The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Budget Acoustic Guitars
If you are looking for a new acoustic guitar but you only have $500 to spend you may worry that a quality instrument is out of your reach. That's simply not true. In fact, this price range is a smart place to start if you’re hoping to grab an acoustic that is affordable, yet good enough for gigging and recording.
You want a guitar that is enjoyable to play and sounds amazing. Most of all, you want a guitar you are going to love for years to come. You can get all of that while sticking to your budget if you choose wisely.
What to Look for in a Guitar Under $500
- Playability: This means not only fretboard action, but how well a guitar is suited to you. For example, smaller players may prefer small-bodied guitar styles.
- Attention to Detail: At this price point you should expect something better than a standard acoustic guitar. Look for unique details and specs that are meaningful to you, whether it is the body size, the shape of the headstock, or the finish.
- Sound: This is an obvious one. I always try to include sound references for the instruments I recommend, but it isn’t always possible. There is no substitute for getting out there and hearing a guitar for yourself.
- Brand Reputation: You can grab a cheap acoustic guitar for way under $500, but should you? A guitar made by a brand with a strong reputation for quality is usually a better overall instrument.
In this article, you’ll read about some of the best mid-level acoustic guitars from the top guitar brands on the planet. Companies like Epiphone, Martin, Seagull, and Yamaha build outstanding guitars for intermediate players. Unless otherwise noted, as of this writing you can find each of the guitars on my list for under $500.
1. Seagull S6 Original
The top spot on my list goes to the Seagull S6 Original. 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.
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 tapered 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 S6 Original Specs and Features
- Top: Solid cedar
- Back and Sides: Laminated Wild Cherry
- Neck: Silver Leaf Maple
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Bridge: Rosewood
Guitarists who want a pure acoustic guitar with excellent sound and made to high-quality standards. 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
2. Martin D-X1E
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 very reasonable prices.
One such instrument is the Martin D-X1E. It features an HPL top, back, and sides that are an environmentally friendly HPL, or high-pressure laminate. I actually thought it was solid wood when I first encountered it 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 materials not only keep the cost of the instrument to a reasonable level, but they also help protect our natural resources.
That's great, but if this guitar didn’t have a good tone it would be a tough sell. Fortunately, it does, so you can save the world and sound awesome while doing it.
The Martin DX1AE preceded this guitar. This was an instrument I liked so much when I played it at the music store I had to take it home. Both guitars are similar in build and sound, and for that reason, I highly recommend checking out the D-X1E.
Martin D-X1E Specs and Features
- Top: HPL
- Back and Sides: HPL
- Neck: Rust Birch Laminate
- Fretboard: Richlite
- Bridge: Richlite
- Electronics: Fishman MX
This guitar isn’t for everyone, but it is a good choice for players looking for a great-sounding acoustic made from sustainable materials.
Martin Guitars and Alternative Tonewoods
3. Yamaha FG830
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.
The Yamaha FG series is their most popular instruments for beginning and intermediate guitar players. The FG830 is the most affordable guitar on this list, but it is an instrument I think has a lot to offer. It features a dreadnought-shaped body that will provide great volume and resonance and a spruce top will add to the projection of the guitar. The FG830 is available in a natural finish, plus very pretty Tobacco Brown Sunburst or Autumn Burst options.
The back and sides are rosewood and the neck is nato. These warmer tonewoods will complement the spruce top, as well as the rosewood fingerboard. Rosewood tends to sound a little sweeter and milder than mahogany, in my opinion.
This instrument is a great value, and that's what I love about Yamaha guitars. That’s why the FG830 makes the list of best acoustic guitars for quality, affordable acoustic guitars.
There is another version of this instrument available with a single-cutaway design and electronics package called the FGX830C. It will bump you slightly over your $500 budget, but if being able to plug in and play is important to you it may be worth the extra cash.
Yamaha FG830 Specs and Features
- Top: Solid Spruce
- Back and Sides: Rosewood
- Neck: Nato
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Bridge: Rosewood
- Electronics: Yamaha System-66 (On FGX830C)
Guitar players who are looking for excellent quality and appointments, but don't want to drop a lot of cash. This is one the most inexpensive instruments in this review!
The Yamaha FG Series
4. Epiphone Hummingbird PRO
This is an affordable guitar based on the legendary Gibson Hummingbird. If you want the Gibson version it will cost you some serious coin. Otherwise, go with the Epiphone and save a few bucks.
