9 Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500
There is an overwhelming number of low-priced acoustic guitars on the market these days. So how is the discerning guitarist to choose?
How do you distinguish a great value guitar from a cheap build that sounds a bit like a glorified ukulele?
We took on that challenge. After extensive research and reviews, we’ve tracked down 9 best acoustic guitars under $500 that punch well above their price tag. $500 is no small sum of money to spend, so you want to make sure you love the guitar you end up with.
(if you have more than $500 to spend, visit our guide: best acoustic guitars)
The 9 Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500 in 2020
These days, a $500 budget shouldn’t be a barrier to owning a great guitar. There are plenty of bargain-priced acoustic guitars on the market that still offer incredible sound and build quality if you know where to look. Here are 9 top acoustic guitars under $500.
The Seagull S6 is our top pick for the best acoustic guitars under $500 this year, an honor it earned for many reasons. The most prominent of which is its remarkably high quality. Though priced like an entry-level model, this guitar doesn’t feel or play that way.
The reason for this is that Seagull’s low-end models receive much the same treatment as its higher-priced versions. For starters, while most low-cost guitars are factory-made in China or Mexico, the S6, like all Seagull guitars, is handmade in Canada (1).
We want to be able to follow the production, to make sure the quality of the guitar is stable.
This ensures premium craftsmanship, which equates with better sound and longevity.
The Seagull S6 is constructed of high-end Canadian tone woods, including a solid cedar top that has been pressure tested to guarantee quality. The result is a warm sound that will only improve with age. Its rich resonance and subtle twang make it particularly well suited to fingerstyle play. The sides and back are laminated Canadian cherry, which contributes an excellent tone and a beautiful aesthetic.
The S6’s Compensated Tusq saddle is another feature not typically found on guitars in this price range. It makes slight compensations for different strings to enhance the play-ability and tone of the guitar. These subtle touches are familiar to high-end guitarists but rare in entry-level guitars.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for the motivated novice guitarist, a beginner with enthusiasm to stick with it. If you’re just starting but willing to spend a little more money for a guitar that can grow with you, the S6 is an ideal pick.
Yamaha’s Folk Guitar (FG) line is much beloved thanks to its premium tonewoods, high-end craftsmanship, and value prices (2). The latest iteration is the FG830, and it offers a few significant upgrades over the FG730 that make it an even better bang for your buck.
Despite it being the cheapest acoustic guitar on our list, its classic dreadnought body style offers the perfect mix of COMFORT, PLAYABILITY, and PROJECTION.
Like the previous models, this folk guitar features a solid spruce top, a rarity at this price, and rosewood for the back and sides. The spruce gives this guitar and bright and punchy sound bound to improve with age as the wood opens up. The rosewood adds a powerful bottom end and warmth to the tone. The result is acoustic with crisp articulation that sounds great when plucked or strummed.
New this year is a redesigned scalloped bracing, which provides a stronger bass and better projection. The nato neck has also been slimmed down, with rounded edges added for a more comfortable, easy-playing feel.
Who was it made for? This guitar is perfect for newer guitarists who want to stick to a budget without making too many sacrifices in terms of sound quality. Though given the folk guitar moniker, there’s no reason acoustic guitarists of all stripes shouldn’t consider the FG830.
Taylor crafted the Academy Series guitars with beginners in mind, and with their years of guitar-making expertise, it’s no surprise that they found success. To appeal to the novice player, the Academy 10 was designed first and foremost for comfort and playability, with affordability coming in as a close second (3).
The special features defining this guitar include an extra-slim neck profile, a built-in armrest to soften the contact between the guitar and the player’s arm, a slightly shorter than average scale facilitating low action on the strings, and a set of light-gauge strings that are easier for inexperienced fingers. All told, these yield a guitar that’s remarkably fun and easy to play.
Just because this guitar was designed for beginners doesn’t mean Taylor skimped on the tonewoods. Having a great sounding guitar is another important part of staying motivated.
