? We've plucked the best mid-range guitars we've reviewed over the last three years to show you the very best of what's out there.
We've already looked at the best budget acoustic guitars, and now we're moving on to the mid-priced - that's instruments with suggest retails prices of between £500 (that's around $790) and £1000 ($1590). Some official SRPs will have gone up slightly since the time of review, but many in-store/web prices from retailers will be lower.
How did we choose these guitars?
Every guitar in this guide has been reviewed within the last three years and has gained a minimum of a 4.5 star rating. That means we feel their build quality, sound, playability and value for money are not in question at their relative price points.
Yamaha's Compass Series CPXs, first unveiled in 1999, have undergone periodical revamps over the years. The CPX700II keeps the standard high.
Looking great in its tint-finish option, it's an easy-handling general-purpose electro and, with some user familiarisation, its ART system can do a fine job.
"This handsome mini-jumbo ticks nearly all the right boxes."
Using Martin's method of size classification, Vintage's 14-inch-wide V1800N is strictly speaking a 00, as opposed to a true parlour. But the guitar's slender, svelte spruce/rosewood lines have more in common with the latter, especially given the inclusion of a 12-fret slot-head neck.
It's warm voice is probably helped by the rosewood back and sides. While this tonal character may be something of a disadvantage for earthy blues workouts, it's a distinct asset if you're looking for sonic versatility from a small-bodied instrument.
The V1800N goes beyond the often one-dimensional limitations of many a parlour guitar, and has the ability to compete in folk-size realms.
"Vintage turns a vintage parlour trick with aplomb."
The entry-level X Series dreadnought went electro with the arrival of Martin's DX1KAE.
The clever stratabond neck, solid spruce top and Koa pattern High Pressure Laminate (HPL) back and sides combine to produce a guitar capable of some wonderful acoustic tones, but without the prohibitive price of an all-solid wood model.
"A generous upgrade that makes Martin’s X even more of a snip, with excellent sounds."
Proof that Yamaha sure knows how to build a fine and affordable quality dreadnought electro.
While all-solid A Series models, such as the AC3R, have a slightly deeper low-end and a shade more resonance, the A1M sacrifices little acoustically. It packs a decent dread punch, and the highs have that Yamaha trait of sustainful, sweet-edged balance and brightness.
"Whichever route you take, and whether you go for a dreadnought or a concert, you'll find these new A Series are well-sorted instruments, built to Yamaha's usual high standards, sounding good and playing well."
Blueridge's BG-140, from its Historic Series, pays a nod to Gibson's slope dreadnoughts - or Advanced Jumbos in Gibson-speak - which first appeared in the mid-'30s.
Taking its cue from the illustrious originals upon which it's based, the trim and finery on each displays excellent taste, and conveys the vintage aura intended.
With a sweetly bright tone, easy sustain and adequate low-end warmth, the delivery is encouragingly fluid and zestful, while volume and projection are up to standard for a guitar of this body size.
"A sunburst, all-solid J-45-style acoustic for this price? It's a winner."
Faith Eclipse Venus
An exciting new package of electronics loaded into what was already an impressive electro-acoustic.
"As a package, there are two ways of looking at this. Either take the view that the popular Eclipse range of electros now has the added bonus of a stereo preamp - at no extra cost - or focus on the stereo capabilities and let the crazy stuff begin! You choose."
The LLX6A marks the entry-point into Yamaha's prestigious LLX electro range. Models LLX26 and LLX36 represent the top-end of the series, with the LLX36 coming in at a whopping £3,779.
Despite its diminutive dreadnought style, the LLX6A projects much more than we expected. The bottom end is smooth and rich, having a soft appeal when attacked with the fingers. The mids are strident while the tight top end adds just enough sparkle and definition for that sweet yet precise Yamaha tone.
"The LLX6A marries rich tones and a boutique, old-school Gibson-ish vibe all at a very reasonable price. Definitely a class act."
Faith Neptune Trembesi
The Neptune small-jumbo body style, based on Patrick James Eggle's Saluda, has already figured in the Faith catalogue as one of the two high-end, PJE-made Carolina Series, but it's now being rolled out - in both non-cut and cutaway variants - to the brand's Indonesian-made Natural, HiGloss and Eclipse series.
It really is a very desirable, great-playing, well-priced guitar, built to a high standard. In a series context, the Trembesis look to be a significant addition to Faith's already strong, high-value brand image.
"New body style, new tonewood: it doesn't take a leap of, er, faith to enjoy this successful partnership."
This guitar sets a value challenge for other makers offering microphone-imaging technology.
