Top Acoustic Guitars under $500: Budget Bargains
By Mason Hoberg
So you’re looking for the best guitar for under $500? You’ve come to the right place! No matter what type of music you listen to or what your musical influences are, we’ll help you find the best acoustic guitar for you. We're confident this list is full of great value guitars. After all, we played way too many guitars to mention to narrow it down to these 5, not to say that we didn't enjoy ourselves while making this list. We came away from this incredibly impressed at the quality of instrument that can be purchased for less than $500 these days. Here are our favorites:
Martin X Series LX1E Little Martin Acoustic-Electric Guitar
The Martin LX1E is commonly referred to as a travel guitar with full-size tone. And with good reason. We found it impossible to dispute that.
The guitar has mahogany back and sides, but the solid Sitka spruce top is what really gives this guitar its tone and makes it sound as great as it does. The solid top also receives the same hand rubbed treatment as Martin’s higher end guitars do, making the guitar a beautiful instrument, especially at this price point. Martin’s “Modified” bracing pattern also adds to the tone and durability of the guitar.
Electronically, the Fisherman Isys T electronics gives the player a lot of extra features like a low battery indicator, built-in tuner, in addition to standard controls like volume, phase-reversal switch, and a contour to help with EQ. This all translates into the guitar sounding great unplugged or amped up, and the built-in tuner eliminates your need to buy a tuner or bring another piece of equipment on the road. The Goth nickel tuners also have a reputation for staying in tune and being reliable, and the finish looks nice on them. This model also includes a gig bag, which is convenient for carrying it around, and this guitar becomes a great starter pack featuring all you need to venture into a great acoustic for the beginner.
If anything should hold you back from considering this guitar, it is the size. If you’re looking for a full-sized guitar, look elsewhere. This guitar is 23” as opposed to Martin’s standard 25.4” scale, making it is the smallest Martin available. However, the smaller size makes this full-sounding guitar great for younger players, helps beginners learn chords more easily, and helps advanced players create chords their full-sized fretboards might not allow. It’s also good for travel if you find yourself on the road frequently and value portability.
After all, if it’s good enough for Ed Sheeran and under $500, I’m not sure how much more we can say.
Epiphone Inspired by 1964 Texan
The Epiphone Inspired by 1964 Texan is an inexpensive version of a legendary guitar. Specifically, the reissue is a replica of the guitar that Paul McCartney made famous. Remember that famous guitar with the Detroit Red Wings sticker? The guitar has been such a success, Epiphone has released several versions of the Texan.
The Texan is actually a modified version of the Epiphone FT-79. The FT-79 was also a jumbo model, though it was a bit smaller than a standard jumbo model. After Epiphone was acquired by Gibson the latter took over production of the FT-79. The guitar was manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Gibson also changed the scale length of the guitar, increasing it to 25.5” as opposed to the original 24.75”. They also changed the back and sides from walnut to maple. The Texan moniker was added in 1958, which was also around the time that Gibson switched from using maple to mahogany.
The main difference between the Epiphone Inspired by 1964 Texan and the original Texan guitar is that the reissue features a more standard 1 11/16” nut width. The original guitar had a super thin neck for the time (1 5/8”) which while giving the guitar a unique feel would be a bit uncomfortable for musicians used to instruments with wider nuts.
Interestingly for a guitar of this price (roughly $450, depending on where you buy) the Epiphone Inspired by 1964 Texan features all solid tonewood construction. The top is a solid spruce, while the back and sides are solid mahogany. This makes the guitar a great value for intermediate musicians, because solid wood at this price point is relatively unheard of. The only guitars that’ve gotten away with producing a solid wood instrument for cheaper is the Recording King EZ Tone Plus series.
The Epiphone Inspired by 1964 Texan also features a Shadow NanoFlex pickup system. The great thing about this pickup is that it’s an active system, meaning you won’t have to purchase any accessories to get a nice sound. As an added bonus, the guitar’s pickup system also features volume and tone controls. This makes the instrument much more flexible for live settings, which is definitely a plus for musicians who plan on using this guitar for live performances.
