For professional live and studio players, here are the very best of the brands at the top end of the acoustic guitar market. These acoustic guitars are reserved for those of you lucky enough to have in excess of $/£1,000 burning a hole in your pockets.
Each and every one of the guitars in this round-up have gained a minimum of 4.5 stars in our stringent reviews process. That means we feel these models' build quality, sound, playability and value for money are not in question, even at this rarified level.
Here, you're looking at the cream of the crop in terms of build quality and tonewoods. Notably, the trend for pre-aged wood via torrefaction processes is making it possible to buy new acoustics that already sound like well-worn vintage classics.
In addition, many of these choices are acoustic guitars with pickups and electro-acoustic options, making for easy live performance and recording.
1. Gibson Montana Hummingbird
The iconic Gibson song 'bird, beloved by folk, rock and country
Launch price: $3,849 / £2,099 | Type: Square Shoulder | Top: Sitka spruce | Back & sides: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Grover™ Rotomatics | Left-handed: Limited run | Finish: Nitrocellulose
From top to bottom, this Hummingbird creates a buzz. Whatever your preference in size, colour, tone and playing style, it’s difficult to avoid picking this Cherry Sunburst up. It’s such a simple guitar to play that it’s rare to ever feel like you’re incapable of striking the right chord - especially on a neck that’s just 12” in radius. While the traditionally ornate decoration and blushing finish have been lovingly retained, this modern Montana incarnation offers a discrete LR Baggs Element VTC system for plug-in power. It is unlike many we have seen and produces one of the best sounds we’ve heard from an electro-acoustic. Throw in the pleasure of playing such a superb guitar and it’s tough to say anything bad about this Hummingbird. It's one of the best Gibson acoustic guitars you can buy today.
Read the full review: Gibson Montana Hummingbird
2. Martin D-28 Reimagined for 2017
This all-rounder reboot makes this the best dreadnought acoustic you can buy
Launch price: $3,399 / £2,399 / €2,666 | Type: Dreadnought | Top: Sitka Spruce | Back & sides: East Indian Rosewood | Neck: Select Hardwood | Scale: 25.4'' | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Nickel Open Gear | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Gloss
Many consider the D-28 to be ultimate expression of the dreadnought form, so ‘Reimagining’ such a guitar could be a poisoned chalice. Fortunately, you can still feel the gravity of that 184 years of history in its high-end guitars. The latest D-28 features forward-shifted bracing, a wider nut and vintage-style aesthetic changes, but it’s the new neck design that really makes this the most comfortable and accessible dreadnought playing experience we can remember for some time. The sound is balanced and maintains the very definition of an ‘all-rounder’. Notes ring out with sustain - that clear piano-like definition we love from Nazareth’s craftsmen. Harmonics come easy and, with strumming, the high mids and treble have choral qualities that don’t overshadow the lower mids. Despite the tweaks, our test model still largely feels like the acoustic equivalent of Leo Fender’s Stratocaster design. Just as that outline is most synonymous with ‘electric guitar’, so too the D-28 continues to embody the dreadnought in look and sound.
Read the full review: Martin D-28 Reimagined for 2017
3. Taylor Builder’s Edition V-Class K14CE
A top-class electro-acoustic with game-changing construction
Launch price: $4,999 / £5,795 / €5,499 | Type: Grand Auditorium | Top: Torrefied Sitka spruce | Back & sides: Koa | Neck: Tropical mahogany | Scale: 25-1/2" | Fingerboard: West African Ebony | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Gotoh | Left-handed: No | Finish: Silent Satin
The Builder’s Edition V-Class K14ce is quite a statement of intent. It combines Taylor's revolutionary new V bracing with a notably different, more comfortable, Grand Auditorium style. Of course, its build quality is nothing short of exceptional as we’d expect, and not least at this price. We’re also reminded of the K14ce’s high-end lineage, however, by the paua ‘spring vine’ inlay that lies down the majority of the black/dark brown ebony ’board, while a lighter koa purfling stripe sits just inside the ebony edge-binding and continues around the headstock, which is again ebony-faced with a relatively demure paua inlay. The aged-gold Gotoh tuners perfectly fit the slightly worn-in vibe - hugely understated class, just like the green abalone dots in the ebony bridge-pins. While there’s plenty for those who love details to admire, the modern Taylor guitar is hugely sorted in terms of playing feel. V-Class, Builder’s Edition? Get used to those terms. Taylor has upped the ante. Considerably.
