Finding the Perfect Guitar

Welcome to CCM Guitar Workshop! We offer courses for DIY guitars and free instructions to help you improve your playing. In the article below, we highlight some of the stuff to look out for when buying a guitar.

red electric guitar

So you’ve decided to buy an acoustic guitar. Perhaps your teacher already has recommended a type of instrument, or maybe you’ve played a friend’s guitar and you’re pretty sure you want to buy the same thing. If not, a visit to your local music store might leave you more confused than enlightened. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options that are now available.

Figuring out what general type of guitar is right for the music you intend to play is your first step. This article will give you the information you need if you decide on a steel-string flattop or an acoustic nylon-string. For advice on shopping for an entry-level electric guitar, see “Axes and Amps.”

Steel-string guitars are made with a wide variety of body sizes, neck dimensions, materials, and design features. Nylon-string guitars, commonly referred to as classicals are somewhat more homogenous in the lower price ranges, but there are many more options available today than in the past.

There’s virtually no limit to the amount of money you can spend on a high-end guitar, but today’s entry-level guitars are better than ever, so you won’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get started.

acoustic guitar

Is the Price Right?

You should expect to spend a minimum of $200 on a decent steel-string, and an additional $150 could mean a huge difference in the quality of instrument you can afford. (These are the actual prices you’d pay, as opposed to list prices, which are generally 15 to 40 percent higher, depending on the manufacturer.)

Most of the guitars in this price range are made in Asia by such companies as Alvarez, Dean, Epiphone, Fender, Ibanez, Takamine, and Washburn. There are a few North American companies that make guitars in this price range as well, notably La Si Do (manufacturer of Seagull, Simon and Patrick, Art and Lutherie, and other brands) and Taylor, whose Big Baby model has become very popular among budget-conscious players.

On the nylon-string side, you might be able to find a playable instrument for as little as $150 (this again being an actual “street price”), but spending an additional $100 or so will make a huge difference in quality and sound. Most of the Asian companies mentioned above offer nylon-string guitars as well, but you might also encounter Spanish-made guitars such as Rodriguez, Esteve, or Alhambra. A good student nylon-string should be playable and should offer tone that will keep you satisfied as your ear develops.

Sizes and Shapes

The most popular steel-string guitar shape today is the dreadnought. Named after a battleship, the dreadnought is capable of providing a lot of volume and bass, making it the instrument of choice for bluegrass pickers and all those who need volume.

Although this type of guitar is used for all kinds of music, many players find the large body uncomfortable to hold. Players who play fingerstyle, rather than with picks, and those who play with a softer touch might also find that dreadnoughts aren’t as responsive as they’d like.

Although there are fewer inexpensive small-bodied steel-strings available, they are worth seeking out if you suspect that a dreadnought may not be the ideal guitar for you. Manufacturers have come up with a variety of names for their smaller instruments, including 00, 000 (pronounced “double-O” and “triple-O”), OM (for Orchestra Model), Grand Concert, Small Jumbo, etc.

Some of these guitars also have wider necks (1 ¾ inches or more, as opposed to the standard 1 11/16 inches found on most dreadnoughts), making them more suitable for fingerstyle players and guitarists with large hands. Along with dreadnoughts, jumbos inhabit the other end of the size spectrum. Most of these behemoths are excellent choices for strumming rhythm.

Most classical guitars are shaped like the first models designed in Spain in the late 1800s. About the size of a 00 steel-string guitar, the typical classical features a neck that joins the body at the 12th fret and has a slotted headstock, with open-geared tuners that jut out toward the back rather than to the sides.

Although there are nylon-strings with similar neck dimensions as steel-strings, most have wider necks (up to two inches at the nut), which give your fingers more room for challenging techniques. For this reason, a nylon-string guitar is a good choice for those with big hands or thick fingers.

I hope this helps!