The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Top Acoustic-Electric Guitars
If you're trying to land a great acoustic-electric guitar without spending too much, $500 is a pretty good budget. You'll have some outstanding options, from brands like Seagull, Yamaha, Ovation, Ibanez and Fender. These are some of the most respected brands in the world, and they not only make high-end guitars for professionals, but moderately priced models for us working folks.
The point of this article is to help you figure out which acoustic-electric guitar is best of you, your budget and your needs. All I can do is offer recommendations, but after three decades of playing I have a pretty good idea of what's worth it, and what you ought to stay away from.
There are a lot of guitars in this price range, and it can be tough sorting through them all. Really, you have two issues to consider:
- The Guitar. You want a great acoustic guitar that sounds outstanding on its own. Here you're looking at everything you'd consider in a pure acoustic guitar, like tonewoods, craftsmanship and quality.
- The Electronics. This is where the guitar's pickups and preamp factor in. When it comes to onboard preamps for acoustic-electric guitars you want something that's easy to access, with flexible tone-shaping options.
So, I present the following suggestions from some of the top guitar builders. They'll get the job done for intermediate guitarists. Even veteran musicians on a budget will be impressed with their sound and specs.
If I were looking for a new acoustic-electric guitar myself, this is where I would start.
Top 10 Acoustic-Electric Guitars Under $500
Here is my list of the 10 best acoustic-electric guitars under $500:
- Yamaha FGX830C
- Epiphone EJ-200SCE
- Seagull Entourage QIT
- Ibanez AEW300
- Ovation Celebrity Elite CE44
- Epiphone Masterbilt DR-400MCE
- Martin X Series DXMAE
- Breedlove Pursuit Concert
- Fender CD140SCE
- D'Angelico Premier Gramercy
Remember, this is all based on my opinion. I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Be sure to check with the manufacturer websites for the latest info on their gear.
Read on to learn more about each guitar!
Yamaha is known for high-quality acoustic guitars, and guitars that are a great value for beginner and intermediate players. The FG series in particular has gotten a ton of praise over the years for high-quality and affordable prices. These guitars are very popular, and it's easy to see why.
If I were looking for an acoustic-electric guitar in this price range, the Yamaha FGX830C would be my top choice.This is an acoustic-electric model in the FG bloodline that comes in at a very affordable price, and it's an outstanding choice for intermediate guitar players. It features a solid Sitka spruce top, rosewood back and sides, nato neck and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. You can get it in Natural and Black finishes.
With Yamaha you know you're starting with a great acoustic, and the electronics just improve the package. This is Yamaha's System 66 Preamp, with volume, a 3-band EQ and an tuner.
You also might want to consider the FGX820C, an even more affordable acoustic-electric guitar similar to the FGX830.C
Hear the Yamaha FGX830C
Epiphone makes some excellent affordable guitars for intermediate players, and the EJ-200CE is no exception. This is a guitar with a legacy dating back over seven decades, with a classic look and sound. It’s also a little different that some of the other guitars in this review.
Maple is an interesting tonewood when it comes to acoustic guitars, and often takes a backseat to rosewood and mahogany. However, it produces a tight, articulate sound that works well with larger-bodied guitars. Having played a maple-bodied acoustic guitar for the better part of 25 years I can attest to that! A rosewood fingerboard and bridge round out the tonewood profile for the EJ-200CE.
The electronics are a pair of pickups, one at the bridge and one at the neck. The output from these pickups can be blended with the onboard Epiphone eSonic2 preamp, which also includes a handy tuner, EQ for each pickup and phase switch.
The Epi EJ-200CE features enough technology to get any modern guitarist through a gig, but the classic looks and sound of vintage guitar from days gone by. It’s a unique choice, and one that will surely get you noticed!
Learn More About the Epiphone EJ-200CE
Ibanez makes some great guitars, both acoustic and electric, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anything prettier than their Exotic Woods series. These instruments are a great way to make a statement when it comes to both look and sound. And, Ibanez quality is always top-notch when it comes to intermediate-level instruments.
Start with a good-looking single-cutaway body shape, with top, back and sides made from your choice woods like Ovangkol, Sapele, Zebrawood or Figured Ash. Each has a mahogany neck and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. The headstock veneer matches the body, and each guitar has a pretty fingerboard inlay at the 12th fret.
As you'd expect, each tonewood will bring a different sound to each guitar. Sapele has a deep, resonant tone similar to mahogany. Zebrawood and Ovangkol present a sweet, punchy sound, something like rosewood. Figured Ash will have a brighter sound. The choice is yours, and you're probably not going to decide between these guitars on looks alone.