Though this guitar is manufactured by Epiphone (which is really just Gibson’s equivalent of Squier) it has a tonal response more similar to a Martin. This guitar features a crisp and clear mid-range in addition to bell-like and chiming highs. It also features plenty of volume, which is great if you like jamming out with your fellow musicians without having to worry about dragging around an amp or P.A.
Consequently, this does make the guitar a bit less suited to genres that require a more Gibson-like response. If you’re looking for that, a good alternative to this guitar would be either a different Epiphone model (the Masterbuilt series especially) or a cheaper Guild. That’s not to say that the Texan isn’t warm or complex sounding, because it is. It’s a very articulate and responsive instrument. It just doesn’t have the warmth or depth that you’d find in a guitar tailor built to have that response.
As far as quality is concerned, Epiphone has a well deserved reputation when it comes to being a bit lax on ensuring that their instruments are up to the standard that they should be. However, this is less of an issue with the more expensive lines. It’s not uncommon for the bottom of the barrel Epiphones to have issues with fretwork or intonation, but generally the mid-tier guitars that they produce (generally around $350 and up) are pretty well set up. And like other Epiphones the guitar is easily one of the most durable that you can buy. Just be sure to inspect the guitar you plan on purchasing before you put down any cash.
Though the guitar may not be quite up to the standards of the original, at the end of the day it is a worthy successor. It puts a piece of history in every musicians hands, and because it’s relatively affordable it gives aspiring musicians a chance to play a guitar that’s an approximation of an instrument that’s inspired millions. So while it may not be a competitor to more expensive guitars, it really was an admirable move on the part of Epiphone to ensure that this guitar is a realistic yet quality option for the vast majority of musicians. If you want a full-size great sounding modern dreadnought guitar that has the heritage of a proven legend, look no further!
Of course this list had to include a Yamaha. Yamaha makes several fine guitars under $500, and is definitely a brand you should consider in this price range. The hard part was choosing our favorite at this price point. We landed on the Yamaha LL6M. It was one that everyone agreed on, despite our different playing styles. No matter if you use a pick or plan on becoming a fingerpicking aficionado, this is a great and balanced choice.
Though the Japanese based conglomerate is known for producing a wide array of products, if there’s one thing they’re good at it’s turning out some of the best mid-level guitars made today. Some musicians look down on Yamaha instruments because they’re not the company’s only focus. However, the company actually started out as a piano and reed organ manufacturer in 1887. Yamaha’s logo (three interlocked tuning forks) reflects the company’s roots. But just because Yamaha also produces ATVs and motorcycles doesn’t mean that the guitar is going to be lacking in any way. For proof, all you’ve got to do is look at the features of the Yamaha LL6M ARE.
The standout feature of the LL6M ARE is the innovative A.R.E. (acoustic resonance enhancement) top. Essentially, the A.R.E. process is used to replicate the molecular characteristics of an instrument that has been played for years. This results in an instrument that’s both more complex tonally and louder than a similarly sized guitar that hasn’t benefited from the A.R.E. treatment.
The body style of the Yamaha LL6M also lends it some interesting characteristics. It’s bigger than a standard dreadnought, but even though it’s market as a jumbo it’s not quite as big as other guitars bearing that moniker. It’s a good middle ground however, as it features the punchier tone of a dreadnought with the depth and low-end response of a jumbo.
The LL6M ARE does have a bit chunkier of a neck than what some players might be used to. The nut width comes in at 1 3/4”, which is a tad bit bigger than the more common 1 11/16” nut width. This is a plus for fingerstyle musicians or those who play music that benefit from the extra width (think jazz or bluegrass) but it may be a bit uncomfortable for musicians with smaller hands.
The materials used in the LL6M are also impressive for a guitar in this price range. It features a solid Engelmann spruce top, which is a bit like the cedar of the spruce family. Engelmann is valued for it’s warmth and complexity, though it does lack some of the high end bite that you get with sitka or Adirondack spruce. The back and sides of the LL6M are made from made from mahogany, further enhancing the warmth and depth of this guitar.
As an added bonus, the Yamaha LL6M ARE also comes with built in electronics. This guitar in particular comes with an SRT Zero Impact pickup, a passive pickup system. Because it’s a passive pickup you will have to either plug into a P.A. or use a D.I. box in order to get the best sound possible.