Don’t feel like you are making too big of a sacrifice, though. Epiphone is owned by Gibson and known for making outstanding, affordable versions of Gibson classics. This is a good guitar, built by a company that knows what they are doing.
The Epiphone Hummingbird PRO is a dreadnought-bodied guitar with great projection. Like most Epiphone acoustics it has a comfortable neck that’s easy to play. It features a solid spruce top with a select mahogany body and neck. The result is a crisp yet deep tone, perfect for strumming full chords.
This is also an acoustic-electric guitar featuring the Fishman Sonitone pickup system. That makes it a great choice for guitar players who intend to perform in front of a crowd. I think Hummingbird PRO is an especially smart option for country players.
Epiphone Hummingbird PRO Specs and Features
- Top: Solid Spruce
- Back and Sides: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Bridge: Rosewood
- Electronics: Fishman Sonitone pickup system
Country pickers and rock guitarists who want a big sound with precise tone. Gibson enthusiastists on a budget.
Check Out the Epiphone Hummingbird PRO
5. Ovation CE48 Celebrity Elite
People seem to either love Ovation instruments or hate them. They are surely different than most acoustic guitars, and I count myself in the "love" camp. In fact, I played one of these for a while in a short-lived acoustic duo. It was an outstanding instrument, and because we played exclusively through acoustic guitar amps I think it was the perfect tool for the job.
Ovation guitars have wood tops, in this case, solid spruce, but the body is made of something called Lyrachord. This is a synthetic material that allows the guitar to have a shallow but sturdy body. The neck is nato, and the fretboard is rosewood.
Different Ovation guitars have different body depths. The CE48 is a Super Shallow design, which means if you are accustomed to playing electric guitars you may feel right at home with this instrument. The tone can be a little thin unplugged, but through an acoustic guitar amp or PA system, this guitar really comes alive.
And that’s really where Ovation guitars shine. They are an excellent choice for the guitarist performing solo or in a band who intends to amplify their sound. Thanks to the OP-4CT preamp system you have a three-band EQ and tuner right at your fingertips.
Ovation CE48 Celebrity Elite Specs and Features
- Top: Solid Spruce
- Back and Sides: Lyrachord
- Neck: Nato
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Bridge: Rosewood
- Electronics: OP-4CT Preamp
Guitarists who need a reliable instrument for performance, especially those who are a little more comfortable with the electric guitar. I think this is the best acoustic guitar for electric guitar players.
The guitars above ought to keep you busy for a while, but if you still need a few more options check out the rest of my list. They didn’t make my top 5 for various reasons, but they are outstanding instruments. One of them might be perfect for you.
Taylor Big Baby
The Big Baby is a Taylor model that has become legendary in its own right. It’s affordable, well made, and sounds fantastic. The Big Baby is slightly smaller than a standard-size dreadnought, 15/16 size according to Taylor, so players who struggle with larger dreadnought guitars may appreciate it.
Takamine makes some outstanding guitars at higher price points, and its nice to see some affordable options in the 90 Series. The GD93 is a quality dreadnought made with some beautiful woods and bindings. The back is episodically gorgeous, with a three-piece rosewood and quilt maple design.
Ibanez Artwood Acoustics
This spot isn't for just one guitar, but a bunch of them. Ibanez has a few amazing acoustic guitars under $500 in their Artwood lineup. There are cool distressed-finish guitars like the AVD6, and guitars with "Thermo Aged" woods like the AVD9 (both in their Vintage line). In addition to the Artwood Series, check out the Exotic Wood Series.
Blue Ridge puts out some awesome pre-war designs, but don’t discount their Contemporary Series. The BR-40 is worth checking out. This is a dreadnought-bodied guitar, with a classic tonewood profile. I think Blueridge is among the most underrated guitar brands out there.
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. The Concert CE comes in versions with both mahogany and spruce tops.
About Ibanez Thermo Aged Acoustics
How to Choose the Best Acoustic Guitar Under $500
I try to be as accurate as I can in these reviews, but errors can happen. Be sure to check out the manufacturer's website for the most up-to-date information on their gear.
These are some of the great acoustic guitars for intermediate players. 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 are on a level that will satisfy even veteran players.
So, how do you choose between these great acoustics? Here are my thoughts:
- The Martin D-X1E 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 not everyone is) this one is an outstanding choice.
- The Seagull S6 is one of the best pure acoustic guitars for the money. It's affordable, made in North America, and it doesn't hurt that is sounds and plays really well. For intermediate-level guitarists who don't care about electronics, this is the instrument I'd recommend.
