Beginner’s Guide to Buying an Acoustic Guitar
Looking to buy an acoustic guitar? We give you the tools to find the perfect acoustic guitar for you. Explore Fender’s acoustic guitar models, accessories and more.
By Ben Nemeroff
Buying an acoustic guitar can be like adding an exciting new member to your family. It has the ability to brighten a room, bring people together, and spark joy with the strum of a single chord.
If you’ve never bought an acoustic guitar before, you may be wondering where to start. Buying a new instrument can be overwhelming if you’re new to the process. This guide will give you the tools you need to make it much easier.
Considerations for Buying Your First Acoustic Guitar
There are some helpful things to know before buying an acoustic guitar. In this guide, we’ll walk you through:
• Famous Acoustic Artists & Genres: Let’s start off with some inspiration. Which artists and genres can inspire you and help you develop your own personal style? What kinds of acoustic guitars do they play?
• Key Acoustic Guitar Terms: What are the parts of an acoustic guitar? How do certain parts of a guitar impact tone and playability?
• Budget: How much does an acoustic guitar cost and what impacts the price?
• Recommended Acoustic Guitars: What are the best acoustic guitars for beginners?
• Acoustic Guitar Accessories: What accessories will you need?
• How to Find the Right Acoustic Guitar for You: Acoustic or acoustic-electric? Dreadnought or concert body style? How do all of these features impact how your guitar sounds and plays?
Let’s get started.
Famous Acoustic Guitar Artists & Genres
With so many factors to consider, a great place to start is identifying what inspires you. What music gives you life? Which songs take you back to a specific time and place? Which artists inspire you to pick up a guitar and grow your skills? Reflecting upon which artists and genres speak to you may help you determine which aspects of an acoustic guitar’s tone and features you want to prioritize.
The acoustic guitar is a ubiquitous and versatile instrument that shows up in so many different genres of music. Its importance in the history of music is impossible to quantify and there are too many important acoustic artists to name.
To narrow down your options, you can also try out our new interactive gear guide FindYour.Fender.com, which matches you with the perfect model by learning about your sound & style. After viewing your results, you can reference your findings with the pointers in this article. You’ll be well on your way to finding the right acoustic guitar for you.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for selecting your first beginner acoustic guitar:
Tim Armstrong (Rancid): The Acoustic Side of Punk
Rancid’s Grammy-winning founder, Tim Armstrong, is one of the most prolific forces in punk and ska. Prior to forming Rancid, he was a guitarist for Operation Ivy and continued to play in a string of bands and side-projects, including launching his own label, Hellcat Records. Armstrong just celebrated the release of his Anniversary Hellcat, a concert-style acoustic which he calls his “number one” songwriting partner. As a nod to Armstrong’s status as a lefty, the Hellcat is also available in a left-handed style, too.
Want more acoustic-flavored punk? Check out “Ghosts on the Boardwalk” by The Bouncing Souls, “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” from The Acoustic EP by Against Me!, and Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”
Johnny Cash: Folk & Country Acoustic
"The Man in Black", is one of the most popular American singer-songwriters of all time. Signature songs from early in his career include “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire” (written by his wife, June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore). His signature black dreadnought acoustic had the power and presence to stand up to his deep, baritone voice. Cash.
In a 1997 interview on NPR, Cash talks about meeting with Rubin to discuss collaborating: “What I said, what are you going to do with me that nobody else has been able to do to sell records with me? And he said, well, I don't know that we will sell records. He said, I would like you to go with me and sit in my living room with a guitar and two microphones and just sing to your heart's content everything you ever wanted to record.” It worked. The American Recordings series brought Cash back into the limelight with undeniable achievements such as “Hurt.”
Looking for a classy black dreadnought acoustic to match Cash? Visit the Fender Shop to learn more about the FA-125 Dreadnought, Walnut in black. It’s the perfect nod to “The Man in Black.”
