Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500 2017
Acoustic Guitars on a Budget
If you are looking for a new acoustic guitar but only have $500 to spend you should know some of the best guitar builders in the world feature instruments that are well within your budget. Companies like Taylor, Martin, Washburn and Yamaha make some of the top-rated guitars in the industry, and you know you have a solid instrument if one of their logos is on your headstock.
You probably realize that acoustic guitars have a much different vibe than electrics. They’re more delicate, and more subtle. In many ways they are more natural, just like the wood they are built from. Without an amplifier to clutter things up, the music is more private, something between you and the guitar. Yes, acoustic guitars are different, and some of them are truly works of art.
The $400-$500 price range is a good place to start if you’re shopping for an acoustic that is affordable but good enough for gigging or recording. You want a guitar that is is fun to play and sounds amazing. Most of all, you want a guitar you are going to love for years to come.
In this article you’ll read about some of the best acoustic guitars from the top guitar brands on the planet. For each instrument you’ll discover what woods are used in their construction, and how tonewoods influence the sound of the guitar.
A new acoustic guitar is a serious investment, and a big decision. Make sure you choose wisely! Here are few guitars to consider.
Seagull S6 Original
My top recommendation here goes to the . Seagull is a guitar company that puts out some amazing, high-quality, made-in-Canada instruments. The Original series, and the S6, is the guitar that started it all. The S6 is an incredible guitar, not just for the price, but overall. It’s hard to imagine how Seagull is able to offer a hand-crafted, Canadian-made instrument for such a low cost, but we should probably just be happy they do! Seagull S6 Original
The S6 features a Cedar top, which is a bit warmer and presents more midrange that a typical spruce-top acoustic. The back and sides are of Canadian wild cherry laminate, great for projection and volume. The neck is maple with a rosewood fingerboard, and a rosewood bridge. Overall, the guitar has a very pleasing, crisp, midrange-focused sound.
You might notice the headstock has a taper design on Seagull guitars. By bringing the D and G strings closer to the center of the headstock (by narrowing it at the end) more of the string tension comes to the middle, thus improving tuning stability. Smart! Seagull guitars also feature “ergo cut” necks, so your guitar will be super-comfortable to play right from the factory.
Seagull guitars are among the best values in the acoustic guitar world, and after taking a hard look at the S6 it’s pretty obvious why!
Hear the S6 Original
Martin makes some of the best acoustic guitars in the world. However, their instruments, while worth every dime, are typically fairly expensive. But in recent years Martin has been reaching out to those of us with lighter wallets and producing some seriously good guitars at every reasonable prices.
One such instrument, and number two in my list, is the . This is a dreadnought-bodied guitar with outstanding projection and tone, and when I had a chance to demo one a little while back I was super impressed. Martin DX1AE
In fact I was so impressed, I went back and bought one. You can read my full hands-on review of the Martin DX1AE if you want to learn much more about this guitar. For now, here are the basics.
It features a solid Sitka spruce top, typical of the classic dreadnought tonewood profile, but from there things get a little interesting. The back and sides are an environmentally friendly HPL, or high-pressure laminate. I actually thought it was solid wood when I first started playing, and was pretty surprised when I checked the tag on the headstock.
Martin also uses Richlite for the bridge and fingerboard instead of rosewood. Alternative tonewoods and construction not only keep the cost of the instrument to a reasonable level, they also help protect our natural resources. That sounds great, but if this guitar didn’t sound amazing it would be a tough sell. Fortunately it does, so you can save the world and sound awesome while doing it.
I’ve seen varied costs listed for this guitar, but if you hunt around you ought to be able to find one for around your $500 budget. (I did.)
The only reason I didn't put the DX1AE first on my list is because it does have a Fishman preamp, technically making it an acoustic-electric guitar. However, while the guitar sounds fantastic through an acoustic guitar amp, the electronics are are almost unnoticeable.
Martin Guitars and Alternative Tonewoods
Taylor Big Baby
Taylor is among the most respected guitar brands in the world. Most of their instruments cost over a thousand dollars, and they are it. But, like Martin, they do give us a few affordable options worth consideration.
The Big Baby is slightly smaller than a standard-size dreadnought, 15/16 size according to Taylor. Like many Taylor guitars, it has a Sitka Spruce top which allows good volume and adds a punchiness to the tone. The back and sides are Sepele laminate, not solid wood.
This is part of the reason the Big Baby is so affordable. According to Taylor, this makes the guitar more resistant to humidity changes. That’s good news, but even better news is that the Big Baby sounds amazing despite this cost-saving measure.
Even though the Big Baby is a slightly smaller dreadnought, it still has plenty of volume and tone. The slightly arched back adds strength and makes it more comfortable to play. Taylor calls the Big Baby a travel-size guitar, but it’s very likely you won’t even notice the difference in size. It sure doesn’t sound like a travel guitar!
Hear the Big Baby
Yamaha L Series LL6
Yamaha is known for making quality musical instruments, especially acoustic guitars for beginners. In fact, even into the intermediate levels you find they give us some of the best instruments for the money.
