The great unplugged have spoken and cast their votes for the best new acoustic guitar of 2021, and if these results are indicative of where acoustic design is going then it bodes well for the instrument.
This might be the age of the couch buddy, the small-bodied sofa strummer that works well as a travel guitar, too, but your Top 10 acoustics welcomes all shapes and sizes to the party.
And we mean shapes, with our runner-up showcasing what can be done with a hybrid instrument that erases the boundaries between the acoustic and the electric guitar.
In third, we’ve got a much-loved classic reworked for a friendlier price point, while our top spot is a showcase of what can be done with a subtle variation on a theme – taking the body size down, scaling down, and using innovative bracing patterns that help endow the instrument with some fearsome lungs.
It ain’t cheap, but there are guitars at all price brackets here, and whether you are a next-gen folk troubadour or a Jedi fingerstyle player, there is something for everyone here.
1. Taylor GT 811e
The Grand Theater body shape has been a resounding success for Taylor. Shaped after Taylor's Grand Orchestra models – smaller, a little shallower too – the GT is a compact but not overly dinky instrument, with its 'medium' 24-1/8-inch scale giving it an easy feel.
Fingerstylists will love it. Not least for the string spacing, but for the bright, treble-forward sheen it puts on your playing. But there is heaps of power and low-end oomph here, too, courtesy of Taylor's new C-Class bracing system.
While the GT series was introduced with an Urban Ash build, the GT 811e sees it join the Taylor mainline collection, and has a solid Sitka spruce top with Indian rosewood on the back and sides, and comes equipped with Taylor's superlative ES2 electronics.
All the other details you might expect of the 800 series are here – the MOP fretboard and peghead inlays, the 4.5-mil gloss finish, and of course the forensic level of detail and clarity in its voicing. Exquisite.
2. Fender American Acoustasonic Jazzmaster
Picture the scene. It's NAMM, 1959, the last time the convention was held at the Hotel New Yorker. And you ask the crowd a question, "What would acoustic guitars look like in the year 2021?" How many of them would have even dreamed of a guitar like this?
Indeed, when the Acoustasonic series first debuted at NAMM 2019 with a remodelled hybrid acoustic electric Fender Telecaster it blew minds. Well, we've all adjusted our screens, so to speak, and now the Acoustasonic is just another one of those classic moments in Fender history when the brand drags guitar evolution kicking and screaming into a new era.
The American Acoustasonic Jazzmaster might well be the best in the series yet, or at least the most versatile. There is so much sound to explore between blending between the acoustic engine and the electromagnetic pickup, that it in many respects redefines what we mean by an acoustic electric.
The offset shape of the Jazzmaster wears the hybrid design well, with its forearm contour and electric guitar feel making it a supremely comfortable ride, and the sort of do-it-all guitar that serious players would do well to have on hand at all times. It's versatile, playable – a talking point – and, heck, it's pretty cool to look at, too.
MusicRadar verdict: The Acoustasonic Jazzmaster is a serious investment but for the right player, it’s a wise one. If you lean on a looper for live performance, it could be a real gamechanger. If you’re in a function band and want to more between worlds with ease, it’s a solution. Above all it’s a really enjoyable and inspiring guitar to play.
Read more: Fender American Acoustasonic Jazzmaster review
3. Epiphone Inspired By Gibson Hummingbird
The Gibson Hummingbird is a solid-platinum classic of aspirational acoustic guitar design but it comes at a price. What Epiphone's Inspired By Gibson series does is put this big-bodied, voluminous-lunged beauty within reach of the fiscally average.
It's not an entry-level guitar by any means. Indeed, it is not a cheap acoustic guitar by any stretch, but for just under 800 bucks you get the vibe, the feel and a stunning acoustic guitar on its own terms.
Like the best top-line Epiphone models, it shortens the distance between entry-level Gibson USA and Epiphone, and asks the question, "Do you need to spend more?" Well, if you've got it, why not? But this all-solid build, with spruce up top, mahogany round the back and sides, is aspirational in its own right. It has songs in it for sure.