Yola: Roots Music at its Best
Continuing on an Americana vibe, check out Yola if you haven’t yet. After decades of working in the music industry writing lyrics and melody for others, Yola broke out on her own to international acclaim and is one of 2020’s Fender Next artists. Her roots rock album Walk Through Fire garnered four nominations at the 62nd Grammy Awards, and it’s not hard to hear why. In this Artist Check-in, Yola performs "Faraway Look" and "Love Is Light" on her trustee Paramount Series guitar. Learn more about the Fender Paramount Series PM-1 Dreadnought in the Fender Shop.
The Beatles: Rock & Roll Acoustic
It would be impossible to talk about the acoustic guitar without mentioning good old rock and roll. John Lennon and George Harrison of The Beatles popularized the brassy, punchy sound of a round-shoulder dreadnought with Sitka spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. Listen for it on classic acoustic songs such as “Here Comes the Sun” (lesson available on Fender Play).
We recommend the CD-60s for beginners looking for an affordable dreadnought with solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides.
For more inspiration in the genre rock, blast “Crazy on You” from Heart with its virtuosic acoustic intro. Then listen for the sparkle of the acoustic texture on “Pain” from The War on Drugs off of 2018’s Grammy-award winning album, A Deeper Understanding. While you’re on the Philly vibe, make the natural transition to “Pretty Pimpin” by Kurt Vile (who favors a flat top dreadnought for writing and a smaller body model for solo performances).
“I don’t know what I’d do without playing guitar.”
H.E.R.: R&B and the Acoustic Guitar
Since she first arrived on the scene with the EP H.E.R., Vol. 1, H.E.R. has firmly solidified herself as an artist to watch. In her own unique take on R&B, she favors a dreadnought for her acoustic playing. Put on 2019’s “Hard Place,” which starts with a pure acoustic sound and her soft humming before the rhythm section enters to propel the ballad through its glorious 4:31 minute runtime. It’s hard not to get lost in a welcomed spell when listening to her music. It’s clear that she’s driven by a deep passion and love for music and its capacity for emotional resonance.
To go back in time and explore the roots of R&B in blues music, check out Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King.
“To me—and this goes for singing as well—when it comes to guitar playing, you can hit one note and make everybody in the room feel something.”
Jazz, Flamenco, and Beyond
Beyond the genres noted above, there are so many rich examples of the acoustic guitar to reference. Explore Django Reinhardt, who favored the Selmer guitar, an unusual large body acoustic guitar. Dive into Flamenco music with Paco de Lucia, Charo, Vincente Amigo, Manolo Sanlucar—a genre that typically leverages nylon string guitars. The FA-15N 3/4 Nylon is a great beginner instrument for those looking for a modern beginners nylon string guitar. And explore Latin music with Luis Vargas, Alirio Diaz, Gentil Montana.
Understand Key Acoustic Guitar Terms
As you start comparing acoustic guitars, it’s helpful to understand some basic terms.
Parts of an Acoustic Guitar
There are three main parts of the guitar and several features that impact sound and playability.
Body: This is the central, wooden section of the guitar.
• Top: The top is the piece of wood on the front of the guitar body. When shopping, you’ll probably notice many retailers and brands call out what material is used for the top. That’s because this part of the guitar plays a huge role in how well your guitar resonates. (More on solid vs. laminate later in this guide.)
• Cutaway: A cutaway is an indentation on a guitar’s body located below the neck. Its purpose is to give you greater access to higher frets. This is useful if you want the option to play leads and reach the highest notes on your guitar. Some acoustic guitars have a cutaway while others do not.
• Binding: A piece of material that lines the edge of the body—where the sides meet the top and back.
• Bridge: Toward the bottom of the body, you’ll find the bridge. The bridge holds the strings in place at the bottom of the guitar.
• Waist or S-curve: This forms the sides of your guitar. The S-curve not only plays a role in forming the acoustics of the sound produced from your guitar, but makes it comfortable to rest the guitar on your knee when playing in a seated position.
• Sound hole: In the middle of the body, you’ll find the sound hole.
• Rosette: A decorative border around the sound hole of your guitar.
• Pickguard: The pickguard is typically made from plastic or acrylic. This component is situated to the side of your guitar's rosette and soundhole, near where your hand would be when you strum the guitar. Its purpose is to help prevent you from scratching the finish of your guitar. Some acoustic guitars have pickguards while some do not.
