Best Acoustic Guitar for Intermediate Players
You've been practicing your acoustic guitar for a while now. You're getting some positive comments and your friends are impressed, or at least they are convinced you aren't going to quit. You might even be thinking of starting or joining a band.
You know what this means, right? It means you have moved beyond the beginning stages and you are now an intermediate guitar player. Congrats! So, maybe now you are thinking you need an acoustic guitar that better reflects your abilities.
If you started out playing a decent acoustic there is nothing wrong with staying with it as long as you want. In fact, many beginner guitars are pretty darned good these days. However, as you get better at guitar you will tend to get better at recognizing good tone as well, and the need to upgrade can eventually become irresistible!
In this post you’ll read about some advice on which guitars are best for intermediate players. These acoustic guitars come in around the $400-$600 mark, give or take a few bucks. This is a good ballpark figure for a mid-level acoustic.
Certainly this is not an exhaustive list, but these are my recommendations based on 30 years of playing. I think they will get you started off in the right direction.
In some cases I will be pointing out a series of guitars rather than a specific instrument. This is because guitar builders often have several different versions of an acoustic guitar in the same series. For example, there may be one guitar with a mahogany back and sides, and another otherwise identical instrument with rosewood back and sides. In these cases it is up to you to decide which you prefer.
If you get confused when it comes to tonewoods or other specifics of different guitars take a few moments to brush up on the basic terms and definitions used in guitar spec sheets.
Let’s check out some guitars!
Seagull Guitars: S6 Original and Maritime SWS
When it comes to intermediate-level guitars Seagull is a brand that gets my top recommendation. This is a Canadian company with a great attention to detail and some beautiful and innovative designs. Their guitars continually get good reviews for their value, sound and performance.
Of course it is important that mid-level instruments are affordable, but they must also have the sound and quality needed to get you through the next few years until you are ready to drop some serious coin on a pro-level guitar. These Seagull guitars deliver exactly that and are even good enough that you may never choose to upgrade.
Certainly there are numerous guitars in Seagull’s catalog worthy of attention, but since we have to start somewhere I'll mention my two favorites. Note that each is also available in an acoustic-electric model:
The Seagull S6 Original is an affordable guitar for intermediate players or serious beginners. It features a pressure-tested solid cedar top, Canadian wild cherry back and sides, silverleaf maple neck and rosewood fingerboard.
This guitar is the perfect upgrade for intermediate guitarists on a budget, or anyone who wants a quality, affordable instrument.
The Seagull Maritime Series is a big step up from the Original Series. Here we get into all-solid-wood construction, a big plus when it comes to quality and tone. There are models with rosewood back and sides and those with mahogany, and different finishes available as well.
This is an intermediate guitar that would certainly be good enough for any pro.
Hear the Seagull Maritime SWS
Yamaha LL6 ARE
Yamaha is a great acoustic guitar brand for beginners, and the guitar company I always recommend for players who are just starting out. I think Yamaha guitars like the FG700S are perfect for getting a new guitarist on the right track. They sound good, and they are easy to play.
But Yamaha makes some great mid and high-end guitars too, and if you started out on a Yamaha acoustic (or wish you had) you may want to continue the tradition and move up to the L Series.
The Yamaha LL6 ARE is a jumbo-body guitar available with either rosewood back and sides or mahogany (LL6M ARE). Both versions feature a solid Engleman spruce top along with a rosewood fingerboard and bridge and a 5-ply rosewood/mahogany neck.
Yamaha is truly one of the those "bang for your buck" brands, and if you are an intermediate guitars player looking for a new acoustic they should be on your shortlist.
Hear the Yamaha LL6 ARE
Taylor Big Baby
Generally, I would recommend Taylor guitars to advanced players who really know what they are looking for in an acoustic guitar. Taylor is one of the best acoustic guitar makers in their world, and this quality doesn’t come cheap.
However, they do have one model I think is an outstanding choice for intermediate players and serious beginners: The Taylor Big Baby
The Big Baby has a slightly smaller body than typical dreadnought-style acoustic guitars, which makes it a good choice for smaller folks. But it has a sound that’s good enough for anyone, no matter what size they are.
This guitar has become legendary, even among advanced players. It is worth checking out. Taylor quality is known the world over, and that includes the Big Baby.
Learn More About the Taylor Big Baby
Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-45ME
Here’s another affordable acoustic guitars series that incorporates all solid woods. The Epiphone A J-45ME is based on the classic J-45 round-shoulder dreadnought design. This is a guitar design with a pre-war heritage, and one that many guitarists love. The woods here are Sitka spruce for the top, mahogany back and sides, and rosewood for the bridge and fingerboard.
Epiphone is owned by Gibson and, in many cases, Epiphone guitars are based on classic Gibson designs. However, some people may not realize that Epiphone was once Gibson’s biggest competitor and several of their designs continue on today. The AJ-45ME is one of those guitars, and the Masterbilt series itself can trace its origin all the way back to the 1930s.
The Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-45ME incorporates vintage body design with a modern Shadow Nanoflex pickup, and a flexible preamp. It’s definitely worth a look for those intending to move up to an intermediate-level acoustic guitar.
