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9 Underrated Acoustic Guitar Brands

In the market for a new acoustic guitar but looking for something more affordable than the big three of Martin, Taylor, and Gibson. Fear not, it’s truly a golden era for affordable acoustic guitars, and in today’s article, we’re going to take a closer look at 9 of the most underrated acoustic guitar brands available. These might not be the most hyped acoustic guitar brands but in terms of pure bang for buck are difficult to go past. We’ll go through each of the brands in detail, but if you are in a hurry, check out our list below: 

Which acoustic guitar brands are the most underrated?

  • Yamaha
  • Tanglewood
  • Alvarez
  • Recording King
  • Seagull 
  • Eastman
  • Blueridge
  • Guild
  • Larivee

I’ve already made my feelings clear on why good acoustic guitars cost more here, and here but it’s also true that brand recognition drives up the price of many iconic guitars and acoustic guitar brands in general. And, while that’s definitely a factor in terms of resale if you are simply looking for a ‘player’ an acoustic guitar that sounds and plays great at an intermediate price, the brands listed below are definitely worth a look. 

We’ll kick things off with one of the most underrated acoustic guitar brands on our list, Yamaha.


Yamaha

Yamaha Logo

Japanese manufacturer Yamaha is the largest producer of musical equipment in the world, producing everything from professional to student grade budget models (who hasn’t played a Yamaha C40 at some point) including pianos and brass instruments to stringed instruments including great sounding acoustic guitars catering to most budgets, with an emphasis on value and manufacturing consistency. 

If you hadn’t already noticed the three tuning forks appearing in Yamaha’s logo you might think of Yamaha as a motor company that also happens to make musical instruments, but that’s not the case. Yamaha’s origins date back to 1887 when founder Torakusu Yamaha, successfully repaired a broken reed organ and the rest as they say is history.

Shortly after Yamaha music was established in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan. It wasn’t until the 50s that Yamaha moved into the motor industry and sports equipment.

Producing nylon string guitars since the 40s, Yamaha moved into the steel-string (and electric guitar) market in the 60s exporting their guitars to the west thanks to increasing demand due to the success of the Beatles and the interest in guitars their success generated. 

I’ve owned several Yamaha’s over the years. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why they are such an underrated acoustic guitar brand. Perhaps being everything to everyone in terms of their wide range of products, let alone musical instruments has led many to believe they are a jack of all trades, master of none.

That’s a shame as while they do offer a number of affordable guitars Yamaha also offers some impressive higher-end acoustics, particularly the red label series of guitars, both old and new series.

They are also one of the most innovative brands manufacturing acoustic guitars such as the silent guitar (the SLG series) and developing A.R.E (acoustic resonance enhancement) which through the use of temperature, pressure, and humidity alter the subcellular structure of the wood to better match aged timber.

Notable mentions: 

APX600 series

While the smaller body APX600 series coming in at around $300 is specifically designed for the electric guitarist with its thin profile body, it’s also a well-made, highly playable acoustic-electric guitar that punches well above its weight.

Especially considering the warm, surprisingly full sound for a smaller-bodied guitar.

Specs: 

Body ShapeAPX
Scale Length25” (634mm)
Nut Width1 11/16” (43mm)
Soundboard MaterialSpruce (laminate)
Body (back and sides)Locally sourced
Neck MaterialLocally sourced
FinishGloss
FretboardRosewood
Nut and Saddle MaterialUrea
Tuners Die-Cast Chrome
ElectronicsSYSTEM65 + SRT Piezo Pickup

Yamaha FGX5 red label series

At the higher end, the all-solid construction Yamaha FGX5 red label series dreadnought guitars are perhaps the equal of any acoustic guitar in the $1000 – $1500 price range.

Made in Japan, featuring solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides and scalloped bracing the FGX5 is as good as any guitar within this price range, clearly demonstrating that while Yamaha is great at making student and more affordable models they also excel at making professional standard acoustic guitars.

Body ShapeDreadnought
Scale Length25” (634mm)
Nut Width1 3/4” (44mm)
Soundboard MaterialSolid Sitka Spruce
Body (back and sides)Solid Mahogany
Neck MaterialAfrican Mahogany
FinishSemi-gloss
FretboardEbony
Nut and Saddle MaterialBone
Tuners Open-Gear Chrome
ElectronicsAtmosfeel (Undersaddle Pickup + Contact Sensor + Mic)

Tanglewood Guitars

Tanglewood Guitars Logo

In my twenties, as a student, struggling to afford a decent acoustic guitar I found myself in my local music store with a limited budget, needing a reliable new guitar. 

I played a bunch of guitars, including some decent-sounding Takamines but nothing came close to the solid cedar top Tanglewood TW28.

It was loud, offered a very balanced sound, was surprisingly responsive, and just felt like a great guitar to play. Despite many years passing, and my guitar collection growing in the years since I still have that same guitar today and it still surprises me how well it plays and sounds, even when directly compared to guitars worth 2 – 3 times the price.

While not a big player in the U.S. market (they’ve been exporting to the U.S. since 2005), look online or ask around. You’ll hear similar stories from satisfied Tanglewood owners. Tanglewood simply makes great-sounding, highly playable guitars at great prices.

Tanglewood was founded in London in 1988. The guitars are designed in the U.K and produced in China which allows Tanglewood to maintain low manufacturing costs. Tanglewood also just happens to be the UK’s best-selling acoustic guitar brand of all time, which isn’t a bad effort considering their relatively young age.

