The definitive acoustic guitar buying guide has arrived. Today, you’re going to learn how to feel confident and empowered when buying an acoustic guitar.
By using my 5 step framework, you’ll be armed with a solid series of tests to evaluate any guitar. My goal is to help you feel comfortable when you go to buy an acoustic guitar.
Before we go any further, I want to know you’re thoughts on buying acoustic guitars? Do you have a system or framework? Let me know in the comments!
In addition to talking about the 5 step framework for buying an acoustic guitar, I’ll be using this framework on 3 different guitars in today’s episode. One of the guitars is quite unique, while a pair of other guitars are essentially the same but subtly different.
I hope you’re ready to learn how to buy an acoustic guitar! All that and more is coming up on this episode of Acoustic Tuesday!
As always, you can catch Acoustic Tuesday at 10 am every Tuesday in these four places:
- Acoustic Life YouTube channel
- We Play Every Day Facebook Community
- Get show notes emailed directly to your inbox.
- Listen to audio-only below or in iTunes
The 5 Step Framework for Buying an Acoustic Guitar
Buying an acoustic guitar can be a tricky process. By following my 5-step framework, you’ll have a guitar you feel confident purchasing.
Before you go through this framework, be sure to invite your significant other/partner to watch with you! Having your +1 on board will help during the buying process.
Without further ado, let’s dive right into the acoustic guitar buying guide…
Step 1. Evaluate the Guitar’s Looks
You might be thinking that the guitar’s looks are not that important. Most people think the sound is the most important part of a guitar. However, I want to make a case for the importance of visual evaluation.
You need to be attracted to your guitar visually. This doesn’t mean the guitar needs to be flashy and blingy.
Instead, you want to feel as if the guitar is calling to you and you are inspired by just the “look” of the guitar — whether it’s worn, straight grain, or matte finish.
If you’re drawn to a guitar visually, you’re more likely to look at it and feel the need to play it.
Step 2. Evaluate the Guitar’s Sound
Ideally, you want to be able to play the guitar you’re thinking of purchasing. If you can’t play it try finding a variety of demo videos with high-quality sound.
When you listen or play the guitar, I want you to stop for a moment and ask yourself, “Can I still feel that guitar resonating in my body?”
I want you to find a guitar that feels so amazing, you can’t see yourself without it.
That feeling means something different for everyone. Every guitar player has their own preference on timbre and tone and volume, so just make sure the guitar you pick resonates with you.
Step 3. Evaluate the Guitar’s Playability
When buying a guitar, playability is an extremely important factor. For this step, I want you to take into account the things you cannot change about a particular guitar.
For example, you can change…
- the action
- string height
- strap button placement
Things you cannot change are…
- nut width
- neck profile
- string spacing
- body width
You want to feel comfortable when you’re trying out guitar. If anything feels too big, too small, or just not right, don’t be afraid to move on.
If you don’t feel comfortable playing it, it’ll be that much harder to motivate yourself to play that guitar.
Step 4. Evaluate the Guitar’s Versatility
This might not be applicable to you if you’re looking for a specific type of guitar to round out your guitarsenal.
However, for most guitar geeks, you want to find a guitar that can do a wide variety of playing styles.
You’ll want a guitar that can grow and flex with you as you discover new concepts, styles, and genres of acoustic music!
Make sure the guitar you’re thinking of buying can do both fingerpicking and flatpicking. You want this guitar to be by your side through your acoustic guitar journey.
Step 5. Evaluate the Guitar’s Level of Inspiration
This is difficult to do, but just know that each guitar has a story.
The guitar that inspires you the most typically has a story behind it. Even if your buying a new guitar, the story attached to that guitar is the story of the manufacturer.
The story of a Taylor guitar, fresh out of the factory, is different from the story of a new Martin guitar.
Which story resonates with you the most?
If you’re looking at used or vintage guitars, also take into account the story of the previous owners. You want this guitar to inspire you and bring joy and fulfillment into your life.
What do you think of this 5 step framework? Did it work for you? Are you planning on using this definitive acoustic guitar buying guide? Let me know in the comments below!
The Carbon Fiber Experience
Now, I need to get something off my chest…
I was really, really hesitant about carbon fiber guitars when I first heard about them.
I thought there weren’t any unique distinctions between different carbon fiber guitars. After all, they were all made out of the same material!
But over the last five years, I’ve played carbon fiber instruments from Journey, Cargo Acoustics, Rainsong, Emerald, McPherson, and so many more.
And, although they’re made out of the same material, each company treats the carbon fiber in different ways.
Last week, I did a quick review of the McPherson Carbon Sable guitar (which you can check out here!).
In the review, I applied the 5 step framework for evaluating an acoustic guitar. In the end, I was super impressed with this guitar.
As I kept playing it, I even began to notice some additional qualities that I liked in this guitar.
For example, the textured back on this guitar helped with the playability; the guitar didn’t slip out from under me.
