What kind of acoustic guitar should I buy?
May 1, 2008 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I don't know anything about acoustic guitars, and I'm trying to buy one as a gift for someone. I know that this is an intensely personal purchase and most would recommend against this, but I'm going to do it regardless... With that being said, I would like some recommendations as to what kind of acoustic guitar I should buy. The giftee is a bass player. He has mentioned wanting something with a rich, deep, darker sound, something with heavy strings. Under $1000, please.
posted by anoirmarie to Shopping (25 answers total)
I can't tell you brands, but I love dreadnaughts. In a nut shell, they're basically bigger, and so have bigger, darker sounds.
posted by nushustu at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: This might help.

I played a mahogany Martin the other day, and I must agree, it was very, very nice. And all the things you describe. If someone bought me one, I would be a'ok.

The only possible complaint is that it looks a little different than the typical acoustic (generally they have spruce-white-tops, the mahogany top is brown). But they sound amazing, and are very forgiving guitars.
posted by sully75 at 11:49 AM on May 1, 2008

Don't do this. If you want to give them a gift, see if your local music store will do a gift certificate or something similar. Besides being a personal thing, guitars vary even within the same make and model. You really have to play them yourself to know for sure.
posted by tommasz at 11:50 AM on May 1, 2008

Quick Scan brought up this:


In general Dreadnought style guitars are going fit the sound profile you're looking for (he can change the strings to a heavier gauge if he chooses) and Martin's are pretty top of the line.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2008

Does he want a "rich deep darker" sound with "heavy strings" because he wants to play bass on it? They do make acoustic basses, but I assume he'd be asking for that if he wanted it.

Yes, you will want a dreadnaught shape in order to get the full, rich sound of an acoustic guitar. Typically the "top" brands for acoustic guitars are Martin and Taylor, but there are so many differences between the models and even between the individual instruments of the same models that it's very hard to recommend a specific one without him playing it. I have found when purchasing guitars I research a bunch before heading into the shop, then play with all of them until you hold and play the one that feels right. This is really the only way to successfully purchase an instrument.

However, you seem to be set on buying this for him, so I have to recommend you talk to a reputable salesperson at a guitar shop, describe what he is looking for and your price point, and let them show you what they have. Like I said, the "top" brands are Martin and Taylor, but you can find great instruments from the other brands if you look hard enough. My father's cheap Yamaha acoustic is often mistaken for an expensive Martin on recordings and in person, with just a little bit of work done on it.
posted by rooftop secrets at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2008

Baritone acoustics exist, I think, but better to get a real guitar.

You can get a 'dark' wood - Mahogany, Koa, a large body, or both, to get a big, bassy sound. I have a total bias against the dreadnought shape - so, ruling out parlors, grand auditorium, jumbo, and odd-sized guitars would fit.

Many people go for Taylor over Gibson, etc. since the latter have gotten a pretty huge name-premium.

Maybe a Taylor 214e? It's nice and largish, with a good pickup system (kind of an essential at some point). You could also get a jumbo Washburn in that range.
posted by tmcw at 11:54 AM on May 1, 2008

oh and while Guitar Center may not appeal to everyone's sensibilities they can be inexpensive and have a 30 day satisfaction guarantee if its not what your friend is looking for.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:56 AM on May 1, 2008

BTW I just played a Seagull this morning. I'd always thought Seagull was a crappy Japanese guitar, but apparently they are made in Quebec. This little guitar, for $300, was awesome. Really nice, well made. Very basic and unfancy, no cache like a Martin. But a really nice sounding guitar. And very well made.

I don't like Taylors, particularly. They are very easy to play but I find the sounds to lack complexity. Hard to go wrong with Martins.
posted by sully75 at 12:27 PM on May 1, 2008

nthing a Martin Dreadnaught. Good guitar. Not cheap. You might find one second hand. I have in the past two days seen at least two of thee guys on craigslist. I'd like to have one.

