Things You MUST Know About Your First Acoustic Guitar

Bearded young guy choosing acoustic guitar in music store. Assortment in musical instruments shop, male musician buying equipment

Key Points

  • Acoustic guitars are world travelers: play while writing a song in the bedroom, or leading a stadium concert.

  • Purchase a quality acoustic guitar without making a huge dent in your wallet.

  • Learning to play acoustic guitar improves your musicality better than only playing electric guitar.

Why Plays the Acoustic Guitar?

Keith Richards said, “An acoustic guitar is the most important thing for a guitar player to start with.” By learning on an acoustic guitar, you get a purer understanding of the instrument. It distills the learning down to three important components: your hands, your guitar, and your ears.

Your first acoustic guitar should personify your musical style. The types of wood used to construct the acoustic guitar result in slightly different but noticeable tone characteristics. Choosing between strings of either bronze or brass produces different arrays of sounds. It should also be comfortable to play. Lastly, your first acoustic guitar shouldn’t break the bank with its price tag.

Learning to play acoustic guitar well makes you an all-around better guitarist. It strengthens the muscles in your hand and fingers, forces you to play more precisely, and develops your musical ear more thoroughly than if you only played electric guitar. Flub a note or chord on an electric guitar and it is often covered up by feedback or reverb and you are forgiven; flub a note or chord on an acoustic guitar and the result is a clunk or abject silence.

Acoustic guitars add choral elements to a track, supply some rhythmic definition, or add a little understated punch to the mix of a recording. There is something very encompassing about the irreplaceable, intimate pose of an acoustic guitar. It says, “Here I am. This is me!”

The Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners

If you’re thinking about investing in an acoustic guitar, you’ll find that the mid-level guitar market is saturated. Lots of famous guitar companies offer drastically marked-up products because they are made by a popular name brand.

For a solid mid-level priced guitar, it would be worthwhile to stray from the mainstream names and get more bang for your buck. There are lots of great mid-priced guitars made by companies you’ve probably never heard of before.

Check out the list below for great beginner options:

FG Series from Yamaha

First up is the FG series from Yamaha. Headquartered in Japan, Yamaha is the world’s largest manufacturer of different types of musical instruments. The models of Yamaha’s FG acoustic guitar series feature a classic dreadnought shape, which is renowned for its versatility, ability to project a large sound, and a better focus on the low-end frequencies.

The base-line model, FG820 MSRP $289, features a solid spruce top with mahogany back and sides. It also comes in a wide array of colors–from “sunset blue” to “natural.”

Other models, ranging from MSRP $339-449, feature the same body style but different wood compositions. Wood compositions come in two options. The first is the 100% mahogany FG850 which exhibits greater emphasis on middle frequencies. The second option is the FG840 which has a spruce top with maple sides and back. This version offers more clarity and is preferred by players who employ fingerpicking.

Epiphone’s Hummingbird Model

The Epiphone Hummingbird Studio is available for an MSRP of $369 and is a songwriting workhorse. With a solid spruce top and mahogany neck/body, it’s going to give you that mid-range punch with a little bit more coloring in the sound as a result of the spruce top. Spruce is universally used in classical guitars.

George Harrison of the Beatles favored the Hummingbird model for its solid midrange voicings and ability to cut through the recording mix. The Epiphone Hummingbird Studio is an acoustic/electric, stocked with Fishman Sonitone electronics.

Takamine’s G Series

Takamine’s new G series is pretty dope. Most standard-line Takamine guitars run about $1300. However, the G series is made entirely of Okoume wood which brings down the cost. The G series starts at an MSRP of $449. Okoume sounds similar to mahogany, only it’s a softer wood which further emphasizes the bass.

Seagull’s Maritime

Seagull Guitars is a prime example of a lesser-known but better-quality manufacturer. Handmade in Canada since 1982, Seagull offers a variety of top-notch acoustic/electric guitars in the mid-range price bracket.

Seagull’s Maritime SWS CH CW Presys II ($1099) is more attuned for concert performances. Its slimmer body design and lower cutaway offer faster action, easier playability, and improved access to higher frets.

