The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Wannabe guitarists have a lot of options when it comes time to choose their first instrument. By the time you’ve arrived at this article, you’ve likely encountered a few of those options.
Most experts, myself included, usually recommend inexpensive acoustic guitars for beginners. There are many quality starter instruments out there, made by some of the best brand names in the guitar world.
But, maybe you've seen these guitars and you’re convinced they aren’t for you. You think you need something better than the typical beginner’s instrument because you are going to take this guitar thing seriously.
I agree. Serious beginners, who can justify the cost, should go with better guitars as their first instruments. Instead of having to upgrade in a year or so, you’ll end up with a guitar that will sound and play much better than a budget-level guitar and will last you a lifetime.
If that sounds good to you, this article can help you in your quest to find your first guitar. Here you’ll discover some of the top guitars for serious beginners. Really, these are intermediate to pro-level instruments, and they're some of my favorite guitars on the market today. They’re more expensive than the typical beginner guitar, but they’ll take you a lot further.
Let's check out some guitars!
1. Seagull Maritime SWS SG
I love Seagull guitars. They play and sound fantastic, and the Maritime SWS is probably my favorite of their lineup. Seagull is a Canadian company, the same people who bring us Godin guitars, and in my opinion, their guitars are some of the best values in the music world.
The Maritime SWS is at the top of the list when it comes to that value I am talking about, and that’s in big part because of the letters SWS. It stands for Solid Wood Series. Solid woods are what we love to see in acoustic guitar back and sides, as opposed to laminates.
Solid woods tend to sound the better, and they age really nicely. However, solid-wood guitars are also typically more expensive as well, so when Seagull can give us an all-solid-wood instrument for such a sane price it is pretty impressive.
The Maritime SWS has a few more things going on that I really like. The headstock looks a little odd compared to what you typically see on an acoustic guitar, but there is a reason for that. The tapered headstock allows straight string pull, instead of the angles you get with a traditional 3x3 headstock. That means your guitar will stay in tune better.
The Compound Curved Top is another cool feature. Seagull guitars have a very slight arch to their tops, allowing better projection. Because it helps bolster the structure of the guitar body, it means Seagull can use lighter bracing inside.
There is a version with mahogany back and sides, and one with rosewood. I personally prefer mahogany as it is just a touch darker and more resonant, but there is no wrong answer here.
The top is solid spruce, the bridge and neck are mahogany and the fretboard is Richlite. It also has a semi-gloss finish. This is a pretty, light-touch finish that allows the woods to stand out while not bogging down the guitar in heavy material.
Finally, it’s important (to me) to note that Seagull has a commitment to sustainable material sourcing, such as using reclaimed woods. That means you don’t have to feel bad about them knocking down forests just so you can have a nice, solid-wood guitar. Just another reason I love Seagull as a guitar company.
The Maritime SWS also comes in an acoustic-electric version: The Maritime SWS SG QIT.
Seagull Maritime SWS SG QIT
2. Martin DX1AE
Martin is one of the top acoustic guitar brands in the world, and the prices on some of their instruments reflect this. Their high-end offerings can be fairly expensive.
I’ve owned a few of those high-end and mid-level Martins, and they are amazing instruments, totally worth it if you can justify the expense. If you can’t, you’ll be glad that Martin also gives us affordable options like the instruments in the X Series.
The Martin DX1AE is a dreadnought-body guitar, built in the mold of the famed Martin D-14. It has tone, projection, and playability that rivals some of Martin's more expensive guitars, which will surprise you when you find out what the thing is made out of.
The DX1AE has a solid Sitka spruce top, but the back and sides are HPL or high-pressure laminate. It feels and looks very attractive, although a bit different than what you’d expect from a solid-wood guitar. Because it's not solid wood. HPL is a composite material Martin uses to make guitars more affordable and also helps with sustainability.
In fact, the Martin DX1AE includes several alternative materials, such as Richlite for the fingerboard and bridge and a rust birch laminate for the neck. If you are worried about the trees and the birds and the squirrels, as well as the air we breathe, this might be the guitar for you.
I do care about the birds and squirrels and whatnot, but a guitar that helps the environment won’t do much for me if it doesn’t sound good. Fortunately, this Martin sounds amazing!
In fact, I had to check the headstock tag the first time I played one in a shop. I knew it was made from alternative materials, but I didn’t really believe it based on the sound I was hearing. The sound is rich and full, both flatpicking and fingerstyle.