Speaking of sound, the electronics are a Fishman pickup with Ibanez's AEQ-SP2 preamp. Preamp features even include an XLR out for hooking up straight to the mixing board.
These are some impressive guitars for the price, and possibly the prettiest in this review. But that's for you to decide!
Check Out Ibanez Exotic Wood Guitars
Seagull Entourage QIT
Seagull is an impressive guitar brand from the Great White North. It's tough to find guitars in this price range that aren't made in some far-off country, but the Seagull Entourage is Canadian born and bred. That's a big positive check mark in my book.
The Seagull Entourage QIT features Canadian wild cherry back and sides, with a select, pressure-tested solid spruce top and rosewood fingerboard and bridge. It also has an interesting headstock design that allows an even pull across all six strings for increased tuning stability. The guitar features Godin's QIT electronics.
The Entourage is a real bargain in the acoustic-electric guitar world. It's an outstanding choice of any intermediate guitarist, but certainly has the quality and sound to impress veteran guitar players.
Seagull Entourage Autumn Burst
Ovation Celebrity Elite CE44
Ovation guitars feature a unique design, namely a synthetic bowl replacing the traditional back and sides. Some people love them. Others, not so much. As for me, I lean more toward the love side. In fact, I played Ovation guitars during my brief foray in an acoustic duo, and the Celebrity Elite was my guitar of choice.
Ovation guitars feel something like a cross between an electric and an acoustic, and I personally liked that. As for sound, you won't get quite the texture, resonance and projection you might be used to when the guitar is unplugged. But Ovation makes up for that with some very useful preamp controls.
The Ovation Celebrity Elite features Ovation's Lyrachord mid-depth body and multi-sound-hole design. It has a solid spruce top, nato neck and rosewood fingerboard and bridge. For electronics, the CE44 utilizes Ovation's Slim Line pickup and OP-4BT preamp. Preamp controls feature a 3-band EQ, volume control and tuner.
More of the Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars Under $500
For my top five picks I wanted to present a nice cross section of different kinds of guitars for different player. However, there are a few more guitars I recommend checking out:
Epiphone Masterbilt DR-400MCE
Epiphone’s Masterbuilt guitars are a cut above their standard issue instruments, which are also pretty darned good. It has a dreadnought-style body with a solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, a mahogany neck and a FSC Certified “Blackwood” fingerboard.
Martin X Series DXMAE
I have Martin DX1AE and it is a great guitar. However, it will push you over your $500 budget. The DXMAE is a similar, more affordable instrument. It features a dreadnought-style body with a spruce patter HPL top, HPL back and sides, rust birch laminate neck and Richlite fingerboard.
Breedlove Pursuit Concert
I really like Breedlove guitars. The Concert Series features an elegant design intended for finger-style guitarists. The Pursuit Concert has a concert-shape body, solid cedar top, mahogany neck, back and sides, and a rosewood fingerboard.
This is a solid, affordable instrument, from one of the best guitar builders in the world. Fender’s CD Series is a great choice for serious beginners and intermediate players. It features a dreadnought single-cutaway body, solid spruce top, laminated ovangkol back and sides, a mahogany neck and a walnut fingerboard.
D'Angelico Premier Gramercy:
This is an absolutely beautiful single-cutaway, grand auditorium guitar, from a name that flies under the radar a bit. It features a solid Sitka spruce top, rosewood laminated back and sides, a mahogany neck and a Sonokeline fingerboard.
The Breedlove Pursuit Concert
Which Acoustic-Electric Guitar?
A few final words about choosing an affordable acoustic-electric guitar: One of the things that gives me pause when trying to pick out an acoustic-electric instrument under $500 is that the lower in price you go, the more the quality of the guitar itself will suffer, and least as compared to a pure acoustic guitar.
It only makes sense that if the preamp and electronics make up part of the cost, the guitar itself might not be quite as good as a pure acoustic for the same price. In theory, that only makes sense, right? Of course the reality of it comes down to individual guitars, made by individual guitar companies.
So, does this mean you're better off looking at a higher price point? Not necessarily. It just means you need to do your homework and know what you are getting. The guitars in this review are a good place to start.
Most importantly, it means you ought to make sure you buy your guitar from some place that has a good return policy, just in case you get a dud. Any negative issues I read about concerning these guitars had to do with quality control on individual guitars, not the design of the guitar model itself.
Otherwise, I feel confident in my recommendations here. These are all great guitars, from respected names in the guitar world. But, the decision is yours. Good luck with your search for the best acoustic-electric guitar under $500. I don't think you can go wrong with any of the instruments mentioned in this article.