It's almost unbelievable what a budget of 500 bucks or under will buy you when exploring the market for the best cheap acoustic guitars. Once upon a time, the thought of picking up a Taylor or Martin at that price would have been the stuff of dreams.
Our list has one of each; both are compact, Mexican-built acoustic guitars designed for travel, but they have a voice and performance that will record well and hold up in pretty much any situation. Isn’t that what you want from a guitar of any description and at any price?
Elsewhere, we’ve got budget acoustics from Ibanez, a flame-maple topped Fender with an onboard acoustic pickup and preamp, and two from Epiphone and Art & Lutherie that would be considered exceptional instruments in any company. Let’s take a closer look.
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What is the best cheap acoustic guitar right now?
We could have happily settled for the one-two of the Taylor GS Mini and Martin LX1E Little Martin, with both bringing a sound and performance to match their reputational weight, but the Epiphone J-200SCE is foremost in our thoughts when looking for a gig-worthy budget acoustic guitar. It’s a cutaway jumbo with an exceptional Shadow pickup and preamp, and a super-classy finish.
The Art & Lutherie Guitars Roadhouse Tennessee Red is built in a similar fashion to the J-200SCE. It has similarly classic looks, albeit going for the old-school blues box vibe. We loved its playability, its incredible country and blues tone, and the fact it offers something different in a market saturated with spruce and mahogany HPL.
Best cheap acoustic guitars: buying advice
Body shape is a chief concern when looking for the right cheap acoustic guitar. It will determine how the guitar will feel and play a huge role in how it will sound.
Some people find dreadnoughts and jumbos a little unwieldy, and prefer something more modestly proportioned, such as a concert, grand auditorium-style acoustics, or a parlour or travel-sized guitar. For others it is the opposite, and the generally louder voice of a dreadnought might hold more appeal.
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The only way to find out what is right for you is to try as many different styles as you can. There are acoustics of all shapes and sizes in our list, and many challenge our preconceived notions of how they should sound. Take the Taylor GS Mini. It’s a miniaturised Grand Symphony, a size that can be all midrange – and truth be told, a little honky – but it plays against type and is balanced and full of lively upper-mids. The J-200SCE, meanwhile, might just be the guitar to convert you to jumbos, offering players of all abilities and styles a comfortable ride.
As for electronics, you must ask yourself if you really need them. If not, you could get more guitar for your money, but there are plenty of options at this price for electro-acoustics – even Martin is offering electronics, with the Little Martin’s onboard Fishman Sonitone making it a viable gigging option.
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As for build, there was once a day where all budget acoustics would have a laminated construction. While laminate is no deal-breaker, with new high-pressure techniques making it a more than decent tonewood, solid wood is always preferred, and it is great to see more solid-wood constructions at this price. Even if the back and sides are laminated, a solid-wood top can make all the difference, and the proof of this tonal pudding lies in guitars such as Washburn’s Bella Tono Elegante and the Alvarez Artist Series AD60.
So, without further ado, let’s see which of these best cheap acoustic guitars is going to make our Gmaj-Amin-Fmaj chord progressions really capture the imagination.
The best cheap acoustic guitars right now
With a look that references Epiphone’s storied history in acoustic guitar design, the J-200SCE is a premium electro-acoustic without the accompanying price. There is no other conclusion to be drawn. In terms of feel, tone and looks, it is the real deal, delivering all-but flawless performance, with huge jumbo tones that really fill the mix when strumming.
The acoustic voice is exceptional. The playability is such that the J-200SCE presents serious difficulties in calling time and putting it back in the case. But the Shadow pickup and preamp system seals the deal, with an onboard tuner, eSonic-2 preamp with a traditional under-saddle NanoFlex piezo and a NanoMag pickup mounted at the end of the fretboard.
Read the Epiphone J-200SCE review
When it comes to the best cheap acoustic guitars, you’ll have to go some way to beat this little parlour from Art & Lutherie (a sub-brand of Godin). It is a stripped-back little acoustic that is built to play hard, and while it will welcome most styles, the Roadhouse Tennessee Red will really break out the good stuff for players with a sound knowledge of cowboy chords or just enough mojo to work that Robert Johnson-style blues style.
