The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Affordable Acoustic Guitars
You don’t have to spend a lot to grab an amazing acoustic guitar. Sure, there are some instruments out there costing thousands of dollars, and they are pretty darned good. But even if you are an intermediate player or a veteran guitarist who needs to stick to a budget of around $400, you still have some great choices.
I think there are a few things you need to look for when choosing a budget-level acoustic. Firstly, consider the construction of the guitar. Some inexpensive guitars employ cost-cutting measures that impact the performance and the sound of the instrument. While you aren’t going to expect your budget acoustic to have the same build quality and sound as an expensive instrument, you should know that the guitar company put some thought into the design of the guitar.
For example, in this price range, you should expect a guitar with a solid wood top. However, the back and sides of the guitar may be laminate and may be made from alternative tonewoods. This isn’t necessarily bad, and it does help to keep the price of the guitar under control, but you need to be aware of what you are getting.
You’ll also find a lot of acoustic-electric guitars in this price range. Proceed with caution here, because the pickup and electronics are factored into the cost of the guitar. In other words, for the same money, you might be able to get a better quality purely acoustic guitar without the electronics. Again, an acoustic-electric guitar in this price range might be the perfect choice for you, if you pick the right one.
In this article, I’ve lined up my top acoustic guitars around the $400-500 price point, from some of the best acoustic guitar brands in the world. They all sound and look fantastic, and I think any one of them will get the job done for the intermediate-level guitarist. But what really matters is what you think. Check them out, do your own research, and see if you agree with me.
Let’s look at some guitars!
Seagull S6 Original
The Seagull S6 Original gets my top recommendation here. I really like Seagull guitars. They’re high-quality, sound great, and cost a whole lot less than it seems like they should. The S6 in particular has earned a reputation as one of the best “bangs for the buck” in the guitar world. It’s also an instrument with a bit of a unique flair. Just look at that headstock and the slightly narrowed shoulders!
The headstock isn’t just cool, it’s also functional. The shape allows for a straight string pull, which helps to keep your guitar in tune. Seagull guitars also feature a compound curved top, which is very slightly arched compared to a traditional flat-top acoustic. This leads to increased strength, stability, and projection. Smart.
Seagull is owned by Godin, and their guitars are made in Canada. This is a big point in my book. There is nothing wrong with a guitar made overseas, and in this price range that’s what you’ll typically find. However, when a guitar company maintains a labor force in a country like Canada or the United States it does tell me they take a certain pride in their instruments. It may be trivial, but I like that.
The Seagull S6 Original features a solid cedar top with wild cherry back and sides and a silver-leaf maple neck. I like this tonewood combination for a general-purpose acoustic as it provides a nice middle-ground for strumming or finger-picking.
But be aware that the S6 comes in a bunch of different flavors. In addition to the Original, there are acoustic-electric models, S6 Original versions with smaller concert-style bodies, nice-looking sunburst or burnt-umber tops, and a Slim model with slightly narrower string spacing.
On a personal note, I’ve pretty much decided a Seagull acoustic is going to be my next guitar purchase. I’ll be choosing between the Maritime SWS (a more expensive model) and the S6 Original. Hopefully, it won’t be long before I’m posting a full review!
More on the Seagull S6 Original
Taylor Big Baby
The Taylor Big Baby is another acoustic guitar that has earned somewhat of a legendary reputation. This is a dreadnought-style guitar with a slightly undersized body, made by one of the premier names in the acoustic guitar world. Taylor instruments typically command thousands of dollars, but this one is very affordable and comes in around the $400 mark.
I always recommend the Big Baby for intermediate acoustic guitarists, but it’s also a fine choice for advanced players who are looking for a high-quality but inexpensive instrument as a second guitar. It has the sound and playability you’d expect from a name like Taylor but without the wallet-crushing price.
So how does Taylor do it? The Big Baby features a solid Sitka spruce top, which is a common tonewood for acoustic guitars. But from there we see layered sapele back and sides. Layered guitar bodies typically feature a central wood such as popular, sandwiched between two sheets of another tonewood, in this case, sapele. Sapele is an alternative tonewood similar to mahogany.
Obviously, if the Big Baby had a solid mahogany back and sides it would cost a heck of a lot more. By using innovative built techniques like this Taylor not only keeps the price down but gives us an instrument that’s a little more resistant to temperature fluctuations.
And, it is clear that whatever Taylor does to this guitar hasn’t impacted its reputation for great sound. It’s also nice, in my opinion anyway, that it is a relatively bare-bones instrument. That means the builder has concentrated on the important stuff, not the frills and extras. There are no electronics or binding or ornate rosette ring. It’s a basic, simple guitar made for no-nonsense players.
