Tips for Choosing a Good Acoustic?

I recently got my first acoustic after two years of playing electric only, and I’m hooked. It’s a beat up hand me down with dents in the frets and cracks in the soundboard. I’d like to upgrade to an intermediate level acoustic guitar (flexible budget, $500-750 USD) within the next year. I’ve read some guides and been to the store a few times to try guitars and I still have some questions. I’ve tried 20+ guitars over the past few months and haven’t “fallen in love” with one yet. (Most guitars the national chain store near me has in stock need new strings and a set up, BAD. They don’t sound or feel nice, so I may have to just buy one and hope it’s better after a set up). I don’t have a great ear for acoustic music yet, so I’ve been having trouble sorting through the hype on a few topics.

  1. Does a “cut away” make the guitar sound “thinner?” Is this something I should be ruling out?
  2. Are baked/torrefied guitars a good investment? I do think they sound better but I’m hearing conflicting opinions on if they “age well.” I’m unsure if this is a feature worth paying for or just hype.
  3. How important is it to get an all solid wood guitar? I don’t think there are many all solid models in my price range, even used. Is a solid top “good enough” for most players?
  4. Does a bone vs plastic nut and saddle make a big difference? I’ve heard some people say yes and some people say it’s more important if it’s cut well.

I realize a lot of this is subjective. I do plan to have a pro set up and restring the guitar after I buy it. I plan to mostly strum and flat pick if that makes a difference for any of the above questions. Looking to buy something in the “folk size” or 00/000 size, but not as small as a parlor. Thanks for any pointers and opinions :slight_smile:

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Look at the Yamaha LL6are for the price you get real wood and a great guitar. But sitting down and feeling the guitar and making sure it’s the right guitar for you is just as important. So go to guitar store and play a lot of different guitars and one will find you.

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1 - There is certainly a sound difference, the body meeting the neck both sides at 12/14th fret must add something. But its no use if you want to play higher frets with more ease. So down to use and taste.

2 - no idea not heard of it before.

3 - How it sounds and feels is more important than what its made out of. What its made out of affects that quite a bit though…

4 - tbh I think I prefer graphtec nuts generally because they seem to handle bends/string movement etc better, rather than any sound difference.

Go to a shop and play a bunch, you’ll quickly tell which feel good to you based on size , neck , fret radius/width etc

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Alway super fun!

Where are you located?

Are you willing to consider a used guitar? There are so many great options at that price range. New or used really, but more bang for your buck if you are comfortable with used.

Anything I recommend is, of course, completely biased by what I like.

  1. Does a “cut away” make the guitar sound “thinner?” Is this something I should be ruling out?

*I don’t think it affects sound significantly. You only need it if you need to play way up at what Justin calls the “dusty end” of the fretboard. I would not make it a factor, personally.
*
2. Are baked/torrefied guitars a good investment? I do think they sound better but I’m hearing conflicting opinions on if they “age well.” I’m unsure if this is a feature worth paying for or just hype.

At your price range, I would not spend money on this.

  1. How important is it to get an all solid wood guitar? I don’t think there are many all solid models in my price range, even used. Is a solid top “good enough” for most players?

*I like the idea of solid, but there are plenty of excellent laminate models and it used to be a valued feature. It does help your guitar survive humidity extremes. Your price range is quite good if you include used, solid wood should not be hard to obtain, but I would not stress about this issue. One of my classical guitars is laminate and I am selling the solid one because it the laminate one is such a great guitar. *

  1. Does a bone vs plastic nut and saddle make a big difference? I’ve heard some people say yes and some people say it’s more important if it’s cut well.

Again, probably not worth stressing over. Some quite high end guitars have plastic. If you care, you can upgrade in the future. Again, I wouldn’t limit yourself about this feature. You won’t know the difference.

A quick look at Reverb shows a ton of great instruments in your price range. There are several nice Guilds, Taylors (if you like Taylor, I don’t particularly), Martins (I would not choose a Martin at this price point), Eastman (fantastic choice IMO), Yamaha (another super safe option), Takamine and more.

If I was in your shoes right now, I would buy this one with out hesitating:

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I like Paul Davids’ comparison videos. I did feel like the cutout reduced the bass a bit. However… I DO NO PLAY AN ACOUSTIC. :slight_smile: so take my comment as one from only a listener, not a player.

