10 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars Under $500
With a budget of $500, you have a ton of options for acoustic-electric guitars, which means that there are lots of great guitars. But just as many not-so-great guitars.
Want to know which is which? That’s where we come in.
We tested and researched until our fingers ached and our eyes watered to bring you this list of guaranteed winners.
Takamine’s GD30CE is the very definition of an acoustic guitar. The classic tonewood combination of spruce and mahogany ensures a rich and well-balanced acoustic sound. And the traditional dreadnought body shape means significant volume and comfortable play.
The 10 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars Under $500 in 2020
Looking for a great acoustic-electric guitar that won’t break the bank? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve picked out a rockin’ top ten, with something for everyone.
Takamine is a Japanese guitar manufacturer with a half-century experience and a reputation for meticulous attention to detail. What does that mean for you? It means that for less than $500 you can net a guitar that looks and sounds like a much more expensive instrument (1).
Takamine has always pushed itself to make a better instrument. It welcomes technological advances, but respects the great tradition of guitar building and what makes the classic instruments great.
Takamine just doesn’t disappoint in the way they combine tradition and technological advances. Therefore, our top pick this year, Takamine’s GD30-CE, is THE ACOUSTIC GUITAR, both in design and tone.
The classic dreadnought shape means it’s large enough to produce fantastic projection while still being small enough to play comfortably. A single-cutaway makes it more comfortable still, giving easy access to the upper frets, as does the slim and fast-playing mahogany neck.
The solid spruce top comes with a back and sides of laminated mahogany, a popular tonewood combination for a good reason. You get the bright, crisp highs and excellent sustain of the spruce balanced by the strong bass, rich mid-tones, and mahogany’s warmth.
So, you want to HIT THE STAGE? No problem.
You’ll be thrilled to hear that with Takamine’s proprietary electronics system and its natural-sounding amplification. The TP4T preamp has everything you need to wow a larger audience with your acoustic prowess, including a gain knob, tuner, and an active shelving EQ with bass, middle, and treble sliders.
Who was it made for? With its big dreadnought sound, glossy good looks, and top-of-the-line electronics, the GD30-CE is perfect for the stage. That said, with its quality tonewoods and high-end craftsmanship, this guitar sounds just as incredible played unplugged.
Have you ever met a chihuahua with that big-dog swagger? That’s this guitar. It’s little, but it doesn’t know it. Trust Martin, one of the most esteemed acoustic guitars’ makers, makes a small guitar with such substantial resonance.
The LX1E is about three-quarters the size of a standard dreadnought, perfect for travel, young players, or anyone who sees a fun-size instrument’s appeal. Travelers will love the included ultra-durable padded gig bag, with ballistic cloth exterior and backpack straps.
So how does Martin get so much volume out of this compact instrument?
They focus on quality when it comes to a great sounding guitar, design, craftsmanship, and trump size.
The top is hand-rubbed solid Sitka spruce, the same used on the top-of-the-line Martins that sell for thousands of dollars, while laminated mahogany is used for the back and sides. The result is a balanced tone, with well-articulated and bright highs and surprising oomph in the bass and midrange.
If you’re still worried this little guitar won’t produce a big enough sound, the built-in Fishman Sonitone electronics should ease your fears. This guitar has some serious punch when plugged in, enough to satisfy a stadium full of raving teenage Ed Sheeran fans (2).
Who was it made for? This guitar’s initial purpose is a traveling one, but the extent of its popularity has far exceeded Martin’s expectations thanks to its bigger-than-expected sound. Of course, it lacks the full bass and mighty projection of a dreadnought, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better sounding acoustic-electric guitar at this size.
With their distinctive triangular soundhole, Gretsch Ranchers are iconic country music guitars. First released in the 1950s, the era of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, the latest re-release of this popular model pairs that original design with modern manufacturing and electronics (3).
If you’re looking for that big country music sound, where each strum seems to reverberate through your entire body, check out the jumbo-size G5022CE Rancher.
The solid spruce top means long sustain and crisp high notes, while the flame maple sides and back add power to the low end. It has a rich and full-bodied sound, with the strong bass and impressive projection you’d expect from this large-bodied guitar.
Along with its unique soundhole, the Rancher has a couple of other nice country-and-western style touches, like gold-plated hardware, a sweeping pickguard, and a glossy Savannah Sunset finish. A Venetian cutaway not only adds to the visual appeal but makes it easy to access the upper frets.