If you want an idea of another carbon fiber guitar that has me drooling, make sure to check out my review of the Emerald X30.
Carbon Fibre is very interesting for the options available to you for where you can play the guitar and how you have to store and transport it. I’m always concerned about taking my Martin somewhere!!
About buying a guitar… The guitar size and shape should fit your body. Different sizes of people – there’s a guitar to fit. Try on different shapes before you buy. This was an excellent episode. Thanks!! SB
Bourgeois gets my vote, even though I had the opportunity to meet J.P. Cormier. My brother ( Roy Johnstone)is one of the top fiddle players in Prince Edward Island and a friend of JP. He took us to see JP’s show at a small venue in PEI and I was amazed. This guy can play!!! but your Bourgeois won me over.
Both guitars are very nice, but for me the Bourgeois wins hands down. I am a total sucker for beautiful wood and that Cocobola is outstandingly beautiful. The second quality for me is the sound. The Bourgeois just has a deeper more mellow sound. So that is my take on the two. However if you really want to give me one of them I would graciously accept either one.
Great show today, Tony. Thank you.
J.P. Cor me yeh
Hi Tony , your comments are spot on , from my own experience in January this year I visited my local guitar store , tried a few different guitars , spent a couple of hours there , they were very helpful , was sold on a taylor 414 ce , so bought the guitar , took it home and played for a day or two , but had a niggle in my my about another I had tried , aTaylor 712ce 12 fret and every time I tried my guitar at home I kept thinking about the slightly smaller bodied grand concert , 712 , went back to the store the next day , tried the 712 again and realised my initial purchase was the wrong one , the store were great , took back the initial purchase guitar , I paid the difference and took home the 712 , and so happy with it since , the moral being , try think try again , think , then make the right decision , we all live and learn , regards Rob V,
Hey Tony, The big problem I have in selecting a new guitar today is my current location. I did live most of my life
in the inter city. At that time I played a Uke. I am very sure I meet you at the Old town School of folk Music. The problem
today, how can you buy a guitar without trying it out? Was looking at the Taylor brand. I have my go to guitar S6 Seagull.
Cedar top sings out loud. People ask me is it a Martin. I also have a Marin, great at the bass line. Currently live in New Mexico. Not a large selection of guitars at the local stores. As you know, there are stores like the Chicago Music Exchange that have more guitars on location to try out. How can one select a guitar without trying it out?
Don’t forget scale length in your playability list. As I have small hands this is a big deal for me.
Enjoyed my first Tuesday with you. As you evaluated the guitars I most appreciated hearing how the carbon fiber guitar sounded. Would have been great to hear a little of the others as you spoke about them.
Sorry.. Carbon sable.
Step 6 in your guitar buying journey should be price. This would actually be step #1 for me. Price eliminates a lot of guitars that I would probably fall in love with only to be shot down because I can’t afford it or my wife tells me that I can’t afford it.
It’s hard to compare the sound of the Boucher and Bourgeoise guitars because you fingerpicked the Bourgeois and strummed the Boucher. I wish you had played the same selections on both.
I think it’s basically a question of do you want a D 28 or a D 18.
Do you want the real thing or an imitation of a Martin.
Tony – thanks, so very much for your show… two comments… first, regarding the “5 steps…” I have helped many folk purchase both acoustic and electric guitars. Generally, the first question I ask is ‘how much can you spend?” This is an unfortunate, but realistic question, but has likely saved several marriages – I then proceed to evaluate the offerings in that price range, using many of your other criteria… Second, regarding the McPherson – I have been seriously looking at this very model for my guitarsenal. I live in N’awlins, LA – where we basically have 2 seasons; hot, and OMG hot (it’s always humid). I have cried before taking my CL45 Artist (made down the street from y’all) to play for an outdoor event. Wood, as you know, never stops being a straw for water, and the hot & humid combo can cause no end of damage to a wood guitar. No such issue with the carbon fiber! #GUITARGEEK-SIDE-EFFECT – Told my lovely wife of my plan to purchase the Sable, to which she responded “guitars are made from wood”, turned walked away – a purist, and she doesn’t even play!! ;~(
For me, the Bourgeois OMSC wins, hands down. I actually fell in love with the OMSC as soon as I saw & heard it… especially when I heard it! Beautiful tone – mellow but powerful. The Boucher’s tone is ‘twangier’ and more cutting; best suited for bluegrass flat-picking. While I love a slotted headstock, the Bourgeois has a much nicer body shape, and that cocobolo back is truly drool-worthy.
Tony, I’ve been playing for a year and a half and am ready to upgrade to a better guitar. Currently have a Jasmine. I’d live to have a solid body Martin but cannot afford the price. I am looking to buy a new guitar in the 600 range. In your opinion, am I better of with a Martin HPL entry model at 550.00or a spruce and mahogany Takamine at 500.00.
Would value your opinion very much.
Take a look at the Epiphone Masterbuilt series for your budget.
I would take the Boucher home.
