9 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars Under $300 (Budget Picks)
A $300 budget might seem low, especially for a guitar with built-in electronics. But if you know where to look, there are some incredible bargains to be had.
The good news for you? We know where to look.
We’ve tracked down 9 top guitars with great style, big sound, and an itty-bitty price tag. Keep reading for all the details.
With a traditional dreadnought shape and classic tonewood combination, the Ibanez PF15ECE is the platonic ideal of the acoustic-electric. Made for the stage, this guitar has fantastic sound quality, a high-gloss finish that’s begging for the spotlight, and the same set of inbuilt electronics found on more expensive models.
The 9 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars Under $300 in 2020
A small budget makes it difficult, but not impossible, to find a quality guitar. It just takes a bit of extra work, and lucky for you, we’ve done that work. Here are our favorite nine inexpensive guitars that don’t sound cheap.
Ibanez’s PF15ECE is a classic acoustic guitar in every respect, from its traditional dreadnought shape to its well-balanced tonewoods.
As with every model in the Performance Series, Ibanez designed this one for maximum sound quality at a minimum price.
We’re so impressed with what they achieved that we’re naming it our pick for the best acoustic-electric guitar under $300 this year.
It’s rare to find an inexpensive guitar that can still hold its own in a band, but this one fits the bill. The dreadnought body style gives it excellent projection and serious volume, even when played acoustically, but it’s still comfortably playable for an average-sized guitarist.
The spruce top and sapele back and sides are laminate, which is no surprise at this price point. But you’ll find that the sound quality is still high thanks to fine craftsmanship. The spruce top gives it a lively tone, while the sapele adds a darker, warmer character that keeps the balance.
The Performance Series name suggests this guitar was made for the stage, and its high-gloss natural finish certainly looks the part.
But looks are only half the battle.
How does it sound plugged in? Surprisingly great.
The inbuilt electronics are the same ones found on more expensive models, and they definitely deliver above and beyond what you’d expect from a discount guitar. The under-saddle pickup and AEQ2T preamp give a naturally amplified sound, even if you crank it up to 11.
Who was it made for? This is a classic acoustic, both in design and materials, so it’s for anyone after that traditional sound. But its place in the Performance Series makes it clear that its true destiny is to put on a show.
No round-up of budget guitars would be complete without a Yamaha or two. Their bread and butter makes affordable guitars that don’t sound cheap, a feat they pull off time and again, thanks to the experience gained over their long history (1). The APX600, our pick for runner up, is one of the best.
Don’t let that silver medal throw you off, though. This guitar is every bit as high quality as our favorite Ibanez.
The main difference is the unique APX thinline body shape. Without the dreadnought’s depth, this guitar won’t have quite the same bassline power as the Ibanez. However, smaller players and fingerstylists will probably prefer this model. The thin body is more comfortable to play, and the cutaway allows easy access to the upper frets.
The laminated spruce top yields a crisp and resonant tone, while the back and sides are a denser tonewood that adds depth and warmth. The exact tonewood can vary, as Yamaha opts for whatever local wood can be sustainably sourced, a win for the environment. The nato neck’s slim tapered shape adds to this guitar’s playability, as does the smooth and fast rosewood fingerboard.
Worried about getting enough projection from that slender APX body?
You’ll be pleased to find some quality electronics built in. The APX600 is kitted with Yamaha’s System 65A preamp piezo pickup, which gives a solid amplified tone, and the onboard tuner ensures that tone is exactly the right one.
Who was this made for? With its comfortably designed thinline body and sleek cutaway, this guitar is perfect for smaller players and fingerstylists. We think it would make a great starter acoustic-electric for a young player forming their first band.
What’s this, another Yamaha? As I said, Yamaha has built its reputation on INEXPENSIVE acoustic guitars that punch above their weight when it comes to sound.
Lucky for you, here’s another one that fits the mold. The FX370C may be the cheapest on our list, but boy, does it have a voice!
