One of the most impressive advancements in the world of guitars in recent years has been the quality improvement in so called, “cheap”, guitars. It wasn’t so long ago that players avoided inexpensive acoustics like the plague because of their boxy tones, lack of tuning stability, and overall terrible construction.
Fast forward to today and we not have a market full of low cost guitars that are not only budget friendly, but sound surprisingly good, too. In this KillerGuitarRigs Review as part of our series on the best acoustic guitars, we’ve completed a roundup of the 7 best cheap acoustic guitars on the market.
Everyone’s definition of cheap is of course, different, but for this review we capped the budget at $300. Within that price constraint we were looking for overall build quality, tone, looks, and feel. If your budget is more generous, check out our lists of the best acoustics under $500, or on the other end of the scale, the best acoustics under $2000 if you’re really balling!
- Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars – Three Picks
- Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars: Individual Reviews
- How to choose the Best Cheap Acoustic Guitar
- Final Thoughts on The Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars
Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars – Three Picks
The Fender Sonoran Mini is our Top Pick. With this guitar you’re getting a solid spruce top for bright punchy tones, and mahogany back and sides to provide sonic balance. It has a fantastic neck, and thanks to its ¾ size, it makes a perfect travel companion, too.
If you’re looking to go as cheap as possible and still get a great guitar, our Best Budget option, the Epiphone Starling is a great place to start. It has classic Epiphone looks, it offers rock solid build quality, and considering the price, it sounds fantastic.
Players looking to get the very best cheap guitar on the market must take a look at our Editor’s Choice, the Epiphone J-45 Studio. This is a more affordable version of the classic slope shouldered Gibson J-45 and offers a lot of similarities at a fraction of the price.
Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars: Individual Reviews
A handsome reduced scale guitar with great tones.
With this guitar you’re getting a quality instrument from one of the biggest brands in music that offers exceptional portability as well as great tone. It’s well appointed and features premium features like a solid wood top and a NuBone nut, that are usually reserved for more expensive models.
The Fender Sonoran Mini was a seriously impressive guitar for the price (and landed high on our list of the best acoustic guitars for small hands). The construction quality was fantastic, and definitely lived up to the high standards set by the Fender brand name.
It was made with quality woods, and even included a solid spruce top, paired with mahogany back and sides. The fretboard and the bridge were both made with walnut, too, which is a nicer looking (and feeling) wood than the usual rosewood substitutes like Indian laurel or pau ferro.
The overall design of the Sonoran Mini is one of its best features. It’s a slope shouldered mini dreadnought style, and it really looks great paired with the Stratocaster style headstock. It came with quality hardware, including Fender vintage style tuning keys, which looked perfect on this retro style guitar.
One of the particular highlights of this guitar was the neck, which had Fender’s amazing Modern C profile. It was extremely comfortable, and it was fast playing. It has a nice middle of the road size, and should be comfortable for almost all players.
Tonally it was bright and extremely punchy. The solid spruce top gave it tons of mid range presence and the top end was tight with plenty of shimmer. If you prefer a slightly darker tone, the Sonoran Mini is also available in an all mahogany configuration, too.
Tuning stability was rock solid, helped of course by the quality tuning machines and the NuBone nut. The setup out of the box was excellent, and the fretwork was completed to a high standard, with nice, smooth edges up and down the whole neck.
Verdict: The Fender Sonoran Mini gets you a lot of guitar for your money. It feels, plays and even sounds like a much more expensive instrument thanks to the high end tone woods and excellent quality control that has gone into its production. Its smaller size makes it great as a travel or couch guitar, but it’s still more than capable of being a primary instrument if that’s what you’re looking for.
Fantastic looks, premium performance, and rock bottom price.
This fantastic dreadnought style guitar offers a number of superb features, and fantastic mid range presence, all at an unbelievably low price. It’s one of the best value options on the market, and even comes in a range of colors.
To look at, the Epiphone Starling immediately stood out thanks to the lovely Starling design on the pickguard, which was reminiscent of the more expensive Hummingbird and Dove models.
It felt robust, and was made from a classic combo of woods, including a layered spruce top, and layered mahogany on the back and sides. Despite not having a solid top, it still had lots of resonance and presence, and in fact, is likely to be tougher and more durable than other options with solid tops thanks to the increased resilience to changes in temperature and humidity that comes with layered woods.