Even played acoustically, this guitar has considerable volume. But if you want to plug in to reach a bigger audience, the option is there, with a built-in Fishman Isys+ preamp system and a Sonicore under-saddle pickup. You’ll get an organic, amplified sound that keeps the classic country vibe you’re after. Plus, an onboard tuner ensures you’re always in tune.
Who was it made for? With its distinctive look and bold sound, the Rancher is for the retro country music lover. But rockers, too, will love the rich, full-bodied voice and superb projection of the jumbo body style. Do bear in mind that smaller players may find it uncomfortably large.
Cordoba’s C5-CE model is the perfect combination of old and new for the classical guitarist with a modern edge.
Cordoba’s design is based on the traditional Spanish Classic, with a glossy finish, attractive rosette, and rosewood binding. But it’s modernized with a soft cutaway for easy access to those high frets and a more comfortable thin neck.
Wide-necked classical guitars are notoriously tricky for players with small hands. Which makes the C5 a RARE FIND.
Inside, you’ll find authentic Spanish-style fan bracing.
Why fan bracing, you ask?
Compared with standard lattice bracing, fan bracing leaves the soundboard freer to vibrate. For you, that means better resonance and a richer tone (4).
The solid Canadian cedar top is pretty standard for classical guitars because its rich, warm tone sounds great played fingerstyle. The mahogany sides and back add power and depth for an overall strong and balanced sound.
The built-in Fishman electronics are another welcome modern addition. With classical guitar, it’s incredibly important to amplify cleanly and without distortion, and the Isys+ 2-band pickup does a great job. There’s also an onboard tuner, a lifesaver if you find yourself out of tune before a gig.
Who was it made for? The C5-CE is for the classical guitarist who appreciates tradition but isn’t afraid of a little modernization. This guitar skews old-school in its Spanish design, but with a few well-thought-out updates that add to playability and versatility.
If you crave that rich, layered tone resonance that only a 12-string guitar delivers, take a look at Ovation’s latest version of the Celebrity Elite, our favorite 12-string this year. Its unique look will be what catches your eye, but its incredible tone will be what has you reaching for your wallet.
That sound is no fluke. It’s the result of quality materials, like a high-quality solid Sitka spruce top, combined with Ovation’s distinctive multi-soundhole design.
The back and sides are made from Ovation’s patented composite material, Lyrachord (5). Purists will probably scoff at this non-wood inclusion, but the composite makes this guitar stronger and tougher than wood without sacrificing tone quality.
Not all modern developments need to be feared.
The use of composite also facilitates this guitar’s thin, contoured shape. It’s designed to fit more naturally against a player’s body for ultimate comfort. This attention to detail extends to the aesthetics too. The Celebrity Elite demands to be shown off, with laser-cut epaulets and a high-gloss black finish that looks incredibly cool under bright stage lighting.
Speaking of the stage, this acoustic-electric is kitted with Ovation’s proprietary Slimline pickup and OP-4BT preamp system, with three-band EQ, volume and gain control, and onboard tuner.
That means YOU HAVE THE CONTROL to perfectly dial in your amplified sound.
The onboard tuner is especially crucial here because 12-string guitars are always tricky to keep in tune due to the added strain on the neck from the extra strings.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for the 12-string guitarist on a budget. It offers the tonal complexity you expect from a 12-string paired with striking good looks, all at a price point that’s hard to believe. Smaller players will especially love its comfortably contoured mid-depth body style.
The Ibanez AEWC series is an innovative set of models where comfort and playability have been considered as much as sound quality. The result is a versatile set of guitars that sound great no matter the musician’s music genre or playing style.
The AEWC300 is a lower-priced model, but don’t take this to mean it’s lacking in quality. You’re still getting a solid spruce top, which gives it a bright and punchy sound, with excellent resonance and sustain. The solid spruce top is paired with flamed maple for the sides and back, which adds a bit to the low-end and some warm mid-tones. The overall voice is perfectly balanced, so this guitar sounds excellent, whether played fingerstyle, flat-picked, or strummed.
But I said Ibanez took comfort and playability as seriously as sound quality. So what does that mean for you?
Well, first, there’s the unique AEWC body style. Built with ergonomics in mind, the front and back are specially contoured, and a Florentine cutaway makes for easy access to the upper frets. Then there’s the neck, which has been redesigned with an asymmetric shape. This makes it easier to access the fretboard’s bass side and makes it easier and more comfortable to play.
