It’s often a good idea to set yourself a hard upper limit when it comes to guitar shopping. Most of us tend to start out that way, but we occasionally get sucked into “$50 more won’t hurt”, or “If I just go up another $100 I’d be able to get XYZ guitar”, and in many cases we spend more money for almost indistinguishable difference.
For this reason, we’ve compiled this KillerGuitarRigs Review of the 7 best acoustic guitars under $500. If $500 is your upper limit, you’re in luck, as there are some frankly fantastic guitars to be had for this amount or less.
When we reviewed the guitars for this roundup, of course the first criteria was cost, followed by build quality, tone, and looks. We found some incredible instruments for you during this review process, so you’re definitely going to want to keep on reading if you’re in the market for a sub $500 acoustic.
Features: Solid Sitka spruce top, Ebony fretboard, Included gig bag
Benefits: Bold tones, Superb playability, Excellent build quality
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Features: Solid mahogany top, Pinless bridge, Ecotonewood back/sides
Benefits: Sustainable construction, Warm and rich tones, Excellent responsiveness
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Features: Solid spruce top, Rosewood back/sides, Slim tapered neck
Benefits: Excellent forgiveness, Cannon like projection, Long lasting sustain
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- Our Top 3
- Individual Reviews
- How To Choose The Right Guitar For You
- Final Thoughts
Our Top 3
Players looking for something that offers a great blend between price and performance should check out our top pick, the Breedlove Eco Discovery S. This is a comfortable concert style acoustic that sounds great and is made with sustainable materials, too.
If you’re looking for a fantastic guitar that doesn’t cost the earth, we suggest the Yamaha FG830, our best budget choice. It offers performance that far exceeds its price tag, and delivers huge tones worthy of any stage or studio.
Our Editor’s Choice award went to what we rate as the number 1 guitar under $500, the Taylor Big Baby Taylor. It’s comfortable, and built to the highest standards, and of course, it sounds absolutely fantastic.
An environmentally conscious guitar with a beautiful voice and premium appointments.
This is a fantastic guitar made with excellent tone woods and quality hardware. It looks and sounds like a much more expensive model, making it the ideal “sleeper”. Not only is it incredibly well made, but it’s made using only sustainable materials, so you can feel good about your decision to purchase this model.
Breedlove is rapidly gaining brand presence thanks to their modern approach to building guitars using high quality, yet sustainable materials. The Breedlove ECO Discovery S (full review here) embodied those philosophies fully, and was a real treat to play.
This guitar was a concert style model, and its top was made with solid African Mahogany, which is one of the foremost woods to make an acoustic top from at any price. The back and sides were made with “EcoTonewood Mahogany”. EcoTonewood is a Breedlove exclusive laminated wood that uses a hardwood core (unlike most laminates that have a softwood core). We found that this really helped the resonance of the Discovery S.
The neck was beautifully made using African mahogany. It had a slim C shape profile which we found to be comfortable, and extremely fast, no matter what style we were playing. We liked the ovangkol fretboard, too. It has a nice, rich color, and it felt great under the fingers.
We found that the fretwork was all well finished, and there were no issues with sharps edges or fret sprout, and the crowns had a nice, smooth surface, and were all properly leveled.
Its tones were bright and shimmery, with tons of top end sparkle, a tight mid range, and a surprisingly powerful bass register. It had a fantastic voice, with great projection, and was much louder than any guitar this size has any business being.
It was fitted with closed gear chrome tuners, and while they weren’t anything particularly special, they performed really well. They engaged positively, making fine adjustments easy, and they didn’t slip or cause any issues with tuning stability.
Verdict: We really loved playing the Breedlove Eco Discovery S. It was beautifully made, and sounded simply fantastic. It had handsome looks, and because it’s not such a commonly owned model in comparison to some of the others on test, it stands out from the crowd, too.
A bargain guitar that think’s it’s a premium model.
With this guitar you’re getting a rock solid dreadnought with tons of character and a Grand Canyon sized voice. It’s extremely well appointed with high quality hardware, great tone woods, and handsome good looks.
The Yamaha FG830 (full review here) had Yamaha’s proprietary “folk guitar” shape, which is their slightly modified version of the classic dreadnought. We’re big fans of this body shape at KGR, and found ourselves drawn to this guitar right away.
This model sets itself apart from other budget Yamaha models with upgraded woods. It had a beautiful solid spruce top, and for the back and sides it was made with rosewood. It looked sensational, and touches like an abalone rosette really made it feel special.
