How to Choose an Acoustic Guitar

When you buy an acoustic guitar, you are making an investment in something that could give you good service for many years. It’s important that you know what you are doing so that you can make an educated decision. Some of the differences between guitars are plain to see, but some of them are more subtle. The following guide will help you to choose a guitar that suits your budget and needs.

How to choose an acoustic guitar

When you start looking to purchase an acoustic guitar, you should keep the following questions in mind:

– How much money are you willing to spend?

– What are you using the guitar for?

– What styles do you wish to play on your guitar?

General Considerations

These are some preliminary considerations that you must keep in mind when you are choosing your guitar – particularly if you are buying used:

  1. Damage or Bridge Separation – While scratches won’t affect the sound of your guitar, cracks and dents could be a real problem. Make sure to inspect the guitar from every direction for damage. Also, you want to see that the bridge is not separating from the front of the guitar. The bridge is the part of the guitar that anchors the strings on its face or front.
  2. A Straight neck – You need to make sure that the neck has no flaws in its shape. The neck may be warped or bent in some way.
  3. Fretboard – The frets should not hang over the fretboard. If you do end up buying a guitar with this issue, then a luthier can correct it by sanding it down.
  4. Action – The action refers to how close the strings are to the fretboard. If the strings are too far from the fretboard, then it can be difficult to press them down to the fretboard. If they are too close to it, then you might get a buzzing sound when you play the guitar.
  5. The size of the Neck – Different companies make different sizes of neck. Fingerstyle and classical players often use a wider neck.
  6. Intonation – Intonation also has to do with how a guitar keeps its tune. However, intonation refers to whether a guitar keeps its tune all the way up the fretboard. Sometimes a guitar will be in tune in one part of the fretboard but not at another.

Body Styles

The body styles for acoustic guitars that you can choose from are classic, dreadnought, and jumbo.

Classic – This style of body produces a medium sound projection and a good balance between hi, mid, and low frequencies. Therefore, this style is good for fingerpicking guitarists. It is also good for strumming. For this body style, you’ll need to use light gauge strings.

Dreadnought – This style of body will give you a rich bass response. The dreadnought also gives a bigger sound generally speaking. You should use medium gauge guitar strings for the best results.

Jumbo – This style of body will also produce a big sound. The shape of the guitar is like the shape of the classic body style. It is just a bigger guitar. Guitarists who want the shape of a classic guitar but want a bigger sound will select a jumbo guitar. If you are going to be wearing a strap to hold up your guitar, then this body style will be good for you. The jumbo may be uncomfortable for you if you try to play it sitting down.

Another option that you may choose is to have a cutaway on the body. A cutaway is a place on the body which is left open so that you can reach the frets at the end of the neck.


The wood that your guitar is made out of can dramatically affect its sound. Different types of wood vibrate in different ways.


The wood on the top of the guitar is called the tonewood. There are two ways that the top can be constructed:

Laminated Veneer Top – This is made from thin sheets of wood glued together. Cheap guitars are made in this way. They don’t produce the best sound.

Solid Top – This type is made out of a solid piece of wood. This feature will cost you some extra money. However, the difference in sound is well worth it.

Selecting the right wood for the top of the guitar is very important with respect to the sound of the guitar. The following are various types of wood that may be used:

– Sitka spruce
– Engelmann spruce
– Western red cedar
– Redwood
– Mahogany
– Koa

Backs and Sides

The wood used for the backs and sides also greatly affects the sound and tone of the guitar. The following are some possible selections:

– East Indian rosewood
– Brazilian rosewood
– Mahogany and koa
– Maple and walnut

The Neck

The woods that are mentioned above are also used for the guitar neck. A maple neck can add a bright tone to your guitar. Mahogany gives a warmer tone. Rosewood gives a richer midrange.

Full details of all of the differences of the various types of wood are outside the scope of this article, if this is your first guitar then the subtle differences are probably not worth worrying about.


If you will be playing with a band or performing for a crowd, then you may want to consider an acoustic-electric guitar. These guitars have pickups and a preamplifier. They can be plugged into an amplifier without altering the sound that is produced by the guitar.


Nylon strings give off a softer, mellow tone. They are used in classical and flamenco-style playing, as well as for some types of folk music. Steel strings are more common. They are used for rock, country, and pop music. Steel string acoustic guitars produce a louder, brighter tone.

12-String Acoustic Guitars

This variation is used by players who specialize in folk and blues music. The string pairs in the bass are tuned an octave apart. The treble strings are tuned in unison. This probably wouldn’t be the wisest choice for someone just beginning.

Budget Concerns

Acoustic guitars have a wide range of prices that they go for. You could even spend thousands of dollars. For that reason, you should establish a budget that is wise for you before you enter the guitar store. If you are just starting out, then you may not want to make such a great expenditure. Within reason go for the best you can afford. This matters less as you get up the price range. You’ll find quite a difference between a $100 and a $500 acoustic guitar. However, you won’t notice such a jump in quality and sound between $500 and $1000.

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Jason Barnham

Hi. I’m Jay, founder, author, and chief editor at The Vintage Guitarist. I've been playing guitar for nearly 40 years and I absolutely love owning and trying different guitars and related gear.