The neck was nice and slim, and had a C shape profile. The finish on the back of the neck was slick, and we never found it to cause any issues with playing speed or chord transitions. It had an Indian Laurel fretboard which felt good under the fingers, and looked nice paired with the Wine Red finish.
The tones we got from the Starling were really outstanding in comparison to the price tag. It had a lot of mid range presence, but a little less in the way of lower mids and bass than you’d normally see on a dreadnought. This was likely down to the layered top, but in reality this kept it from having muddy overtones, which is something that can be an issue with cheap dreadnoughts.
We found that the tuning stability was good, and even more impressively, the intonation was spot on. The tuning machines were sealed gear, and while they had a little bit of play, they were still easy to use and didn’t slip. The factory set up was very much beginner focused, with a mid height action.
Verdict: As far as cheap acoustics go, the Epiphone Starling is one of the cheapest around, but in this case price is just a number. It was well built, it sounded good, and it makes a great choice for players looking for a tough, durable guitar.
A stripped down version of one of Epiphone’s Flagship Acoustics.
This guitar represents a fantastic opportunity for players on a tight budget to get their hands on a high performing instrument that looks like a much more premium model. It’s made with fantastic materials and construction methods, and it sounds absolutely wonderful.
The Epiphone J-45 Studio shares much of its heritage with the top of the range Epiphone J-45 Slash Signature, and by proxy, the Gibson J-45. It has the same handsome slope shouldered design, and it comes in a stunning vintage sunburst finish.
For the body, it had a solid Sitka spruce top, which is a premium wood, and typically more sought after than plain spruce. The back and sides were mahogany, and as with most Epiphones, the fretboard was Indian Laurel.
The hardware was good quality, particularly the tuners, which were sealed Grover style units that performed very well, and did a great job of keeping the J-45 Studio in tune.
Fans of slim necks will enjoy this Epiphone – it came with the ever popular SlimTaper D profile which was both comfortable and forgiving. The fretwork was superb, with no sharps or sprouts anywhere, and even the crowns were nice and smooth.
We loved the deep, bassy tone that the J-45 delivered. It was loud, and had tons of presence, with tight mids and a really glassy top end. We found that it sounded extremely similar to the much more expensive Slash signature J-45, making it an exceptional value.
It was a real player’s guitar comfortable to hold and play, and came from the factory with a fantastic low action, and an arrow straight neck.
Verdict: The Epiphone J-45 Studio is about as good as it gets when it comes to cheap acoustic guitars, although to hold and play you’d never believe it costs as little as it does. It gave us excellent tones, and to look at, there’s very little difference between the Studio and the Slash Signature, so if you’re going for that look on a budget, it’s perfect.
A working musician’s guitar for the price of a student grade instrument.
This is a top quality dreadnought style acoustic is built to a standard rarely seen in this price range. It uses high end tone woods and hardware, and it really does sound phenomenal, not just for the price!
Yamaha’s FG800 is part of their Folk Guitar Series (see also the FG830), which have dreadnought style bodies, but with a uniquely Yamaha twist. Despite the low price tag, it didn’t look or feel at all cheap.
It was made with a solid spruce top, that performed well, and actually looked good, too. The back and sides were either nato or okoume – Yamaha uses these woods interchangeably depending on availability at any given time, and as they have extremely similar tonal properties and aesthetics, it’s hard to tell which was used.
The fretboard was walnut, and even had nice rolled edges, making it super comfortable. We found that the frets were well finished on the edges, too. All this combined with the smooth, satin finish on the back of the slim neck really made it an excellent player.
Tones were another strong suit for the FG800, which happens to be one of the world’s best selling guitars. It had the kind of big, booming voice you expect from a dreadnought, with tons of lower mid range presence, and a shimmering top end.
We found that it offered excellent tuning stability, with performance that far outshone its price tag. The tuning machines were smooth, and engaged well, with no slip, even after several hours of use.
The only real flaw we found was that the action was set a little too low. It resulted in a little bit of fret buzz on the lower strings – fortunately it’s a simple fix if you’re prepared to perform a setup (or pay someone else to do it!)
Verdict: The Yamaha FG800 is a superb guitar for players on a tight budget. It’s made well and sounds good enough to use on stage or in the studio. The tones are well balanced, and with a couple of minor adjustments, the playability would be very hard to beat at the price.
An ultra popular parlor guitar with retro looks and classic delta blues tone.