The sound of the Yamaha LL6M ARE can best be described as warm and rich. It’s never going to make a good bluegrass guitar, but it’s great for any genre where warmth is prioritized over cutting through a mix. In fact, considering it’s price point it really is one of the better options around for singer songwriters. It’s a great performing guitar, and though it may not quite keep up with more expensive instruments it would easily be capable of sounding adequate on just about any recording.
Just keep in mind that the Yamaha LL6M is not a guitar that’s voiced after any of the big three (Martin, Taylor, or Gibson). It’s a unique addition to the guitar world, and as such it’s not going to have the characteristics of any of the aforementioned companies. It is a good sounding guitar in its own right, but if you’ve been pining after a Gibson jumbo this is not a cheap alternative to that. If that’s what you’re looking for, try checking out a Guild or an Epiphone.
As far as quality is concerned, Yamaha is easily one of the best in the business for this price point. They’re dedicated to putting out quality products, and that dedication shows in every aspect of their business. They’re actually pretty remarkable in that regard. It’s incredibly uncommon to hear of a Yamaha guitar having troubles from the factory, though they are just as sensitive to changes in temperature or humidity as any other instrument. So as always be sure to try before you buy.
The Yamaha LL6M ARE is a continuation of a legacy that’s been centuries in the making. For it’s price and specs it truly is an outstanding piece of craftsmanship, and all things considered it has the potential to provide a great value to any musician on the hunt for an instrument with a warm and complex tone. If you want a no-nonsense and straightforward dreadnought that sounds big, balanced, and has nice ergonomics, this is the guitar for you.
Seagull S6 Original
Established in 1982, Seagull ( a subsidiary of Godin, much like Epiphone is to Gibson) has been producing some of the most unique mid-level instruments on the market for decades. From their distinctive headstock shape to their innovative body design, Seagull truly is a cut above the rest when it comes to beginner to intermediate quality instruments.
The Seagull S6 is the brand’s number one seller, and for great reason. The S6 Original presents a great value to the musician on the hunt for a great sounding guitar that won’t break the bank. If sound comes first for you, you definitely can’t go wrong with this guitar.
The most distinctive feature of this guitar is that it utilizes a wild cherry back, which is a pretty uncommon tonewood for acoustic instruments. Wild cherry is analogous to maple as a tonewood, emphasizing high-end frequencies and clarity. Wild cherry is also a more plentiful wood than mahogany or rosewood, making this guitar a great choice for those of you concerned about the impact of instruments on the environment.
The Seagull S6 Original also features a solid cedar top, which is also a bit of a rarity on most steel string acoustics. Cedar is generally considered to be a bit darker than spruce, though it does have a signifcant amount of warmth that’s generally lacking in a spruce topped instrument.
As far as dimensions are concerned, the Seagull S6 Original is pretty standard. The only real difference in feel with this guitar is that the nut is a bit wider than the industry standard of 1.68”. The Seagull’s nut width is 1.8”, which while that’s a pretty negligible difference it may make the guitar a bit uncomfortable if you have smaller than average hands.
The bullet head stock also keeps the strings relatively straight, which the company claims keeps the guitar in tune better. This model doesn’t have any electronics, but Seagull does offer Godin Quantum I electronics as an option if you’re looking for an acoustic/electric. However, this guitar sounds so good, we love the original version. After all, sometimes a fantastic acoustic just makes sense, especially if it’s this build quality.
As far as tone is concerned, the Seagull S6 Original is really a great value. However, the guitar definitely is not a very traditional sounding dreadnought. Generally, this type of guitar is built with a spruce top and mahogany or rosewood back and sides (or for cheaper guitars a related tonewood). The reason for this is that spruce tightens up the warmth of mahogany and rosewood, resulting in a guitar that’s very articulate sounding while maintaining a lot of depth. However, with the Seagull S6 Originals pairing of cedar and wild cherry the guitar is a bit darker than your standard dreadnought. While this warmth is great for lush sounding open chords or fingerstyle playing, it does result in a guitar that doesn’t cut through a mix quite as well as a spruce topped guitar can. However, the difference between the two tonewoods is definitely objective. Your results may vary based on playing style, the type of pick you use, and your preferred gauge of strings.