MusicRadar verdict: A convincing and grown-up Epiphone take on Gibson's most-famous acoustic, the Inspired By Gibson Hummingbird bears the sonic hallmarks of its illustrious US-built kin. All at a more attainable price.
Read more: Epiphone Inspired By Gibson Hummingbird review
4. Gibson Generation Series
Gibson USA's most-affordable acoustic guitars, the Generation Collection comprises four models, each inspired by tried and tested Gibson designs. The G-Writer cutaway electro-acoustic, the G-200 jumbo cutaway electro, the G-45 slope-shouldered dreadnought, and the L-00 inspired G-00.
The G-200 and G-Writer have LR Baggs Bronze Anthem pickups, the G-00 and G-45 are all acoustic. But all four share a lot of details – solid spruce tops, walnut on the back and sides, a super-tidy stripped down aesthetic with satin Natural finishes. And, what else? ...Oh, yeah, each comes equipped with a Player Port – an extra soundhole positioned on the player's side to give you quote/unquote the best seat in the house.
The Player Port design dates back to the '60s but has been repositioned and fine-tuned, and if it is not revolutionary in terms of the guitar's sound for the audience, it offers excellent feedback of your sound and playing, the sort of quasi-monitoring experience that could be invaluable in a noisy gig setting.
Furthermore, the prices are very tempting. No acoustic out of the Bozeman, Montana facility has ever been this financially accessible. The Gibson Generation Collection is a superb addition to the brand's acoustic lineup.
5. Takamine PTU441-MTB
This compact acoustic is a limited edition run that is well worth pulling the credit card trigger on ASAP if you are looking for an upscale acoustic with a smaller frame.
The build and finish is typically Takamine – flawless – and the aesthetic with the square slotted headstock is very cool. The tones are sweeter than honey, with a dutiful sense of top-end detail to bring the best out of your fingerstyle playing, while amplified, the PTU441-MTB shows a range that makes it suitable for a number of styles.
MusicRadar verdict: With its tasteful, classy aesthetic, tidy build and sweet tones, the PTU441 is an exemplary small-bodied acoustic, that’s well worth checking out while it’s available.
Read more: Takamine PTU441-MTB review
6. Cort Core-OC
MusicRadar verdict: Cort has spec'd up three immaculate OM cutaway acoustics that offer unbeatable value, easy playability and a variety of sounds that just go to show how the choice of woods affect an instrument's tone.
Read more: Cort Core OC Series review
7. Breedlove Premier Concertina CE
MusicRadar Verdict: The Concertina is all charm, nuance, and feel, with the power of Adirondack spruce lending it a beautiful, expressive voice that is a fingerpicker's delight, and a treat for anyone who values a small-bodied acoustic that goes big on dynamics.
Read more: Breedlove Premier Concertina CE
8. PRS SE Tonare Parlor P20E
Now available in a shade of milkshake pink, PRS's affordable but serious parlor-sized Tonare acoustic has been a massive hit since its launch, hitting the sweet spot for many players looking for a modestly proportioned couch buddy with a grown-up voice that does well as a strummer and excels for fingerstyle.
9. Epiphone USA Collection FT110 Frontier
MusicRadar verdict: An exquisite, aspirational dreadnought acoustic with unbeatable looks, and a big, bold voice and a feel that lends itself to whatever style takes your fancy.
Read more: Epiphone USA Collection FT110 Frontier
10. Yamaha NCX5
With solid spruce on top, solid walnut on the back and sides, a superb build and elegant design, Yamaha's NCX5 is your electro nylon-string guitar of the year. Some traditionalists might find it a little too much of a crossover nylon-string to be their main classical squeeze, but its authoritative voice and superb playability makes it a sound beat for anyone looking for a pro-quality option for the stage.