Both are gorgeous (That Cocobolo is sick with the spider pattern and light sap wood. Nice!) but the Boucher is the best sounding dread cut away I’ve ever heard. With my eyes closed I wouldn’t have known it was a cut away and I would’ve guessed it was a Martin.
Martin VS Taylor, I have 2 Martin’s and no Taylor’ss. But I do have a student OM I built last year and did the tap tuning on the top and back. It has the clear, bright mid-range tone of a Taylor but it also has the bass of a Martin. Best of both worlds. Great finger style guitar.
Boucher fer shay!
IMO the Boucher has a better sound and looks incredible. The cocobola is a beautiful wood but I prefer the overall aesthetics of the Boucher.
BTW , where is Noah? Have not seen him past few episodes. Hope all is well…
I am trying to get the hang or bar chords. I can manage the “A” shape, with the 1 ( High E ) string blunted. However, when I attempt the E shape, my chubby little pinky , when pressing the #4 string, lays across the # 2 and 3 strings, blunging them out. I simply can not arch my pinky enough to make those strings sound out. Is there a model acoustic guitar designed to accommodate fumble fingers like me? Thanks
I preferred the 1st one, which I can’t spell, but I’ll try bougewell. Maybe its because of your finger picking vs the flat picking, but I liked your comment about it projecting like a laser beam. Then again they both looked fantastic and sounded great. Next week I will surely listen. John was to read for one my and Jay Eklond’s plays here in Nashville, but, then got ill with cancer a second time. It was both frustrating and sad to see him go so quickly, as he did, from that terrible virus.
Hi Tony, Did I miss a show? What has happened to Noah ?
Tony – Love the show. Thanks for all you do.
The Martin vs. Taylor question is like trying to decide the GOAT in a sport – fun discussion, but totally and hopelessly moot – too many variables.
They are both great companies with wonderful business practices and commitments to building great instruments. Model to model there are too many variables and different applications. Taylor is not trying to build a better Martin and vice versa – they are creating great instruments that stand on their own. Who is best is a totally subjective call and an overall winner is impossible to declare – IMHO! Keep ’em coming!
Hi Tony. I loved your demo of your new Bourgeois 12-fret cutaway (wish I was enough of a guitar geek to remember †he exact model #) and the very similar Boucher JP Cormier Sig. Model. Your Bourgeois wins the battle on appearance hands down. And I agree that the tone is fabulous for the style of playing you are using it for. Bu† my overall vote goes to the Boucher. The tone blew me away! Plus volume and versatility. Of all the guitars to drool over I have seen on your posts and shows this is the first one that saturated my bandana! I have reached out to Sound Pure to see if they still have the guitar and see if there is any way I can possibly afford it. I love your shows. Thanks for inspiring me.
Boucher by a hair. Love the open headstock and Gibson pickguard. Wish they had a shorter scale. Both beautiful guitars I would keep,
Like it or not Tony, for most of us PRICE is a major consideration in selecting a guitar and probably the starting point. Within your price range one could definitely follow your suggestions.
Tony glad you had two of my favorite guitars competing. Several years ago I asked Noah if you would review both luthiers because I thought they were noteworthy guitars. And you did!
I have a Boucher Studio Goose OMH and a Bourgeois OMC vintage. Plus, another luthier McPherson. although mine is a 3.5 flamming walnut instead of carbon fiber.
So with that said, I know from experience how the Boucher and Bourgeois plays and sounds. From the two you displayed, my choice would be the Boucher. It is more eye appealing to me. The Bourgeois, though, has a deeper tone which I enjoy and I think it is more suitable for fingerpicking. The strings are a tad more spaced out making fingerpicking a little easier.
The Boucher does have a brighter sound and I find it doesn’t get lost in a jam session. Very easy to play. I find this guitar neck and playability similar to my McPherson.
Bottom line though, the 5 criteria for picking out a guitar you mentioned are key to picking any guitar. I enjoy my 3 because they each have their own personality and each meets my playing mood.
I love the looks of the Bourgeios better than that Boucher because I never got into those huge huge cowboy pick guards, but by sound, it would have to be the Boucher for me. Now my guitar would have to be satin finish, gloss is a deal breaker for me.
Not that I could afford either one.
Now off to play my $200 Seagull and wait for my $169 Gretsch Jim Dandy.
Please bring back the mail bag segment
Another great show! I think both guitars are gorgeous, but if I had the choice I would pick the Boucher guitar!
It sounded louder to me.
Problem with guitar selection is your reviews are great but if you cannot find one locally to try, hands on, What’s one
to do in making a selection on a new guitar.
Have Martin OMC-16 & Seagull S6
Enjoy all your presentations Your friend Mike
hearing both, again, the Boucher gets my vote for sound, resonance, and beauty (but that master cocobolo back on the Bourgeois is spectacular, and reminds me of the Master Koa he uses on special models). Both worthy , neither is in my current range, play or pay. Wow.