I remember going to buy my first starter guitar. My friend Fran, who had been playing for several years, took me to the local music store to pick out an instrument. I had no idea what I was looking at other than they were six-string works of art. He might have underestimated my interest in learning how to play, since the guitar he had me buy was less than ideal. The neck was pulling away from the body before too long. It didn’t help that my other buddy tuned it an octave too high. Just remember you aren’t just buying a guitar, you are buying a story.
Here we will give you tools to find the right guitar for you (lessons on how to tune are your responsibility). We’ll compare models and their features, show their ratings, and give you links to detailed reviews. After that we’ll give you a bit more advice to help make a decision that you will be happy with, and not end up with a lemon.
Top 10 Acoustic Guitars Under the $300 Mark
The Takamine GD20-NS is a strictly acoustic dreadnought guitar. It has a solid cedar top with mahogany back and sides. The satin finish mahogany neck has a rosewood fingerboard. The nut and saddle are both made of synthetic materials. The GD20-NS has a warm mellow sound that is even with all strings having an equal voice in each chord.
Ovation’s Applause AB24 is an acoustic/electric that puts the innovative company’s design within reach of the budget conscious. A laminate spruce top covers the mid depth bowl shaped back made of the company’s innovative Lyrachord material. The AB24 has a clear voice that allows each note to be heard with that distinctive Ovation “zing.”
The Exotica Quilted Ash by Dean is an acoustic/electric steel-string guitar. It has laminate quilted ash for the top, back, and sides of the body. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard. It is loaded with the Dean DMT 12NR preamp. The tone is distinctive with good balance.
The AVN5 by Ibanez is a strictly acoustic steel-string parlor sized guitar. It has a solid mahogany top with laminate mahogany back and sides. The body is bound on the top and back with cream binding. The sound is classic parlor bolstered by the warmth of the mahogany body.
Ibanez’s AEG1211-NT is a steel-string acoustic/electric guitar. Its body is made of all laminate mahogany with a Venetian cutaway. The neck is also mahogany and is topped with a rosewood fingerboard. The onboard electronics are Ibanez’s AEQ-SP1 and Fishman’s Sonicore pickup. The plugged in sound is excellent with plenty of tone sculpting.
The RD26CESB is an entry-level acoustic/electric dreadnought by Alvarez. This steel-string guitar has a single cutaway body of laminate woods. The onboard electronics are B-Band’s SYS250 preamp. It features a 3-band EQ, presence, volume, and a built-in tuner. The sound is bright and twangy.
The Yamaha APX500III is a thinline acoustic-electric with a single cutaway. The very good System 66 preamp with the under the saddle piezo pickup has a 3-band EQ and adjustable midrange frequency control. The plugged in sound is better, with the electronics you have the ability to shape the voice to your liking.
The Dean Axcess Performer is an acoustic/electric that is reasonably price. The body is slightly small than a dreadnought and sports a smooth cutaway. The hardware is chrome which includes six die-cast tuners and two strap buttons. It has a bright sound that is tempered by the mahogany body.
The WP11SNS is a steel-string parlor style guitar. It has a solid cedar top with quarter sawn Sitka spruce X bracing. The back and sides are laminate mahogany. The body is bound on the top and back with cream binding. The small size has a very loud voice with the classic parlor sound.
The LX-1 by Martin is a modified 0-14 fret body style with steel-strings. It has a solid Sitka spruce top with non-scalloped X-bracing. The back and sides are made of HPL (High Pressure Laminate) with mahogany patterning. The tone matches the body size with very good bass response.
Top 5 Classical Guitars For Less Than $300
The Yamaha CG122MSH is a classical guitar made for the new student. It has a solid spruce top with nato sides and back. The thin neck is made from nato as well, which has two side dot inlays at the 5th and 7th frets. The sound of the guitar is warm with very good note definition.
The GA35TCE by Ibanez is a nylon string thinline classical style acoustic/electric guitar with a cutaway. It has a solid spruce top with laminate mahogany back and sides. The preamp is Ibanez’s AEQ210T preamp with a Fishman Sonicore pickup. There is a 2-band EQ, volume, phase switch, and built-in tuner. The sound is even with little depth.
The Kermona S58C is the three-quarter sized version of the full sized S65C classical guitar. It has a solid red cedar top with laminate sapele back and sides. The African mahogany neck has a 19 fret rosewood fingerboard. It has a focused treble sound with a tidy low end that projects well despite the smaller size.
The very traditional Washburn C80S is an entry-level classical guitar. It has a solid cedar top with laminate rosewood sides and back. The neck is mahogany with 19 frets. The fingerboard and bridge are both made of rosewood. The sound is very traditional with an assertive confident voice that is well balanced.
The AHT-10C is a nylon string acoustic electric guitar. The solid cedar top has laminate mahogany back and sides. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard. The onboard electronics are the EQ-7545R preamp with faux wood sticker. The sound is thin with little depth, which can be tweaked when plugged in to have a bigger sound.
New acoustic guitars at this price point have to make sacrifices. The manufacturers have to decide what is most important to invest in to make these instruments. You as the consumer have to make decisions about what you want, and what you are willing to live without.
Upgrades can be made to the nut and saddle, electronics can be added or upgraded later, new frets can be installed, and tuning machines can be replaced, at a reasonable investment. The top, body, neck, and fingerboard, are things you are stuck with, and should not be second rate. You should never sacrifice playability and tone for looks or the name on the headstock.
