Getting to Know the Basics of Acoustic Guitars
You can do this! The first thing to do is to learn the basic parts of a guitar. All the parts are important for the best sound quality and durability.
We’ll start at the top. When looking at an acoustic guitar hanging up or resting in a stand, the top is the part with the tuning pegs and posts. This is the head, or headstock, of the guitar. Tuning keys should be good quality, geared to respond easily and locking the strings in position.
The strings leave the headstock and pass over a piece of plastic or ivory called the ‘nut’ and then along the neck. Frets and markers (or inlays) divide the neck and fretboard. Inlays help you to find the right finger placement. A solid neck is always preferable, but there are some strata-board necks that are durable. Look for an adjustable truss rod in any guitar neck style.
The Guitar Body
The body is the largest part of the acoustic guitar. It is most responsible for the quality of sound the instrument produces. The body is a box consisting of a top, sides, and back. Both the wood type and the finish can be important to the sound quality created here.
The strings are anchored to the body by passing over a plastic or ivory saddle and through the bridge. The round sound hole amplifies string vibrations. A pick guard protects the wood from scratches.
Construction and Design
There are several important acoustic guitar construction and design factors to look for. These will make the difference between a stable, sweet-sounding instrument and one that will have trouble down the road. It is a simple fact that no two guitars are alike. But the better ones do share some factors in common.
Solid vs. laminate
I recommend Solid wood for the top, even if the sides and back are laminate. A solid spruce top will provide superior sound quality that will improve with age. Even with a budget limit of $400, it’s still possible to find a solid-top guitar that will offer many years of full, rich sound.
Nylon vs. steel strings.
Nylon and steel strings are not interchangeable. Nylon string and classical guitars are designed and built very differently. Nylon strings can be easier on a beginner’s fingers. But steel strings produce a more desirable sound for many styles of music. You can’t stop your fingers from being sore initially, and only consistent practice will build those needed callouses.
Action and Intonation
The action is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. Correct action can make a difference in how easy the instrument is to play. Intonation is the ability of the guitar to still sound in tune all along the fretboard. It’s generally not a big expense to have necessary adjustments made if needed.
Purpose and Preference
Your ultimate goals are another important factor to consider. Finding a good fit need not break the bank. If you are not a beginner, acquiring a new instrument can expand your style options and add interest to your playing.
Consider the style of music you most enjoy playing. Some instruments produce a richer bass or treble. Others create a more mellow or a brighter sound, which is good for fingerstyle guitar. If the guitar is for a child, the appropriate size and weight should also be addressed. Your skill level is always an important factor. YouTube often has videos of professionals playing different models to help you make your decision.
One final but important consideration is where you will be playing your acoustic guitar. If you are planning to travel or play outdoors you may need a sturdier instrument, less prone to be affected by temperature, humidity changes, or rough handling.
Don’t let the big dollar signs scare you. You know you’re looking for the best acoustic guitar under 400. Of course, the higher quality instruments will be closer to the top of that limit. But age, skill, and use all play a part in your final selection.
Maybe you’re looking for a beginner instrument now, with the idea of buying higher quality later. It’s still important to purchase an instrument that is easy to play and has decent sound. Any of the guitars reviewed below have the potential of meeting your beginner needs.
The Best Acoustic Guitars Under $400
Seagull is a comparatively new company that was founded in Canada in 1982. The company is based in a tiny town of about 500, about half of whom are luthiers. These people are serious about the quality of their guitars, and it shows.
The Seagull S6 is a top-selling, award-winning acoustic guitar and comes with a lifetime warranty. This instrument features a solid cedar top, wild cherry back, and a silver-leaf maple neck. It also has a double-action truss rod for neck adjustments.
Since it’s on the smaller side, the S6 is ideal for both children or adult beginners. It has a neck that’s both wide enough and thin enough to make playing easier for students. If desired, it’s also available in a slim neck and a left-handed version.
The Seagull S6 guitar has a crisp, bright sound that will only improve with age. Whether you’re a novice or professional guitar player, the S6 should definitely be on your shortlist.
- Quality construction
- Lifetime warranty
- Easy to play
- At the top of price range
- Doesn’t come with accessories
From a company renowned for quality instruments, the Martin LXK2 acoustic guitar generates a surprisingly full, rich sound despite its small size For a person with small fingers or physical limitations, this ‘Little Martin’ is extremely lightweight and easy to play. The LXK2 is suitable for any style in any venue.
The LXK2 is made from all laminate materials. The top is High-Pressure Laminate (HPL) with a Hawaiian Koa wood finish. The neck is carved from strata board. That said, these materials make this an extremely durable instrument. It is great for travel and can handle rough use by children and teenagers. It may even be a good choice for college dorms because of its small size and stability.
It’s hard to predict how the LXK2 sound quality will fare over time. But for beginners or those looking for a traveling companion, this little package may be all you need.
- Very durable
- Left or right handed
- Big sound
- All laminate materials
- Does not come with strap, accessories
Fender is another well-known, respected brand name. Squier has been called Fender’s ‘little sister’ and the quality from one instrument to another may vary greatly. However, it’s worth considering as a more economical choice. This Squier comes with an amazing set-up: hard case, stand, extra strings, strap, and tuner.
This is an all-laminate instrument with a Lindenwood top and mahogany back and sides. The neck is slim and easy to play. The Squier holds its tune well, with decent medium and bass tones. This is a full-sized guitar. It may be a good starter for teenagers or adults and comes with a redeemable code for a free trial of the FenderPLAY lesson site.
Reviews have been mixed for the Squier. If you order it online you may receive any of several Squier models. While many have praised the guitar for its sound and presentation, there have also been a few issues such as minor distortion or vibrations. There has also been the occasional loose bridge pin or a complaint that the frets needed filing.
Overall, this seems like a good series of instruments for the older beginner who’s not sure if they’ll stick with it. The sound is especially suited for folk or soul styles.
- Lots of accessories
- Free lessons
- All laminate
- Unpredictable quality
This Fender comes with a comprehensive package of accessories. It also comes equipped with internal electronics for easy connection to either a small amp or a stage sound system. The FA-125CE responds well to any style of playing. It can be a great choice for beginning to intermediate players.
This model features a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides. It includes a Fishman pickup/preamp system with onboard controls and a built-in tuner. The instrument has solid intonation and a full, crisp sound quality.
The FA-125CEs rolled fingerboard edges help make it easier to play. The body also has a cutaway feature that makes the upper frets more accessible. A quality Fender is always an asset to either a beginner or an experienced player.
- Quality building materials
- On-board electronics
- Complete package
- Glued-in strap pegs sometimes fail
- Some accessories poorly made
Yamaha is a well-respected company most well known for their electric guitars. However, there are a number of dependable acoustic guitars in their line-up that are well-suited for beginner to intermediate use. The 800 series falls into this category.
This is an acoustic/electric, concert-size dreadnought with a solid spruce top, laminated sides and back, and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. It is equipped with an under-saddle, 3-band EQ, and a built-in chromatic tuner. There are no accessories with this package.
The 800 series has replaced the 700 series with a more powerful, balanced sound, especially in the mid ranges. It is made with new, scalloped internal bracing that allows for louder volume while making the instrument lighter and easier to play.
Good strings will make a huge difference in the quality of sound you can expect from this instrument, so do some research in that area. The Fender FSX800C can handle any playing style and has the potential to give years of pleasure.
Read our full Yamaha FSX800c review.
- Solid top
- On-board electronics
- No accessories
- Quality may not match price tag