I wouldn't buy a guitar for another person, though. I seriously cannot imagine doing that. I wouldn't want anyone buying one for me...
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:33 PM on May 1, 2008

oops. I find the sound lacks complexity.

However, they sell like hotcakes, so I'm probably wrong.

The nice thing about Taylor and Martin is that they are pretty consistent. A lot of makers, you play one you love, the next one is a dud. Most every Taylor I've played sounds pretty decent, and like a Taylor. Same with a Martin.
posted by sully75 at 12:34 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: i wasn't going to pipe up, because i think "tone" is almost totally related to technique, but i do have to second the seagull. personally, i prefer a seagull to a martin.

the downside, of course, is it's not a status symbol. if your friend wants to impress easily impressed people, get the martin. if he wants to play the thing, i'd say a seagull is ideal.
posted by stubby phillips at 12:41 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't do it! He has to touch it, feel it, weigh it and of course hear and play it, 2 of the same exact model guitars sound different from each other, he must become one with the guitar.
Get the gift certificate! I have a Martin D 15, cost $850 at Guitar Center, it's a CHEAP Martin but it's wonderful to play.
posted by jara1953 at 12:51 PM on May 1, 2008

Maybe you could make a trip to the music store together part of the gift. Have the salesperson bring over all their models that fit your criteria (dark tone, heavy strings, under $1000 etc.) for him to try out. He plays each, but can't look at the price tag. He makes the selection, you pay for it, everybody's happy.
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:06 PM on May 1, 2008

Go with a gift certificate. My godmother got her husband a cool camo gig bag for xmas and inside was a $1000 gift certificate to his fave guitar shop, and he was beyond thrilled. She could have picked the guitar for him, because she knows all about that stuff and what his prefs are, but she said half the fun of the gift for him would be getting to hang out at the guitar shop, trying all the instruments out.
posted by zarah at 1:06 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to talk about my Martin Dreadnaught and how much I cherish it so it's funny to see that's the consensus. It's impossible to imagine anyone thinking "Oh, what a crappy guitar" about it. It will hold its value. I disagree that it's a bad idea to buy an instrument for someone else, especially a beginner. It's totally possible to do your research and come up with something that will make your friend happy, assuming he or she isn't some virtuoso with very particular tastes. (My wife who is not in the least musical bought me a set of drums a couple of years ago that I absolutely love.)

Guitar Center is a force of great evil in the universe, but they very likely will take it back if there's a problem.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:25 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Jeff Daniels (a cool actor and acoustic guitar aficionado) [PDF] totally digs the Washburn D10S. At $350, you can't go wrong. I tried one based on the article and was impressed. I've owned a Seagull and a Taylor an the Washburn was right up there in terms of bang for buck. Scroll to bottom for his take on six other acoustic guitars.

I'm not getting the "intensely personal" part of this purchase. It's not like you're buying someone a gym membership or something that would suggest a need for self improvement. As a guitar player, I'd be tickled with whatever I got. Then again, I never return gifts people give to me.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:30 PM on May 1, 2008

Guitar Center is a force of great evil in the universe, but they very likely will take it back if there's a problem.

True as well. GC has a pretty liberal return policy.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:32 PM on May 1, 2008

I'd still push the Martin for you.

But for anyone else, I too am a fan of Seagulls. I've found them to be extremely playable guitars - check em out!
posted by bitdamaged at 1:52 PM on May 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all your help. Your recommendations will all come in handy as I shop around. I was hoping to get something "lightly" used, which would unfortunately eliminate the safety net of a return policy, but I'm not just going to run out and buy something without doing extensive research either.

As for those that are concerned about second person guitar purchases, here in lies the problem - He is not the type to accept expensive gifts of any sort, from anyone and he's just not in a position to buy a nice guitar himself. I thought I could do this for him without having to put an actual dollar amount on it.

