The 10 best cheap acoustic guitars under $/£500: the best guitars for beginners and experts

(Image: © Future)

When we were putting this buyer's guide to the very best budget acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars you can buy, we considered three key factors: how does it sound, how does it look and, yes, how much does it cost?

The cheap acoustic guitar sector is undoubtedly one of the most congested areas of the six-string market. There are literally thousands of models and manufacturers to choose from.

So, help you see the wood for the trees, this buyer's guide contains only the most popular and best-reviewed of the cheapest acoustic guitars, including the best models for beginners, as well as acoustic guitars with pickups.

Whether you're looking for your very first guitar, or yet another for your out-of-control collection, there are some truly spectacular gems on offer - acoustics that punch way above their weight and prove that when it comes to acoustic guitars cheap doesn't necessarily mean nasty.

Not only do they all sound great, most - if not all - are easy on the eye, and best of all, they all retail at under $/£500.

Some of these guitars will make great first instruments, and some will prove to be trusted partners for life.

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(Image: © Future)

1. Taylor GS Mini

The travel guitar that you'll use at home

Launch price: $678 / £499 / €499 | Type: Mini Grand Symphony | Top: Sitka Spruce | Back & sides: Laminated sapele | Neck: Sapele | Scale: 23.5" | Fingerboard: West African Ebony | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Die-Cast Chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Varnish

Build quality and design
Sound and playability
Accessories range
We'd like to see cedar-topped and nylon-strung versions

The Mexican-made Mini is equally functional as both a travel-sized acoustic and "modern day parlour guitar". Despite its small footprint, the GS Mini is no toy instrument: there's a solid Sitka spruce top, a faultless build quality and the setup is immaculate. Rather like a good parlour-size guitar, the GS Mini outputs a sound that belies its compactness. We'd lay a considerable sum to suggest it'd be a fine recording guitar, that tight low-end giving space to a bass guitar (or bassier six-string) while the mids aren't overly honky, as some parlours can be, and the silky, sparkly highs are pure Taylor fidelity. Far from a gimmick, this is a guitar with its own vibe and voice - and both are very appealing. One of the best travel and recording acoustic guitars you can buy.

Read the full review: Taylor GS Mini

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2. Martin LX1E Little Martin

One of the best acoustic guitars for open-mics

Launch price: $439 / £449 | Type: Modified 0-14 Fret | Top: Sitka spruce | Back & sides: High Pressure Laminate | Neck: Stratabond | Scale: 23" | Fingerboard: FSC Certified Richlite | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Gotoh nickel | Electronics: Fishman Sonitone | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Hand Rubbed

Solid build and neat finish
Impressive electro performance
Good value
Open mic-ready
Not as wide-sounding as rivals
Plugged-in tones could be too 'conventional' for some

The Ed Sheeran-favoured Little Martin does feel a little industrial, but from the first strum its more conventional spruce-top voice has us captivated. If you're a classic Martin fan, this is just miniaturised with a lovely crisp-edged voice. Its conventional sound perhaps leads us to traditional 'American' fingerstyle, and its pushy voice would certainly be heard above bigger guitars, both in an ensemble or a recording. Serious fun. The material may be man-made, but the fingerboard and bridge look like dense ebony, while the dark-hued HPL back and sides ape a dark, rich mahogany with the back's central core material giving a dark binding line, which evokes a classy feel. Our Martin has only pre-set EQ, and without that engaged things are a little middly and boxy: it definitely sounds more conventional with the contour switch, which cleans up the mids a little and adds some crispness. Like its acoustic voice, the Martin sounds very 'conventional' plugged in and that's no bad thing. It's really easy to dial in: we scooped a little lower midrange and that was about it. Open-mic ready, we'd say!

Read the full review: Martin LX1E Little Martin

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3. Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany

One of the best guitars for beginners, with a low, low price tag

Launch price: $199 / £160 | Type: Dreadnought | Top: Solid Mahogany | Back & sides: Laminated Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 25.3" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Chrome Die-Cast | Electronics: N/A | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Gloss

Superb value for money
Great intonation
Excellent for beginners
Looks may put some off

The entry model of the Classic Design Series is a good reminder of just how much guitar you can get for your money at the more affordable end of the market. We've come far since the days of high-action, poor tuning stability and shoddy construction that used to mark out lower-priced models. Instead, we're offered a solid-wood mahogany top, laminated mahogany back/sides and an inviting rolled fretboard edge. The CD-60S' intonation is great out of the box, too, though not too low to make us wary of alternate tunings. The mid-character of mahogany is certainly here, bringing some meat to a brightness usually associated with spruce tops. The result is something that’s genuinely inspiring to play and chimes in chord work. Why should new players settle for just okay when they need to be comfortable and inspired?