This is a great parlor sized acoustic guitar, that stays true to its roots – it has a classic delta blues twang, and it’s most importantly, incredibly affordable. Despite the low price, it’s a quality guitar that will net you years of enjoyment.
The Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy is one of the coolest looking guitars on the market, and as an added bonus – it costs less than $200 new.
It’s entire construction was basswood, which is a common low cost tone wood that is usually more prevalent on electric guitars. The reason Gretsch used basswood was that it is similar to pine, which was the wood of choice for early flat top guitars like this. The problem with pine is that it’s too soft, and pine acoustics tend to deteriorate over time rather than age well. Basswood doesn’t have that same problem.
The neck was made of nato, and it had a slim C shape profile. It was comfortable and fast playing, and we really enjoyed playing fingerstyle because of that. The fret edges were nice and smooth, but unfortunately the crowns needed more polishing as they had a slightly gritty feeling, especially with bends.
The tones from the Jim Dandy were warm and had a fantastic vintage “jangle”. We loved the projection, and found that it was surprisingly loud considering the small size, although the long body shape does help with this. Frequencies were tight around the mids, and it had a lovely top end response.
We did find that tuning stability was strong, but unfortunately the tuners themselves were something of a weak point. They, like the rest of the guitar, were vintage style, and made fine tuning a little difficult. Once at pitch they held well, but be prepared that they don’t perform like modern tuners.
The action was set medium-low, which suited the guitar very well. Another drawback is that the Jim Dandy has a non-adjustable fixed truss rod, meaning adjustments to action can only be made with shimming or shaving the nut and/or saddle.
Verdict: The Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy was a ton of fun to play. It was comfortable, and really unique sounding, and it also happens to be one of the cheapest guitars on the market from a major brand.
A classic dreadnought guitar with a big voice and plenty of features.
If brand recognition is important to you when shopping for a guitar, this Fender will surely fit the bill. It’s a full featured dreadnought with a solid top, and quality components used throughout. It offers excellent playability, and it costs far less than you might imagine.
The Fender CD-60S is an affordable dreadnought that offers a ton of features, and is a great choice for beginners and novice players.
It has a relatively plain design that makes use of solid natural spruce for the top, and mahogany for the back and sides – a classic combination of tone woods. The neck was also mahogany, and it was topped off with an attractive walnut fretboard with rolled edges for increased comfort.
The neck profile was Fender’s beginner shape known as “easy to play”. It really did live up to its name, as it was indeed slim, and easy to play. It was very forgiving for beginners, and advanced players will find it to be fast. Because it was so slim, players who like thicker necks may want to consider something like the Epiphone J-45 Studio.
Its tones were nicely balanced, with a classic dreadnought voicing. It had the powerful lows, with big punchy mids, and a shimmering top end. It was responsive and played best when strummed hard, although it wasn’t quite as responsive to a delicate touch, making fingerstyle play its weakest area.
The chrome die cast sealed tuners worked well, with only a little bit of excess play. The nut was plastic, but it was well cut, so it didn’t have a negative effect on the overall tuning stability, which was pretty strong. The setup from the factory was neutral, with a mid height action, again making it ideal for those just starting out.
Verdict: The Fender CD-60S is a solid acoustic guitar that gets you a real Fender branded instrument for way less than you’d think. It makes a great guitar for noodling and campfire strumming, or for a beginner looking to start learning how to play. It offers excellent playability, too, which will keep novice players encouraged, and advanced players happy.
Excellent comfort and playability with durable construction and sweet tones.
With this Ibanez concert style acoustic you’re getting all the basics done right. It’s comfortable, good looking, well made, and it offers a more delicate tone than you’d find with similarly priced dreadnought guitars, all at a price you won’t believe.
We were really surprised by the Ibanez PC15. This Grand Concert style guitar delivered big in terms of both sound quality and build quality, and it was one of the most affordable in the entire roundup.
It was made with all layered woods, with layered spruce for the top, and nyatoh on the back and sides. Nyatoh is a hardwood that is native to south east Asia, and is becoming a popular (and more sustainable) alternative to mahogany. The neck was made from actual mahogany, and the fretboard was made from nandu, which is a dark wood with excellent hardness.
The grand concert body shape was extremely comfortable, and a great option for smaller players who want a full size instrument, but who have trouble with dreadnought body shapes.
