A high end Takamine or Martin acoustic guitar would be an awesome purchase.
Yet, for the majority of us, it isn’t always the most appropriate choice.
It’s especially not great for a college student, who has a tricky budget to balance.
You want a good quality guitar, at an affordable price.
Such a guitar is attainable, but you will need to do a lot of weeding to expose it from the many options available. Which is what I recently set out to do.
This article guides you through the often exhausting process of shopping for the best acoustic guitar for your specific circumstances.
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Why an Acoustic Guitar is a Smart Choice For College Students
Which guitar - acoustic or electric - to learn with is a question most beginners ask.
And it appears there is no clear consensus on either one.
Generally, if you choose a guitar that closely reproduces music by your favorite artists, you will find it easier to stick with it and continue playing, regardless of whether it is an acoustic or electric.
But the two guitars have significant differences that go beyond the sound they produce. Electric guitars, because of their thinner strings, are easier to play than acoustics.
Yet, the fact that acoustics are tougher to play also means a beginner can build the necessary finger strength and calluses while they are still learning.
Afterwards, they can alternate between acoustics and electrics with ease.
Importantly for beginners, acoustic guitars also have lesser barriers of entry than electrics. Besides being more expensive, buying an electric guitar also means you have to also buy an amplifier and cable.
For an acoustic, all you need is a tuner and, possibly, a pick.
And unless you are a hobbyist looking for something to just indulge yourself, an acoustic enables a more rounded learning experience.
You will develop a significantly better strumming technique, fretting finger strength, and general endurance.
What Makes a Good Acoustic Guitar?
Ordinarily, a good guitar is one that feels right when you play it.
But this sounds overly simplistic as there are too many guitars that claim to do this.
The Type of Wood Used Determines the Quality of the Guitar’s Sound
Guitar manufacturers love to talk up the quality of their guitars by citing the woods they are made from - mahogany, rosewood, sitka spruce, cedar etc!
So they should, because the type of wood used affects the sound of an acoustic guitar.
The woods used for the bodies of acoustic guitars, known as tonewoods, have different qualities and effects on the quality of sound an acoustic guitar produces.
Be sure to check what the guitar’s top is made from as it has the greatest effect on an acoustic guitar’s resonance and tonal quality.
Resonance is particularly important for acoustic guitars that have to produce a quality, clearly audible sound without the aid of an amplifier as is the case with electric guitars.
Basically, the devil is in the density of the wood.
Laminates are a cheaper option, but they lack all the qualities of solid woods and, thus, produce poor quality sound, especially when used for guitar tops.
The choice of woods used on a guitar also has a direct effect on the price of a guitar. The pricier hardwoods, like mahogany will produce more expensive guitars.
It is for this reason most manufacturers will use laminates on the sides and backs of acoustic guitars. This reduces the cost of producing a guitar, and ultimately, its price.
It will mean paying more for your guitar, but a solid wood guitar top makes a sturdier and better sounding guitar.
Quality of Workmanship
Unless you like the feeling of owning a guitar more than the experience of actually playing it, your acoustic guitar is going to be one busy instrument.
And, for that, your guitar needs to be built to last.
Yes, natural wood is beautiful and has many qualities. But it is also an imprecise material that responds in different ways to humidity and temperature changes. All this can affect the quality of the sound the instrument produces.
Adding to this, different woods call for matching levels of workmanship. For example, mahogany is a hard wood that requires specialized tools and skill to mold.
Just as well, the use of poor quality glues also mean the guitar is more likely to shatter on you at the most inconvenient time.
A quality guitar made by skilled artisans is stronger and will stand out from its poorer, laminate top, and mass produced cousins.
A quick way to check if a guitar is well made is to scan the inside through the sound hole. Visible glue drips is a sign of sloppy workmanship and a poorly constructed guitar.
How Easy Is It To Play the Guitar?
Playability is an important factor to consider when shopping for a guitar.
It will not matter how good it sounds when someone else plays the guitar, it is more important how the guitar will feel when you play it yourself.
Several features affect a guitar’s feel and playability:
The size of the guitar - Dreadnoughts are a larger guitar size that produce louder and fuller bass sounds.
These qualities make dreadnoughts a popular choice, as long as your body frame isn’t too small. A college student should find it manageably playable.
There are also smaller sizes made for smaller people, and portability. These produce noticeably brighter, treble sounds.
Generally, the larger a guitar is the louder, fuller its sound, and the more expensive it will likely be.
String action - Action on a guitar is the space between the string and the fretboard. A high action means you have to exert more pressure on the string to get the note you are after.
String action is significant for acoustic guitars whose strings are tougher to press down. A high action can make the guitar tough for beginners to play.
Remember though, you can always have a luthier (guitar maker) lower the action if it’s too high.
Reviewing The Best Acoustic Guitars For College Students
A cheaper guitar is always desirable.
Yet, too many factors affect a guitar’s price.
The price is often a reflection of the quality of workmanship and the materials used in a guitar’s construction, as well as its size.
For a college student, we have assumed you are looking for a good quality guitar, most likely a dreadnaught, available at a fairly inexpensive price.
This should be a guitar that, while not the best of class, should encourage and spur you to practice and learn, without forcing an immediate need to upgrade.
It should balance the competing demands of quality and price.
Epiphone HUMMINGBIRD PRO
Being a Gibson-owned company and itself one of the oldest guitar makers in America, Epiphone benefits from the expertise and technology of one of the guitar industry’s most recognizable brands.
