How to Choose an Acoustic Guitar

Are you thinking about buying an acoustic guitar? Spending more time at home has tempted many people to try new things. Playing an acoustic guitar for your own enjoyment and to broaden your musical knowledge could be a terrific way to spend free time. Whether you play electric guitar or haven’t played guitar at all, learning to play an acoustic guitar on your own or with online lessons is great fun.

Knowing what guitar to buy can be daunting. Guitars range in price from $60 to $6000, and as a beginner, you might decide to buy an inexpensive guitar to see if you like playing enough to continue.

While to a certain extent, that’s logical, and a beginner doesn’t need a performer’s level instrument, if the guitar is difficult to play or doesn’t sound good, a new player may quit in frustration.

Knowing what to look for in a guitar can give a beginner the best chance of having an instrument that encourages rather than discourages forward progress. The two considerations for a good guitar choice are playability and sound.


The Action

On the playability side, the action on a guitar has to do with how hard you must push down on a string to make contact with the fingerboard behind it. If guitar strings are too hard to press to the fingerboard, even large hands will struggle to play complex chords.

Since a beginner might not know how hard is too hard, the best way to test action is to measure the distance between the string and the fingerboard. At the lower frets close to the pegs, strings shouldn’t be more than 3 or 4 mm from the neck.

Closer to the guitar’s body, fret 12 shouldn’t be more than 5 mm away. An expert may be able to adjust the action for you but avoid having to do that if you can.

Every new player needs to build up their fingertips to play for longer and longer periods, but having to work too hard to press strings down will keep someone from getting there.

The Size

Guitars can be full-sized or reduced sized like 7/8 or ¾. Most adults should be comfortable playing a full-sized guitar, but guitars measure between 38”’ and 41” depending on the style.

If you are shorter in stature and have small hands, a 38” parlor guitar might be most comfortable. The distance between the frets is slightly less, so that stretching your hands to play complex chords can be easier. A dreadnaught style is the full 41” long for taller players and big hands.

Other types include an auditorium, a long but thinner instrument, and an oversized jumbo for a very big sound. If you are under 5’ tall and have small hands, you could do better with a reduced size. While they are designed for children and have a shorter scale range, the 7/8 is only 1“ shorter than a parlor guitar.

The Sound

As a player, you must enjoy the sound your guitar makes. You can start to judge an instrument’s sound by strumming it on open strings. Next, if you play a little, try some notes or chords to see how it sounds when the strings are engaged.

If you don’t play and haven’t brought along someone who does, have a store employee play. A pleasant sound without buzzing strings is a good start, but the good sound will deteriorate over time if the instrument is not made well.


The top, bridge, and soundboard of the guitar should be solid wood. Knowing how a guitar produces sound clarifies why a solid wood bridge, soundboard, and top make it a better instrument. The bridge and behind it, the soundboard connect to the guitar’s body below the sound hole and anchor the strings.

The top of the guitar faces forward when you play and sits behind the bridge, soundboard, and strings. When you strum or pluck strings on a non-electric acoustic guitar, the vibrations are picked up by the bridge and soundboard and transmitted inside the body of the guitar, which forms a hollow soundbox or chamber. From the soundbox inside the guitar, sound then comes out through the guitar’s top.

Different tonewoods, like pine, spruce, cherrywood, or redwood produce different tones, and the more solid wood in a guitar, the better the sound will be. The term tonewood is used to describe woods with tonal properties that make them suitable for instrument making.

The ideal is to have one kind of tonewood on the top, a different type on the back, and a third wood on the sides, but for that, you will have to spend some serious money.

On most inexpensive guitars, the back and sides are made from plywood or laminates these days, and with new manufacturing technologies, you can still get a good sound as long as the top of the guitar is solid tonewood. The wood is carved, shaped, and fitted as a single piece.

A guitar maker crafts a solid guitar top from a single, carefully chosen piece of wood. You can recognize a solid top by looking at the edge of the soundhole for the grain pattern. Because of its consistent grain and density, you get a richer resonance and more sustained sound.

Laminate doesn’t vibrate as a whole or produce the same quality sound as solid wood. Solid wood also improves sound resonance as it ages.

Other Considerations

When buying your first acoustic, getting your hands on a guitar yourself in a store works best, but if you can’t, buying online can work. Ensure the site will take the instrument back if you don’t like it for any reason, and buy from a site that gives you all the information you need.

If you have questions before you buy, ask them, and see how knowledgeable and responsive their customer service department is. Read reviews about the guitar you are considering and a site’s customer service. Many sites offer package deals for beginners that include a case, some picks, a strap, and a tuner. You will need all these things so take advantage of these deals