Welcome to T3's official ranking of the best acoustic guitar for beginners. Acoustic guitars are having a bit of a moment right now: it seems that everybody we know is sitting down in front of a webcam and blasting out the classics or their own compositions. If you’d like to be one of those people, or if you’d just like to learn how to play, there’s never been a better time – not just because you’ve probably got the time to do it right now, but because online resources from YouTube to Fender Play bring guitar tutors into your home.
There’s another reason it’s a good time: acoustic guitars are better than they’ve ever been. The designs may be classic, but the technology that makes them is often cutting edge. We're seeing lots of affordable guitars that look and sound like ones that used to cost much, much more – and that’s brilliant news for players on any budget. Your money goes much further than ever before. (If you're still not sure about acoustic, we also have a guide to the best electric guitars for beginners, or you could try the best keyboard pianos).
In this guide we’ve ranked the best acoustic guitars for beginners right now. We're going to give you a selection of different guitars for different kinds of players: 3/4 scale guitars for small hands and dreadnoughts for big sounds, guitars that deliver incredible value and guitars that you’ll love to learn on because they feel and sound so good.
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Acoustic guitars for beginners: Our top pick
Read on for an in-depth look at our best options. Short on time? The best acoustic guitar for beginners is the Fender FA-115 II Dreadnought. It's not the cheapest guitar on this list, but it's still under £100 and offers great value for money. It tops our list thanks to its great tone and and beginner-friendly build.
However, right now you might have trouble getting hold of a Fender FA-115 II Dreadnought – in which case you might want to check out our number two pick: Harley Denton's Delta Blues T. Another excellent guitar for beginners, this one offers decent sound and a comfortable playing experience for an absolute bargain price.
Acoustic guitars for beginners: What to look for
Acoustic guitars come in various shapes and sizes, starting with nylon-strung classical (aka Spanish) guitars and moving through a range of steel or bronze-strung acoustics starting with the smallest parlour/parlor size to giant and very loud jumbos and dreadnoughts. Size wise, Orchestra, concert and auditorium guitars sit in the middle; the bigger the guitar, the louder it’s likely to be. Beginner’s guitars are often made available in 3/4 scale versions that make them smaller and more playable for smaller hands.
It’s important to think about where you’ll play. If you’re planning to record your playing or perform with other musicians it may be worth considering an electro-acoustic, which has a pickup so you can plug it into an amplifier, PA or PC.
Price is important, of course, but beware false economies: a guitar you don’t want to play because it’s uncomfortable or sounds bad is a bad buy.
The thing that really differentiates acoustic guitars is their tone. Different kinds of wood sound different, so for example mahogany is famed for its deep, warm tone and spruce for its clarity. Manufacturers have made great leaps in recent years with the use of materials such as high pressure laminate (HPL), which enables them to mimic the tone and feel of hardwoods such as mahogany without the expense. If you see an affordable acoustic made of mahogany, it’ll be HPL.
The second-generation Fender FA-115 is clearly aimed at absolute beginners: in addition to the guitar itself you get a gig bag, a guitar strap, strings, plectrums and a free three-month subscription to the online Fender Play tutorials, all for just under £100. It has been built to a budget – there’s basswood for the back and sides, the neck is nato (nato’s a cheaper alternative to mahogany) and the fretboard is laminated hardwood – but the solid spruce top and the dreadnought shape means it has plenty of presence and plenty of volume too.
Many budget guitars go for the dreadnought shape because its sheer volume compensates for the lack of tone, but the Fender performs perfectly well when you’re not bashing lumps out of it too. You can get dreadnoughts that cost a lot less but their sound is noticeably thinner and less engaging.
The Delta Blues T is available on its own or as part of a set including a strap and a gig bag. It’s a travel-sized guitar with vintage good looks, and it comes strung with nice-sounding bronze twelve-gauge strings. The body’s mahogany with a striking-looking dark finish and a blackwood fretboard, and it sounds surprisingly loud for what’s a fairly small guitar. Some of the edges are a little rough and the action’s on the high side, but that’s easy enough to fix.
The Delta Blues T is well named, because it’s in blues and bluegrass that it sounds best. It’s a very bright guitar and the tone is inevitably thinner than, say, a Taylor BT2 Baby Taylor with a sapele body and a mahogany top – but the Baby Taylor is around six times the price. If you’re looking for a guitar that looks good, sounds fine and that doesn’t cost a lot of money this is a very strong contender.
The JR1 is excellent first guitar from Yamaha, and it’s been designed for smaller hands: its 3/4 scale means everything’s easier to reach, and it also means it’s a useful travel guitar. It’s a pretty thing, modelled on the famous Yamaha FG series of folk acoustic guitars with a tortoiseshell pick guard and black edging.
The JR1 is made from tropical tonewoods – the precise one depends on availability at the time of manufacture, but meranti is the most common – with a spruce top, and it has a rosewood fretboard on top of a nato neck. The bridge is rosewood and the nut and saddle are synthetic bone.
3/4 scale guitars are usually quieter than normal sized ones and can lack low end, but the Yahama delivers a nice, clear tone that’s better than many similar-sized offerings. Like most budget guitars, it sounds and plays much better if you get rid of the factory-supplied strings.