The neck profile was named PC. It is exclusive to this series of acoustics, and felt like a slim wide C. It was comfortable, but unfortunately it had a gloss finish, which made it a little sticky feeling after extended play.
We loved the sweet, delicate tones we got from the PC15. We played quite a few dreadnoughts in this roundup, so the softer response from the Ibanez was a welcome change. Despite the sweeter tones, it still projected well, and was surprisingly loud.
It had chrome Grover style tuners, which worked quite well to keep the guitar in tune. As we’ve found with other similar low cost tuners, fine tuning was a little difficult due to a slightly jerky action, but once we had the guitar properly tuned, we had no further issues. The string height was on the higher side, but not excessively so.
Verdict: The Ibanez PC15 is a great alternative to the sea of dreadnoughts that floods the market around this price point. It’s extremely affordable, and offers some great tones. We enjoyed the playability, and we were particularly impressed by how comfortable it was to hold.
How to choose the Best Cheap Acoustic Guitar
Buying a cheap acoustic guitar is in principle, very similar to buying a more expensive model. Fundamentally, you’re looking out for the same things, but due to the different materials and components used to help reduce cost, you’ll need to know what to look out for to make sure you’re getting the best guitar
Solid wood construction is generally considered to be more high end. It costs the manufacturer more to procure the raw materials, and of course this cost is passed om to the consumer. The benefit of solid wood construction is that it produces a more detailed sound as the wood is more freely able to vibrate.
Layered woods are effectively thin pieces of solid woods sandwiched together, and often topped with a veneer to hide any imperfections. Manufacturers can use offcuts in the production of their layered wood, meaning that there is less waste, and this lowers the cost. While layered woods aren’t as nuanced as solid woods, sonically speaking, it doesn’t mean they sound bad at all. They still retain many of the benefits of the wood species that they are made up from, and they have the benefit of being more resilient to the elements.
Spruce is light weight, and produces a balanced, punchy tone that responds well to most styles od playing. It’s most commonly used to make soundboards, and is rarely seen on the back, sides or neck of a guitar.
Mahogany is a very stable wood that tends to sound better as it ages. It has a dark, rich color, and its sound profile matches its aesthetic. It has excellent lower mid and bass response, and is common on the neck, back and sides of guitars, and is sometimes even used for soundboards.
Nyatoh is a mahogany alternative that is readily available across Asia, making it quite commonly seen on cheaper acoustic guitars, as many of these models are made in this part of the world. It is a hard wood, but not quite as hard as mahogany, and tonally speaking it is quite similar, with rich, dark tones.
Nandu is a wood that is becoming more frequently used in the manufacture of cheaper guitars. It’s very hard, and tends to be used on fretboards as it has a similar look and feel to rosewood.
Basswood is usually only used on electric guitars, but it is occasionally used by acoustic guitar makers, too. It has similar tonal properties to pine, which was commonly used in early 20th century guitars, but it is much harder wearing, making it a logical choice for vintage style instruments when modern reliability is a must.
Plastic nuts are the most commonly found nut types amongst affordable guitars. They are the cheapest to produce, and absolutely must be cut well, otherwise your guitar will have a difficult time staying in tune.
Synthetic bone nuts are made to mimic genuine bone, which you are extremely unlikely to find on a cheaper guitar. They are designed with natural lubricant properties to allow strings to move freely within the nut slots, and this helps to keep the strings in tune as you play.
Dreadnought style bodies are amongst the biggest. They can be uncomfortable to hold for smaller players, but they reward their owners with huge presence, and incredible volume, with tons of punch. They perform well in a band or group setting because of their natural volume.
Concert guitars are smaller than dreadnoughts, and much more ergonomically shaped. They sacrifice volume for comfort, and are known to have a softer, sweeter tone than their big bodied counterparts.
Parlor guitars are really designed as household instruments, named for the fact they were commonly used in home parlor rooms. They are amongst the quietest of the guitar shapes, but they offer unparalleled portability. They’re also exceptionally comfortable to play in a seated position.
Final Thoughts on The Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars
There’s never been a better time to be a guitar shopper on a budget. In this roundup we’ve proven that there are some really great options out there for not a lot of money at all.
To summarize our findings, we chose the Fender Sonoran Mini as our top pick because of its perfect blend of price and features. Our best budget choice was the Epiphone Starling, which offers great tones at a bargain price. Our Editor’s Choice was the Epiphone J-45 Studio, a fantastic guitar that would still be a good buy at twice the price.