The spruce top gives it a bright and punchy upper register, and the back and sides of nato, a hardwood a lot like mahogany, add richness and depth. The solid nato neck has a nice sturdy feel, while being slim and easy to handle, and it’s topped with a silky smooth rosewood fretboard.
It has a classic dreadnought body, so you can count on impressive volume and projection. But if you want an even bigger presence, you can turn to the built-in Yamaha electronics, including a System 58 1-way preamp with 3-band EQ and an under-saddle piezo pickup.
You’d never know this was a budget guitar by looking at it, thanks to a few fancy details. Check out that tortoiseshell pickguard and the die-cast chrome tuners.
Plus there’s the shiny high-gloss finish that looks especially great on stage.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for bargain hunters who appreciate value for money. Do you like scouring yard sales for that hidden gem? Do you get a little thrill when you know you’ve gotten more than your money’s worth? Then you’re in for a big thrill when you pick up this guitar.
The tagline for Alvarez’s Regent Series is “The Entry Level Guitar Redefined.” Sure, that sounds like something an ad man was overpaid to dream up. But in this case, it also happens to be true.
Over 90% of new guitarists quit within the first year, and Alvarez wanted to do something about it (2). Enter the Regent Series, guitars as comfortable and affordable as they are great sounding.
About the sound.
The dreadnought body shape means you’re getting plenty of projection and volume from this guitar, even without an amp. The spruce top with mahogany back and sides is a classic combination that guarantees a rich and balanced sound, whether strummed or played fingerstyle. And when you want to amp it up, the RD26CESB is equipped with Alvarez’s popular SYS250 pickup system.
Like the pricier Alvarez acoustic guitars, this one has their patented bi-level rosewood bridge. That means you’re getting incredible intonation and sustain for a low-cost guitar (3).
So we’ve confirmed that the sound quality is there. What about that promised comfort?
Just look at that satin-finish solid mahogany neck. Its slim and low profile design is perfect for fast play but wide enough for complex fingerstyling. There’s also a cutaway for easy access to the higher frets.
It’s no slouch in the looks department either, with a Sunburst Gloss finish, ivory binding, and chrome tuners. And to keep that finish pristine, it ships with a deluxe padded gig bag.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for the novice guitarist, with a versatile design that’s perfect for a new player who’s still experimenting with their style. It sounds great and feels comfortable, whether you’re rocking out or bluegrass picking.
As a country music lover myself, I’ve always loved the jumbo guitar’s big, bold sound. But jumbos can be unwieldy, especially for smaller players. That’s where Washburn’s EA15 mini jumbo comes in.
The mini jumbo body manages to capture a bigger instrument’s punchy sound in a decidedly comfortable and playable guitar. How? The key is in the build quality, mainly Washburn’s quarter-sawn solid Sitka spruce bracing, enhancing the projection to give you sound power in spades.
Adding to the guitar’s comfortable playability, there’s a Florentine cutaway for easy access to the upper frets and a slender mahogany neck with ultra-smooth fretboard (4).
Part of what has made Washburn so successful is that they’ve never lost sight of their roots, which is why their acoustic instruments are so well respected in the bluegrass world.
The best way to respect the American-Country-roots of a guitar manufacturer is to choose traditional materials. Washburn uses flame maple for the topwood and catalpa for the back and sides.
Not only will you get a wide tonal range, but the flame maple makes for a gorgeous guitar, which is enhanced by a transparent finish and faux-abalone rosette.
When you want to plug in, the EA15 is equipped with Washburn’s proprietary EQ4-T pickup system. It includes a built-in tuner and a number of tone controls for perfectly shaping your sound.
A notch filter is great for avoiding unwanted feedback.
Who was it made for? This guitar excels at genres like rock and country that favor aggressive flat-picking and heavy strumming. If you’re a smaller guitarist who loves the sound of a jumbo but not the feel, you’ll be thrilled with this design.
Are you a born performer? Then regardless of budget, you need acoustic-electric guitar where the electronics are more than an afterthought. You and your audience deserve the best, and distortion or feedback is unacceptable.
That’s where this peppy little Epiphone comes in.
