A well-built acoustic guitar can stand up to the demands of life on the road, and whereas inexpensive models of some instruments sound like they came out of the bargain bin, you don’t have to spend a fortune (say, under $400) to get a quality acoustic guitar that looks and sounds good enough to play on-stage. Most music people tell you to play an instrument before you buy it—frustrating advice for a true beginner, who might not know what they’re looking for even if they could. These models are all consistent, easy to play instruments for players who are just starting out.
In our humble opinion, they are the best acoustic guitars under $400:
Ibanez AW535NT Artwood Solid Top
You won’t look or sound like you’re on a budget when you’re playing a guitar from the Ibanez Artwood line. Its classic dreadnought shape and clean, natural finish give it an elegant look—and with a Sitka spruce top and three-piece back of rosewood and flamed maple, the woodworking is at a quality you’d expect from a much pricier guitar. The action is comfortable and the sound is consistently great across the entire frequency range, bold and full in the low-end with clear, shimmering highs. It’s even got a true bone nut and saddle. Based on the artistry and quality of materials, this guitar would be a value at twice the price, and it’s a steal at its current price. This should be on anyone’s list of the best guitar under $400.
Washburn WD7S Harvest Series
If you’re looking for something in the $200 and under range, the Washburn Harvest Series is a great way to go. The model linked to here is a standard dreadnought, but it’s also available with a cutaway or as a grand auditorium. All forms are made with a solid spruce top and back and sides of mahogany laminate, with a rosewood fingerboard and mahogany neck. The Harvest Series gets a powerful sound with great projection, even when played acoustically, and maintains tonal integrity at high dynamics.
Epiphone Acoustic Series Hummingbird Pro
Epiphone guitars are best known for being played in country and classic rock styles, and with this guitar’s balanced sound and sweet tone, it’s a perfect go-to acoustic for every level of musician. It’s made of durable, high-quality material, with a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides. The quality of the electronics can often be a drawback on less expensive guitars, but the Hummingbird has an excellent pick-up system. Action-wise, it’s easy to play “out of the box,” with little to no adjustment. In terms of eye appeal, the patterned pick guard and rosewood fingerboard beautifully compliment the faded cherry finish. This is one of the best acoustic guitars under $400.
Fender FA-100 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar
It’s necessary to make certain material allowances with guitars under $150, but the Fender FA-100 has a warm, rich tone and a solid construction that exceeds its price point. The action is low enough for beginners to play easily, although you may need to make some adjustments to the frets to eliminate buzzing, depending on your playing style. Though the spruce laminate top and agathis back and sides sacrifice a bit of resonance, they can also take a beating. The combination of durability and playability makes this a great choice for a beginning or casual player. If you’re on a serious budget, this is one of the best acoustic guitars under $400.
To understand the impact the materials have on the sound of the guitar, you have to first consider how the instrument works. The pitch is determined by plucking a string, causing vibrations at a given frequency. If you’ve ever plucked a rubber band, you know this sound is very weak—and that’s where the body comes in. An acoustic guitar’s body is the resonance chamber that changes the string’s vibration into a full, musical sound, allowing it to be played without amplification. That sound is directly colored by the density and composition of the wood the sound is resonating off of.
A guitar generally uses two different woods in its construction: One for the soundboard (or top), and another for the back and sides. Solid spruce tops—like those of the Washburn, Ibanez, and Epiphone above—are the most common material for acoustics. It’s resonant and responsive with clear articulations, and great for picking and strumming. The spruce laminate used in the Fender (and many other entry-level instruments) is made of layers of thin or pressed wood glued together to the desired thickness. Since glue doesn’t transmit vibrations as well as wood, the sound is dampened and slightly muffled. While laminate guitars can still sound good, solid wood soundboards will sound better.
The soundboard material has the biggest impact on the sound, but the construction of the back and sides also plays a major role. The most common materials are rosewood, mahogany, and maple. Of the three, maple is the brightest, tending dry and clear in the high end. Rosewood is the darkest, warm and rich, especially in the low end. Mahogany falls in the middle, giving the notes a sweet and balanced tone.
Action is a term basically referring to the distance of the strings from the fretboard, and it has a direct effect on how easy the instrument is to play. If the action is too low, the strings will touch the frets and cause a buzz; if it’s too high, your fingers will have to work too hard to play, making them cramped and tired. While some guitarists prefer a higher action because it gives their sound more punch, most beginners will want their action relatively low, at least while the muscles in their fingers are developing.
A guitar’s action can be adjusted pretty easily, so if your fingers are getting tired after just a few minutes of playing, take the instrument to your local music shop and ask them to take a look. Odds are they can fix it up for not a lot of money, letting you enjoy—rather than endure—your practice time. And we hope you’ve found the best acoustic guitar under $400 here. Good luck!