But, I am second guessing myself here. He is not a beginner guitar player and I do believe he has a particular feeling and sound in mind. I can't crawl into his ears or play through his fingers, so maybe I should scrap this idea.

Thanks again.
posted by anoirmarie at 2:09 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Well, at the risk of upsetting some, I have to toss my .02 in.

The Taylors, as much as I love the marque and the sound, tend to have a narrow neck. As a bass player, your friend most likely has strong hands, (and large?) which could lead to disaster for the Taylor selection.

I would nth the Martin. Beautiful sound, nice appearance, wow factor beyond comprehension. Bonus points if your friend is bluegrass or folk music lover. Just make sure you ask the sales person if you can put heavy guage strings on it.

Some guitars (my very old Ovation Legend) don't really enjoy heavy guage. They like it light, thanks very much.

Good luck. I wish you were my friend ;).
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 4:09 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just to back you up anoirmarie, I've been given instruments twice as gifts, a banjo and a beater washburn. Even though they are not exactly what I would have chosen they are the only two instruments that I will never sell or trade.
posted by snsranch at 5:14 PM on May 1, 2008

Bring someone who knows guitars with you when you shop.

Unless you know how to figure out if a guitar is well built and in good condition you could buy a lemon. Even a new guitar may have problems. Forget this emotional bonding with a instrument stuff, when buying a guitar, it needs to be checked and played just to figure out if it is an acceptably built, working guitar.

I think that buying a guitar, used, when you and your friend cannot exchange it is a bad idea. On new instruments, if you go with a big music retailer they will offer a no questions 30 day exchange, if you go to a small shop and tell them the story they might agree to the same deal. Both of these folks might do that for a used item if you explain the situation, make sure to get explicit permission to do this written on the bill. If you cannot return it for credit, don't buy it. If they are selling you a working guitar, an exchange isn't much of a risk to them.

My suggestion for a guitar: a Gibson J-30 in sunburst.
posted by bdc34 at 5:50 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have an Art & Lutherie dreadnought. It's a fairly cheap, good looking canadian guitar. They're not easy to play but they can take a beating and have a nice deep sound.
I've just discovered that they're part of the Godin Guitar group, which is also the parent company for Seagull.
posted by SageLeVoid at 6:40 PM on May 1, 2008

another vote for Seagull. i have the m6 which is like the S6, but with mahoghany, for a deeper, richer, more Gibson-like sound. it's a GREAT cheap acoustic.

i'm looking at getting a slightly better one, and looking at the low priced Breedloves. for all I can tell they're awesome. additionally, there's Blueridge, which are made in china so are quite affordable, but are killer guitars for the money.
posted by tremspeed at 10:48 PM on May 1, 2008

Seconding bdc34's suggestion that you shouldn't go on this mission solo. Don't assume that a guitar store will take extra good care of the guitars with hefty price tags. It's definitely not unheard of for guitars worth a couple $K to be found with all sorts of terrible issues, such as backbowed or warped necks, sunken or bellied tops, loose bracing, sharp frets, etc. Used guitars come with even more potential issues. Many problems are not visually obvious, even for someone who is well-acquainted with acoustic guitars. A naive, well-meaning, and ready-to-spend customer like you would be a dream come true for shops like these.

The best course of action would be to bring an experienced acoustic guitar player with you. That way you can be sure that the guitar is structurally sound, and *sounds* good. Any major structural issues should be brought to light within a few minutes of being played. And it does take a while to develop an ear for differentiating between different types of tone, and while "good" tone is very subjective (some guitars are brighter and more "sparkly," others are bassy and boomy, others are more balanced somewhere in the middle, and all have their purposes) you definitely don't want a guitar that sounds dull and dead. At the same time, while your friend plays the guitar you can step back and have a listen for yourself.

So basically, my advice is either proceed with extreme caution, or as others have suggested, make sure you get a return/exchange policy in writing.
posted by keep it under cover at 6:16 AM on April 13, 2009

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