So, does the Big Baby Taylor stand up to a comparison with other higher-end Taylor models? Of course not, and it isn’t meant to. But, it is one of the best budget acoustic guitars on the market today. It’s affordable enough for beginners and sounds good enough for pros.
It’s hard to ask for more than that!
Dawsons Reviews the Big Baby
Yamaha FGX820C and FSX820C
If you’re thinking you need an acoustic-electric guitar but you still have to stick to a tight budget, here are my top recommendations. I’ll actually talk about two guitars here, both from Yamaha. Yamaha makes some of the best acoustic guitars for beginners. I always recommend their FG and FS Series specifically. These are super-affordable instruments with some excellent quality standards.
But Yamaha makes good stuff for guitarists of all experience levels. In this case, we’re looking at the FGX and FSX, versions of the FG and FS Series with onboard electronics. I mentioned before how you have to be smart when choosing an acoustic-electric guitar at budget prices because the cost of the electronics will impact the quality of the guitar. In the case of Yamaha, at least when it comes to these instruments, I don’t think that’s so much of an issue.
So, what’s the difference between the FGX820C and FSX820C? Yamaha FG guitars feature traditional dreadnought-style bodies great for projection and strumming, where the FS has a smaller concert-style body that’s a little more suited for finger-style playing. It’s a personal choice, but if you are on the fence I’d suggest going with the FGX. Dreadnought-bodied acoustics are solid all-purpose guitars.
Otherwise, there are a lot of similarities between these two guitars. Both have solid spruce tops, mahogany back and sides, and a nato neck. (Nato is a tonewood comparable to mahogany.) Both guitars have a single-cutaway design, both have a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and both feature Yamaha’s System66 preamp.
The choice is yours, but you really can’t go wrong. If you’re looking for a pure acoustic I’d suggest the Seagull S6 or Taylor Big Baby. But, if you want to plug in and you need to stick right around that $400 budget, these Yamaha acoustics will get the job done.
The New Yamaha FG Series
Truth is, there are many more guitars I could have thrown at you. When I do these shortlists I try to whittle them down to the best of the best. This is based on my own opinion of course, and my 30 years as a guitar player.
But just in case none of my top picks do it for you, here are a few more guitars I considered. You also may want to check out my list of top acoustic guitars under $300.
- Ibanez Exotic Woods: Ibanez has several models in their Exotic Woods Series that land right around the $400 mark. These are some beautiful acoustic-electric instruments featuring a unique body shape and top tonewoods such as Zebrawood, Cordia, and Spalted Maple.
- Fender T Bucket 400 CE: You know you can count on Fender to rock, even in acoustic mode. The T-Bucket Series is made to be plugged in. These guitars have all the hallmarks of a classic acoustic-electric with a slightly edgier vibe.
- Washburn Woodline Series: Washburn acoustics just have a certain simple, honest vibe to me. I love their Solid Woods Series. You won’t get all solid woods at this price point, and I see some of that craftsmanship come through in the more affordable WLD20S.
Choose Your Acoustic
I’ve told you what I think. Remember this is all based on my opinions and experiences. Now it’s up to you. I encourage you to do your own research and check with the manufacturer's sites for the latest info on their gear.
The guitars in this article are a good starting point, but you may find there is something out there totally different that’s a better fit for you. The more you learn about guitars, the better off you’ll be when it comes to making these decisions.
Best Budget Acoustic Guitar Around $400
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 07, 2016:
Hi Mark! I just did a little research, based on your criteria. For guitars that meet your stated needs I think you're already on the right track. I do like Seagull for quality, but as you say they are not quite traditional. I really like the Vintage Washburns (gorgeous), but if you can't get past the v-shaped neck that's a big thing. Ibanez has some nice offerings, like the AVN10 which is slightly higher in price.
I think I'd be leaning toward the Cort L1200P, even though it is a little more expensive. It would be ideal if you could play them, but if you can't you may not want to spend so much. In that case, for a budget parlor guitar I think either the Washburn WP11SNS or Alvarez AP70 would be a fine choice based on your criteria and compared to your other options out there.
Good luck! I hope you land a great guitar that's perfect for you!
Mark2 on July 06, 2016:
Hi, Guitargopher, thanks for the great hub!
I'm going to grab an affordable parlor acoustic. I've read a lot about them (but played a few - they're not very common round here) and I'm thinking about Washburn WP11SNS (they also make great-looking Vintage Series, but I don't think I'd like that V-shape neck), Alvarez AP70 (very positively reviewed on acousticguitar.com) and a little pricier Cort L1200P (L900P seems to be fine too, but it's unavailable here). They differ in scale and woods, but it doesn't matter a lot to me. They're also nice parlor-size Seagulls, but I'd prefer something more traditional in look and feel (like slotted headstock and 12-fret neck joint).
Do you have any experience with this kind of stuff?