The APX1000's maple element contributes to a bright, taut tone, and projection is fairly vigorous. The unplugged sound is up to par for the body size, with reasonable dynamics and sustain, a smooth, fluid tone, commendable poise and balance. It gives a degree of lower-end warmth and sweet-edged highs.
While powered up, with the new undersaddle pickup admirably taking care of the piezo side of things, the guitar's SRT aspects knock the socks off onboard real-mic blender systems.
"Yamaha has unequivocally moved things along nicely with the APX1000. It's a definite hit, not just as a fingerstyle-accommodating, stage all-rounder, but also for its high-quality powered versatility at a price that other manufacturers offering mic-imaging blender systems have yet to achieve."
How can you look a gift horse in the mouth? Time to flash the cash on this acoustic winner
As an acoustic of dreadnought/small-jumbo proportions, the L-02 definitely does not disappoint. Volume and projection are sturdy, cross-string definition is clear and balanced, and though the attack sounds slightly taut the follow-through dynamics are supple and responsive, as is the sustain.
"This L-02 is simply too good to pass up for the money, and perhaps survival of the fitter (and cheaper) models ought to prevail..."
An excellent all-round performer, offering unbeatable dreadnought value for money at this price point.
The body is constructed from solid sapele - thus most would describe it as an all-solid guitar - but the DRS1's neck is constructed from a multi-laminate named Stratabond. This design feature is striking, as the sweeping lines of the shaped laminate catch the eye.
As impressive as the DRS1 is visually, nothing prepares you for the boisterous, lively tone. With its snappy, tight bass the DRS1 pitches chords with depth and soul while a bright, clear top end adds sweetness to the timbre.
"In terms of sheer value for money, not least with that iconic name on the headstock, the DRS1 is going to take some beating."
The F-130CE's acoustic delivery is OM-like, with clear, precise articulation, an open-toned, sustainful blend of warmth and brightness and commendably good dynamics for the body size.
With evident cross-silking on the top, timber quality looks good and internal vertical reinforcing strips on the rims affirm the all-solid build. The high-gloss finish is immaculately buffed and the internals are pristine and tidy.
"The F-130CE is a very capable OM picker with a simple yet effective pickup system. If the rest of the series musters similar merits, continued success for the GADs is a cert."
Tanglewood's Heritage Series TW15H-E comes very well appointed. The gloss body is handsomely bound in walnut, adding coachlining around the rims and herringbone top purfling and rosette, and a similar centre strip down the back.
The sound is enjoyably punchy, combining deeply pinned lows and sunny highs with excellent dynamics and subtly forward mids that aid projection without over-hardening the sound. The Presys Blend preamp dishes ample gain, with responsive EQ ranges.
"This guitar greatly impresses for its enthusiastic dynamics and projection. The Presys Blend is very capable and adaptable, and it's an excellent instrument for fingerstyle courtesy of its wider neck and string spacing."
This grade-A concert picker features a solid spruce top, rosewood back and sides and emphasises the all-round high standard of Yamaha’s A-Series models.
The AC3R has a crisp, piano-like attack and sustain, with excellent mid-range clarity and separation, and a very pleasing picker-friendly articulation. If all this sounds rather un-rosewood-like, be assured that the requisite low-end richness is present and correct.
"The new A Series are well-sorted instruments, built to Yamaha's usual high standards, sounding good and playing well. In short, sound investments."
Classed as a grand auditorium, the Skylark is one of the more radical-looking acoustics we've seen in recent years. Like all the Avian guitars, it's made from all-solid wood (mahogany back and sides) with a fastidious attention to detail - it's a really crisp Taylor-esque build.
The shape and placement of the Skylark's soundhole directs the sound more immediately to the player's ear. We love this. If you want to play the guitar and have an audience's perspective on your sound, this will get you very close. It's an intimate experience, even a confidence boost if you need it. It also means, from the player's perspective, the guitar is tonally quite distinct.
"It might be radical, but the soundhole placement is a revelation. Great for modern fingerstyle players."
Yamaha LJ6 ARE
The new Chinese-built 6 L Series guitars represent an auspicious meeting of Yamaha's ultra-credible heritage with distinctly mid-level pricing.
Things improve with a heavier set of phosphor bronze strings, and that sweetness is all there, punching far above its price point with a tone that suits rhythm strumming very well.
"Almost unbelievable value for money for such a capable, quality electro-acoustic, especially in Sunburst!"
Yamaha LS16M ARE
There's no denying the increasing folk and Americana influences in the charts, both in the UK and across the Atlantic. All of which makes Yamaha's revamped-for-2014 L Series, including this small-body LS16M, potentially well timed.