Check out the New Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-45ME at NAMM 2015
Washburn Timber Ridge Series
Washburn guitars in the Timber Ridge Series such as the WD150SW, WD160SW and WD250SW feature all-solid-wood construction, an outstanding attribute for guitars in their price range. Most mid-level acoustic guitars have solid-wood tops, but the back and sides are laminate. There’s nothing wrong with a quality laminate build, but solid woods are preferred by most guitarists. An all-solid-wood build is something you generally see in more expensive guitars.
For that reason, the Washburn Timber Ridge Series made my list of the best acoustic guitars for intermediate players. The WD150SW has a Sitka spruce top with mahogany back and sides, the WD160SW features a cedar top with mahogany and the WD250SW has a Sitka spruce top with rosewood back and sides.
All three guitars feature a satin mahogany neck with a 2-way truss rod along with a rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
If you want a solid wood acoustic or acoustic-electric guitar you definitely ought to check out the Washburn Timber Ridge Series.
Martin X-Series: DX1AE, DX1RAE, DX1KAE
Martin guitars are outstanding instruments. I’ve owned a few, and I’m a big fan. But they tend to be a bit above the budgets of many guitar players, especially those who are just getting up to steam in their careers.
But Martin does have a few affordable models in their lineup. Martin X-Series guitars are a great choice when it comes to acoustic guitars for intermediate players.
The DX1AE is a guitar built around the classic dreadnought design that Martin made famous. It features a solid Sitka Spruce top and mahogany back and sides. The bridge and fingerboard are made from Richlite, and the neck is Stratabond. These are alternative tonewoods Martin has been employing in their instruments in recent years. Martin, as one of the most visible consumers of rare and exotic woods, has really take a leadership role when it comes to conservation by researching and implementing many alternative tonewoods. You have to commend them for that.
There is also the DX1RAE which features a rosewood back and sides, and the DX1KAE, which employs Koa. All of the guitars in the Martin X Series are worth checking out for intermediate players, but these three in particular warrant a close look.
Ovation Celebrity Elite Plus CE44P-8TQ
Compared to traditional acoustic-electric guitars, Ovation instruments are a whole other animal. While most acoustic-electrics are simply acoustic guitars with pickups and preamps added, Ovation guitars are built from the ground up to serve the guitar player who knows he’ll be plugging in. They sound okay unplugged, but run them through an acoustic guitar amp or PA system and Ovation guitars truly shine.
The Ovation Celebrity Elite Plus is a smart choice for intermediate players. In fact, this is a guitar I played for a while in an acoustic duo I was performing with. I was very happy with it, and the sound and play were both outstanding.
Ovation guitars have solid wood tops just like traditional acoustic guitars. In the case of the Celebrity Elite, we’re looking at a pretty quilt maple. The neck is nato, an alternative to mahogany. The bridge and fingerboard are rosewood.
But the innovative back is what sets Ovation guitars apart, giving them a unique look, feel and sound. The rounded back is a mid-depth Lyrachord bowl, and engineered to get the most out of the guitar's sound through the Ovation pickup and on-board preamp.
If you know you are going to plug in and play and you’re prepared to take a walk off the beaten path, consider an Ovation guitar like the Celebrity Elite Plus.
Learn More About the Ovation Celebrity Elite Plus
Ibanez Artwood Series
I really like the Ibanez Artwood Series. Trouble is, it is tough to pin down one single guitar I’d recommend above the others. They’re all so beautiful! But I’m going to try.
The Ibanez Artwood AW4000 seems to stand out from the crowd for me, not only because of the gorgeous brown sunburst finish, but also due to the construction. This instrument just has the look of a vintage, classic guitar, though it won’t have that classic price tag.
The specs are typical of a quality guitar in this price range: Spruce top, mahogany back and sides, rosewood fingerboard and bridge. These tonewoods work, and that’s why they are so popular.
There is also an acoustic-electric version, the AW4000CE, with a Fishman Sonicore pickup and Ibanez preamp.
Ibanez is a guitar company usually known for amazing electric guitars, but in this cases they really have something to offer for the intermediate acoustic guitar player.
Hear the Ibanez Artwood AW-4000 BS
Blueridge is an interesting guitar company. They specialize in historic designs, especially pre-war. What is a pre-war design?
Many acoustic guitarists believe instruments made back before the World War II-era were superior to those built today. There may be a few reasons for this. For one thing, companies such as Martin and Gibson used different, stronger, construction technique, and they relied less on assembly-lines. However, they also had access to tonewoods that have since become scarce or illegal to use.
Obviously Blueridge can’t sidestep conservation laws, but they can recreate the designs and, to a great extent, the quality of those historic guitars. If that’s as interesting to you as it is to me, it may also interest you to know that Blueridge has many models that fit comfortably into the budget of an intermediate guitarist.
More Great Acoustics
These choices represent my best advice when it comes to choosing a new acoustic guitar, at a price point of around $400-$600. This list certainly isn’t exhaustive. The intermediate guitarist is pretty lucky these days, as quality instruments are more affordable than ever.
I hope you see something you like in my recommendations. At the very least I hope they serve as a starting point for your quest to find the gear that’s right for you. Finding the perfect guitar is never easy, so the more you read and learn the better your chances of success.
Good luck choosing your new acoustic guitar!