Read the full review: Fender CD-60S All-Mahogany

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4. Art & Lutherie Roadhouse Tennessee Red

Earthy blues and country tones on a tight budget

Launch price: $449 / £369 | Type: Parlour | Top: Solid Spruce | Back & sides: Laminated Wild Cherry | Neck: Silver Leaf Maple | Scale: 24.84" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Open-gear 18:1 antique brass | Electronics: Fishman Sonitone A/E built-in electronics (optional) | Left-handed: No | Finish: Semi-Gloss Patina

Ideal for blues and country
Superb projection
Not one for players with large hands

Made by Art & Lutherie, a sub-brand of Godin Guitars (known mostly for its electric guitars) this parlour model cuts straight to the chase - it’s clean, it’s earthy, it’s got attack and its design takes you back in time to the rural deep south where all you might have needed were the clothes on your back and this instrument for company. Playing this Roadhouse Tennessee Red is an absolute joy. The middle and upper ranges of the guitar are very strong. When we try some alternative tuning, dropping the bottom E to a D opens up the bass no end. Blues and country come to the fore. There’s clarity too, combined with an understated subtle warmth. A pocket-sized bag of country rock ‘n’ roll - compact and ready to go at a moment’s notice. One of the best acoustic guitars for blues players and country guitarists alike.

Read the full review: Art & Lutherie Roadhouse Tennessee Red

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5. Sigma SDM-15

Stunningly affordable solid mahogany all-rounder

Launch price: $760 / £499 | Type: Dreadnought | Top: Solid mahogany | Back & sides: Solid mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 25.4" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: | Tuners: Chrome-plated Grover, sealed tuners | Electronics: Fishman Sonitone | Left-handed: No | Finish: Matt

Simple beauty
Sonic personality
Fuss-free operation
Great price
Only the wholly derivative design

In a timeless classic dreadnought design, the SDM-15 appears to offer something to satisfy the needs of many a blues, folk or bluegrass picker or strummer. Open chords and 1st-position licks fall deftly under the fingers, while moving up the neck for barre chords and other musings requires no huge effort. The compensated bone saddle means intonation is as good as it gets on an acoustic. Whether it's used as a basher of chords, for the odd solo or with a capo for fingerpicked accompaniments, the SDM-15 passes muster on all counts. While it doesn't exactly brim with sophistication, it's a wholesome voice that matches the guitar's appearance: earthy, rich and dark. Should you be looking for a bluesy belter or general all-round acoustic, then the SDM-15 is the no-brainer of all no-brainers, even if it does push the budget a little! 

Read the full review: Sigma SDM-15

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6. Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlor

A parlour guitar with plenty of '30s charm

Launch price: $299 / £290 / €318 | Type: Parlor | Top: Solid Sitka Spruce | Back & sides: Laminated Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 19 | Tuners: Vintage style open back | Electronics: N/A | Left-handed: No | Finish: Thin Gloss Polyester

Fantastic tone
Great looks
Really nice player
Could do with more punch from the low E

The G9511 looks as though it’s lived inside a sepia-toned photograph and, as if by magic, we were able to pull it out and play it. Tone-wise, this acoustic guitar is wonderful; airy, bright and sparkling, without any of the harshness you might expect from a spruce and laminate combination. Make no mistake, this is a relatively trebly guitar and the low E string in particular is positively quiet, but that’s no bad thing. It would be easy to act snobbish about the laminate back and sides and the Asian origin, but don’t be. Instead, try this guitar for yourself and you’ll find it better than many more expensive rivals, even some of those with all-solid woods. 

Read the full review: Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlour

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7. Yamaha LJ6 ARE

Quite possibly the best acoustic guitar under $500

Launch price: $499 / £469 | Type: Medium Jumbo | Top: Solid Engelmann spruce | Back & sides: Mahogany laminate | Neck: Mahogany/rosewood 5-ply | Scale: 25.6" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Yamaha enclosed, gold tuners | Electronics: Yamaha SRT Zero Impact pickup | Left-handed: | Finish: Gloss

Incredible value
'Zero Impact' pickups
Lovely neck
Great build quality
Nothing at this price!