When you’re ready to perform, the AEQ-SP2 preamp and Fishman Sonicore pickup ensure the acoustic tone is preserved when amplified, with the spruce’s brightness coming through.
A built-in tuner means you never have to worry about being out of tune. And the high-gloss finish and abalone rosette look fantastic on stage.
Who was this made for? We love this guitar for its versatility. It’s for everyone! With its comfortable design and excellent tone quality, the AEWC300 will suit every player’s size and music style. And at under $500, it’s going to suit most budgets as well.
Oregon-based Breedlove Guitars has become renowned for producing the best guitars for fingerstyle and singer-songwriter music (6). And having given this one a test run, we can say with confidence that they more than deserve their reputation.
The concert body style was Breedlove’s very first offering, and it remains their best seller. Sure, it won’t have the same deep voice and strong projection as a dreadnought, but that’s not its goal. Instead, it’s compact and comfortable for the fingerstylist, with a single-cutaway that makes it easy to access the upper frets.
That said, it still delivers remarkably impressive sustain and bass response for such a small guitar.
How can that be?
It comes down to an engineering triumph: Breedlove’s patented Bridge Truss.
This design eases tension on the soundboard and allows for a thinner graduated top, which means better vibration. And we all know that when it comes to acoustic guitars, better vibration equals better sound.
That solid top is western red cedar, which is known for producing a very clear tone with rich resonance. This is partnered with laminated mahogany for the sides and back, a warm tonewood that adds depth to the bass and mid-tones.
Who was it made for? This cedar top guitar is for the fingerstylist or singer-songwriter, though smaller players of all stripes will appreciate its compact and comfortable body style. With the engineering feat that is the Breedlove bridge truss, you’re going to get more voice than you’d expect from this little guitar.
All-mahogany guitars have a unique warm tone that can’t be matched by any other tonewoods. Many claim it’s ideal for the human voice, making these guitars popular with singer-songwriters (7).
Washburn’s affordable all-mahogany offering, the WLO12SE, is a perfect example, just the guitar you want in your hand as you head to your next gig, whether at a coffee shop or a concert hall.
The orchestra body is similar in dimensions to a dreadnought, but with a narrower waist that’s perfect for slipping your arms around. Fingerstylists, in particular, will adore this comfortable shape, but guitarists of any genre can appreciate its easy playability. Inside, Washburn has added new and improved spruce bracing.
The updated design uses less material, which allows the top to vibrate more freely and gets more sound to your audience.
For bigger shows, the onboard Fishman electronics nicely amplify the natural tones of this guitar. You won’t lose any of the mahogany top’s characteristic warmth and depth to buzzing or distortion, and volume, bass, and treble controls let you adjust your tone mid-performance.
The onboard tuner has an auto-mute so you can tune up silently on stage.
When it comes to performing, it always helps to look as good as you sound. You know what they say: look good, feel good, play good. For this, the WLO12SE has a few premium details that are unexpected in this price range. These include real rosewood binding, NuBone for the string nut and bridge saddle, and die-cast chrome tuners.
Who was this made for? Any lovers of all-mahogany guitars will love this model with their rich sounds and classy, good looks. But we think its true destiny is for vocal accompaniment on stage. Whether you’re a singer-songwriter yourself or playing along with a vocalist, this guitar’s warm layered tones are the perfect partner.
The Epiphone Hummingbird Pro is based on Gibson’s famous Hummingbird acoustic, enjoyed by rockers like Keith Richards and Sheryl Crow (8).
The Epiphone model may be a low-price version, but it still offers much of the sound quality and all of the rockstar appeal of its namesake.
It’s impossible to talk about the Hummingbird Pro without first mentioning its DISTINCTIVE LOOK.
The faded cherry sunburst finish, the distinctive hummingbird pickguard, and the split parallelogram Pearloid inlays on the rosewood fingerboard all give this guitar an unbeatable country-rock appeal.
But along with style, this best value acoustic-electric guitar has substance in spades. The solid top of Sitka spruce gives it a bright and complex tone that improves over time, and the mahogany back and sides contribute a warm balancing tone, with a nice depth to the low notes. The classic dreadnought shape provides the big voice and strong projection that rock and roll demand.
For performers — and let’s be honest, this guitar is begging to be shown off on stage — it’s equipped with Fishman electronics, one of the game’s top brands. There’s an under-saddle Sonicore pickup partnered with a Sonitone preamp mounted right in the soundhole so that you can make easy, on-the-fly adjustments to volume and tone.