They’ve used solid Sitka spruce for the top, sapele for the back and sides, maple for the neck, and smooth ebony for the fretboard. Inside, you’ll find Taylor’s proprietary Academy Series bracing design. The result is a guitar with a rich and balanced tone from bass to treble and strong projection. It sounds equally great whether played fingerstyle, flat-picked, or strummed.
Who was this made for? Taylor made this guitar for a very specific reason: to remove the barriers that can keep new players from progressing. It is a comfortable, affordable, and great sounding guitar perfect for the novice player. Though its high-end tonewoods and quality craftsmanship may be just as appealing to the experienced player on a budget.
Related: Best acoustic guitar for beginners
Guild is one of America’s top acoustic guitar manufacturers, a reputation they’ve garnered thanks to their commitment to quality tonewoods and meticulous design (4). If you’re a lover of classic country and western music, with its heavy strumming and big projection, Guild’s DS-240 is going to blow you away, especially at such a low price point.
The solid Sitka spruce top is paired with mahogany for the back and sides. This is a classic tonewood combination for a good reason. It yields a clear and warm sound, with excellent articulation in the treble notes and a solid bass that’s powerful without being boomy, and thanks to the use of solid spruce, it’s a sound that will improve with age.
The comfortable C-shaped mahogany neck is coupled with a pau ferro fingerboard. Rarely found in this price range, pau ferro is an exotic tonewood known for its warm tone and snappy attack (5).
This guitar doesn’t just sound country; it looks the part, featuring a beautiful vintage design that looks great under stage lights or lit by only the glow of a campfire. The sloped shoulder shape is decidedly retro, and it’s paired with other nice touches like a mother-of-pearl rosette, Guild headstock logo, 1960s red tortoise shell pickguard, and a Vintage Sunburst finish.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for the lover of vintage instruments and old-school country and rock music. If you want the look and sound of a retro guitar with the reliability of a new instrument, check out the Guild DS-240. With its high-end tonewoods and construction, it will make a great vintage guitar itself in 30 more years.
If you crave an extra rich and full sound from your acoustic guitar, a 12-string model is guaranteed to please. But 12-string acoustics are notoriously difficult to tune thanks to the added stress placed on the neck. Seagull set out to solve that problem, and in doing so produced our favorite low-cost 12-string acoustic guitar on the market, the Coastline S12.
There are many features that make this guitar special, but the stand-out is the design of the maple neck, which offers superior stability regardless of tuning. This is paired with the straight string pull of the tapered headstock, which makes it easy to get in tune and stay in tune.
Of course, having a guitar that’s easy to tune is only useful if it sounds great, and the Seagull S12 delivers there as well. Seagull guitars are all handmade in Canada from fine tonewoods, in this case a solid cedar top and wild cherry back and sides. This unique combination produces a sound as powerful and complex as you would expect from a 12-string guitar, with considerable warmth and depth courtesy of the tonewoods.
Who was it made for? If you’ve always aspired to play a 12-string guitar but were too intimidated to take the plunge, this entry-level model is for you. It’s priced for the novice but crafted for the pro, and the easy-to-tune design will appeal to all parties.
Taylor is one of the world’s top acoustic guitar manufacturers, making it rare to find a Taylor for less than $500. That’s what makes the GS Mini Mahogany so unique.
This guitar is inexpensive because it is small so that it won’t offer the same projection and resonance as a full-sized Taylor, but don’t let that dissuade you. The use of premium tonewoods and world-class craftsmanship give this guitar an incredible sound. And it’s small size offers some advantages: it’s an excellent option for travel, smaller players, and children. So, take your kids traveling and teach them to play guitar with this precious little thing.
The Mini Mahogany has a solid mahogany top with a layered sapele body. Sapele is similar in tone to mahogany but less expensive and more environmentally sustainable, and its layered construction will make it more durable to the rigors of travel. The result is a vibrant, warm sounding guitar with a surprisingly powerful lower end despite its diminutive size.