• Strap Buttons: Pieces of hardware to which you can attach your strap.
• Electronics: Acoustic-electric guitars have a panel along the side of the body that allow you to access the system. More on the details of electronics later in this section!
Neck: The neck is the long strip of wood that extends from the body.
• Fretboard and frets: The neck contains the fretboard and frets. Frets are ridges along the fretboard that indicate where you should place your fingers along the strings in order to play specific notes. The fretboard may also be referred to as the fingerboard.
• Nut: At the top of the fretboard, you’ll find the nut (also known as "the zero fret"). It anchors the strings in place and elevates them away from the fretboard so they don't sound muted when played.
• Inlay: Small dots (or designs on higher-end models) placed in the center of specific frets: the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th (which has two inlays on its fret), 15th, and 17th. These inlays help make it easier to find and play a specific fret.
Headstock: The headstock is the block of wood that sits at the top of the neck.
• Tuning pegs: The headstock contains tuning pegs — also known as machine heads, and tuning keys. Tuning pegs hold the strings in place at the top of the guitar and they control the tension and pitch of the strings. The tighter the string, the higher the pitch. A standard acoustic guitar has six tuning pegs, once for each string.
Strings: Most guitars have six strings. When tuned to standard tuning, the notes from lowest to highest are low E, A, D, G, B, and high E.
Key Music Terms
Here are a few additional musical terms that may be useful as you shop:
Tone: Tone refers to the quality or character of a sound. Musicians typically describe tone with words such as warm, bright, dark, or bold. The more you play and tinker with your sound, the more you’ll get a feel for the specific tone or tones you like best.
Tuning: We mentioned tuning above. Tuning your guitar is important. It ensures that when you play strings, they ring out with the correct pitch or note. If you don’t opt for a guitar with a built-in tuner, make sure you have a clip-on tuner or a tuning app handy.
Resonance: Resonance is when a sound continues to reverberate or echo after the source of the sound has stopped. Simply put—when you strum the strings of the guitar, does the sound abruptly stop or die? Or does the sound ring out in a deep, full way?
“I hit the guitar pretty frickin’ hard, because I’m quite a rhythmic player. But with the Paramount, because of the nature of the pickups they’re using, I can hit it without getting a boatload of feedback.”
Some acoustic guitars have electronics which allow you to plug your acoustic into an amplifier or sound system (more details later on acoustic vs. acoustic-electric guitars). Let’s go over some common terms associated with electronics.
A brief caveat: The world of electronics and the science of sound is vast. Our goal here is to provide you with a basic understanding of these components. Keep in mind that there's much more nuance to learn about as you progress on your musical journey.
• Pickups: A pickup is a feature on electric and acoustic-electric instruments that captures the vibration of the instrument and converts it into an electrical signal. Simply put, pickups allow you to plug into an amp.
• Amp: An amplifier (or amp) is a piece of musical equipment that allows you to increase the volume and modify the tone of your instrument. It strengthens the signal from your pickups and then plays the sound through attached speakers.
• Preamp: A preamp is a device that boosts your signal before the signal travels through the amp (literally pre-amp). This gives you a better signal and more range.
• Built-in tuner: Some acoustic-electric guitars have a built-in tuner on the side of the body. This allows you to tune without the need for an external clip-on tuner, pedal tuner, or tuning app.
• Equalizer (EQ): An EQ allows you to adjust the balance of certain frequencies within your signal. For instance, you can turn up the treble if you want to boost higher frequencies. If you want a deeper, darker sound, you can boost the bass on your EQ.
Pro tip: As you’re shopping for acoustic guitars, consider if the convenience and control of electronics are important to you.
Budget: How Much Does an Acoustic Guitar Cost?
Acoustic guitars range in cost depending on a number of factors. You can get a good acoustic guitar for a few hundred dollars. We wouldn’t recommend buying an acoustic for less than $200. If you’re on a budget but are looking for a dependable and beautiful instrument, our CD-60 Dreadnought is $199.99 (more on this guitar in the next section). At the next tier up, you’re looking at spending between $400-800 on an acoustic, depending on a variety of factors. Pros may venture into higher price ranges ($1,000+). Within higher price ranges, you’ll typically see more solid wood (vs. laminate; more on this later), greater resonance, and increased playability.