Actually, the only little thing about it is its price. It’s a full-sized dreadnought with impressive volume and a powerful bass.
But its best feature is the high-end Shadow electronics that really let you crank up the volume. There’s a Nanoflex under-saddle pickup and a Performer Tuner preamp. You can control volume as well as bass and treble EQ, so you can shape your tone on stage. There’s a phase switch to avoid feedback, and the built-in tuner means you’re always stage-ready.
For tonewoods, it’s the ever-popular spruce top with mahogany back and sides. Expect well-articulated highs, warm midtones, and rich lows that are powerful but never boomy. The D-shaped SlimTaper mahogany neck is sturdy and incredibly comfortable to play, while the cutaway provides easy access to the upper frets.
With a tortoiseshell pickguard, vintage-style “E” logo, and a set of premium die-cast chrome tuners, the AJ-210CE sports a classic look. It comes with a hard case, a rare inclusion at this price, that’s perfect for schlepping between gigs.
Who was it made for? With inbuilt electronics that exceed expectations at this price and the inclusion of a hardshell case, it’s clear that this guitar is for gigging. The spruce and mahogany tonewoods sound great played acoustically, but even better cranked up in front of a roaring crowd.
Ibanez isn’t exactly a big name in classical guitars. I’ll admit I was surprised to discover this model and even more surprised by how great it is. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been since Ibanez actually began as a classical guitar importer (5).
That expertise is obvious in the GA35TCE.
Many classical guitars feature a cedar top, but the spruce top on this one gives it a brighter and livelier sound. This is balanced by the mahogany back and sides. We can all agree they add plenty of warmth and some power to the low end. The thinline cutaway body style is super comfortable, allowing the player to get up close and personal with the strings.
You’d never guess this guitar’s low price from its stunning good looks, including a dark violin sunburst with a high-gloss finish and a traditional mosaic rosette. The rosewood fretboard sports offset abalone dot inlays, and the headstock is adorned with gold tuners.
If you want to plug in, you can turn to Ibanez’s proprietary AEQ210T preamp and under-saddle pickup. The pairing produces an authentic, amplified sound that stays true to the spirit of the classical guitar.
Who was this made for? This guitar is for the classical guitarist on a budget who still wants the flexibility of an acoustic-electric. Smaller players will love its comfortable thinline cutaway design, and everyone will appreciate its gorgeous style.
Here’s a free tip for you. If you’re looking for a great guitar for travel, a company literally named Traveler Guitars is always a good bet.
They set out to reimagine the travel guitar. Instead of going the standard route and just shrinking a regular guitar, Traveler wanted to make a compact guitar that could fit in an airplane’s overhead bin and still plays like a full-size guitar.
And they succeeded. Ta-daa!
That’s right, this 28” long, 3 pound guitar actually has a full scale! And a detachable lap rest means it sits on your lap like a regular guitar too.
The big innovation is their patented in-body tuner design. Essentially, the body and the headstock of this guitar are one and the same (6). The entire thing is crafted from a single piece of solid maple.
Of course, without a hollow resonating box, this guitar isn’t meant to be played acoustically. However, its near-silent voice might be a good thing if you want to whip it out in the airport for a quick practice session. But plug it in using the Shadow piezo pickup, and you’re rockstar ready.
Who was this made for? This is for the frequent traveler who wants a compact guitar with a full-size feel. You won’t be pulling this one out to strum around the campfire, but it’s a great way to keep your skills from getting rusty when you’re on the move.
Okay, maybe that Traveler guitar is more unique. But for a guitar that can still be played acoustically, the Michael Kelly Forte Port is about as unusual as it gets.
Of course, we’re not going to recommend a terrible guitar just because it looks odd. In fact, this guitar’s innovative design came about to improve its sound. And it worked; this is a fantastic sounding instrument, especially at this price.
For starters, the soundboard is SOLID spruce. Yes, you read that right. A budget guitar with a solid spruce top. That alone warrants it a place on this list.