This Epiphone HUMMINGBIRD PRO Solid Top is the entry level guitar for Gibson’s famous Hummingbird line and is a beautiful, well made guitar.
The guitar has a one piece, solid spruce wood top and mahogany laminate back and sides. This ensures a balanced sound that is warm and mellow.
Pro and Con List:
- A low action that is kind on learners’ fingers
- Easy-to-grip mahogany, D-shaped neck
- Rosewood, 20 fret- fret-board
- Reverse belly rosewood bridge with an improved saddle for better action and intonation
- Cutting edge pickup that boosts the guitar’s acoustic sound quality for stage performances
- Adjustable neck action, which is a great benefit for beginners still building their finger strength
- The strings aren’t that great and may need to be upgraded
Yamaha FG 830
Yamaha has grown a solid reputation for building high quality musical instruments.
The Yamaha FG series has benefited from constant refinement since its debut back in 1966. The build quality is solid and playability is an absolute dream.
This Yamaha FG 830 is great value, at around $300.
Replace the plastic saddle and nut with tusk, and bridge pins with brass, and this guitar is as good as any $1,0000 guitar. All for the added cost of $50.
Pro and Con List:
- A solid Sitka spruce top featuring a new scalloped bracing for improved durability and a punchy, clearer sound
- Carefully cured, dried, and hand sprayed body for strength and beauty
- The acoustic/electric functionality makes the guitar a supremely versatile instrument
- An average size neck that’s neither too thick nor too narrow
- A satin finish on back of neck which enables a good, firm grip
- The electronics are well set up and give you easy-to-manage controls.
- Some purists may want to replace the strings with better ones
If you love Taylor’s high end guitars, have a smaller body frame, but are prepared to compensate a little on full body sound, this baby Taylor will be perfect.
This is a smaller size guitar that works great for young adults. And the 3/4 dreadnought size also makes for great portability if you would like to travel with your instrument.
A beautiful guitar with great tone and action, the Taylor BT2 Baby has good build quality and is fitted with a pickup and Fishman preamp.
This guitar’s nylon strings maybe a turnoff for some, but beginners will find them more manageable than the thick steel acoustic guitar strings.
Pro and Con List:
- A hardwood top produces a wonderfully warm sound
- Solid mahogany back and sides, which balances the small body’s brightly sound
- The all-wood construction makes this a sturdy and durable guitar
- A durable, Taylor made gig travel bag that protects your guitar on the road
- A great size for people with smaller bodies
- The strings are said to be real nylon, but some people may prefer steel strings
- The small size may compromise playability for people with bigger body frames
Let’s be honest, sometimes you are so hard up you will take any decent guitar that comes with a good price.
Still, for someone whose musical taste and quality expectations are as developed as a college student’s should, a good price shouldn’t be lower than $100.
Because, cheaper than that, a guitar is nothing more than what, in guitar circles, is called a GSO - guitar shaped object. Such a guitar isn’t worth even its low price and certainly won’t help you grow as a guitarist.
This concert size Fender CC-60S Concert Acoustic Guitar guitar perhaps uneasily straddles that divide.
It comes with so many add-ons the price seems ridiculously low.
Pro and Con List:
- Full-sized dreadnought body, which produces a fuller and richer sound
- A great bundle deal that comes with a hard case, strap, tuner, strings, picks, polishing cloth, and instructional DVD
- A sturdy, scalloped ‘X’ braced spruce top
- Rolled fingerboard and neck edges that make the guitar easier to play
- When not in use, guitars belong in a hard case, so the case is quite convenient
- The size may be too big for people with smaller frames
Seagull S6 Original
It’s been known to happen:
Someone, most likely a parent or loved one, decides to spoil you with a good guitar for a present.
Unless they decide to make it a surprise gift, this would be the perfect guitar to suggest they buy you. It is a fine guitar at a price that’s also fairly easier on your benefactor’s pocket.
Seagull is a trusted brand, and this 21-fret dreadnought is one of the reasons why.
Forget the ‘entry level’ classification by the manufacturer, this Seagull S6 Original Acoustic can stand up to the big boys.
Pro and Con List:
- Cedar top and wild cherry back and sides produce a uniquely fresh sound
- A tapered headstock for open and precise tuning
- Compensated saddle for greater pitch accuracy
- Elegantly designed, and built-to-last guitar that stays in tune
- Godin Quantum IT electronics with a built-in tuner for a more amplified sound
- The guitar could be more playable with a better saddle
And Our Pick Is..
The word ‘best’ is subjective when it comes to acoustic guitars.
There are just too many features, with differing levels of appeal to people, to consider.
A giveaway at its price, the Yamaha FG 830 ticks most of the boxes that matter for a college student.
In the same league with the Seagull S6 Original Acoustic, but at a significantly cheaper price.
The guitar’s dreadnought size should appeal to most college students. It is well built, with tonewoods that ensure a truly, full acoustic sound.
If you have a smaller body frame and the Yamaha FG 830 is too big for you, the Taylor BT2 Baby is a good option.
It will cost a bit more. But, hey, it is a Taylor!
For something cheaper, the Fender CC-60S bundle is great value for a very decent guitar that plays well and has a good sound.
An acoustic guitar with smooth playability and great sound is coveted by every guitarist.
Whether you are a chart-topping musician or a beginner college student, your guitar must encourage and help you improve your playing.
But, while a good quality guitar that’s available at an affordable price is attainable, good quality and a low price don’t always sit well together.
Your choice of acoustic guitar should thus be determined by the quality of sound, playability, and size you can realistically get for the price you are willing to pay.
This article, has hopefully, made your job a lot easier.