Recommended Acoustic Guitars for Beginners
To give you a sense for what’s out there, we’ve compiled our picks for three of the best acoustic guitars for beginners. In our (biased) opinion, these are all great options for beginners, so we’ve broken down the key ways in which they differ. Following this section, we’ll also provide some key things to look for as you determine the best starter acoustic guitar for you.
• Model Name: C60 Dreadnought V3
• Body Style: Dreadnought
• Type: Acoustic
• Good for: Beginner or veteran players looking for an inexpensive-but-dependable dreadnought model.
• Benefits: Bold sound of a larger body size. Genuine Fender at a low price point. Includes a hard-shell case.
• Model Name: Redondo Player
• Body Style: Fender-exclusive Redondo body shape, similar to a dreadnought
• Type: Acoustic-electric
• Good for: Players who want a big sound and the ability to plug in and perform live or with others.
• Benefits: Bold sound of a larger body size. Sounds great in Open and Drop D tunings. Solid top, back and sides for better resonance. Great for rock and roll, bluegrass, or any genre or situation in which you need a guitar with a bigger voice to cut through the mix.
• Model Name: Newporter Classic
• Body Style: Fender-exclusive Newporter body shape (medium-sized guitar)
• Type: Acoustic-electric
• Good for: Singers and players who are looking for versatility of this body shape and the warm tone that comes with solid mahogany.
• Benefits: Narrower hips create a scooped sound that compliments the human voice. Solid wood top, back and sides for greater resonance. Body shape that works well for any genre, including pop and fusion styles. Includes a deluxe gig bag. "C"-shaped mahogany neck makes it easy to play (like an electric guitar). Tilt-back headstock adds warmth to the guitar for a well-rounded tone.
“The C-shaped neck is a different neck than what you would traditionally find on an acoustic guitar. It’s a little smaller…it’s going to feel a little more like an electric guitar neck. Very easy to play and very fun to play. The way an instrument feels can influence what we play on it or how we play on it. When you get a nice feeling neck like this, you feel like your possibilities are endless.”
What Acoustic Guitar Accessories Do I Need?
In addition to picking out your guitar, here are some accessories and gear you’ll need to get started.
Acoustic Guitar Tuner
It’s important to keep your guitar in tune. Luckily, you have options! If you purchase an acoustic-electric, you may have a built-in tuner. If not, pick up a clip-on tuner or use an app on your smartphone, such as the free Fender Tune™ App.
Acoustic Guitar Strings
Your acoustic guitar will come with strings on it, but it’s always a good idea to have a backup set. You never know when disaster can strike and a string (or two!) breaks. Tuck an extra set of strings into your guitar case or gig bag so you can swap out a broken string, if needed. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
• What material are your strings? Take note of the strings that come with your guitar. Are they steel or nylon? The beginner guitar options in this guide all use steel strings that are wound in materials that resonate, such as bronze. That said, nylon string acoustics have a soft, beautiful sound heard commonly in classical, jazz, and Latin music.
• Which string gauge are you using? String gauge refers to how thick or thin a string is. Lighter gauge strings are bright and easy to play. Heavier strings can be more difficult, but offer more volume and sustain. The gauge you choose depends on your comfort level as well as the sound you’re looking for. Learn more about string gauges here.
• Coated or uncoated? Coated strings have an extra layer of protective coating that helps to keep wear, rust and residue buildup at bay. They tend to be a bit more expensive than uncoated strings, but they may be worth it if you tend to sweat quite a bit or want to extend the time between string changes.
Acoustic Guitar Amps
If you opt for an acoustic-electric, you’ll be able to plug your guitar into a sound system or acoustic amp. An amp will allow you to control the volume of your acoustic guitar. It will also allow you to experiment with your tone. You’ll be able to make a myriad of adjustments: added bass for a deeper, darker sound; more treble if you want those high notes to sparkle; reverb for a dreamy sonic experience.
Remember: If you opt for an acoustic without electronics, you’ll need to put a mic in front of it in order to amplify the sound.
