Best Acoustic Guitar Under $200 for Beginners
Acoustic Starter Guitars
Your first acoustic guitar should be a quality instrument made by a brand you can trust. Some guitar companies really shine when it comes to making outstanding, budget-level gear for beginners and this is an important market.
These guitars are often a student’s first experience with making music, and when instruments are easy to play and sound good it really jump-starts the learning process.
Of course the opposite is also true. Guitars that are hard to play and sound terrible tend to sit in the corner and collect dust. So, what do we need to look for when choosing a starter guitar to ensure we skip the junk and land a quality instrument?
I always caution against going with a cheap instrument as a first guitar. This is especially true when it comes to acoustic instruments. By the nature of their build, it is generally a little tougher to play notes on an acoustic guitar than it is an electric. They are also larger instruments and a little more unwieldy for newbies not used to holding a guitar.
What this means is that it is even more important to choose a guitar made by a brand with a reputation for great starter guitars. Of course, you also want to stick to a reasonable budget, and around $200 is a good ballpark for a first instrument. A great guitar for not a lot of money might sound like an unreasonable request, but there are certainly guitar companies that make exactly what you need.
In this article you'll find my recommendations on acoustic guitars for beginners, along with some advice to help you make your decision. I've included a few classic dreadnought-shaped instruments. Dreadnought guitars have excellent projection and a deep, rich sound, which makes them excellent for a wide array of music genres. I’ve also included a suggestion for newbies who are on the fence between acoustic and electric guitar.
When it comes to your first guitar it is important to choose wisely!
Yamaha FG800 and FS800
Whenever I write about budget acoustic guitars, Yamaha is always the brand at the top of my list. This is a company that makes a wide array of quality musical gear, from band instruments to guitars. They also have many affordable acoustic guitars that tick all the boxes when it comes to sound and playability, and the Yamaha name is one you can count on.
Yamaha does make some great high-end guitars, but the fact that their beginner models are such high quality means a lot. It shows that they know what it takes to make a good guitar that doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and that they are willing to put serious effort into satisfying those looking for a quality starter guitar. That’s the kind of company you want building your first guitar.
Two Yamaha guitars I recommend checking out are the FG800 and FS800. Both feature a classic tonewood profile with a solid spruce top, nato neck, back and sides (nato is similar to mahogany, and known for warm, rich tones) and rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
However, they have different body shapes. The FG800 is a classic dreadnought-style guitar, which means it will have excellent projection and a strong, full sound. The FS800 has a slightly slimmer concert-style body, which presents a tighter, more focused tone.
As a beginner the difference in sound may not really matter to you. Both guitars sound amazing! However, the body shape might. Smaller players may prefer the FS800, simply because it is easier to work around. For most newbies, I suggest the FG800.
Note that these guitars replace the very popular FG700s and FS700S in Yamaha's lineup. For years these guitars routinely received five-star reviews for ease of play and surprising sound. The new models feature improved bracing and bass response, and sing with the same clear, strong mid-range tones that impress even veteran guitarists. But more important for a student guitar player is the comfortable neck on this acoustic.
The physical limitations of playing guitar and fretting notes can often frustrate new players to the point of giving up. When the guitar is easy to play it can make practice more enjoyable, and encourage new players.
It also worth noting that Yamaha has a some cool mini folk guitars such as the JR1 in their lineup, which may be more appropriate for very small children.
New FG Series Guitars from Yamaha
Epiphone Hummingbird Artist
I’m a big fan of Epiphone guitars. When it comes to quality, affordable guitars they are one of the most respected brands out there. And, more importantly for you, they make a bunch of excellent starter guitars.
But Epiphone is a little different than other guitar brands in this review. This is a company owned by Gibson, which means they are authorized to make affordable versions of Gibson guitars. You know Gibson, right? They’re one of the biggest guitar companies in the world, and are responsible for some of the most legendary instruments ever made.
In the acoustic guitar world, one of those instruments is the Hummingbird. But unless you live in a house made out of gold bricks you’re probably not going to choose a Gibson Hummingbird as your first guitar. However, you may choose an Epiphone Hummingbird Artist.
This is guitar that shows many of the hallmarks of its Gibson namesake. Based on looks alone, in my opinion this is the prettiest guitar in this review. But it also features a few of the same build qualities you’ll see in Gibson acoustic guitars: It’s a dreadnought-body guitar with a spruce top, mahogany back and sides and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
Epiphone is on to a good thing by producing affordable guitars that look like more expensive Gibson versions. For a guitar player on a budget, that’s pretty awesome.
However, it also presents a bit of a conundrum. All too often players like to compare Epiphone and Gibson, and they expect the Epiphone version of a guitar to be up to par with its Gibson counterpart.
That’s unrealistic. You can’t expect a budget acoustic guitar to be comparable to a guitar costing ten to twenty times more. When you compare Epiphone to Gibosn, poor Epiphone has no chance. However, when you compare Epiphone acoustic guitars to others in the same price range it is easy to see the value and quality they bring to the table.
Note: This guitar has seen a slight price bump, putting it slightly over the $200 mark. I still think it's worth checking out!