Who was it made for? This mini guitar is for travelers, children, or anyone who wants an affordable way to bring home a Taylor guitar. Newer guitarists will enjoy its short scale and easy playability. More experienced guitarists will see its appeal as a second guitar for casual jamming.
Related: best acoustic guitars for travel
If you’ve spent any time researching acoustic guitars, Martin is a name you’ve inevitably encountered. And if you’re looking for a guitar under $500, perhaps you’ve dismissed them as being too high-end. But that would be a mistake as there is the best Martin guitar under $500.
The Martin LX1 Little Martin may be the smallest guitar Martin makes, but it’s no afterthought. It still features the fine craftsmanship and quality design for which the company is known. While it lacks the depth and projection of a full-sized dreadnought, this small guitar has a big sound, and it’s probably the most affordable way to experience that coveted Martin sound.
The solid Sitka spruce top and mahogany back and sides give this ¾-size dreadnought a classic acoustic sound, with bright, crisp highs and warm, resonant lows. With a slim neck and short 23” scale, this is a very playable guitar.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for everyone! It’s high-end craftsmanship, and excellent sound quality will appeal to experienced players. Just ask Ed Sheeran (6). And beginner players will appreciate its manageable size and easy-to-play nature.
When buying a guitar, it’s usually worth prioritizing great sound over fancy style. But what if you can have both? It turns out that you can, and you can have it for less than $500. I’m talking about the Washburn Bella Tono Elegante S24S, an acoustic guitar that looks and sounds far more expensive than it is.
The stunning sound comes from the tonewood pairing of a solid spruce top with pau ferro sides and back. Right away, the choice of pau ferro sets this guitar apart from others in its price range, as this exotic tonewood is typically reserved for pricier instruments. This is further enhanced with quarter sawn scalloped bracing, another pleasant surprise at this price.
The result is a guitar with impressive dynamic range. Expect crisp highs, clear mids, and rich and punchy lows.
It’s all well balanced in a gorgeous package that more than earns its Elegante moniker. The soundboard rosette and purfling both feature pearlescent abalone, as does the inlay motif which depicts a serene mountain scene. The nut and saddle are made of real bone, and the fretboard and bridge are smooth ebony.
Who was this guitar made for? This beautiful instrument was made for those who value appearances, but not so much that they’re willing to sacrifice sound quality. Make no mistake: this is a premium guitar first, an artwork second. With its high-end tonewoods and quarter sawn scalloped bracing, even experienced players will be impressed.
The Woodline is an incredibly versatile acoustic-electric with plenty to offer in terms of both sound and style. Its versatility qualifies it as the only acoustic-electric guitar on our list. The solid mahogany soundboard and layered mahogany body give this guitar a softer, warmer tone compared with spruce-topped guitars, with a strong mid-range and rich resonance.
It’s the single guitar on our list with the orchestra body style, which is a bit shallower and narrower than a typical dreadnought. The result is an easy-playing instrument that fits comfortably against the body, though it loses a little off the bottom end than the larger-body guitars. The cutaway design provides easy access to the upper frets.
This acoustic-electric features Fishman electronics, including a 301T preamp and built-in tuner. It gives a natural amplified sound, with crisp highs, a strong low end, and little buzzing or distortion, making it a solid choice for performance or recording.
Who was it made for? With its slender body, convenient cutaway, and rich mahogany sound, this is a guitar that fingerstyle players and singer-songwriters are bound to love. And for those who aspire to the stage, the onboard electronics make it performance-ready.
How to Choose the Best Acoustic Guitar Under $500
Within the last 30 years or so, modernized building techniques and new, more sustainable methods of harvesting wood have brought about an increase in the number of high quality, though ultimately inexpensive, acoustic guitars.