Seagull’s Coastline

The classic design of the Coastline Momentum HG ($979) with a dreadnought body style, solid-spruce top, wild cherry back and sides, and Fishman Sonitone electronics is arguably the best acoustic/electric in the mid-price range. The Fishman Presys II onboard preamp has controls for volume, tone, and phase, allowing a guitarist more options when dialing in the desired sound.

Acoustic Guitar Body Sizes

As seen in the visual below, acoustic guitars are made in a variety of sizes with slightly different shapes. Different sizes and shapes change the color of the sound.

Smaller guitars produce a more intimate sound and are easier to play. Larger guitars have a fuller sound but are more difficult to play. The most popular size is dreadnought; it is the most versatile acoustic guitar size.

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What’s the Best Body Size for Beginners?

If a beginner is a child, then an orchestra model or smaller would be best to learn on. Anyone older than a teenager would be able to play any size.

There’s something cool about a parlor-size guitar being recorded in a small space with a condenser microphone. They express such a dynamic range only rivaled in string instruments by the violin.

The 000-sized guitar is a popular smaller-sized guitar. It’s playable and relatively portable but resonates better than other small guitars thanks to its bell-like body shape.

The raw power of a jumbo guitar is heard over a band. They exude power, but they are more cumbersome to play.

The grand auditorium size is the preferred size when playing live, as the thinner body design and lower cutaway offer faster playability.

String Chemistry & Physics

Once you have your guitar picked out, you need to find the right strings. Acoustic guitar strings are made with a steel core and then plated with either brass or bronze alloys of varying thicknesses.

Beginners should start with lighter gauge (thinner) strings. Lighter gauge strings have less tension and are easier to press down or “fret.” Lighter gauge strings cause less wear and tear on the fingertips of the guitarist, decreasing practice fatigue. Lighter strings also make it easier to perform bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and all that stuff that makes guitar playing good.

Acoustic guitar strings are of thicker gauge than electric guitar strings. For example, a set of light electric guitar strings typically range from 0.09-0.42, compared to a set of light acoustic guitar strings that typically range from 0.12-0.53. Because traditional acoustic guitars did not have pickups or a means to amplify them, they required a heavier gauge to produce a larger sound. Mass is equal to the volume in this case.

Many brass strings are labeled “80/20 bronze” on the packaging, meaning they are 80% copper and 20% zinc. This somewhat confusing misnomer, 80/20 bronze, just means the strings are plated with brass.

Brass strings have a bright and cutting sound to them, with the best sound definition note-to-note. On a smaller acoustic guitar, they sound a bit thin and too trebly. Brass strings sound best on acoustic guitars that are orchestra-model-sized and larger. If you play a lot of lead acoustic guitar riffs, brass strings are the way to go.

Phosphor bronze strings are plated with bronze made from a mixture of copper, tin, and phosphorous. Phosphor bronze strings have a warmer and more mellow sound than brass strings. They sound best on smaller-bodied acoustic guitars, though many folk artists use them on larger guitars.

Phosphor bronze strings shine the best when a guitarist plays mostly chords, which creates a lush, velvety, wall of sound. If you plan on playing a lot of rhythm acoustic guitar, phosphor bronze strings create an immaculate texture.

A Buyer’s Guide to Strings

The only way to decide which strings embody your ideal sound is through trial and error.

There’s no good reason to waste perfectly good strings, so use the stock strings that came strung on your new acoustic guitar. When it’s time to change your strings for the first time, do some research on which strings enable the sound you desire.

Brass (80/20 Bronze)

The best-of-the-best brass strings are made by John Pearse, a boutique string manufacturer that has built a reputation for making the most well-rounded sounding strings that exhibit even tension throughout the neck.

John Pearse strings work for any genre of music that employs an acoustic guitar. They sound great right out of the package, whereas many new brass strings sound tinny at first.

Elixer is a guitar string company known for coating its strings with a patented nanoweb material. This coating protects the strings from corrosion due to sweat, oxidation, and debris. The result is acoustic guitar strings that sound vibrant for a longer period and need to be changed less often.

