From bedroom hero to gigging professional…
When it comes to shelling out your hard-earned cash on something more than a beginner’s model, you want to know that you’re laying down some coin on quality gear. Therefore, our man who knows all things guitar, Paul Flett, checks out the best acoustic guitars under £500.
Quality over quantity
Intermediate, mid-range or mid-level, it doesn’t matter what you call them we are entering the workhorse territory of acoustics. Well made, great sounding long term, live performance acoustics. We know, as guitarists, that we covet those exceedingly costly beasts, whether electric or acoustic. Those guitars that cost the same as a family holiday or the same as a small deposit on a house. When in actual fact if we took the taste test, blindfolded we might not pick correctly between a Gibson J-45 or an Epiphone Hummingbird Pro. So, what we have here is a failure to differentiate, and this is in part due to the sheer level of quality at all levels of modern acoustics.
Here are ten examples of intermediately priced guitars that far exceed their retail value.
1. Yamaha FGX800C Electro Acoustic Guitar
Taken from it’s cheaper relative the FG800 the FGX800C has some jazzed up features in comparison. Scalloped bracing for superior construction. The Solid spruce top gives tremendous resonance and the Okoume/Nato back and sides help to balance the tonality. The fingerboard is made from Rosewood which gives the guitar a snappy tight tone. The electronics are System66 preamp and 3 band EQ perfect for live use. The solid construction of this Yamaha is what helps it creep into the top ten at this price point.
2. Epiphone EJ200CE Electro Acoustic Guitar
With the Epiphone EJ200CE we are starting to enter the guitars that you would use live. Excellent balanced response and resonance with excellent quality electronics and high-end construction. The EJ200CE sports a solid Spruce top and select Maple back, sides and neck. This tone-wood combination provides a warm balanced resonance. These woods will evolve and mature over time lower the register tonally ever so slightly as it moulds to your playing style. The Shadow NanoFlex and NanoMag pickups powered by the eSonic 2 PreAmp system provide some of the most accurate representation of the guitar you will find. For under £350 this is an immense guitar with glorious good looks.
3. Fender CD-140SCE Classic Design Electro Acoustic Guitar 12 String – Natural
Double the strings, double the fun?! Well not if you are the end of your fingers but tell me that a G chord rang out on a well-built 12 string doesn’t sound immense. So, our first 12 string entry is a wonderfully built Fender electric 12 string. The scalloped X bracing is another feature stolen from higher end constructed guitars and made to work in the mid-range acoustics. This supports the Spruce top and Ovangkol back and sides. The Mahogany neck supports a walnut fingerboard which is an unusual feature and usually found in slightly more expensive guitars. It is powered by the Fishman PreSys System so can be used live. This is a glorious machine for under £400 pounds and could easily fetch more.
4. Ibanez AEWC32FM Electro Acoustic Guitar – Red Sunset Fade
The first acoustic cutaway on the list and what a beauty. The red sunset fade finish adds another dimension to the normal array of acoustic features. The top, back and sides are Sapele and this tone-wood is slightly woodier sounding than spruce giving a mellow vibe. The Nyatoh neck is a popular wood in Asia and is very solid and reliable. The Laurel fingerboard is not as tight as Rosewood and so provides a smoother sounding timbre. The Ibanez AEWC32FM may not have the most memorable name but it looks tremendous and more importantly packs a punch in the right areas.
5. Tanglewood 4 E Electro Acoustic Guitar – Sunburst
The Tanglewood 4 E is a Koa beauty with a classic sunburst finish. The top, back and sides are all Koa, this provides a sparkling resonance giving the Tanglewood a very bright tonality. This will slowly evolve to a more balanced tone over time as the Koa settles and changes to your style. The Mahogany neck and hardwood fingerboard are very fast playing and the cutaway gives access to the higher notes. The fishman PreSys system means you can play this guitar live and the 4E is equipped with D’Addario strings. This is the first acoustic that best represents its price in the list.
6. Merida Extrema M1 Koa Electro Acoustic Guitar – Natural
As we bust out of the £400-pound mark we start to see some consistent features. While most at this price point are machine made, they start to become hand inspected so the general quality starts to rise exponentially. The Merida brand are on the rise as they produce instruments with high end components at very reasonable prices. This Koa tone animal is finished beautifully with a more traditional body shape it has an Ebony fretboard which is one of the most striking of the tonewoods to sue for the fingerboard. It is fitted with the Fishman PreSys system which is one of the best in the business.
7. Taylor Big Baby Acoustic Guitar – Natural
Our first Taylor, always a good sign you are in great company as we start to see some of the more luxurious brands. The construction quality starts to ramp up and the choices of tonewoods more interesting. we also see a lot more by hand wood choices and quality control at the higher end of the intermediate range. The Taylor baby range are its range of travel acoustics, slightly smaller form to their dreadnought brethren but still loud and proud. This Spruce topped baby has Sapele sides and will give a very bright, crisp tonality. Fitted with die cast chrome tuners for excellent tuning stability this travel acoustic is an incredibly well-built guitar for the price.
8. Merida Extrema OMCE Koa Electro Acoustic Guitar – Natural
The Merida Extrema OMCE is a full-bodied Koa masterpiece, similar in features to the Merida Extrema M1, this is fitted with the Fishman 101 PreAmp system. The extra flourish of the ebony rosette sets this guitar apart from its contemporaries and the beautiful finish really adds another level of aesthetic. The construction is of the highest standard and this will stand against much more expensive machines in sound and tonality.
9. Martin LX1E Little Martin Electro Acoustic Guitar – Natural
One of the few acoustics at this price point that really has the environment in mind, with laminated back and sides and Richlite fretboard. Martin have looked to build a travel acoustic with a smaller carbon and eco impact footprint. The Spruce top and Mahogany sides are a classic combination and provide a simple balanced tonality. The Richlite fretboard is similar to Ebony but without the impact on the environment. The Martin is masterfully built travel acoustic and is definitely a gateway guitar a much more expensive world.
10. Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500MCE Electro Acoustic Guitar
The Epiphone has all the high-end features of the previous nine guitars in one place. Solid Spruce top matched to Mahogany back, sides and neck with a Rosewood fretboard. Glorious decoration and fitted with Shadow NanoMag and NanoFlex pickups and eSonic HD2 Pre-Amp. This is a guitar worth well more than its price tag. With exquisite construction more in common with its much more expensive Gibson Brothers the Epiphone Masterbilt is an audacious guitar at this price range.
The intermediate price point is a minefield for guitar players where some bad guitars can creep in and where doubt can have you spending more than you need. Rest assured this collection of guitars are well worth their price and more. Whether you are looking for an upgrade or a live workhorse these ten acoustics will stand you in good stead.
1. Yamaha FGX800C
2. Epiphone EJ200CE
3. Fender CD-140SCE
4. Ibanez AEWC32FM
5. Tanglewood 4 E Koa
6. Merida Extrema M1
7. Taylor Big Baby
8. Merida Extrema OMCE
9. Martin LX1E “Little Martin”
10. Epiphone Masterbilt DR500MCE
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