The guitar is an enduringly popular instrument, thanks to the lasting impression folk music has made over the last century. The same chords that form the backbone of folk tunes are also central to rock, blues, and country. If you’re interested in learning how to play the acoustic guitar, folk music is the perfect gateway to the basics.
Many of the foundational tunes in folk music using just a few chord shapes. These “cowboy chords” are also common in western music standards. While folk music can involve complex song structures, beginning and intermediate players can squeeze tons of music out of the first few frets on a guitar neck. Conveniently, the best acoustic guitars are not necessarily the most expensive.
What does chord fretting have to do with finding the best acoustic guitars? Most acoustic guitars have 19 or 20 frets, but much of the higher end is difficult to play. For folk music, this is fine because most songs don’t require that intricate level of skill.
You’ll witness this if you watch a folk, country, or rock musician playing acoustically — their hands remain anchored between frets one and three for the most part. That means there’s little difference between expensive and modestly-priced models when it comes to folk chord positions.
But even if you are a complete guitar novice, think beyond bargain-basement guitars. You can buy an acoustic guitar for less than $200, even with a popular brand name. In many cases, though, these subpar instruments will frustrate the learning experience. If you’re serious about learning to play the guitar, focus on playability and comfort and not just the lowest price. To do that, you’ll need some help, and that’s where we come in.
But first, a little history.
A Brief History Of Folk Music
Before comparing models to find the best acoustic guitars, it’s helpful to look at the rich role of folk music, both as a foundation of popular music and as a thriving scene today. Once you look at the history of the genre, some of the walls between different musical styles seem to dissolve away.
Foundations Of Folk Music
What is folk music? A basic definition may be the simple music of everyday people that functioned as a medium for storytelling. It may be the polar opposite of classical music, with its elaborate instrumentation and complicated and challenging melodies. Where elite, academic music may involve a conductor and a large symphony, folk music evokes an image of working-class people with a single instrument or perhaps two. These ballads and tunes grew in small communities, families, workplaces, and farms. Often, folk music had roots in spiritual songs that provided comfort to those struggling.
Popularity Rises In The Early 1960s
This human quality of folk music was central to its resurgence in the late 1950s and early 1960s when civil rights movements in the United States also developed. Musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan took inspiration from blues, country, and traditional music and popularized folk music.
Their songs had a lasting impact on musicians in the later 1960s through today. Each of these musicians often merely stood at a microphone and belted out their folk tunes while strumming simple chords on an acoustic guitar.
Modern Folk Music
While these 1960s folk songs continue to resonate today, new artists have added their fingerprints to the sound. Contemporary folk artists such as Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers each have released popular folk and folk-inspired music.
Many mainstream artists such as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran pay homage to the acoustic folk. Some also believe that Bob Dylan’s folk evolution in 1965 not only jump-started classic rock but also presaged punk and even rap.
The Guitar’s Role In Folk Music
Throughout folk music’s long and varied history, acoustic guitar has often played a starring role. Like the piano, a guitar is relatively simple to play while singing, so one person can create a full song experience. Unlike a piano, a guitar can be slung over your shoulder while you walk or ride a horse like a cowboy, making it an indispensable instrument for families and gatherings.
Basics To Look For In The Best Acoustic Guitars For Folk
Guitars are popular instruments. Increasingly, thanks to shipping improvements, people buy guitars online. Since you cannot pick up and try out a guitar online, it’s important to know some basic features that can be evaluated from a distance.
That is another reason we advocate steering clear of guitar deals that seem too good to be true. When buying online, the price can be a main indicator of quality. Besides a reasonable price, the best acoustic guitars will have a well-known brand name and will be made of quality materials.
Wood And Hardware Quality
The best acoustic guitars are made of solid wood. Solid wood contributes to both ease of play and sound quality. The differences, however, can be subtle. An aspiring musician may not need a full-solid instrument, but laminate wood should not be used in construction if the price tag is over $1,000. Between $200 and $1,000, an acoustic guitar should have a solid wood top, with laminate sides. Solid wood also factors in longevity.
Beyond body wood, the more an acoustic guitar costs, the higher the quality of its hardware. Hardware includes tuning mechanisms, and bridge and nut material. Novices often blame tuning pegs for tuning instability.
While dirt-cheap tuners can let strings slip out of tune, cheap material at the nut — the point at the beginning of the fretboard where strings lead to the tuners — is often the true culprit. A cheap plastic nut can bind strings, making tuning erratic and unstable. More expensive guitars often feature a bone or synthetic bone material that lets strings glide more smoothly.
Top 5 Best Acoustic Guitars
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Now that we know the importance of guitars in folk music, and how to gauge quality from a distance, let’s look at five popular acoustic guitar models. Each of these is a quality instrument that is ideal for folk-style playing. We primarily used customer reviews to come up with the cream of the crop for this best-of post, since it is one of the most reliable ways to weed out marketing noise.
1. Fender CD-60S Dreadnought
Fender is a hugely popular guitar manufacturer. It is mostly known for its electric guitar models, but the company also makes high quality, inexpensive acoustic instruments for working musicians. The Fender CD-60S Dreadnought is a shining example of a low-cost quality acoustic. This guitar features a solid spruce top, which is a wood found on some of the best acoustic guitars.
It features a classic dreadnought shape which is popular for folk music, providing a deep sound that can carry over a crowd. Fender rolls the fretboard edges for maximum playing comfort, too. This model is the only product on our list of best acoustic guitars that come with swag, including a songbook, cleaning cloth, clip-on tuner, strings, picks, and a strap.