For the consumer, this is both a pro and a con. More options mean a better selection, but it can also feel overwhelming. And that’s where we come in. Here are our top tips for choosing best acoustic guitars under $500.
Don’t skimp on a quality topwood.
While a $500 budget might force you to make concessions in the build quality of your guitar, a high-end soundboard shouldn’t be one of them. True to its name, the soundboard plays a defining role in dictating your guitar’s sound, so this is not the place to skimp.
Look for a reliable topwood option in a premium tonewood, such as spruce, mahogany, or cedar. A solid top has more consistent density and grain, which provides better sustain and resonance. While the different tonewoods may offer different tonal qualities, solid wood typically offers a richer overall sound than laminates.
Not only will a solid wood soundboard sound great right out of the box, but it ensures your guitar’s sound will improve with age. Spending a bit more now on a quality topwood may save you money in the long run as you enjoy your guitar for years.
One exception is to be made for frequent travelers. If you’re looking to pick up an inexpensive guitar for travel, a laminate wood instrument is a great way to go. Laminate wood guitars are usually cheaper, and they respond better to the changes in climate that come with regular travel, so you’ll get more longevity.
The tonewoods making up the sides and back of an acoustic guitar are still important, but their role is more in sound projection than sound quality.
For this reason, manufacturers often save money by using laminated wood for the body of a guitar, and you can expect to see this in cheap acoustic guitars. You may also find less expensive or more environmentally sustainable woods employed in low-cost guitars, such as nato, okoume, and sapele. Luckily, it is the rare entry-level player with an ear that will note these concessions.
The effects of guitar body size and style are huge.
When it comes to an acoustic guitar, size matters both in terms of sound and price.
Acoustic guitars rely on their hollow bodies to amplify and project sound.
With a more significant body, you have a better projection, and a louder guitar. So when picking out the size of your guitar, take into account the style of music you want to play, the size of your own body, and your budget.
If you dream of hitting the stage and strumming out your favorite country tune, you’re going to need a large guitar. There’s just no substitute for the big sound of a dreadnought or a jumbo.
On the other hand, if you just want to jam with friends casually, consider a small-body acoustic instead, like a parlor or ¾-size dreadnought. These fun-size guitars are more comfortable to play and practical for travel. Small guitars are cheaper to manufacture, so you can opt for high-end tonewoods and specialty brands without breaking your budget.
Do you want to plug in?
If you’re an aspiring performer or dream of recording your music, you need a guitar equipped with electronics. Acoustic-electric guitars are typically a bit more expensive, so that a decent one will put you in the upper end of your budget. And keep in mind that you may need to purchase an amp as well.
However, they make up for their added cost with increased versatility. Acoustic-electrics can be plugged into an amplifier or soundboard, giving you the flexibility to manipulate, amplify, or record your sound. But they also sound great when unplugged, for strumming around a campfire with friends. It’s almost like two instruments in one.
If you’re just starting and unsure where you’ll take your music in the future, it’s also possible to buy the electronics separately and install them in an acoustic.
When buying a guitar, beginners should prioritize comfort and ease of play over sound quality and durability.
It is worth buying an expensive acoustic guitar if you’re an experienced player. Higher-end guitars do sound better for those with a trained ear, and their sound improves with age.
If your $500 budget does not constrain you, we have a list of the best acoustic guitars on the market.
You should own at least one guitar! But many advanced guitarists benefit from having dedicated guitars for performance, travel, casual play, or to keep in different tunings.
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- Swearingen, C. (2019, October 31). A Brief History Of Guild Guitars. Retrieved from https://vintageguitarmasters.com/guild-guitars/
- Duffy, M. (n.d.). What Is Pau Ferro? Retrieved from https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/what-is-pau-ferro
- Acoustic Guitar Magazine. (2014, October 23). Acoustic Guitar Sessions Presents Ed Sheeran [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRLXxyh-Geo
- 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