Looks Matter, Looks Will Keep You Motivated
I want to take a moment and talk about looks. A pretty guitar is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with spending a little extra to get a guitar that has the right look or that you think is beautiful. A guitar that you find appealing will get played more. An ugly duckling will sit unused in the corner.
I believe you get more bang for your buck from a big name builder. Their innovations and know how migrate down from their more expensive models. They are also trying to instill brand loyalty, and what better way than to make a very good entry level instrument.
Other Important Considerations
I’m going to assume that this is your first guitar or your first acoustic guitar. As a new player there are plenty of things you will need to buy along with your new guitar. At this price point cases or gig bags are generally not included with the guitar. If you plan on taking your guitar out of your house you should either buy a case or gig bag. A hardshell case will protect your guitar from most things that could harm it, but a gig bag is fine to keep the potential blemishes to a minimum.
The things you should also get are a music stand and a tuner. Music stands are very useful even if you don’t read music. It is a good place to keep the other accessories that come along with playing guitar like spare picks, a capo, lesson books, or clip on tuner. Speaking of tuners, have something to tune your guitar with. Please get something to tune your guitar with. Clip on tuners are inexpensive and easy to use. A tuning fork is even less expensive and very effective at keeping you in tune as long as you know how to use it.
Another initial investment might be in having the guitar professionally setup. This can lower the action, clean up the fret work, or replace subpar parts. This can be a small invest that makes your new acoustic play easier and sound better.
Get a strap so you aren’t stuck in a sitting position while you play. A guitar stand is also a good idea, unless you are overly worried about dust or damage. An easily accessible guitar will be played more than one that is kept out of sight in protective custody.
If you bought an electric/acoustic you’ll have to look into amplification at some point. There are plenty of acoustic guitar amps to choose from. Do not buy an electric guitar amp for your electric/acoustic, you will be disappointed since it will not sound as full. If you are in a position where you would plug into a mixing board, then you’ll need to buy a direct input (or DI) box. You’ll also need a cable.
Guitar Accessories Are Inevitable
Buy a pack of strings, you’ll need them eventually. Try a couple different brands to find what you like the best.
If you wanted to spend a little more for your new guitar it opens up more possibilities tonally, aesthetically, and playability. The electronics are better, the wood choices are better, the looks are better with the addition of abalone and mother of pearl.
An extra hundred or two can save you from having to purchase a case, because one will be included with the purchase of the guitar. These guitars are also more road worthy and will last longer. Spending more now can save you in the long run, since you won’t have to buy a new guitar any time soon.
Guitars that cost less will be a world filled with laminate and lesser woods. A nice used acoustic can be found for less, but you never know what will be available day to day. If you are willing to be patient, then the right instrument might come along. This could get you an instrument that will stay with you for many years. You’ll have to do a lot of research to know what to look for.
If you are really not sure that playing guitar is the right thing for you, then a good cheaper acoustic guitar would be the right choice. The first time I bought a guitar I had no idea that decades later I’d be still playing. There is no reason to spend a ton of money on something that might spend more time collecting dust then being played.
No Experience? Use Your Friends! If this is your first guitar purchase take someone with you who knows something about guitars. Take a friend, relative, or your guitar teacher, even if they only know one more chord than you do (if your guitar teacher only knows one more chord than one, get a new teacher). Not that I don’t trust the salesperson at your local store, but they are trying to sell the instruments that hang on their wall. Generally, they are good people and they aren’t going to take advantage of you, because they want you to come back to buy strings, picks, lesson books, and to buy more guitars (can you ever really have only one?). They might not have the instrument that is right for you, but it is their job to make you believe that they do.
You have to enjoy the sound of the instrument. If you don’t know how to play, then having someone who does with you can be very helpful. You will be able to hear how the guitar sounds when it is played well. Plus they might have insight into problems or see the potential of an instrument.
Know what you want out of the instrument. Is this just to get you started or is it something you want to play on stage. This may be asking a lot of you to look that far ahead, but if you can it will help in the long run. Someone with more experience will be able to help guide you to the right instrument.
Dig Deep! Get As Much Information As You Can
Check the reviews online. Skip the perfect scores, go directly to the reviews that are bad. If the complaints focus on slow shipping, then this is a very good sign. If there is a consistent complaint about wonky tuners, bad strings, or poor set-up, these are all fixable problems. This should not scare you away. Inconsistent finishes don’t really scare me as well, such inconsistencies give the guitar character. Now if the problem is the bridge pulling away from the body, then this should be a major red flag.
Guitars in this price range are not worth much in resale or as trade-ins. You are going to get pennies on the dollar for trade in value. Don’t think of this guitar as an investment for your future purchase. Guitars that maintain or increase in value do not generally come from this price point. It also takes many years if not decades for guitars to find increased value in the collectors market.
The $300 Acoustic Guitars Summary:
You may decide that you want to spend more or less money, then I suggest you take a look at some our other articles to help you decide or you can star with the round up article on all of the acoustic guitar reviews. Take the time to subscribe to our newsletter so you can stay up to date with all that’s going on in the world of guitars. Make sure to come back regularly, because we add new reviews all the time, and have interesting commentaries. Until next time, may your D chords sustain and your leads impress.