They Yamaha “L” series is the top of their line, hand-crafted instruments made in Japan. The features a jumbo dreadnought-shaped body that will provide great volume and resonance. The Engelmann spruce top will add to the guitars projection. Engelmann is a very pretty, light-colored type of spruce. The LL6 is available in a natural finish, plus a darker tinted or a sunburst finish for a slight bump in price. Yamaha LL6
The back and sides are quality rosewood or mahogany, and the neck is 3-ply mahogany and rosewood. These warmer tonewoods will complement the spruce top, as well as the ebony fingerboard. Ebony tends to be a slightly brighter tonewood.
Looking at the way woods were chosen for this guitar, it’s obvious Yamaha had a certain sound in mind. Where many companies cut corners when it comes to woods, somehow Yamaha managed to use great materials and still keep the cost low.
Looking at the materials used in this guitar’s construction alone it is easy to see this instrument is a great value. With quality, solid woods all around, the Yamaha LL6 is a rarity in this price range. Add that in with excellent craftsmanship and sound and the LL6 makes the list of best acoustic guitars for quality, affordable acoustic guitars.
Yamaha L Series Acoustic Guitars
Washburn has been around for over 130 years, and they know a thing or two about making quality instruments. The is part of their Timber Ridge series. The “SW” at the end of this Washburn model stands for “solid wood” and that’s definably what you get with this guitar. WD160SW
No laminate parts here: The top is solid spruce, and the back, neck and sides are solid mahogany. This is a great combination of a warm and resonant tonewood (mahogany) and a brighter tonewood (spruce) and results in great depth and clarity of sound. The WD160 is topped off with a rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
But this guitar doesn’t just sound great, it also features some aesthetic components that are tough to beat in an instrument at this price point. An abalone rosette and mahogany binding accent the guitar body, and a rosewood-capped headstock with a Washburn inlay completes the look. The off-centered fingerboard markers are another nice touch that gives the guitar a unique look.
With the WD160SW Washburn puts a real solid-wood acoustic guitar within reach of players on a budget. The sound and appointments of this amazing instrument make it one of the best acoustic guitars for under $500 you’re going to find.
Check Out Washburn WD160SW
The guitars above ought to keep you busy for a while, but if you still need a few more options check out this list of honorable mentions. They didn’t make my top 5 for various reasons, but they are outstanding instruments. One of them might be perfect for you.
- Epiphone EJ-200SCE: This is an affordable guitar based on the legendary Gibson J-200. If you want the Gibson version it will cost you some serious coin. Otherwise, go with the Epiphone and save few bucks.
- Ovation CE-48 Celebrity Elite: People seem to either love Ovation instruments or hate them. They are sure different than most acoustic guitars, and I kind of like them. In fact, I played one of these guys for a while in a short-lived acoustic duo.
- Fender California Series: You can always count on Fender for California cool, and these instruments don’t disappoint. There are a few on the expensive side, but you can look at models like the Sonoran SCE Cutaway to keep you under budget.
- Breedlove Discovery Concert CE: I really dig Breedlove guitars, and not just for the slick lower horn design. A guitar shop near my house is a dealer, and I always have to check them out when I visit. You should too, near your own home of course.
- Blueridge BR-40: Blue Ridge puts out some awesome pre-war designs, but don’t discount their Contemporary Series. The BR-40 is worth checking out.
Good Luck Finding the Right Guitar for You!
There are many great acoustic guitars out there costing under $500, and you can definitely land a solid instrument without busting your budget.
These aren’t beginner’s guitars; these are high-quality instruments made by some of the best manufacturers. Their sound and construction is on a level that will satisfy even veteran players.
So, how do you choose between these great acoustics? Here are my thoughts:
- The Seagull S6 is a great acoustic guitar for the money. It's affordable, made in North America, and it doesn't hurt that is sounds and plays really good. For most intermediate-level guitarists, this is instrument I'd recommend.
- The Washburn Solid Wood series is a pretty good deal as well. Guitars made with solid woods are highly coveted by acoustic guitar players, and the WD160SW is a super-affordable way to get a quality instrument. It is a little bare-bones, but if you like the look go for it.
- Yamaha make great gear for in the budget price ranges. The LL6 continues that tradition, and you are looking for a quality instrument with a reputation you can take to the bank consider going with Yamaha.
- The Martin DX1AE is not only a great guitar for the environmentally conscious, but also among the best sounding of the lot. If you are cool with the idea of alternative tonewoods (and, honestly, why wouldn't you be) this one is an outstanding choice.
- FInally, the Taylor Big Baby is a great guitar, but it is a slightly smaller instrument. Should you care? Well, if you are smaller player you should, and this might be the perfect guitar for you. For everyone else it is a quality instrument that has developed somewhat of a legendary aura about it.
Someday you may upgrade to a guitar costing several thousands of dollars. There is a reason why certain brands like Taylor, Martin and Gibson make premium guitars for super-discerning ears.
Then again, you may fall in love with a less-expensive instrument and never feel the need to spend more. You may find, as many players do, that much of a guitar’s tone is in the musician. That means it’s you, and your attention to style and skill, that matters the most. It’s a mistake to get caught up in the idea that you need a super-expensive instrument to sound good. To some players, there are few things as wonderful as a well-worn acoustic guitar, no matter how much it originally cost.