Here are two videos that would be better using headphones:

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Hi Trish.
I have a very old epi D something with a lovely tone and was very cheap to buy.
I also had a Fender T bucket eletro acoustic (with a cut away), which I gave away as I didnt like the tone. This was after trying many string gauges and makes, simply didnt like it.
Which brings me to my point ( for what its worth).
Lots of good comments from all, but for me the real buying point for me would be A. Does it feel good to play and B. Does the sound please me.
Other than that the other points raised would be secondary, again, just my opinion.
Hope you find one that inspires you to want to pick it up and play.
Seasons greetings to all.
Mike

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Trish, be sure to check out the Taylor Academy series. You should be able to find a great deal on a used one. These guitars are 7/8 scale and have a contoured bevel that makes them very comfortable.
I am biased as the first decent acoustic guitar I bought was an Academy 10. I have other guitars now but I still enjoy the sound and feel of the Academy. It is my campfire guitar and has never let me down.

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My understanding is the cutaway doesn’t have a noticeable enough impact on sound to worry about it. Makes you wonder about some of the other claims as to why x is better sounding than y.

I thought a cutaway was important when I was learning. Turns out I almost never go that high up the fretboard so I personally prefer the look of a guitar without a cutaway.

Important is the effect your playing style has with regards to the sound of the guitar. I play a LOT of fingerstyle and almost always without a thumb pick. As a result I need a guitar that has good projection (volume). For someone who plays with a pick, esp if they strum aggressively, they wouldn’t need such projection.

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Oh I love acoustic guitars. I have 1 electric (used to have 2), but three acoustics. A cheapie laminate Yamaha F310, and 2 solid wood Matons. They Matons are mid-premium in terms of price.

I would really encourage you to not buy an acoustic unless you love it. You already have one. If you buy a more expensive one and it doesn’t sound or feel better than your current one, you’re not going to like it as much as the cheapie! Playability and sound are more important than price.

I found that when testing guitars I struggled to find any noticeably better than my Yamaha until I went into the premium range. So I decided to skip mid range.

Cutaways. In my experience they DO impact the sound. Particularly they reduce the bass in a dreadnought. However like @RobDickinson said they give upper fret access which is why both my Matons have cutaways. They sound great.

The other stuff - nut, laminate vs solid wood. IMHO it really only matters as far as the sound and playability of the guitar. So it matters, but don’t choose a guitar from a spec sheet. Choose one that sounds and feels good.

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+1 on this. @Trish_S There are a lot of great guitars out there in your price ranges. So go and play as many as you can. Let the guitar pick you. The one that after playing it there’s a little voice that says “Take Me Home” Don’t worry about what it’s made of or if it has a cutaway or not.
If you love it buy it.

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Someone on the AGF is selling an Eastman E2om for $300 plus shipping. Pretty incredible deal….

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What’s AGF?

The Acoustic Guitar Forum

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I’m sure if affects the overall sound of the guitar. I’m not sure by how much, though. I’ve owned acoustics with cut aways (although I don’t currently have one of those); personally I don’t see much value in having a cut away on an acoustic. This is probably because I don’t tend to need access to those frets when I’m playing acoustic guitar. That depends on your approach to the acoustic, of course.

Yeah, I don’t know have a good feel for this. I understand the concept, and I agree that such instruments often sound quite good to my ears. The jury is out on how well such guitars age, at least as far as I know.

I wouldn’t rule out such an instrument, but I also wouldn’t list the feature as a “must have.”

I prefer all solid wood guitars. All but one of my favorite acoustics are all solid wood. I think they sound and respond better, and they age well. However, the exception is an Alvarez-Yairi that is solid top, but laminate sides and back. It is a beautiful sounding and playing guitar, and definitely one of my favorites. (It’s also one of my older acoustics, made in 1990, so it’s had plenty of time to age and season.)

As to the second question, is a solid top “good enough” for most players, I’d say yes.

The nut material makes a difference, in my opinion. However, if given the choice to play an instrument with a well cut plastic nut or a poorly cut bone nut I’d take the well cut plastic nut.

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I’m no expert, but I’ve read that the high-end synthetics, like Tusq, can be advantageous because of consistent density, whereas natural bone can have hard and soft spots.