But what’s truly special here is the soundhole placement. The Forte Port has two soundholes, one on the front and a second on the guitar’s top side. The idea is to bring a new area of the soundboard to life, between the neck and the bridge. For you, that means better resonance and better sound, along with a very cool-looking guitar.
The enhanced resonance works in concert with the bridge-mounted Fishman piezo for an even richer sound on electro-acoustic models like this one.
Who was it made for? The Forte Port is for the modern player who’s willing to try an unconventional guitar if it means better sound quality at a better price. Sure, traditionalists might scoff at the unusual design, but they’re overlooking this guitar at their own peril.
How to Choose the Best Acoustic-Electric Guitar Under $300
There are so many budget acoustic guitars on the market nowadays it can feel intimidating, especially if you’re a new player.
Don’t be overwhelmed. This buyer’s guide is here to help. Keep reading for everything you need to know to choose the best acoustic guitar under $300.
What do you need from your guitar?
There are a few different reasons why you might be looking for a low-cost guitar, and your reason can help narrow your search.
Maybe you’re an advanced player looking for a back-up instrument, something to leave around the house in case friends stop by for a quick jam session. If that’s your jam (no pun intended), something with a classic look at sound will best mimic your higher-end guitars. Think dreadnought shape and spruce top.
If you’re a beginner looking for your first electro-acoustic guitar, consider a small-body or thinline guitar, especially one with a slender neck.
Smaller guitars are ultra-comfortable, which is great for keeping new players from getting discouraged by aches and pains.
Travel is another great reason to pick up a cheaper acoustic-electric guitar. Traveling with a full-size guitar is unwieldy, and it makes your guitar way more susceptible to damage, not what you want for your super-fancy Gibson. The best travel guitars are compact, light, and durable.
Find a body style that suits your needs.
First of all, it’s essential to buy a guitar you can comfortably play. Otherwise, it’s inevitably going to get tossed aside. This is especially true for beginners. Just because your 6-year-old is begging for a jumbo guitar doesn’t mean you should buy one.
Fortunately, there are many guitar body styles on the market, so every player can find one that meets their needs, both for comfort and sound. Well, to be honest, getting that jumbo sound from a guitar that fits your 6-year-old could be tricky, but that’s where the amplifier comes in, right?
If you’re an average-size adult, most guitar body styles will be comfortable. Lucky you! Smaller players and children should be more discerning and consider a concert, parlor, ¾-dreadnought, or thinline style.
The neck profile is also worth a thought. Guitarists with small hands will be much happier playing a slender, low-profile neck (7).
If you like to play the upper frets, look for a body with a cutout providing easier access. Though some players worry that a cutaway interferes with projection, experts agree the effect on sound quality is negligible, especially in a cheaper guitar.
You should also align your guitar’s body style with the type of music you like to play. Believe it or not, different guitars are better for different styles of music, and I don’t just mean electric or acoustic guitars. Even different acoustic guitar body shapes are preferred for certain genres.
- For classical music, get a nylon-string classical guitar (duh).
- For folk, rock, or country, it’s hard to beat a big old dreadnought or jumbo.
- For fingerstyle, consider a small-body guitar with a cutaway.
Count on laminate tonewoods.
For a guitar below $300, you’ll likely find laminate rather than solid tonewoods. However, there are rare and exciting exceptions. True, laminates don’t resonate quite as well as their solid wood counterparts, but a new guitarist is highly unlikely to notice the difference (8).
Fortunately, quality manufacturing can go a long way in providing a guitar excellent sound quality, regardless of tonewoods. That’s why a good bet in this price range top opts for the entry-level models of brands with many years of experience.
Even if these lower-end models lack the exotic tonewoods and fancy hardware of the pricier instruments, they still benefit from years of design and engineering expertise.
Unlike solid top guitars, laminates don’t improve with age. I hate to break it to you, but your $300 acoustic-electric is unlikely to appreciate in value. However, laminate guitars can have better longevity than wood because they are less susceptible to warping and cracking when faced with temperature and humidity changes. For travelers, especially, this can be a handy feature.