While it may not be capable of being a bluegrass workhorse, the Seagull S6 Original definitely does offer a lot of value to singer songwriters or jazz musicians. The warmth and depth of this guitar’s tone really can’t be understated, and in that regard it competes with guitars that cost significantly more.
All of Godin’s subsidiaries are second to none when it comes to quality at this price point. It’s pretty rare for a Seagull to have any sort of quality issues, generally when they do it’s a result of improper storage on the part of distributors or store owners. There’s also nothing about this particular model that suggests that it would be any more susceptible to changes in temperature and/or humidity than any other guitar. However, be sure to check the quality of the instrument before you purchase it. Any company is capable of turning out a lemon, even those that care about quality as much as Seagull.
Though the Seagull S6 Original may not be the most traditional sounding acoustic guitar on the planet, it does present a unique value to the musician who requires a rich and warm tone. It may not be a great fit for some of you, but for the right guitarist this guitar can hold its own with much more expensive instruments.
Jasmine by Takamine S-35 Acoustic
The Jasmine S-35 is the entry level guitar from Takamine, and it’s amazing. It’s always hard to find a good starter guitar that won’t break the bank, especially if you don’t have much experience with instruments. Thankfully Jasmine (Takemine’s equivalent to Gibson’s Epiphone line) has got you covered. Though the guitars are budget minded, they offer a great value to the beginning musician.
The standout feature of the Jasmine S-35 is its affordability. The guitar can easily be had for under $80, and all things considered it really isn’t all that bad. It’s obviously never going to compete with guitars costing thousands of dollars, but if you’re a beginner or a musician looking to get into playing the guitar you shouldn’t find it lacking in any way.
Though it may not sound very bold (more on that later), the Jasmine S-35 is a playable instrument. The top is made from laminated spruce, while the back and sides are made from agathis. Spruce is a bright tonewood, emphasizing high end frequencies. Though agathis is generally a budget option it does approximate the tone of mahogany. While mahogany is the better option for most guitars, it’s really not going to make much of a difference on a budget instrument. When laminate woods are used in a guitar the differences between tonewoods become less apparent because the body resonates less. That’s why a guitar made from laminated agathis (or Nato) won’t be easily distinguishable from a guitar made from a more traditional tonewood.
As far as dimensions are concerned, the Jasmine S-35 is very standard for a dreadnought guitar. A lot of budget instruments will feature either a smaller neck or a shorter scale length in order to be more approachable for beginner or young musicians. While this does help increase comfort it can make transitioning to a full sized instrument a bit difficult, if not painful.
As an added bonus, the Jasmine S-35 comes with a compensated synthetic bone saddle. A compensated saddle helps avoid intonation issues (how in tune a guitar is when fretted). This is a standard feature on most instruments, but certain budget guitar manufacturers don’t install a compensated saddle to keep costs down. While no beginner is going to notice intonation issues it will start to become annoying as they develop their ear.
Unfortunately, the S-35 only comes in a natural finish. So if you’re looking for something more colorful you might be disappointed. However, the natural finish is pretty appealing if you’re a fan of the style.
The depth on this dreadnought is nothing short of outstanding given the price. There were no buzzes, fret problems, or finishing problems with the S35. The satin finish helps the guitar sound bright and resonate well, as opposed to the sound being dampened by a heavy gloss finish. At this price point, nothing has ever had as good of a tone.
As far as quality is concerned, the general consensus is that the model is generally pretty well built. Of course with cheaper instruments quality control is a bit lax (but to be fair quality control is a bit lax for a lot of more expensive instruments as well) but so long as you inspect the guitar before you buy it you should be safe. There’s nothing inherent to this model that impacts it’s playability or overall durability.
The S-35 presents a good value for those of you just starting out, and when you consider the price of the guitar it really is a pretty good buy. It will probably be outgrown pretty quickly by beginning musicians who dedicate themselves to learning the instrument, but should that happen they really won’t be out very much money. It’s also a great buy for the parent or guardian looking to get their kids into playing, because should they get bored of playing the guitar (which most people do in all honesty) they won’t have spent too much. All things considered, you will not find a better guitar than the S-35 for a cheaper price.