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Hi Trish -

I’ve owned a lot of different acoustics over the years and I’ve had guitars will all the different features you are asking about (and many more besides). In my opinion none of those features will make a massive difference to the sound. I think the two biggest factors might be the body size and the top wood species (particularly cedar v spruce). It might be worth getting familiar with how these two affect the sound. It’s very difficult to compare features like solid v laminate back&sides as no two guitars will ever sound the same.
As you pay more for a guitar these features start appearing and the guitars might sound ‘better’, but it could be the overall build quality / attention to detail at that price point that is making the difference. Also keep in mind the brain’s ability to fool you into believing what you expect - there was a famous study where someone fooled a bunch of wine ‘experts’ by adding red food colouring to white wine!
I am very much in the camp of ‘find one you love, and buy that’, regardless of the features.
FWIW I’ve current got an Eastman E20OM and I love it, I think Eastman provide very good value for money.
Finally, enjoy the process - buying a new guitar is great fun … I’m jealous :slight_smile:
Paul.

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I am also in the process of evaluating cut away acoustic with pick up guitars for a $1000’ish.

I found that you can get really good quality guitars from Yamaha that sound great and well play well. Their argument is that you get more for your money than for example a Martin or Taylor.

However, I am going for a Taylor as the sound it soft and bright, resonates beautifully, plays easily and with good volume.

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Really good vidoes. Thanks

Hi Tish,
Much has been said here already. But I will through my 2 cent in.

Cool, you’ve been looking at many guitars.
Continue doing that and I’ll guess you’ll find one that you will have ‘fallen in love with’

I got a new to me (used) guitar a couple years ago.
I didn’t try any guitars at the stores. I didn’t even read up on what kind of acoustic I might want (which I did do for the elec. I’ve gotten).

All I did was think, oh, I could use having me a new acoustic guitar and started checking out the craigs list (used) guitars on line. Not really even thinking about what I was looking at. I did that for months just casually checking out what was available used with no particular spec or brand in mind. I did have a notion of price though. Your price is higher than what I wanted to spend, or did spend in the end.

One day, I did spot a guitar that seemed like it might fit my needs.
The one I got fits all the specs you’ve listed. However I don’t know if what I got has torrefied wood or not. It is also a cut away. I see no loss of tone from it and I like that I can reach the upper frets w/o running into the body of the guitar.

I did check out the specs of my guitar prior to buying, but only a quick check out of the www before I went to check it out and to see if it seemed like it might be a good guitar for me.

When I did check it out, all seemed well for a used guitar sold by a individual, not a store.

When I checked it out, it just seemed like it was calling out for me to aquire it, which I did.
When I got it home and really got down to playing it. It was like oh my, this guitar is where it’s at.
It played smooth, it has a deep bell like deep tone and sounded good, the sustain of the notes is wildly long.
My point is, you’ve nailed the proper question imho.
When you find the right guitar, I think it will talk to you. You’ll near fall in love with it from first sight and play. You’ll just ‘know’ that, yep, this is the guitar I need.

I’m still in awe of the guitar I got.
The tones that come out of it are just astonishing. It plays smooth and looks good. It just feels ‘right’ to me, in my hands.
So imho, keep checking out guitars.
The one you want will come along, and I think that when it does. You’ll just know that, yep this is the guitar you want and it will speak to you and let you know.

fwiw, the guitar I’m referencing for me is a Indonesian made Epiphone masterbuilt DR-500MCE. It’s no longer made and is obsolete. I suspect I got a near end of run model as it has a few different specs compared to most Dr-500s I see on the www.
Seems like a couple other folks here on this forum have one of these guitars and what I’ve heard from them is just near how I feel about the one I got. Myself, I have ‘fallen in love’ with this guitar and it was near instant from the moment I picked it up that I felt that way.
If ya run across one of these guitars for sale, it would likely be worth checking it out.

Keep on the hunt, you’ll find the guitar that you need and it’ll let you know from near the moment ya pick it up that, yep, this is the one.

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Hi Trish…this doesn’t directly answer your question, but I thought I’d share my experience. When I selected my first acoustic (my first guitar at all), the salespeople kept asking me what I liked, and what “spoke” to me. I didn’t have experience, and so didn’t have a clue. I ended up with a guitar that I really love, BUT cannot play well. It’s too darned big for me! (I’m a 5’3” female with relatively-but-not-unreasonably small hands.) I’m now looking for a guitar with a smaller body. Of course tone matters too. And the neck profile! I played a Taylor yesterday, and really liked the neck of the one I played (I think the body was a GT - Grand Theater). I’ll be keeping that in mind as I move forward. Do let us know what you decide to get!

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