Elixer strings are more costly, but when factored into the equation of needing to be bought and changed less often, the extra cost evens out. One detraction is the loss of string dynamism as a result of the anti-corrosive coating material applied to the strings.

Phosphor Bronze

Stringjoy guitar strings are relative newcomers to the game. Established in 2014 and made in Nashville, TN, Stringjoy makes perhaps the best phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings. These strings have a kind of orchestral sound, a little subdued but very pleasing.

The C.F. Martin Company has been in the guitar game since 1833. They know a thing or two about acoustic guitar strings. Martin SP (Superior Phosphorous) strings are great. They have this pipe-organ kind of earthiness to them, emitting bell-like harmonics when strummed. They would sound better than any other string when played at a chilly night whiskey-fueled campfire sing-a-long.

Some Guitar Grimoire for Acoustic Guitar Beginners

This section is a brief guide to basic theory. With a solid foundation of some basics, guitar music is easier to learn. Even if you don’t become fluent in reading sheet music or advanced music theory, it is important to know what the notes and chords are called and why. Understanding the fundamentals makes learning songs — and writing your own — much easier.

The 12-Tone Western Scale

This is the building block of all western music. It is interesting to ponder that there are scores of different languages and millions of different words, but that there are 12 notes everyone recognizes, plays, and sings.


C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B (repeat, starting with C)

The frets of the guitar are one-half steps apart from one another. Press down on the first fret of the E string and it becomes an F. Press down on the first fret of the G string and it becomes a G#/Ab.

A 24-fret guitar ranges five octaves: from the low E played on the open 6th string, to an E played on the high E string at the 24th fret.

The image below is the staff notation of the six strings of the guitar when played open. The guitar is an E-oriented instrument.

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Staff music (shown above) is standard if you are reading a score for an entire band. Most of the time if you look up a song online, you’ll find guitar tablature or guitar tabs.

Guitar tablature is a linear-numerical representation of the notes on a guitar neck. Though it is easier to learn, guitar tablature is not universal; its notation does not translate to the piano or the saxophone as a saxophone does to a piano.

Guitar tablature does not assign a duration to the note values. However, guitar tablature has useful jargon itself that is not defined in classical staff music.

Below is an example of guitar tablature for the G major scale:

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The names (or letters) of the notes in the G major scale are:

G A B C D E F# G


I ii iii IV V vi vii I (octave)

You encounter roman numerals in beginner guitar chord theory. Upper-case roman numerals signify major tones and lower-case signifies minor.

Guitar Chords

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A chord is composed primarily of the root note, third, and fifth of the scale. The above example is a G major chord: comprised of G (root) B (major third) and D (fifth).

The G major scale is the most popular scale on guitar and the second most utilized in all music behind the C major scale.

The G major scale and all others are composed of 8 notes: seven different notes and the octave note which is the same note but twelve half-steps higher or lower. This scale, and all others, are played in different positions and inversions on the guitar.

Play to a Click

Too few guitarists practice with a metronome. Not practicing with a metronome is like an athlete only doing weight training and skipping cardio. Being on the beat is as important as playing the right notes or chords. It is recommended that beginner guitarists buy either a metronome or download a metronome app and practice with one.

Also, if you end up forming or joining a band, a metronome will help you practice songs on tempo when rehearsing by yourself. Just dial in the beats per minute and it will keep you on the beat. Your drummer will be impressed.

Up Your Skills: Play Acoustic

Playing acoustic guitar trains your ear to listen to the slightest change in frequency. Spending time and energy with an acoustic guitar fosters an innate, intuitive control of the output of the instrument.

If a chord sounds great on an acoustic guitar, it will sound beautiful on an electric guitar with distortion and reverb. Consider the acoustic guitar your blueprint map for all the sounds you want to create.

When you fingerpick it quietly, it whispers. When you strum it with abandon, it howls. Learning to play acoustic guitar gets you in touch with your true musical voice.

A slab of wood with a hole carved in the top, six steel strings, your inspiration, your hands, and your ears. Get to the source with an acoustic guitar that harvests the sound from within.

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