Fender is a guitar company even newbies have probably heard of. That’s because they build legendary guitars such as the Stratocaster, Telecaster and Jaguar. These instruments have been played by guitars greats like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.
So, what could a guitar company that makes some of the most iconic electric guitars in the world know about budget acoustic guitars? A lot, it turns out. Though they receive much less fanfare, Fender builds some darned good acoustics too, and a handful of excellent starter guitars.
My recommendation goes to the CD-140S. This is another classic dreadnought guitar with a solid spruce top, laminated mahogany back and sides, nato neck and rosewood bridge and fingerboard.
This is a tonewood combination that has stood the test of time over many decades. Mahogany brings warm and resonant undertones, where the spruce top brings punch and clarity to the sound.
If you are a beginning guitarist this might sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. What’s important is that this guitar is put together to sound good, even though it comes in at such a low price.
This guitar has gotten high marks for playabiity and sound of almost a decade, and it gives the Yamaha FG800S a run for its money. There is also a version with a mahogany top. This means warmer, more resonant tone, and it offers an attractive and interesting alternative to the spruce-top guitars listed above.
Because of its size, sound and ease of play the Fender CD-140S is one of the top starter guitars you’re going to find on the market today. Because it is a Fender you know it is high quality, made by a company with a name you can take to the bank.
If you are considering an acoustic-electric instrument as you first guitar, you might want to check out the CD-140SCE. It has similar attributes as the CD-140S with a single-cutaway design and the addition of a preamp.
Fender CD-140SCE Acoustic-electric Guitar
Ibanez Artwood AW50
Ibanez makes my list for a couple of reasons. First, Ibanez builds good guitars at reasonable prices. I have owned and played many Ibanez instruments, and never been unhappy with a single one of them. That includes acoustic guitars, electric guitars and bass guitars. This is a guitar company that knows how to deliver value and quality.
Secondly, they offer a huge number of choices in their budget acoustic guitar lineup. To me this means, like Yamaha and Fender, they put a lot of thought into satisfying this demographic. If you are a newbie looking for your first acoustic guitar, Ibanez is a guitar company that wants you to be happy.
Ibanez offers three-quarter size guitars, parlor guitars, a range of acoustic guitar starter kits and even some very cool acoustic-electric guitars. My recommendation: Check out the Ibanez Artwood AW50.
The Ibanez AW50 features a solid Sitka spruce top, Sapele back and sides, a mahogany neck and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. As you can see from the instruments above, this a bit of a theme in dreadnought-style guitars.
Although in reality it's more complicated, if you don't quite grasp the tonewood thing just yet think of it like this: The guitar top (spruce) provides the treble, while the back, sides and neck (sapele and mahogany) provide the bass. Together, they create a pleasing sound.
Guitar makers choose combinations of woods that sound good together. Solid woods are cherished by veteran acoustic guitar players, but in guitars at this price range we generally see laminates. That's why a solid-wood top, as on the Ibanez AW50, is a very nice attribute in a beginner's guitar.
Applause by Ovation Balladeer
Here's a guitar that will take you a bit off the beaten path. Having trouble choosing between acoustic and electric for your first guitar? Ovation might be the brand for you. These are super-innovative guitars with thin necks and comfortable, shallow bodies. While the top is made of wood like a normal acoustic guitar, the back and sides are replaced with a synthetic bowl.
It’s easy to see why Ovation guitars would be a favorite choice of professional musicians, but equally understandable how most of their instruments would be out of the price range of a student guitarist. So, they give us the Applause lineup. These are guitars made with the same high standards as Ovation guitars, but with more budget-friendly price tags.
Applause by Ovation are outstanding guitars for a new, inexperienced player due to shallow backs and thin necks. They have an on-board preamp just in case the budding guitar virtuoso finds themselves in a live performance situation, and they look darn cool to boot.
An Ovation guitar is certainly a unique choice for a newbie guitar player, but some guitarists are just unique from the beginning. If you like the idea of an acoustic guitar with the feel of an electric, Applause may be just what you need.
How to Choose a Beginner Guitar
Here are a few final points that may help you make a decision.
The guitars listed in this article fall around the $200 mark, and that’s not a bad budget for a first instrument. However, unlike with electric guitar, when you start off on an acoustic guitar you don’t need to worry about an amp and a bunch of other accessories. Though you certainly don't have to, you may want to increase your budget, perhaps considering guitars around $300. Each of the guitar brands listed here have some great instruments to choose from at that price point too.
I believe these guitar companies build the best acoustic guitars out there for new players. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't recommend them! So which one do you choose?
Though it's close, personally I'd rank them
You’ll often see alternative tonewoods such as nato and sapele used in guitars at this price point, and that is nothing to be concerned about. It is just another way companies make awesome guitars that are also affordable. It is also a way they are helping the environment by using more abundant woods for some of their biggest production instruments.
However, what you will never see is guitars made of mystery woods, strange plywood or plastic. That’s just one of the reasons it is smart to go with a respected brand name instead of some no-name guitar from a department store.
Good luck choosing an awesome first acoustic guitar!