I liked this guitar so much I eventually took one home. You can read my review of the Martin DX1AE for more in-depth info.
This is also an acoustic-electric guitar, but the Fishman electronics are so unobtrusive you won’t even know they are there until you need them. I find them simplistic but very effective, especially if you intend to control your amplified guitar sound with a mixing board or external EQ.
3. Cordoba C7 CE
So far I’ve shown you two of my favorite steel-string guitars—one made with solid woods, and one made with alternative materials. But some new players are looking for a different kind of guitar. Classical guitars have nylons strings instead of steel, along with smaller bodies, lighter internal bracing, and wider, flatter fretboards.
Obviously, these guitars are meant for playing classical music, and if that’s your intention you know this is the kind of acoustic instrument you need. However, some players with sensitive fingers may prefer to learn on a classical instrument, as the nylon strings are a little easier to play.
If that’s what you’re thinking, I recommend checking out the Cordoba C7 CE. Cordoba is one of my favorite classical guitar brands, and they make outstanding instruments for everyone from beginners to pro guitarists. As a serious beginner, the C7 should be right around your comfort level.
The Cordoba C7 features a solid Canadian cedar top, rosewood back and sides, a mahogany neck, and a rosewood bridge and fingerboard. The sound is rich and clear, but be aware that you won’t get the same kind of projection here as you will with a steel-string guitar. In other words: If you intend to strum big chords, you may be better off with a steel-string instrument.
As an added bonus, the C7 CE version features, a Fishman Presys Blend preamp, with an under-saddle pickup and internal microphone. This lets you amplify your sound for performances, or plug into a mixing console for recording.
In addition to classical music, the warm sound of the C7, along with the preamp setup, makes it ideal for jazz musicians who play acoustically, or folk players who need something with a lighter feel. While true flamenco players use a slightly different kind of guitar, the C7 lends well to that style as well, as it does to flatpicking.
Whether you think you need a classical-style, nylon string guitar is up to you. I’d advise you to start off by learning about the differences between classical and steel-string guitars and go from there. If you do decide to go the nylon-string route, the Cordoba C7 CE is a versatile, high-quality guitar that will serve you well for decades.
The Cordoba C7 CE
5. Ovation Celebrity Elite Plus
My final recommendation here is for serious beginners who think that amplifying their sound is going to be a huge part of what they plan to do as a guitar player. You’ll need an acoustic-electric guitar with a powerful preamp, one that’s made to be plugged in and played.
In my opinion, Ovation is the ultimate acoustic-electric guitar brand. I played an Ovation Celebrity during my brief but educational foray into the world of acoustic duos a few years back. I chose it over some of the awesome-sounding acoustic guitars I had in my collection at the time because it was so darn easy to amplify and play. I felt like I had total control of my sound, right on the guitar itself, with little to no feedback issues.
Ovation guitars are made to be played live. They’re built a little differently than typical acoustic guitars, with a back shaped like a bowl instead of the usual back and sides.
Ovation uses a patented material called Lyrachord for the back, in place of wood. The rest of the guitar uses more traditional build materials, such as spruce, koa or quilted maple for the top, nato for the neck, and ovangkol for the fretboard and bridge.
Unplugged you’ll find that Ovation guitars—especially the very shallow-bodied models like the Celebrity Elite Plus CE48—sound good, but a bit thin. Plug into an acoustic guitar amp or mixing board and these guitars come alive. The quality of the electrified sound comes down to the design of the guitar itself, as described above, but also the electronics.
The Ovation Slimline pickup and onboard OP-4BT preamp give you fingertip access to a three-band EQ, volume/gain control and tuner. This means you can control your tone on the fly without having to make odd faces and gestures at the sound guy in the back of the room. It also makes recording super easy.
Ovation guitars aren’t for everyone, but I do think they are among the best options for performing musicians who want acoustic-electric instruments. I’d also say they’re the best option for electric guitars players who are looking for an acoustic with more of an electric feel.
More Acoustic Guitars for Serious Beginners
I’ve given you my top choices, based on my own opinion of course. However, there are many, many guitars worth checking out. Here are a few more instruments I think have earned a look. I’m tempted to call these honorable mentions, but that’s not really accurate.
They’re excellent guitars that just didn’t make the very top of my list for one reason or another.