Who was it made for? The Hummingbird Pro is a definitively country-rock guitar, with a superstar pedigree in an affordable package. Do you want to be the next Keith Richards, Kid Rock, or Sheryl Crow? This powerful-sounding and classy-looking dreadnought will have you on the right path.
This is the second jumbo on our list, and if the Rancher was the King of Country, the Epiphone EJ-200SCE is the undisputed Lord of Rock and Roll. It’s based on the legendary Gibson J-200, often called the world’s most famous acoustic guitar (9). It was first introduced in 1937 before amplifiers were common practice, and a big-bodied guitar was necessary for a big sound.
Lucky for bargain hunters, the modern Epiphone version has the same full tone and gorgeous style, but with a price tag anyone can afford.
It has a solid spruce top, an excellent way to add brightness to this large guitar’s bass-heavy guitar, and the back and sides are select maple. The pairing yields a well-balanced tone with the impressive sustain and powerful projection you’d expect from a jumbo. A deep cutaway provides convenient access to the high frets.
A surprise at this price is the fretboard, which is made of exotic high-grade pau ferro. This hardwood makes for a balanced fingerboard that gives each note or chord incredible clarity. The neck itself is solid maple, with a SlimTaper design that lends it comfortable playability.
Not that this big-sounding guitar needs not much amplification, but if you want to plug in, it’s well equipped with high-quality Fishman electronics. This includes a Sonicore pickup and a remarkably compact onboard preamp system with volume, tone shaping, and phase controls.
Who was it made for? The Gibson J-200 was the acoustic guitar of choice for Don Everly, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons, Buddy Holly, and Pete Townshend, among many, many others. That should tell you everything you need to know about its spiritual successor, the EJ-200SCE. If you love old-school rock and roll, this guitar is for you!
How to Choose the Best Acoustic-Electric Guitar Under $500
A budget of $500 gives you access to a vast range of acoustic-electric guitars. And while it’s always nice to have options, it can make it hard to settle on just the right one. This buyer’s guide is here to help. Keep reading for some handy tips on choosing the perfect instrument.
A solid soundboard will serve you in good stead.
The good news is that with a budget of $500, you can get yourself an acoustic-electric guitar with a solid wood soundboard.
The bad news? Well, there isn’t any.
A solid wood soundboard not only means your guitar sounds its best right now, but it also ensures it will sound even better as it ages.
Compared with laminates, solid wood resonates better. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive, but it’s a small price to pay for the extra clarity of acoustic tone and richness of sound. And it’s an even smaller price to pay when you take into account the longevity of solid wood. Treat your guitar right, and it’s just going to get better as the wood dries and stiffens, giving more complex harmonics and better sound.
Which tonewood makes the best soundboard? That’s up to you and how you want your guitar to appear.
The unique acoustic properties of body woods help ‘flavor’ a guitar shape’s fundamental sound. Body woods also boast an inherent visual appeal that can be deeply inspiring.
Yet, both sound and the inherent visual appeal of a guitar are YOUR PERSONAL choice of preference. We’re not all inspired by same things.
Spruce is incredibly popular, and for a good reason. It resonates exceptionally well and provides a bright and crisp tone. The high notes seem to sparkle, and you can feel the sustained ringing in your soul — or at least in your ears.
Mahogany is another common choice. Mahogany guitars have an instantly recognizable warmth to their sound. While they lack the well-articulated trebles of spruce, they have a complex depth in the mid-tones and a stronger bass.
Cedar is a topwood that used to be reserved mostly for classical guitars, but steel-string players are beginning to see its appeal. It’s less dense than spruce, giving it a slightly darker tone with a lot of character.
Let’s talk about the back and sides.
With $500, you can expect to find laminated woods used for your guitar’s body, and that’s nothing to fret over (no pun intended). The soundboard is far more critical when it comes to tone quality.
Laminates even have some advantages. They cost less, and they’re more resistant to cracking and warping.
The most common tonewood for the back and sides is laminated mahogany. Its dark, warm, and rich tones are particularly complementary to a spruce soundboard’s bright trebles.
Maple is another popular option in this price range. It contributes a little power to the low end but is typically considered sonically inert. Instead, it’s chosen for its structural properties and because it allows the characteristics of the topwood to take center stage. You’ll see it often with jumbo guitars, which really need no assistance when it comes to a powerful bass.
Choose a guitar body for your body.
Your choice of guitar body has more impact than you might expect, both on the sound of your guitar and its playability.