We liked the nato neck. It was slim, and very comfortable to hold and play. The comfort of the neck was aided by the rolled edges of the stunning rosewood fretboard, which felt great under the fingers, and looked just as good.
As we’ve come to find on pretty much every Yamaha we’ve tested, the fretwork was exceptional. The edges were nicely beveled, with no sprout and no sharps, and most importantly, they were perfectly level.
Despite the quality woods and player focused construction, the most impressive thing about he FG830 was the tone. It was fantastically nuanced, with a lovely balance between the bright top end, and the rich lower mids. It was punchy, and responded really well to changes in touch.
We’d have no hesitation gigging with this guitar. Tuning stability was rock solid, and it was overall super reliable. Out of the box it had a great low action and intonation was just about perfect.
Verdict: The Yamaha FG830 is one of those guitars that can have you questioning everything you thought you knew about acoustics. It was as well made as, and delivered the sound quality of a much more expensive instrument. It really was a joy to play, and we think anybody who picks one up will be equally as impressed.
An easy playing dreadnought with exceptional tones and high end construction.
If you’re looking for the very best acoustic guitar under $500, then this Taylor should be your go to. It’s a reduced size dreadnought, but it retains all the presence and character of a full size model. It’s built with the very best materials and components, and even comes with a fantastic padded gig bag.
The Taylor Big Baby Taylor is a 15/16 size dreadnought, making it ever so slightly smaller than a fully size model. We found that this made it incredibly comfortable and easy to play, which is a huge plus for those who are normally turned off by the bulk of this body style.
It had a gorgeous solid Sitka spruce top, with some of the nicest grain pattern we’ve seen on a sub $1000 acoustic. The back and sides were made with layered walnut, which paired really well with the spruce both in terms of looks and tone.
We really enjoyed playing the slick maple neck; the satin finish felt fantastic, and the fretboard edges had a hint of a rounded edge that made the playing experience extra comfortable. The fretboard was made with ebony, which is without a doubt one of the finest woods to use for this purpose. It was dark and lustrous, and felt fantastic.
The fretwork was another impressive area with the BBT. The edges were just about perfect, and the crowns were polished to an almost mirror finish.
Tones were absolutely superb; it had the typical Taylor brightness, which was sharp, but never felt thin or tinny. There was exceptional clarity and tightness across the entire range, and the upper, mid, and bass registers were well balanced. Despite being a reduced size model, we didn’t feel any loss of volume or presence either, which ultimately resulted in dreadnought performance with concert size dimensions.
Intonation was fantastic, and we found that the tuning stability to be just as good. It came from the factory with Elixir Nanoweb strings, which are some of our favorites here at KGR.
Verdict: What’s not to love about the Taylor BBT Big Baby Taylor? It looks great, has a beautiful range of tones, and it was a real joy to play. The construction far exceeded the price tag, and it felt a lot more like a high end Taylor than it did an entry level model thanks to the quality wood and hardware selections.
An iconic acoustic guitar with tons of character and excellent playability.
Players who love classic looking guitars with big personalities will love this Epiphone. From the signature engraved pickguard, to the stunning burst finish, it’s truly brimming with character. It offers massive presence and projection, and it has one of the nicest necks you’ll find on any acoustic.
Epiphone makes a range of fantastic (and affordable) guitars based on Gibson models past and present, and one of our favorites was the Epiphone Dove. The original Gibson model dates back to 1962, and this Epiphone replica delivers much of the original’s essence, at a much more palatable price.
It had a full size dreadnought body shape, with big, boxy shoulders, and a broad waist. It had a solid spruce top, paired with layered maple on the back and sides. Maple is an unusual wood for acoustic guitars, but it worked incredibly well on the Dove.
The neck was also made with maple, and had the Epiphone SlimTaper D profile. This is an incredibly comfortable neck shape that plays super fast. Topping off the neck was an Indian laurel fretboard. This isn’t our favorite fretboard material, but we had no particular issues with it on this guitar.
Tonally, this guitar was extremely bass heavy, and we actually found it lacking a little in the mids. With heavy strumming, this left it sounding a little bit muddy, however when played fingerstyle it shone. The top end response was good, and this was likely down to the combination of spruce and maple in the body.
It was equipped with a Fishman Sonitone pickup and preamp, which we really enjoyed using. It did a great job of capturing the character of the guitar, and with some EQ work on the amp we were able to boost the mids and remove the muddiness when we played plugged in.
Tuning stability was amongst the best of any guitar in the roundup. It was equipped with Grover Rotomatic tuners, which are some of our favorites on any guitar, and are typically found on much more expensive models.