This guitar is a strong competitor for the Martin DX1AE above. In fact, I spent some time with it before choosing the Martin. It’s a very good guitar, with a somewhat brighter sound and a strong electronics package. It features a solid spruce top, layered walnut back and sides, a Sapele neck, and an ebony fingerboard.
Another Taylor guitar I think is worth a look is the 114e. This guitar has similar specs as the 110e, except it features Taylor’s Grand Auditorium body shape. I love the look of this type of Taylor guitar, and practically this body style lends well to both flatpicking and playing fingerstyle.
Ibanez is known for some amazing electric guitars and bass guitars, but some people are surprised to discover their impressive entries in the acoustic guitar world. I think the AE305 is one Ibanez acoustic worth your attention, and not just because of the cool body style and gorgeous fretboard inlays.
Epiphone EJ-200 SCE
Jumbo-body guitars have an excellent projection, a step beyond even the mighty dreadnought. They are excellent for flatpicking, and the choice of many country guitar players. I don’t typically recommend jumbo guitars for beginners. For most, I think the dreadnought has more than enough projection. However, if you are dead set on the idea of a jumbo guitar I think the Epiphone EJ-200SCE is a great choice for a first instrument.
Fender Paramount Series PM-2
Parlor guitars like the Fender Paramount PM-2 are small-bodied instruments intended for play in small group settings. They’re perfect for fingerpicking around the campfire with friends or playing at small gatherings, well, in a parlor, I suppose. (Personally, I really like this style of guitar for blues.) Like jumbos, a parlor guitar is somewhat of a niche instrument, and not one I usually steer beginners toward. But, again, if that’s what you think you want, I recommend the Fender Paramount Series.
The Fender PM-2 Parlor Guitar
What Makes You a Serious Beginner?
Most new guitar players start out with a vague idea of what they hope to accomplish on the instrument. Hazy notions of rock stardom float around in their heads or, at least, hazy notions of impressing a few friends. People love guitar players, they reason, and playing guitar can open the door to a lot of good times.
That’s true. If you are willing to put in the work and learn the instrument, then you are going to have some pretty cool experiences ahead of you. The part about putting in the work is where most beginners become a little less enthusiastic.
Realistically, learning guitar takes time, dedication, and patience. Some newbies (or their parents, in many cases) aren’t convinced they have what it takes to see it through. For those folks, it is important not to spend too much when starting out. There are some excellent acoustic guitars for beginners that walk the line between quality and affordability.
On the other hand, some new players are determined not to let any obstacle stop them from becoming a good guitarist. Maybe they’re adults who have been putting off learning guitar for years and they’re finally ready to cross it off their bucket list.
Or, maybe they’ve just fallen in love with the sound of the instrument and need to make it part of their life. Maybe they are even considering making the guitar a career.
Whatever the reason, these people are highly motivated to learn the instrument, and they are willing to put in the time and effort no matter what it takes. They are in a different category than the typical beginner.
Choosing Your Guitar
The list is based on my own opinions and experiences. I encourage you to consider it a first step in doing your own research and discovery. And, as always, make sure you check out the manufacturer websites for the latest info on their guitars.
Some of the guitars above may seem a little expensive. They come in at prices I am comfortable paying for a new guitar, but I have been playing for over three decades. I can justify it, and as a serious beginner, you can too.
You intend to play guitar for the rest of your life, and you need an instrument that will be right there alongside you the whole time. And realize that the very best acoustic guitars can cost thousands of dollars, so these are still on the low end of the price range.
However, if decide to look at acoustic guitars in the $300 range you can still grab a very good guitar. You may need to upgrade eventually, but it will get you started off right.
You’ll notice several styles of guitars listed in this article.
- The Martin DX1AE and Seagull Maritime are dreadnought-body guitars with great projection, and this is the type I think is best for most beginners.
- The Taylor 114e features a Grand Concert body that works for both fingerstyle playing and flat-picking.
- The Cordoba C7 is a classical guitar, made for playing classical music. The Epiphone Epiphone EJ-200 SCE is made for strumming big chords.
- The Fender Paramount PM2 is a parlor guitar, intended for intimate group settings.
Whichever is best for you will depend on your goals, and since you are a serious beginner you’ve likely thought those through a bit. If you are unsure, consider one of the dreadnought styles.
Good luck getting started on guitar. A whole new world is ahead of you!
Acoustic Guitars for Serious Beginners
© 2018 Michael James