Few things equal the pleasure of buying a new acoustic guitar. The whisper of crushed velvet as the guitar is pulled from the case. The tonal scratch of the strings as your figures brush the neck of the guitar. Buying an acoustic guitar should be a sensory experience.

Unlike buying an electric guitar, where poor sound quality can be masked with pedals and a good sounding amplifier, the sound quality of an acoustic guitar can make or break the experience and enjoyment of playing.

Before we list the things to look for when buying an acoustic guitar, here are some concepts to be aware of. Whether it’s your first guitar or one for your collection, these questions will help you come up with the right mindset before entering the music store and buying an acoustic guitar.

Why are you shopping for an acoustic guitar?

If you’re a first-time buyer of an acoustic guitar, think of the reason why you are hitting the stores to buy one. If you already own one, but you don’t like it that much, think of the reason or reasons why. If you are not digging the current one, then you will avoid the reasons why you don’t like it. It might help if you sit with the one you have and think of the reason why you’re looking for something new. 

What’s your budget?

Once you hit a music store, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of amazing acoustic guitars. You must know the price range that you are comfortable with.

You might make a hole in your pocket if you see something amazing and you don’t have a budget in mind. It’s fine to admire the expensive ones or buy one if you can afford it. But having figured out your price range will save you lots of precious time and effort when you hit the stores. 

You can expect a new starter or laminate top guitar to cost from 80-150 dollars. A quality mid-range or solid-top guitar can cost from 200-400 or more, depending on the brand name. And the sky is the limit for designer, numbered-run, and celebrity acoustic guitars.

Does your guitar have to be a top brand?

Some people think that they should stick to top brands to get more value for money. Some individuals want to start with a famous or well-marketing brand to feel like a legitimate musician. If this is your first purchase, don’t worry about brands or names. Top brands mean quality but it will all boil down to how you feel when you play your acoustic guitar.

It’s possible if you’re only looking for a brand name you’re paying extra for a stamp on a lesser guitar.  The guitar companies who spend the most on marketing may not be selling the best instruments.

What to Look for When Buying Acoustic Guitar

Now that we have answered some questions that might arise before you go guitar shopping let’s discuss the top 5 things that you should look for when buying an acoustic guitar.

1.    Body Style

This is the first thing that you should look for in an acoustic guitar. Yes, even before comparing prices. The first thing that you have to determine is the style of the acoustic guitar that you want to buy.

We know how body style contributes to the overall sound, but the primary reason we want you to look for body style first is to be comfortable with the guitar. Why is this vital? The guitar should fit your body and your hand the way you want it to. There is a broad range of acoustic guitar sizes: folk, half-size, and jumbo, among others. The Dreadnought size, which is now considered to be “standard” was first made in 1912 by Washburn but back then was labeled a Jumbo.  The Jumbo size of today is now considered the largest size, and many may find this to be a little uncomfortable to hold.  The Dreadnought of today is slightly smaller than the jumbo. Other sizes becoming more popular include grand concert and grand auditorium.

When you shop for an acoustic guitar in a music store, you should sit and put the guitar on your lap. See how it feels between your chest and your strumming arm. You should also see if your chord hand fits comfortably around the neck. There is no wrong body style, especially for beginners. What we want to emphasize is you put comfort first before looking at other elements.

2.    Tonewoods

How you play the guitar, and the kind of sounds you like will determine the right tonewood for you. A delicate player like a finger-style player will choose a wood that will respond to that style. Someone who uses a pick will use a wood that requires more force.

Guitar craftsmen believe that the type of wood used for the top of an acoustic guitar is the most important factor in knowing what the instrument will sound like. Different tones are produced depending on the type of wood used. Sitka spruce is the most common material used for tops and is generally a better choice for those using a pick. Fingerpickers with a delicate touch may be more drawn to a wood like cedar. The price of an acoustic guitar also depends on the rarity and grade of tonewoods.

3.    Feel the resonation and listen to the projection

After you have set the body style that you want, the sound of the acoustic guitar is next. How does the body or the wood vibrate when you strum? Beginners might not be able to tell the difference, but when you have played your share of guitars, you will notice. Another thing you have to look for is projection.

Listening to a guitar’s projection is not something all guitar shoppers do. Ask someone to play the acoustic guitar you’re eyeing. This way you can hear if the sound is projecting clearly or is the sound still projecting strong even when played softly. Listen if you like the balance of high and low tones.  Keep in mind that the type, age, and gauge of strings that are on the instrument will have an effect on the tone and projection.

4.    Action and intonation check

Now that you had a body style and liked the sound, you test the action (distance the strings are from the frets) and intonation. A good music store can help you properly set up the guitar to fit your playing style.

For those armed with rulers, you can check measurements for the action. If you do not have a ruler with you, the naked eye shouldn’t see much of a noticeable increase in distance between the 5th fret and the 12th fret.

There are two ways to check intonation. First, play a chord then play that same one – the D chord, for example, starting on the 14th fret. If the sound is exactly the same, then it is good. The second way is called the harmonics method. Here, the sound you get when you play an open string at the 12th fret and the fretted note one octave higher should be identical. Adjustments to action can and will affect the intonation.

5.    Electronics

You may be looking for an acoustic guitar, but it is also important to point out that acoustic-electrics have gained popularity in the last decade. Not all electronics that you can find on the market are created equal. If you are looking for an acoustic-electric, you should see if the battery is readily available or if it comes with an onboard tuner.

6.    After-market service

Most acoustic guitars aren’t quite ready ‘out of the box.' A good music store will prepare your instrument for you. Neck adjustments, off-center pickups are centered, poorly placed bridge saddles, and loose bridge pins are seated, and the guitar is tuned and tested. A quality music store is an invaluable resource, providing care-taking instructions and, when necessary, repairs. Many will offer music lessons or be able to put you in touch with other musicians in your area.

The purchase of an acoustic guitar is unique.

Many times such instruments will stay in a family for generations, passing from hand to hand over years of family gatherings, holiday celebrations, and impromptu sing-songs. Researching and buying your acoustic guitar is an experience that shouldn’t be taken too lightly but which can be fun and rewarding as well.