The Chinese-built 6 L Series guitars represent an auspicious meeting of Yamaha's ultra-credible heritage with distinctly mid-level pricing. As ever with Yamaha, the standard of finishing is superb. With a heavier set of phosphor bronze strings, and that sweetness is all there, punching far above its price point with a tone that suits rhythm strumming very well; beginners and acoustic newbies might find the sound more forgiving and pleasing than the LS16M, for example. Plugged in, the 'Zero Impact' passive pickups are instantly likeable. More important is the timeless approach that makes those guitars just as relevant now as they would have been at almost any point in the 40 years since the L Series first appeared.

Read the full review: Yamaha LJ6 ARE

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8. Faith Nomad Mini-Neptune

A pristine build makes this one of the best travel guitars

Launch price: £469 | Type: Small Jumbo | Top: Solid mahogany | Back & sides: Solid mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 23.22" | Fingerboard: Indonesian Ebony | Frets: 18 | Tuners: Faith Precision | Electronics: Faith CnR-3 Pickup System. | Left-handed: No | Finish: Satin

Fantastic tone
Great build
Nothing worth mentioning!

Faith has built an enviable reputation based on incredible value for money thanks to all-solid construction and designs by renowned luthier Patrick James Eggle. The all-mahogany construction of the Neptune works wonders with this relatively small-bodied instrument. The mids bring an unexpected but pleasant depth and presence to the tone that is well balanced across the strings and belies the size of the body. It’s ‘woody’ sounding, with lots of plummy mids making fingerpicked chords and lead passages leap off the fingerboard. The Nomad series stands tall with the very best in its class. Faith has gone to more effort than any other maker we can think of, to make sure that its smallest instrument is every bit as wonderful as its most expensive - and that’s nothing short of remarkable. 

Read the full review: Faith Nomad Mini-Neptune

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9. Washburn Woodline 10 Series WLO12SE

Sparkling, fingerstyle-friendly orchestra model

Launch price: $369 / £329 | Type: Orchestra | Top: Solid Mahogany | Back & sides: Solid Mahogany | Neck: Satin Mahogany | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Chrome die-cast | Electronics: Fishman Presys II 301T | Left-handed: | Finish: Gloss

Perfect for singer-songwriters
Great price
Classic orchestra sound
Neck isn't the prettiest

While a dreadnought generally offers a solid blend of bass, mid and treble, the orchestra is more about the sparkling highs and tight bottom-end. Handling the WLO12SE is a joy. The action is low - something that will appeal to electric players looking for a stress-free transition to an acoustic. The frets are beautifully finished, and the slim neck allows you to noodle away for hours without cramping up. The Fishman provides a good representation of the guitar's acoustic qualities through an amp. The electro-acoustic market is so swamped these days, it can be tempting to just grab the first decent dread you see and scuttle off home. The WLO12SE is a beautifully realised reminder that you should take the time to narrow your search and find a playing experience and tone that suits your needs.

Read the full review: Washburn Woodline 10 Series WLO12SE

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10. Taylor Big Baby Taylor-e

The quintessential Baby electro

Launch price: $648 / £514 / €499 | Type: Small dreadnought | Top: Spruce | Back & sides: Layered sapele (sapele/poplar/sapele) | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Die-Cast Chrome | Electronics: Taylor ES-B pickup & preamp | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Varnish

Strong, clean Taylor tonality
Balanced plugged-in sound
Excellent build
Great value for a USA-made electro
Aesthetics won't suit all

For many, the Big Baby remains a near-bombproof working guitar, perfectly fit for purpose. Acoustically, it has quite a hallmark Taylor tonality: strong, clean and quite brightly voiced with a condensed bass end. On the one hand it lacks the complexity and subtlety of a higher-end all-solid wood Taylor, but, conversely, its strident projection and trim-for-a-dreadnought low end make it sit very well in a mix, both in the studio and live. If you appreciate quality but don't like or can't afford a 'posh' guitar, then you should try this Big Baby electro. It's the best cheap Taylor acoustic guitar you can buy.

Read the full review: Taylor Big Baby Taylor-e

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