- Yamaha makes great gear for in the budget price ranges. The FG830 continues that tradition, and you are looking for a quality instrument with a reputation you can take to the bank, consider going with Yamaha.
- If you are a country player, or any guitarist looking for a big sound for songwriting and performance, consider the Epiphone Hummingbird PRO.
- Guitarists who are more comfortable with an electric guitar may like the Ovation CE48. It feels more like an electric, and it is made to be plugged in.
If none of that works for you, check out some of the other guitars I mentioned.
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.
Top Acoustics Under $500
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Which acoustic guitars are Made in the USA?
Answer: There are several excellent acoustic guitar companies with manufacturing facilities located in the United States. Here are a few:
<b>Martin:</b> The C.F. Martin Company factory is located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
<b>Gibson:</b> Gibson USA is located in Nashville, Tennessee.
<b>Taylor:</b> The Taylor factory is in El Cajon, California.
<b>Guild:</b> The Guild factory was previously located in New Hartford, Connecticut, but moved to Oxnard, California in 2014 when the company was acquired by Cordoba, another American acoustic guitar company.
<b>Breedlove</b>: Located in Bend, Oregon.
<b>Ovation:</b> This is a company that builds unique acoustic-electric guitars, and they are located in New Hartford, Connecticut.
The companies listed above make most of their acoustic guitars in the USA. Some of them even offer factory tours, and if you can go, it is well worth it to see how acoustic guitars are made.
However, be aware that some cases these guitar companies have budget models that are made in other counties. For example, the Martin DX1AE is made at Martin’s facility in Mexico. For this reason, you always want to check before assuming a guitar is American made.
It’s also important to consider what the <i>Made in the USA</i> label means. This is an official label, regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and the criteria state that “all or virtually all” of a product must originate in the United States.
Most guitar companies must import materials and components from other countries to build their instruments – at the very least the tonewoods such as mahogany and rosewood. Sometimes this means, from a legal standpoint, they may not be able or willing to claim their guitars are “made in the USA,” even though they are built in American factories.
Question: Why play a jumbo acoustic guitar?
Answer: Jumbo acoustic guitars have a few advantages when compared to dreadnought-style acoustic guitars. At a glance you can see they have larger bodies, meaning a bigger sound chamber and soundboard. This means:
<b>Better projection:</b> Because they are bigger, jumbo guitars tend to project better, especially for the mid-range and bass frequencies.
<b>Better volume</b>: This is a great advantage if you are playing with a group, especially if you do not have sound reinforcement.
<b>Better bass response:</b> Jumbo-bodied guitars have great low-end, so your bass strings will ring loud and clear.
<b>Better sustain:</b> Notes ring longer, and chords chime with excellent resonance.
<b>Great for strumming:</b> All of the points the above means a jumbo acoustic guitar is a smart choice for flat-pickers and guitarists who mostly strum. While not the best choice for playing finger-style, they are passable, especially if you choose an acoustic-electric model with a flexible EQ in the preamp.
Country and rock players tend to gravitate to larger, jumbo-style guitars because of all the traits listed above. These guitars are loud and bold enough to use in a band, and can stand out in the mix. They also look really good onstage, in my opinion.
With all of that loud, bassy strumming goodness comes a few downsides. Because of their large bodies, jumbo acoustics can be tough to manage for smaller players. Many instead go with a dreadnought, a guitar style that still has very good volume and projection but is a bit smaller.
However, don’t let size dissuade you if you think you want a jumbo. There are many diminutive players who do just fine with larger guitars, after a little practice.
Question: Is an acoustic guitar humidifier necessary?
Answer: Using a humidifier for your acoustic guitar is a good idea. They are inexpensive and, when used correctly, they can save your beloved instrument from disaster. Wood reacts to temperature and climate, and as your guitar adjusts with the seasons and weather, you may start to experience fret buzz or other playability issues.
In worst-case situations, your guitar may even crack or warp. Humidity (or lack of) can really affect a guitar, so taking precautions here falls into the category of “better safe than sorry.”
This is why you often see the acoustic guitars housed in a separate room at the guitar store. Controlling the humidity and keeping it around 50% maintains the guitars in good condition, and you should continue that practice once you get your instrument home.
This is even more important when you live in a part of the world where the air is typically dry, or in the winter months when your home’s heating system may dry out the air.