If you’re set on a solid wood guitar, we’ve reviewed some amazing electro-acoustics on the market for all kinds of budgets. If you only want to spend a little more, we’ve also rounded up some great options if your budget is under $500, almost all of which have solid soundboards.
What type of tonewood should you choose?
That comes down to your sound preferences and the style of music you like to play.
In this price range, spruce is going to be far and away the most popular topwood, usually paired with a denser wood for the sides and back. The most common choices include mahogany, nato, and sapele, all of which lend a similar warm tone.
This combination is popular because it gives a nicely balanced sound that’s suitable for all types of music. The high notes are bright and crisp, the midrange is warm and rich, and the bass has some real power.
Which electronics are right for you?
If you’re in the market for an acoustic-electric guitar, you’re probably interested in performing or recording. But how much thought do you really need to put into your guitar’s electronics? Couldn’t you save money by just propping a mic in front of your acoustic?
In quiet situations, a mic can be a good option. And if you want to try it, we’ve rounded up some great acoustic guitars to choose from. But if you’re performing in a band, the mic will also pick up other instruments and noises, and the audience will miss out on that rockin’ solo you just pulled off. Instead, get a guitar with a pickup (9).
In most cases, guitar pickups are a more convenient option, as they allow you to move around, they provide more volume before feedback, and they isolate your guitar’s sound from other instruments.
Basically, the pickup converts the sound vibrations from your guitar into an electronic signal that’s sent to your amp. If you’re really keen on performing, look for a guitar that also includes a preamp. Along with volume, preamps usually have controls to adjust your guitar’s tone and filters for removing feedback.
Many acoustic-electric guitars also include an onboard tuner, which is incredibly convenient for beginners without a lot of tuning experience.
In short, yes, expensive guitars are technically better. They’re made from better materials and have a richer, more resonant sound. That said, they aren’t better for everyone. For example, a beginner would be well served to buy a less expensive guitar and putting the extra money towards lessons.
The best guitar for a beginner is one that suits the style of music they enjoy and is fun and comfortable to play. The most important thing for beginners is that they have the desire to keep playing. The rest will follow.
A pickup is a simple transducer that converts your guitar’s acoustic sound waves into an electric signal that can be conveyed to an amp. A preamp’s main job is to increase the strength of that signal, but many also have additional controls so you can adjust volume and shape your guitar’s tone.
- Gill, C. (2017, January 12). Looking Back on 50 Years of Yamaha Guitars. Retrieved from https://www.guitarworld.com/gear/looking-back-50-years-yamaha-guitars
- Constine, J. (2015, September 10). Fender Goes Digital So You Don’t Quit Guitar. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2015/09/10/software-is-eating-rocknroll/
- Beattie, S. (2019, April 16). Why We Love Alvarez Acoustic Guitars. Retrieved from https://blog.andertons.co.uk/industry/why-we-love-alvarez-acoustic-guitars
- Hodgson, P. (September 22). The Story of Washburn Guitars. Retrieved from http://www.mixdownmag.com.au/story-washburn-guitars
- Brill, J.M. (2015, November 2). A Brief History of Ibanez Guitars: From Importer to Industry Leader. Retrieved from https://reverb.com/ca/news/a-brief-history-of-ibanez-guitars?locale=en-CA
- Brunson, M. (2017, March 23). Headless Guitars: Who Makes Them and Why. Retrieved from https://reverb.com/news/headless-guitars-who-makes-them-and-why
- Owens, J. (n.d.). C-V-U? Which Neck Shape is For You? Retrieved from https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/c-u-v-which-neck-shape-is-for-you
- Tyler, M. (2017, January 24). Laminate vs. Solid Wood Acoustic Guitars. Retrieved from https://reverb.com/ca/news/a-breakdown-of-laminate-vs-solid-wood-acoustic-guitars?locale=en-CA
- Young, D. (2018, June 26). Get Heard: A Guide to Acoustic Guitar Pickups and Amplifications. Retrieved from https://acousticguitar.com/get-heard-a-guide-to-acoustic-guitar-pickups-and-amplification/