Acoustic Guitar Cases
Some acoustics come with cases or gig bags while others don’t. Make sure you take note of this when you’re buying, especially if you’re shopping online. You’ll also want to ensure that the bag or case you purchase matches the shape and size of your acoustic (parlor, concert, dreadnought, etc; more on body styles below).
If you’re new to the world of cases, here’s a quick breakdown of a case vs. a gig bag.
• Hard case: Typically a wood construction with a vinyl covering and plush material lining. A hard case is an important purchase if you plan to transport your acoustic guitar around quite a bit with other things. (Think: moving, transporting multiple pieces of equipment for gigs, etc).
• Gig bag: A padded bag that is lightweight and easy to carry. Gig bags keep your acoustic guitar secure and are less expensive than hard cases. Although they provide protection, you wouldn’t want to use a gig bag if you’re worried about big bumps and items being stacked on top of your precious guitar.
Acoustic Guitar Strap & Picks
A strap is great to have onhand so you have the option to stand while playing (it can even be nice to have when you’re sitting, providing added stability). Although it takes some getting used to, standing while playing is a great option for better stage presence. Standing can also help you project more effectively if you’re singing. One more benefit of buying a strap: it’s an opportunity to express your personal style (think: Rivers Cuomo from Weezer and his iconic lightning bolt strap).
It’s also helpful to pick up some picks. In time, you may find that you love picking and strumming with your fingers. But for beginners, a pick can sometimes be easier. It can give you a louder, more consistent, and articulate sound if you’re not an experienced fingerpicker. Just like strings, picks come in different gauges. Thin and medium picks are great for playing leads and strumming lighter strings. If you’re playing heavy gauge strings (or a bass guitar), a thicker pick is best.
A great place to start is with Fender’s acoustic packs, which contain all the guitar and accessory essentials to get you started as a new player. Another great option is our new artist bundle, which gives new acoustic players everything they need to start strumming.
How to Find the Right Acoustic Guitar for You
Now that you have a sense for some good options for beginners, let’s talk about what’s right for you. Here are some things to consider when you’re buying your first acoustic guitar.
Decide on Acoustic vs. Acoustic-Electric
Are you confused about the difference between the two? You’re not alone.
• Purely acoustic guitars do not have electronics. When you pluck or strum a string, its vibration resonates through the guitar and produces sound through the sound hole. If you want to amplify an acoustic guitar, you’ll need to put a mic in front of it.
• Acoustic-electric guitars leverage both natural resonance and electronics. The hollow body will allow you to play your guitar anywhere, any place with a great natural sound. If you want it to be a bit louder, you can plug it in. Typically an acoustic-electric guitar will also have a built-in tuner and equalizer. This is not only wildly convenient but also gives you ultimate control over your sound.
• Ask Yourself: Do you plan to play with other people or in a live setting? Do you want to have the option to experiment with your tone by adjusting the EQ, using pedals, or adding amp effects? If so, we’d recommend an acoustic-electric. It offers the best of both worlds (amplified and non-amplified). If you are planning to only play by yourself for fun in quiet settings (or don’t mind putting a mic in front of your guitar on a rare occasion), you can stick with a classic acoustic. It will typically be less expensive. Additionally, you might prefer the pure sound and lighter weight of a guitar body that is uninterrupted by built-in electronics.
Weigh the Costs & Benefits of Solid Wood vs. Laminate
• Solid wood is exactly what it sounds like: one solid piece of wood vs. multiple layers. An acoustic instrument with a solid top resonates more because it's uninterrupted by lamination or adhesives—it vibrates with organic consistency. This is typically a higher-end feature. Solid top acoustic guitars will cost more than acoustics constructed with a laminate top.
• Laminate refers to thin layers of wood that are pressed together to form a section of the guitar. While laminate doesn’t have the same quality as solid wood, it can still produce an excellent sound. Laminate construction is used widely in the guitar industry to produce great-sounding instruments at a lower price point.
• Ask Yourself: Do you have a specific tone in mind? Do you plan to have this instrument for a long time and potentially hand it down? For a rich, optimal tone and a higher durability, splurge for solid wood. If you’re just starting out and need to keep costs down, go for a highly-reviewed laminate option.