First and foremost, choose a body style you can handle.
- If you’re a small player or shopping for a child, a full-size jumbo probably isn’t the best choice.
- If you have tiny hands, a wide-necked classical will put a lot of strain on your fingers.
- If you have large hands, a slim-necked travel guitar is going to be challenging to manipulate.
- If you like to play the upper frets, look for a guitar with a cutaway.
Fit your guitar to you, not you to your guitar.
Body style also affects the sound, and different acoustic guitar body styles suit different musical styles better than others, though you always have some leeway.
In general, dreadnought and jumbo acoustics are the best for country and rock music because they have a giant projection and a beefy sound. These guitars sound great flat-picked or strummed hard and can easily make their presence felt in a band.
In contrast, singer-songwriters and fingerstyle players often preferred smaller guitars like a concert or ¾ dreadnought. Their compact size makes them easier to wrap your body around to play, and these genres of music don’t often demand the heavy bass or booming projection of a full-sized instrument.
Of course, classical guitarists will want to opt for a classical guitar, characterized by a small body, wide neck, and nylon strings.
If you like to play various genres or a new player unsure where you want to specialize, opt for an average-sized guitar like a dreadnought, orchestra, or grand concert. These versatile shapes excel in all styles.
Electronics come in all forms.
If you’re in the market for an acoustic-electric, odds are you have some interest in performing and/or recording. So the quality of the electronics built into your instrument is essential.
All electro-acoustics have a pickup of some sort. If you want the ability to manipulate your guitar’s sound, look for an active preamp. These allow you to adjust both volume and tone.
Many guitars also offer an in-built tuner, which can be incredibly convenient. For 12-string guitars, which are known for quickly falling out of tune, this is an incredibly important feature.
If you plan on only playing acoustically, check out our favorite acoustic guitar models.
A guitar’s action is the distance from the frets to the strings, and it can be adjusted. A low action makes the guitar easier to play, but it can lead to fret buzzing.
A beginner should buy a steel-string acoustic guitar. It’s easier to sound good with an acoustic guitar because the tone is consistent. Having continuity in a learning process helps you with faster learning.
Expensive guitars are worth it if you’re a serious player, and you intend to keep playing for a long time. Expensive guitars sound better initially and improve with age, so you’ll always get your money’s worth. For a beginner, however, an inexpensive guitar is a fine choice.
- Perlmutter, A. (2016, January 10). A Brief History of Takamine Guitars. Retrieved from https://reverb.com/ca/news/a-brief-history-of-takamine-guitars?locale=en-CA
- Astley-Brown, M. (2017, APril 25). Martin unveils Ed Sheeran Divide Signature Edition acoustic guitar. Retrieved from https://www.musicradar.com/news/martin-unveils-ed-sheeran-divide-signature-edition-acoustic-guitar
- Gretsch Reintroduces Rancher Acoustic Guitars with 5 New Models. (2012, January 20). Retrieved from https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/Gretsch_Reintroduces_Rancher_Acoustic_Guitars_with_5_New_Models
- Dominelli, M. (2015, February 7). Bracing Styles for Classical Guitars. Retrieved from https://www.thisisclassicalguitar.com/bracing-styles-for-classical-guitars/
- Composite Instruments Vs. Wood Instruments. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://makingmusicmag.com/composite-instruments-vs-wood-instruments/
- Gerken, T. (2020, May 4). Made in Oregon: The First 20 Years at Breedlove Guitars. Retrieved from https://acousticguitar.com/made-in-oregon-the-first-twenty-years-at-breedlove-guitars/
- The Popularity of Mahogany Guitars. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://breedlovemusic.com/acoustic-guitar-blog/the-popularity-of-mahogany-guitars
- Drozdowski, T. (2010, December 3). The High-Flying History of the Gibson Hummingbird Guitar. Retrieved from http://es.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/Gibson-Hummingbird-Guitar-1203.aspx
- The Gibson J-200: Celebrating an Acoustic Icon. (2018, May 30). Retrieved from https://www.thaliacapos.com/blogs/blog/the-gibson-j-200-celebrating-an-acoustic-icon
I found music through childhood piano lessons but was lucky enough to learn guitar on my dad’s vintage ‘60s Gibson acoustic. These days I’m more of a music appreciator than a music player, and I’m fortunate to live in a place with a great indie scene. In my spare time, I love trail running, rock climbing, drinking coffee, doing crossword puzzles, and hanging out with my quirky little dog.