Verdict: The Epiphone Dove is a great choice for those who like a flashier look to their guitar. If you’re into bass heavy tones, you’ll love its low end response, and if you like to play through an amp, the Fishman electronics did a great job. The overall build quality was great, and it was easy to see that care and attention had gone into the build.
Fantastic retro looks and superb electronics.
If you’re looking for an easy playing acoustic with a retro west coast vibe, they don’t get much better than this. It comes in a range of unique color options to suit all players’ tastes, and thanks to the built in Fishman designed pickup it can be easily amplified to take your playing to a bigger audience.
The Fender Newporter Player is one of Fender’s new California series guitars, and it’s definitely an impressive instrument. It plays beautifully, and we really liked the champagne finish. It might not be for everyone, in which case there are natural, sunburst, and candy apple red finishes to choose from, too.
The concert style body was exceptionally comfortable. It would be ideal for smaller players who aren’t easily able to handle larger bodies like jumbos or dreadnoughts. It had a solid Sitka spruce top, and mahogany back, sides and neck.
We loved everything about the slim taper C profile neck. It had a gorgeous satin finish on the back, it had superb ergonomics, and was one of the fastest playing guitars in the roundup. The fretboard was made with walnut, and we found it to be equally as impressive as the neck, with well hydrated wood, and excellent fretwork.
Tonally, the Newporter was exceptionally bright. It had a super snappy response and responded really well to changes in playing dynamics. The only real downside to this guitar was the volume, or lack thereof. It’s quite a quiet guitar, although having the Fishman pickup and preamp was a big help with this, as we were able to amplify the guitar while retaining its fantastic acoustic character. The Fishman system included on the Newporter also included on board adjustable EQ, which made sound shaping so easy.
Tuning stability was about as good as it gets at this price range. The tuning machines performed well, fine tuning was simple enough, and the Graphtech NuBone nut really helped to keep the strings from getting caught up while playing.
Verdict: The Fender Newporter Player shouldn’t be slept on. It has unique looks, and offers a lot of features while still slipping in under that $500 budget. The tones were great, with lovely balance, and the electronics were some of the best in this price range.
A compact strummer that delivers big on classic Martin tones.
Players looking for a compact guitar under $500 from one of the biggest names in the business won’t be disappointed with this Martin. It’s an affordable model that allows players of all abilities the chance to get their hands on a quality guitar with great tones and excellent reliability.
There are few names more recognizable than Martin when it comes to acoustic guitars, they make models for players of all levels, and now with the Martin LX1 Little Martin, you can now experience all the brand has to offer at a much more affordable price.
This LX1 Little Martin had a Modified O body shape, which sits somewhere between a dreadnought and a concert. It had a ¾ size body, making it ideal for travel, camping, or just keeping by the couch. The small size might not suit all players, however, as those with bigger hands might find themselves struggling with the fretboard size.
The top was solid Sitka spruce, which shows the care and attention Martin puts into even their most affordable models. The back and sides were made with Martin’s HPL laminate, which while non-descript in terms of wood species, still offers good tones and exceptional durability.
It had a Stratabond neck, which is a laminate material actually made by a third party company. It’s effectively a plywood, and it offers incredible strength and responsiveness, while keeping costs to a minimum. The fretboard was made with Richlite, which is an artificial wood. The Richlite looked good, and had a dark, almost ebony like appearance, but when the much cheaper Yamaha has real rosewood on the fingerboard, it feels like Martin cut a corner here.
We did like the feel of the modified low oval neck profile. Because of the reduced size it was extremely fast playing, but as briefly mentioned, it could cause issues for players with big hands as the narrow width also meant that string spacing was tight.
Tones were very bright, with most of the focus on the mids and trebles, and it offered great sustain for a smaller guitar. It wasn’t a particularly loud guitar, but it did project well, making it extremely useable in a number of situations.
Build quality was as good as you’d expect from a Martin. The hardware was all excellent, the tuners performed very well, and overall fit and finish was really nicely executed.
Verdict: The Martin LX1 Little Martin was a lot of fun to play. It travels well, offers sweet, punchy tones, and was built to the usual, Martin standards. Of course, the small size might be limiting for some, but it does open up opportunities for smaller (and younger) players to get a quality guitar on a modest budget.
A handsome acoustic-electric guitar with fantastic amplified performance.
This guitar offers incredible strength and durability across a range of environmental conditions, and delivers some of the best amplified performance you’ll get from any acoustic guitar. Its sleek looks are timeless, and you’ll love the way it sounds.