Do you need a guitar humidifier if you live somewhere where it is already warm and humid for most of the year? I think it’s still a good idea. Air conditioning can affect humidity, and unless you are monitoring the climate in your home to make sure humidity is in the proper range you don’t really know.
So, get an inexpensive humidifier and learn to use it correctly, if no other reason than the peace of mind it provides.
Question: Are expensive acoustic guitars easier to play?
Answer: The answer depends on what you consider expensive. It is certainly true that there are low-cost guitars that are terrible to play. This is one of the reasons I get a little frustrated when new guitar players start off on the cheapest hunk of wood they can get their hands on. Many cheap instruments aren’t made to high-quality standards, meaning they are harder to fret, and harder to deal with in general.
There are a few guitars around the $200 mark that are excellent for beginners, easy to play, and not very expensive. Moving up to a budget of $500 means you’ve got an excellent chance of landing a quality instrument that plays well, especially if you get it set by a professional guitar tech.
However, around the $500-$750 mark is about the price point where you start to reach diminishing returns. There are many reasons to choose an expensive guitar costing thousands of dollars, but chances are it isn’t going to be a whole lot easier to play than a properly set up $700 guitar. It may sound better, and it may have better features, and it may look gorgeous, but it probably isn’t going to be much better on your fingers.
So, if you consider a $500-$750 guitar expensive, then yes, on average, more expensive guitars are easier to play. However, I believe these mid-level guitars, and I think this is a good price point for intermediate players and beginners who want to start off with a quality instrument.
The takeaway is this: You don’t need to worry about spending thousands on a guitar to get an instrument that plays well. Grab a good guitar for a price you can afford, get it set up properly, and get back to practicing.
Question: Why is the guitar so popular?
Answer: I think there are a few reasons the guitar has become such a popular instrument. Some of those reasons are pretty obvious, where other maybe not so much.
<b>Portability:</b> An acoustic guitar is very easy to lug around, and you can play it anywhere, such as the park or your backyard deck. Try that with a grand piano! Even an electric guitar with a small amp is relatively portable compared with many traditional instruments.
<b>Volume: </b> Managed sensibly, guitars really aren’t very loud compared to other instruments. You can play or practice in an apartment or bedroom without bothering anyone. This just isn’t possible with brass and woodwind instruments, or even other members of the string family such as the cello.
<b>Accompaniment to vocals: </b> Guitars work well for solo singer/songwriters. If you would like to sing and play at the same time you don’t have a lot of realistic options.
<b>Versatility: </b> The guitar stands out in just about every musical genre you can imagine, from rock to jazz to metal to country to classical to blues and probably to a few more I haven’t thought of.
<b>Ability to play lead and rhythm roles: </b> The guitar can be part of the rhythm section, or it can be the lead instrument. Most often it is both, even in the same song.
<b>Accessibility: </b> Historically, it’s been very easy for music stores – and event department stores – to stock and sell guitars. Compare the area you’d need to display ten guitars with the area you’d need to display ten pianos.
<b>Easy to learn: </b> Just about anyone can play guitar. You don’t need special lessons, though you can study extensively if you really want to. For some people, learning a few chords and playing songs they like is enough.
<b>Pop culture: </b> If Elvis had been a bassoonist would we be living in a different world today? Who knows, but the rise of rock music, starting back in the 1950s, certainly did a lot for the popularity of the guitar.
Guitar Gopher (author) on April 27, 2019:
@Greg - I don't know much about them. Do you have any experience with them?
Greg on April 26, 2019:
Did you include any of the Orangewood guitars in your search?
Guitar Gopher (author) on January 04, 2018:
@Alanna - Ibanez is known more for electric guitars, but their acoustic instruments are pretty good as well. I especially like their AE and AEW Series.
Alanna on January 03, 2018:
What do you think about Ibanez acoustic guitars?
Nicu from Oradea, Romania on December 17, 2014:
Great hub, it's very useful for these who intend to buy a cheap guitar.
Loretta on October 18, 2014:
I want to buy a guitar for my husband.....beginner...3 choices...Takemine Jasmine $160
Washburn $125 Peavey $100 any suggestions?
Guitar Gopher (author) on January 26, 2014:
Thanks Jennifer. The Big Baby is such a cool guitar. Taylor also has the Baby Taylor, and the GS Mini, two other really impressive smaller -bodied acoustics.
Jennifer Yamada from Oahu, Hawaii on January 25, 2014:
Nice article, very informative! I'm glad you reviewed the Taylor Big Baby--been considering one for a while.