The price range for this Fender acoustic guitar is from $190 to $225.
Online reviews heap praise on this Fender acoustic as a high-quality, low-cost instrument. Several reviewers note that Fender does a great job in giving novice players all the tools they need to begin a guitar journey.
The few negative reviews only indicated shipping problems, such as slightly damaged accessories, which are more likely isolated incidents unrelated to product quality.
The Fender CD-60S Dreadnought has a customer rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
- Solid spruce top
- Comfortable neck
- Included accessories
- Stock tuning machines might need upgrading
- The plastic nut can make strings stick
2. Guild D-240E
Guild is sort of a sleeper brand in the guitar industry. It is well-known, but not the most popular on the market. Its D-240E model combines 65 years of acoustic guitar manufacturing into an accessible, professional-quality instrument.
Featuring a solid Sitka spruce top and solid mahogany sides and back, Guild makes some of the features of the best acoustic guitars in an affordable package. Features include a period-correct tortoiseshell pickguard, high-quality exposed gear tuners, a rosewood fretboard, and inlay galore.
Unlike the other guitars on this list, this Guild model has an arched back, which helps project volume and resonance. This guitar also has a genuine bone nut and saddle for added tonal clarity.
The price range for this Guild acoustic guitar is from $350 to $550.
This Guild model is well-regarded by customers. Since Guild does not sell as many guitars as Fender, Epiphone, and some of the other brands, there are fewer online reviews. Of the 15 customer reviews online, however, almost all give the guitar five stars.
The positive reviews note the high quality for the relatively low price, with several mentions of the guitar’s loudness and acoustic ring. The sole negative review said that this model was not up to the quality standards of Guild guitars of the past.
The Guild guitar has a customer rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
- Solid spruce top and mahogany sides
- Vintage appointments
- Unique rounded back for volume and tone
- Not as highly available
3. Epiphone Dove PRO-Solid
Another popular guitar brand with models that range from beginner to professional level is Epiphone. The Epiphone Dove PRO-Solid is a high-quality entirely solid construction acoustic guitar, with a spruce top and maple back and sides. Epiphone is a sister brand of Gibson, who manufacturers of some of the most sought-after, collector-quality guitars.
Epiphones are produced using slightly less expensive materials but are well-respected by working musicians. The Dove brings the tonal characteristics of solid wood in an affordable package. Also, Epiphone includes a Fishman Sonitone pickup and preamp system, so you can plug your acoustic into an amplifier when you hit the stage.
The price range for this Epiphone acoustic guitar is from $500 to $550.
Customers refer to the Epiphone Dove as a “beautiful guitar” with great features and playability. Gibson makes a version of the Dove that costs ten times as much, and several reviews noted that the only difference is the name on the headstock. There were no noteworthy negative reviews on Amazon, but a review on Guitar Center’s website complained about the neck’s tendency to warp and issues with the pickup tone.
The Epiphone Dove PRO-Solid has a, ahem, solid customer rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
- All solid construction
- Unique country-western look
- Epiphone quality
- Some customers noted the pickup tone dial can be glitchy
4. Seagull Artist Mosaic
The Seagull company is a Canadian guitar manufacturer. Its Artist Mosaic uses solid Adirondack cedar for a rich, bright tone. The sides and back are mahogany to balance the sound with warmth. The Artist Mosaic is the most expensive model on our list, but we included it as the company delivers a boutique-quality instrument for less than $1,000.
The price range for this Seagull acoustic guitar is from $940 to $1,000.
Reviews are also glowing for Seagull’s products, noting that it is one of the best acoustic guitars available at any price. Reviewers call it a jewel of a find. The only negative comment is a customer request to feature the guitar in a shorter scale model.
The Seagull Artist Mosaic has a customer rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
- All solid construction
- Custom bird inlay on the 12th fret
- Made in Canada
- A high-quality guitar, but some might not like its unusual headstock design
5. Martin DSR-1
The C.F. Martin Guitar company is regarded as one of the finest instrument manufacturers in the world. It started building guitars in the 19th century and continues to craft museum quality pieces and working musician guitars in the United States. It’s Road series instruments have many of the company’s best features, but with less expensive materials and a more streamlined process.
The DSR-1 looks like it is solid mahogany, but the top, sides, and back are made of solid Sapele, a sustainable African tonewood. Martin also uses an engineered material, Richlite, for the bridge and fretboard. With a Corian nut, a Fishman pickup system, and an included hardshell case, this is easily one of the best acoustic guitars for the intermediate player.
The price range for this Martin acoustic guitar ranges from $725 to $800.
Reviews for this Martin guitar are overwhelmingly positive. Some reviews call it an amazing guitar, one of the best available for the price. There are no negative reviews, although some noted that at first sight, the wood looks fake.
The Martin DSR-1 has a customer rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
- Unique Sapele tonewood construction
- High-quality hardware
- Amazing tone and playability
- Hard to note any negative, but it is priced on the higher end of the instruments listed
Which Is the Best Acoustic Guitar For Your Strumming Needs?
Those looking to play folk acoustic music will enjoy any of the guitars on this list. For the price, however, it’s hard to beat the high quality and reliability of the Martin DSR-1. It is a true game-changer in affordable professional-level instruments. Whether you are a beginner or a working folk musician, invest in a Martin product, and you’ll have a musical partner for life.
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