Buying new acoustic guitars has always been one of my favorite aspects about playing guitar. I enjoy everything about the process, from the internal argument about whether or not I need another one, all the way to opening the case in my house for the first time and welcoming another member to the family.
Still, the time between the decision to buy and actually making a purchase can be wrought with tough choices, and for people who are buying their first instruments in anticipation of taking guitar lessons or even those who have played a while and are wondering what the difference is between certain brands, it's always helpful to get plenty of different perspectives when considering all your choices.
For me, playability is the single most important factor when it comes to deciding between acoustics.
In fact, with almost every guitar I've ever bought, I knew within the first few minutes it was in my hands that it was the one I was going to buy, even if I still did my due diligence and tried out other instruments.
As far as sound is concerned, the higher the cost of the guitar, the pickier I am about the sound.
Ultimately, I choose guitars that have the right balance between feel, price and sound depending on the purpose for which I’m purchasing it.
When it comes to price points, it's important to realize that everybody has their own figure in mind about how much to spend, and that can depend on a variety of factors.
Guitar players can be a competitive bunch, and it's easy to get caught up in how much yours costs, especially if you have an $80 no-name acoustic and are playing with someone who has a $2,000 Gibson.
The thing is, the cost of your guitar doesn’t matter. Practice does. A good guitar player can make the worst guitars sound great.
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Over the last few years, the guitar business, like many industries across America, has matured into a huge commercial success, and the last time I went guitar hunting, I was surprised at how much had changed when it came to price points.
If you are in the market for a cheap or your first acoustic ($80-$300), say for guitar lessons or the campfire, you're in luck. Where there used to be relatively few low-cost options — even in the big stores — now there are an endless supply of possibilities.
In my opinion, there's no reason to overspend at this price point unless you want to spend extra on a style or color finish; they're all about the same in terms of quality and sound.
Still, as a rule of thumb with any purchase where everything is about equal, I never buy the cheapest thing I see nor the most expensive, so if you get out around $150-$200, you did just fine.
Things start to get really tricky once you decide to upgrade from your first guitar. In my opinion, the quality of guitars in the $300-$1,000 price range has really suffered in recent years.
While this range may seem extremely wide, consider that the big manufacturers have started to outsource almost every guitar they stamp their name on, save the high-end models.
At the end of the day, the big companies are making a cheaper product and selling it to the consumer at the same cost, which may work fine for people buying appliances, but doesn’t translate to instruments.
For context, as recently as 2005, you could buy a low-end, American-made Martin at around $500, and you could rely on it to "sound like a Martin."
Today, the most affordable brand new American-made Martin is over a $1,000, with most — if not all — of the Martins underneath that cost being made in Mexico.
And you know what? They absolutely do not sound the same.
This doesn't mean other countries don't make good guitars. It just means that since Martin Guitars shifted its focus more toward its bottom line, the quality isn't the same as it used to be.
The takeaway is that you may really like the sound of an $800 Mexican Martin, and that's totally acceptable, but is it really that different than that $450 Epiphone you're also looking at? In my opinion, not $350 different.
When it comes to the higher price points, I think they sort themselves out. Someone spending $2,000 on a brand-new Gibson either knows nothing about guitars or everything about guitars, and at that price, the guitar manufacturers, especially the heavy hitters, still make pretty good instruments.
But for me, there are tons of used instruments out in the world that are in good shape, and I would encourage people who are looking to spend $300+ to see what's out there. You can often find older and cheaper versions of the same models that manufacturers sell brand new, and you never know when you’re going to hit a gold mine.
Plus, nothing teaches you more about buying guitars than researching guitars.
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