The look of the Tennessee Red might put some people off with its retro pawnshop vibe, but sometimes acoustic guitar design can be a little well-mannered. Besides, this is available in a vintage-style Bourbon Burst or Faded Cream, should you want something a little more mannered. Whatever, this is a great guitar no matter how you look at it, a tone machine with a rebel spirit.
With a very handsome solid Sitka spruce top and a solid and convincing performance, it’s no surprise that Alvarez’s AD60 should be a best-seller. To get a solid-wood top on a guitar at this price point is no mean feat, but that’s exactly the sort of value Alvarez can offer.
The AD60 has a mahogany laminate build on the back and sides that offers an elegant book-matched finish. Its tone is clear, well balanced, with the hand-sanded scalloped bracing just the thing to get that solid top resonating. The AD60 has a loud authoritative voice, with excellent hardware and a real bone bridge, while the newly designed neck offers a thinner profile for a truly accessible acoustic in terms of price and playability.
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 are 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 Martin LX1E Little Martin review
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 Taylor GS Mini review
This FA-235E Concert electro-acoustic will give the Epiphone jumbo a run for its money in the looks department, with a flame-maple laminate top offering an eye-popping tiger stripe that’s just on the right side of subtle to be premium without coming across as over-dressed.
It has a laminate mahogany back and sides, too, with an Indian laurel Viking bridge. The onboard Fishman electronics have a two-band EQ and are more than adequate for gigging. And this is the thing; here you’ve got a playable, gig-ready electro-acoustic with for less than $/£350. That’s value.
Washburn’s Bella Tono Series welcomes the debut of the Chicago giant’s new Studio body shape. It measures a shallow four-inches deep and sits somewhere between a grand concert and auditorium style body. You’ll be struck by just how comfortable it feels, and indeed how premium the Elegante feels. There is a lot of abalone about the purfling, on the mountain scene fingerboard, and while that’s not everyone’s bag, solid-wood tops are, and this solid spruce top is immaculate.
There is pau ferro on the back and sides, with quartersawn scalloped bracing inside, projecting a well-balanced tone with heaps of clarity in the low-end. The ebony fretboard and bridge, and bone nut and saddles complete a premium feel.
Yamaha introduced the Storia series in 2019 promising “designs that evoke the natural colours of your day.” To that end, we have got champagne gold tuners, brass-topped bridge pins, and fancy inlay on the rosette that really make you wonder what sort of day the Yamaha R&D department has. But we have to concede that all that champagne gold and brass really does complement the all-mahogany top, back and sides. It’s a nice departure from the light-blonde spruce and mahogany template. Heck! The neck and fretboard are walnut.
Feel-wise, the Storia II has a super-comfortable modern C-profile that’s definitely carved with the contemporary player in mind. There are no tone controls for the under-saddle piezo but that’s no big deal. Bold looks, a comfortable bevel-edged body and effervescent upper-midrange makes the Storia a compelling new addition to the affordable acoustic market.
If your budget won’t stretch to 200 bucks but you really would like an acoustic-electric, something from Ibanez’s Performance Series is always a solid option. The evocatively titled PF15ECE (what is it with acoustic nomenclature?) runs with the classic dreadnought spruce laminate top, mahogany laminate back and sides template, with a welcoming mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard.
A slightly shortish scale length just adds to the easy feel. The X-bracing helps in projecting a punchy tone. The Ibanez AEQ2T preamp, with its tuner and two-band EQ is an excellent unit for this price.
For a cheap-as-chips acoustic with heaps of vintage kudos, the Jim Dandy Flat Top from Gretsch’s Roots Series is as good an option as any. Based on the classic 1930s Rex-era acoustics, when Rex built ‘em and Gretsch shipped ‘em, this agathis-bodied Vintage Sunburst model was rolled out at Winter NAMM 2020.
The agathis used for the body is related to pine but is a little more hard-wearing. Tonally, it’s somewhere between alder and mahogany. While you won’t mistake it for a high-end acoustic, the Jim Dandy is a compact little 12-fret acoustic with an elongated body to help it project a tone that belies the price tag.