Read the full review: Taylor Builder’s Edition V-Class K14CE
4. Yamaha A5R ARE
Acoustic guitars with pickups don't get much better than this
Launch price: $1,399 / £1,279 | Type: Dreadnought Cutaway | Top: Solid Sitka Spruce with A.R.E. treatment | Back & sides: Solid Rosewood | Neck: African Mahogany | Scale: 25.6" | Fingerboard: Ebony, rolled edges | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Gotoh chrome open gear | Left-handed: No | Finish: Gloss
There is traditionally a gap between how we enjoy the sound of our guitars and the way they’re represented plugged in. Enter Yamaha, a leader in stage-ready acoustic technology for decades - and in the A5R ARE, it has offered a very desirable solution. The A5R's rounded fretboard edges offer an enjoyable playing experience that mimics the feeling of guitars that have been played in to a degree and it has an ethereal quality in the high ranges, even though some treble resonance is traded with the lower action. The A5’s resonance and bright balance is a fine showcase for the clever SRT2 preamp - we actually couldn’t dial in a ‘bad’ sound, because the treble and bass controls mirror the natural subtlety of the pickup/mic dynamic design. An electro experience that captures the sound of an unplugged acoustic? The SRT2 is one of the closest to get there yet. An update that marks the A Series out as an essential consideration for players who rely on a consistent and controllable stage sound.
Read the full review: Yamaha A5R ARE
5. Guild Traditional D-55
A highly desirable, slim-necked dreadnought
Launch price: $3,819 / £2,470 / €3,119 | Type: Dreadnought | Top: 'AAA' Solid Sitka spruce | Back & sides: Solid Indian rosewood | Neck: Three-piece mahogany/ walnut/mahogany | Scale: 25.625" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Gotoh SE700 Open Gear | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
The D-55 is Guild's dreadnought, very similar in shape to the all-conquering 14-fret Martin on which it's based. However, if your used to a handful in the neck, the D-55 dreadnought makes for quite the contrast: a gloss neck, and slimmer nut accentuating the neck's overall thinness; more a D than a C profile, to invite comfortable first-position chords, aided by an impressively low action. That Adirondack bracing is doing its job, too, because string separation, definition and dynamic range are all notable and it feels loud, alive and resonant when playing soft or hard. If this guitar is anything to go by, the latest Traditional models are absolutely up there with the other big American names, offering superb quality craftsmanship and world-class tone. The D-55 is a potentially serious workhorse that has every likelihood of outlasting and outperforming any one of us as long as we can keep on picking - a sumptuous strummer.
Read the full review: Guild Traditional D-55
6. Martin D-15M Burst
A mid-priced, praise-worthy dreadnought
Launch price: $1,749 / £1,239 / €1,550 | Type: Dreadnought | Top: Solid mahogany | Back & sides: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 25.4" | Fingerboard: Pau Ferro | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Nickel Open Gear | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Satin nitrocellulose
This D-15M dreadnought features a solid 'genuine' (South American) mahogany top over A-Frame X bracing; the same material is used for the back, sides and neck. The neck profile is a 'modified low oval', and it's hard to imagine anyone having a problem with it. Bone nut and saddle: check. Vintage-style, open-gear tuners check. Super-thin matt nitrocellulose finish all over: check. Tonally, there is a rich and projecting core sound that's complemented by the unmistakable, Martin D-resonance. It's vibrant and ebullient, yet not brash; warm and full without being thick or indistinct. It puts every single cent of its build budget into making the best sounding and playing instrument, with very little concession to cosmetics, electronics or anything else. Solid woods, improved neck joint, bone nut and saddle, no frills whatsoever, save for the 'burst – it's unreservedly recommended.