Ovation guitars aren’t quite as popular as they once were, but they should still be very much on your radar if you’re looking for the best acoustic guitars under $500, as the Ovation Applause AE44-7S is a great choice in this price range.
The body shape is uniquely Ovation, and is actually quite similar to the silhouette of a Les Paul. The soundholes (there were several) are another signature feature, and are positioned closest to the players ear in the bass side upper bout. By not having a large center sound hole, feedback is more easily controlled when amplified.
It had a layered spruce top, which was finished in a lovely vintage varnish color. It wasn’t the most responsive soundboard, but this is a guitar that’s really meant to be enjoyed through an amp. The back of the body was made with Lyrachord, which is a polycarbonate plastic material. It’s one of the hardest wearing acoustic bodies on the market, and because it was completely rounded, it was one of the most comfortable to play.
The neck was much more like an electric guitar shape and style, we found it to be slim, and extremely fast playing. We weren’t too impressed by the ovangkol fretboard – it played well, but looked a little dull.
We really enjoyed the built in electronics on this Ovation. It had a CE304T Preamp and a 3 band EQ, which made sound shaping a breeze, and it even featured a built in tuner. It had an under saddle piezo pickup, which gave a really accurate reflection of the tones, and delivered superb, feedback free performance.
Tuning stability was good, we really liked the tuning machines on this model, which were surprisingly smooth considering this is one of the brand’s entry level models. It even had a composite nut, which again, is rare on an entry level guitar.
Verdict: Like many guitars from this brand, the Ovation Applause AE44-7S may seem like it’s for a niche audience, but when you get to spend time with it, you realize it’s something of an unsung hero. It delivers a nice balanced tone, and it’s borderline indestructible by comparison to traditionally made guitars. If amplified performance and extreme durability are important to you, you’ll probably love this guitar.
How To Choose The Right Guitar For You
With up to $500 in your wallet you’ve got a wide range of makes and models to choose from when it comes to acoustic guitars, but how do you know which is right for you? In this guide we’ll cover what you should be looking for to make sure you get the best guitar for you.
The type of wood used in the construction of an acoustic guitar, particularly on its top, has a significant impact on the tone and performance. These are some of the most commonly found tone woods.
The spruce family of woods is by far the most common wood used in acoustic guitar building, and for good reason. It delivers a wide tonal range, but it’s most famous for its bright sound and snappy, articulate response.
Mahogany is a darker wood, both in terms of color and tone. It’s heavier than spruce, but that density results in a signature warmth that no other wood produces. Its tones are particularly strong across the mids and lower mids.
Maple is a heavy wood that delivers incredible brightness and superb definition. It’s one of the nicest looking woods, especially when flamed and figured, and it’s one of the hardest wearing, too.
Solid Woods or Laminate
Guitars made with laminated wood tend to be more affordable and offer a more consistent look. Laminate woods are made by sandwiching together multiple pieces of wood, and topping them off with an attractive veneer that matches the type of wood used in the laminate. The materials are inexpensive in this case, and the level of craftsmanship required to work those materials into a guitar is reduced, meaning less skilled luthiers can be tasked with making them. Laminated woods also have the benefit of increased resistance to changes in temperature and humidity.
Guitars made with solid woods on the other hand tend to be far more expensive, as sourcing the raw materials in pieces large enough to make a guitar from is more challenging. Additionally, because the materials cost more, the cost of labor goes up, too. Solid woods are known for their improved resonance and sustain compared to laminated woods.
Parlor guitars are some of the smallest acoustics around. They have a pronounced waist, and a unique shape that helps them to project exceptionally well without the need for a large soundboard.
Concert style acoustic guitars have a very balanced tone. They have excellent ergonomics, too, making them exceptionally comfortable for most players.
Dreadnought body acoustic guitars are extremely large, and deliver big, powerful, booming tones. They’re loud, and perfect for strumming, especially as part of a band, or when supporting a vocalist.
While $500 is quite a modest budget in the world of guitars, it’s still a lot of money to many people. For this reason, we hope this guide has proven that there really are some great guitars in this price range.
To recap, our top pick was the Breedlove Eco Discovery S – a sustainable guitar with great looks and tons of character. For cost conscious players, our best budget choice, the Yamaha FG830 really delivers incredible value for money. Finally, for those looking to max out their budget, we’d really recommend our Editor’s Choice, the Taylor Big Baby Taylor BBT – it’s a wonderful guitar with great tones from one of the most recognizable acoustic guitar brands around.