If you like the idea of a short scale Yamaha but prefer your guitars to be nylon strung, the CS40 is a great choice. It’s a 3/4 scale guitar – the scale length is 580mm compared to the usual 650mm – so it’s a little more comfortable for smaller players or smaller hands. Like the JR1 it’s a laminated spruce top with a nato neck, meranti back and sides and a rosewood fingerboard, and it’s both comfortable to play and nice to listen to.
Once again the reduced dimensions mean slightly reduced volume and low end compared to a full-size guitar, but there really isn’t a lot in it and at this end of the market it really isn’t an issue. Just one thing to be aware of: most classical guitars don’t have markers on the fretboard to help you find your way around, and this Yamaha is no exception.
We'll admit it: this is an awful lot of money for a beginner's guitar. But at the same time, it's an awful lot of guitar and a tiny amount of money for a Martin: some of the current Martins cost over £5,000. Martin guitars are legendary, and the Little Martin is the sort of guitar that you'll want to keep playing. Tell your significant other, accountant or conscience that it's an investment.
The LX1E is smaller than the auditorium shapes that dominate the Martin range. It's an electro-acoustic with a solid Sitka spruce top and mahogany high-pressure laminate sides. It's a travel-sized guitar with a 23" scale length but despite its relatively small dimensions it projects really well – and like all Martins it's got a really lovely warm sound with lots of low end. It sounds good through an amp, too: the Fishman Sonitone T pickup system is quiet and delivers impressive detail.
This Martin shouldn't be confused with the Martin above: Martin Smith guitars are from a completely different company, designed for guitar students and built to be affordable, which is why you tend to find them in the likes of Costco and high street retailers rather than guitar shops. The W100 is exceptionally cheap and the package includes not just the guitar but a strap, plectrum, spare set of strings, tutorial DVD and some online lessons.
The body is basswood with a spruce top and a rosewood neck and fingerboard. The cut-in design and orchestra shape means that despite being full size (39") it's still comfortable for most smaller players, and the large size means it projects well. It doesn't sound anything like a Martin, of course, but its very low price means it's a very good choice for absolute beginners on a tight budget.
Good luck finding a decent acoustic of the same size that doesn't cost more than this one: Harley Benton has come up with a good all-round beginner's guitar at an incredibly low price. The D here means dreadnought: it's a style of guitar that's designed to be big and loud.
The guitar is mahogany with a laminated spruce top and a roseacer fingerboard; that's a treated maple wood that feels similar to rosewood. It comes factory-strung with .10 to .47 strings, and as with most budget guitars we'd recommend getting rid of those immediately. The strings are what you'd normally describe as extra-light: dreadnoughts usually have much heavier strings than these, and the sound is less resonant and exciting than it could be as a result.
The D-120TB is a lot of fun, but dreadnoughts are pretty big guitars and may be uncomfortable for some women to play while seated or for players with smaller arms: if that's you, parlour, orchestra or travel guitars are likely to be more comfortable.
Fender is making some really lovely acoustic guitars these days, and the All Mahogany is a winning mix of style and sound. Its dark wood fits the current trend for acoustics that look like they've been plucked from an old bluesman's hands, and because it's a dreadnought it delivers a big, rich sound with plenty of low end. It isn't just for strumming Wonderwall, though: it's nice and clear for fingerpicking, and its sound should mature as the wood ages. It's very comfortable to play, although its size may rule it out for smaller players.
You'll often find that cheaper acoustic guitars come with terrible strings and need a bit of attention to make them nice, but that's not the case here: the CD-60S comes strung with Fender's own Dura-Tone strings and the string height feels just right. It does cost a little more than some other budget dreadnoughts but it punches well above its weight.
Most of the acoustics we've recommended here have been standard acoustic or classical guitars, but you don't need to spend a lot of money to get an acoustic that you can also play through a computer, an amplifier or a PA system. This Tanglewood looks gorgeous thanks to its mahogany body and top – Tanglewood calls this finish Whiskey Barrel Burst – and it looks a lot more expensive than it actually is. This is an orchestra-shaped guitar, so it's smaller and curvier than a dreadnought but bigger and louder than a typical travel-sized guitar.
Of course, looks aren't everything. The Tanglewood sounds good too. The mahogany gives it a warmer, deeper tone than you might expect and the three-band EQ enables you to cut a lot of the harshness you tend to get from electro-acoustic guitars. The on-board tuner's nice to have too.
Here's another good reason to buy a Tanglewood: while the high street shops are closed, it'll donate the retail profits from online sales to the Tanglewood retailer nearest to you.
We know from experience that if you're a parent, you'll often find yourself spending money on things that end up sitting on a shelf or in a corner gathering dust. That's true of musical instruments too, especially if the kids are learning because school tells them to rather than because they want to be guitar gods or goddesses when they grow up. If you need a guitar but want to spend as little as possible, we think you should consider this basic but perfectly playable nylon-strung acoustic. It's built for smaller players (John Lewis recommends age six upwards) and nylon strings are much more forgiving of small fingers than steel ones.
This isn't the cheapest kids' acoustic John Lewis offers – there's a small "mini guitar" for half the price – but it's a better size and it's still very cheap: it costs around the same as a family trip to the cinema.