Read the full review: Martin D-15M Burst
7. Collings CJ35
A luxurious, flawless modern-vintage guitar for those looking to invest
Launch price: $4860 / £4615 | Type: Jumbo | Top: Solid Sitka spruce | Back & sides: Solid mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.875" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Open back Waverly tuners | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Gloss nitrocellulose
There's no doubt about it, the CJ35 is utterly breathtaking. Every angle, every edge chamfer and detail is executed with the kind of meticulous precision rarely seen in guitar- making at any level. The specs might look simple on paper, but the tiny details delight, for example the perfect walnut strip down the centre of the mahogany back, the unfussy yet charming body binding and rosette and the cut-through bone saddle that extends into the shoulders of the unfussy rosewood bridge. It weighs next to nothing, and you can feel the thing vibrating the second you take it from the case. The quality of build, not to mention the precision and depth of the CJ35's tone are second to none. A scarily good, once-in-a-lifetime guitar for a very lucky few.
Read the full review: Collings CJ35
8. Taylor 612ce 12-fret
Making maple acoustics a must-have
Launch price: $3,349 / £3,847 / €3,698 | Type: Grand Concert | Top: Sitka Spruce | Back & sides: Maple | Neck: Hard Rock Maple | Scale: 24-7/8" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 18 | Tuners: Taylor Slot Head | Electronics: N/A | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Gloss
The 600 series pairs maple back and sides with a spruce top that has gone through Taylor’s torrefaction process, which accelerates the wood’s aging process through heat. We couldn’t find a single fault with this guitar’s build quality and the 612ce is an unbelievably comfortable guitar to play. The tone is still that of a maple guitar, but a more refined one than we’re used to. Likewise with the torrefied spruce: it’s immediately familiar, but with enough difference to cause a cocked ear. Strumming out chords and standard singer-songwriter fare was pleasing, and it put in a good shift with some country-style flat-picking, but it is fingerstyle playing that this guitar lives and breathes. By any token these models from the 600 series are stunning guitars. They have a laudable ecological footprint, they look superb and they have rich, unexpected tonal qualities.
Read the full review: Taylor 612ce 12-fret
9. Ibanez AE500-NT
A well-made practical electro for band players
Launch price: $1,799 / £1,099 | Type: AE | Top: Solid Sitka spruce | Back & sides: Solid Indian Rosewood | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 25.6" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Gotoh SG301 tuners | Electronics: Ibanez Custom Electronics | Left-handed: No | Finish: Gloss
Opening the case, the AE doesn't disappoint. There are the classic lines of the AE body, with just the right amount of bling, you instantly feel that you are looking at a quality instrument. As you'd expect from Ibanez, the neck, quite frankly is a dream. Featuring its advanced comfort profile to be found on all the AE range, it is slim and relatively shallow and combined with the silky satin finish makes it a joy to play. Tonally, the combination of Sitka spruce and the bracing result in a guitar that is seriously bright while still being well balanced and that definitely projects. It also sustains forever and, while uncomplicated, will sit exceptionally well in a band situation. At this price, the AE500 is a serious contender and gives the Martins and Gibsons in this price range a run for their money - it's one of the best Ibanez acoustic guitars on the market.
Read the full review: Ibanez AE500-NT
10. Gibson Montana SJ-200 Standard
One of the all-time best acoustic guitars, updated for today
Launch price: $6,792 / £3,999 | Type: Jumbo | Top: Sitka Spruce | Back & sides: Maple | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 20 | Tuners: Grover Gold | Electronics: LR Baggs Anthem | Left-handed: No | Finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer
Want to get a good impression of how the SJ-200 sounds? Well, Dylan can show you how it strums, Emmylou how it picks, or listen to Pete Townshend thrashing nine bells out of his one on Pinball Wizard. You might also want to take in George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun or anything by the Everly Brothers. As you'd expect, given the "reassuringly expensive" (i.e. enormous) price tag, the build quality throughout is faultless, superb. The first thing you notice when you sit down to play it is just how sweetly the neck sits in your hand and how easy it is to play. It’s a big lump of money, but when you buy the SJ-200, you’re not just buying the guitar; you’re buying a piece of history.
Read the full review: Gibson Montana SJ-200 Standard