“They're like colors to me. Different ones are good for different reasons, and they all have their own personalities and their own sounds.”
Pick an Acoustic Guitar Body Style
As you may have noticed, nearly every feature of a guitar can impact its sound and tone. One of the biggest factors that impacts sound is the body shape or style. From smallest to largest, let’s go over the most common body styles, how they sound, and what types of playing they typically suit best.
• Introduced in 1877, Grand Concert is the smallest of the major styles and is derived directly from the classical guitar, with a shallow body and rounded shoulders. As a result, it is one of the quietest designs. It’s diminutive size makes it well suited to younger or smaller players, and it’s excellent for finger-style playing.
• Parlor is another small body shape that works best for fingerpicking styles. They are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Our New Artist Bundle packages up a CP-60S Parlor guitar alongside accessories aspiring acoustic players need to get started, including an adjustable guitar stand, Fender® Bullet Tuner, picks, and more. For more seasoned players, the Fender Headliner Bundle offers you the earthy and organic tones of a PM-2 Parlor NE, All-Mahogany, Natural acoustic with an assortment of accessories. Its open-pore mahogany top and solid mahogany back and sides not only look beautiful, but give this acoustic instrument its superior tone.
• The concert style dates back to around 1854. It was the standard size around the time of the U.S. Civil War and for many years thereafter. Its bright-sounding design gradually gave way to larger, more bass-heavy guitars, although the style has enjoyed a recent resurgence due to its comfort and versatility. Concert-style acoustics are great for pop, rock, folk, more. The smaller size is great for beginners and anyone looking for a compact and super comfortable guitar. Take a look at the Tim Armstrong Hellcat for a real-life example of a concert-style acoustic guitar.
• Also referred to as “orchestra,” the auditorium style was introduced in the early 1920s and was one of the largest guitars through the end of that decade. Now a medium-sized guitar with a thinner waist than a dreadnought and a broad upper bout with flatter shoulders, it produces a big sound and good treble-bass balance that make it great for finger-style playing.
• Sometimes called "000," this shape is somewhere between dreadnought and parlor. It has a very balanced tone, great volume and dynamic range. Triple-O is a great shape for those that want versatility—you can strum, flat pick, or fingerpick. You can play any genre, but it works well for pop and fusion in particular. Keep in mind that your notes (especially in higher ranges) will feel much more delicate than on a larger-bodied guitar.
• The dreadnought style was introduced under this name in 1931, although its direct ancestors date back to circa 1916. This is a big guitar named for the large dreadnought warships of the early and middle 20th century. It has tremendous projection and booming bass—a truly beefy sound. Dreadnought is currently the most popular style and the guitar for flat-picking and bluegrass, with a deep body, broad waist and a relatively small upper bout. Choose a dreadnought if you are playing rock and roll, bluegrass, or anything where you need a guitar with a bigger voice to cut through the mix. Want to dive in on the thick, meaty sound of a Dreadnought? Check out our Opening Act Bundle, featuring the Redondo Player, a Fender® Phoenix Cap, and a set of 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Strings.
• A big guitar, proportioned similar to a grand auditorium and having a lot of resonant space for great volume, sustain and deep dreadnought-like tone. Often considered the quintessential “cowboy” guitar.
Fender-Exclusive Body Shapes
• In addition to the general body styles we noted above, Fender has several custom body shapes.
• Within the California Series, the Malibu is closest to a Concert style and it’s the smallest body shape within the Series. The Redondo is our take on a dreadnought. The Newporter is a mid-sized guitar, similar to a Triple O.
• Within the American Acoustasonic® series, we offer our iconic Telecaster® and Stratocaster® body styles.
What seems like the best fit for you? For more considerations and tips on how to decide, check out this article. Then, check out our New Acoustic Players Guide to compare additional acoustic guitar bundles.
Check out Fender Play Acoustic Guitar Lessons
We’re so excited that you’re embarking on your journey with the acoustic guitar. If you are looking for step-by-step guidance as you learn, check out a free trial of Fender Play today.