The temptation is to compare the 16 with £1,000+ guitars, because that's the level of spec and detail you're getting, but of course the price is way lower than that. Simple, high quality and good sounding - it's extremely impressive.
"Highly capable, traditional-style small-body all-rounder, offering exceptional value for money."
Yamaha LL16D ARE
There's no denying the L Series family trait of impressive balance and poise. With the LL16D, old Gibsons come partially to mind; a mid-60s J-50, for example, isn't a guitar that would blow your socks off with strident power and clarity, but boy, they sound sweet and record beautifully.
The LL16D is the deluxe black sheep of the family, with its flashy looks, but just as you'll always need a smart black suit or a little black dress, so a quality flattop in matching dinner dress will never, ever go out of fashion.
"Poshed-up version of the more plain LL16 ARE, offering stunning spec for very sensible money."
Immediately, this guitar has an attractive, friendly air about it. The clean, bright Sitka spruce front is edged with herringbone purfling, which also surrounds the soundhole, giving a clean and summery feel.
Considering its comparatively small size, this OM has an impressively loud voice, with all the bright warm responsiveness of sister model the 511, plus a little extra width in the highs and lows: the result, we suspect, of the extra £40 rosewood back and sides.
"A clearly defined, well-made guitar that should develop the more you play it. The 505 invites you to have fun, too, and at this ticket price you won't mind passing it around."
Anderwood Style 1 M
A former fishing boat builder, UK-based manufacturer Ed Greenfield's own quest for a good quality, reasonably priced Weissenborn-style instrument lead him to the conclusion that he had no real choice but to build his own. This is the result...
Armed with a tonebar, then, a strum across the strings in open D major (that's an open E chord, down a tone) elicits a thick, full, highly resonant tonality that suggests the whole thing is working as one, just as it should.
"A great blend of quality and value on this no-frills Weissenborn-style lap guitar."
Pulling the MG75SCE from its case, it's clear that while it may be aping Taylor's best-selling body shape, this Alvarez is not only impressively spec'd for its relatively modest price, it's very cleanly put together, too.
This is a fine guitar for the money with one of the best electro systems we've come across. If you haven't checked it out already, then add Alvarez to your mid-priced electro 'must-try' list.
"A tidily made, good-sounding acoustic with an excellent pickup/preamp system. What's not to like?"
Larrivée started building steel-string guitars in 1971, and in recent years, especially for the UK and Europe, it's produced highly affordable instruments that cost a lot less than, say, Martin or Taylor's start-up solid-wood instruments.
Here, we have the most cost-effective so far: the P-03W is an all-solid-wood parlour and includes a rugged hard shell case, all for well under a grand.
"The P-03W is the perfect house, songwriting and recording guitar."
Larrivée's crisp, detailed build is superbly represented, especially with this thin natural satin finish: sloppy craft has nowhere to hide. The back and sides are African sapele, with a muted red colouration contrasted by the ultra-clean Canadian maple binding with a simple contrasting black purfling.
There's a very good balance, acoustically, a slightly mid- scooped dreadnought with a trimmer, tighter low-end and as a fingerpicker or hybrid-picker, you'll feel very at home, especially if you find the more electric-like neck sizes of numerous modern acoustic brands too cramped and skinny.
"Built to a price it may be, but this is a very serious, characterful electro that proves way more versatile than its wide-spaced fingerstyle design suggests."
Walden's B1 acoustic baritone is impressive. Despite its longer 679.5mm (26.75-inch) scale length, it employs Walden's grand auditorium body size, which feels businesslike rather than over-big.
It's all-satin-finished, and the solid spruce top is very clean, with simple rosewood binding and decoration, aside from the soundhole, which is placed on the upper shoulder and rimmed with an abalone-detailed rosette.
Beautifully made, affordable, and with a hugely evocative and balanced sound, this B1 is a no-brainer for the acoustic player wanting to experiment in lower-pitched voicings and tunings. Superb.
"One of these should be in the collection of any creative performing or recording acoustic player."
Consider instead the fact that this entire guitar - top, sides, back, the lot - is made of solid spruce and mahogany. Factor in the smaller touches, like the elegant abalone rosette and the understated binding (plus an admirably neat-and-tidy Indonesian build job), and there's nothing to suggest this model is a poor relation.
This model scores with its sunny-side-up jangle factor, which means that open chords - plus a skinny plectrum - truly shimmer and shine, while never negating the option to shift gears and deal out mellow, thumbed walking blues passages. This guitar sounds like the records, and by extension, would make an excellent studio guitar.
"As George Michael once put it, you gotta have Faith. And, in this instance, we'd definitely have to agree with him."