Another thing about Tanglewood guitars, they offer a fairly extensive range of left-handed guitars which should put a smile on the face of lefties like me.

Notable mentions: 

Tanglewood TWCR O

Tanglewood’s crossroads series of guitars harken back to the 30s featuring a simple aesthetic and distinct lack of appointments matching the depression era acoustic guitars of the period, synonymous with delta blues, and finished off nicely with Tanglewood’s whiskey barrel burst finish. 

The crossroads series are simple guitars, with a unique bracing pattern (a combination of X and fan bracing) that sounds great for their relatively inexpensive price.  

The TWCR O (orchestra model) is a very lively sounding blues guitar, coming in at under $150.00 and makes a great couch guitar or traveling companion. 

Body ShapeOrchestra
Scale Length25.6” (650mm)
Nut Width1 11/16” (43mm)
Soundboard MaterialMahogany
Body (back and sides)Mahogany
Neck MaterialMahogany
FinishWhiskey Barrel Burst (Satin)
FretboardRosewood / Techwood
Nut and Saddle MaterialABS
Tuners Die-Cast Chrome
ElectronicsNA

TANGLEWOOD TWJP JAVA PARLOR

This guitar has caught my eye several times. If you’re a sucker for slotted headstock parlors, this should hold some appeal.

This 12 fret parlor with a solid Canadian cedar top and Nato neck is a great-looking guitar from the front, but turn it over and the back of the guitar features Amara Ebony back and sides, with a strip of Spalted Mango running through the middle, complete with Mahogany double binding.

It’s a stunner, with a strong midrange and decent projection for a small body.

Body ShapeParlor
Scale Length25.6” (650mm)
Nut Width1 11/16” (43mm)
Soundboard MaterialCedar
Body (back and sides)Amara/Spalt Mango
Neck MaterialNato
FinishNatural Gloss
FretboardTech wood
Nut and Saddle MaterialPPS (Polyphenylene sulfide)
Tuners Open Back Nickel Vintage
ElectronicsThe TWJPE comes complete with Fishman sonitone pickup.

Alvarez

Alvarez Guitars Logo

Those in the guitar community who own and play Alvarez guitars will hardly be surprised to see their inclusion in this list, such is the well-deserved reputation of Alvarez, and Alvarez-Yairi guitars.

Alvarez guitars aren’t newcomers by any stretch, formed in 1965 after St. Louis music founder Gene Kornblum began selling classical guitars and opting for the Spanish name ‘Alvarez’.

In the late 60s, Alvarez partnered with Japanese master luthier Kazuo Yairi and started producing steel-string acoustic guitars. In the U.S these guitars went by the name Alvarez, in Europe mostly they were sold under the name K. Yairi.

During the 80s Alvarez guitars really gained popularity thanks in part to guitarists such as Santana, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Johnny Cash all using their instruments at one time or another.

What about Alvarez-Yairi?
Alvarez Yairi is the rebadged name for K. Yairi guitars sold into the United States. Nowadays, while Alvarez guitars are predominantly made in China, Alvarez Yairi instruments are still handmade in Japan.

Alvarez really is a brand made for a list such as this, they have a reputation for building very good sounding guitars that punch well above their weight as evidenced by their quality construction and innovative features such as their b-level bridge and forward-facing bracing system (more on these shortly), not to mention the attention to detail with regard to the quality of finish on all their guitars, something Alvarez take particular pride in.

Much like Yamaha, Alvarez produces a range of guitars for the beginner and professional musician alike with the Alvarez Regent series starting at below $300, while at the higher end of the spectrum the Alvarez-Yairi Masterworks series are handmade professional-standard acoustic guitars priced in excess of $2000.

Notable mentions: 

Alvarez AD60

The artist series are priced above the Regent series but starting at approx. $350.00 will still appeal to those looking for a solid performer at a favorable price. The AD60 is a traditional dreadnought featuring a solid Sitka spruce top with laminate back and sides and mahogany low-profile ‘C’ shape neck.

On first impression, it’s obvious Alvarez has placed a real focus on quality construction and kept appointments minimal. The bracing system (FST2) is forward-facing, meaning the intersection of the struts is pushed forward, nearer the soundhole leaving the lower bout of the guitar less constrained, resulting in more volume and enhanced bass response.

And the bi-level bridge system increases the break angle of the strings, increasing downward pressure on the saddle, meaning more of the energy imparted on the strings is directed to the body increasing volume and sustain.

Body ShapeDreadnought
Scale Length25.5” (648mm)
Nut Width1 7/8″ (47.625mm)
Soundboard MaterialSitka Spruce
Body (back and sides)Mahogany (laminate)
Neck MaterialMahogany
Neck ProfileLow profile ‘C’ shape
FinishNatural/Gloss
FretboardIndian Laurel/Rosewood 
Nut and Saddle MaterialBone
Tuners Die-Cast Chrome
ElectronicsNA

Recording King

Recording King

I’ve long been a fan of Recording King. The aesthetic of the brand really gels with me, especially the dirty 30’s series which has that depression-era appeal.

The thing about Recording King is the brand name comes with a lot of history, well kind of.

Recording King guitars were first made by Gibson Acoustics in the 1930s as an in-house brand for Montgomery Ward (The famous U.S. retailer that pioneered mail-order merchandising). Gibson has made a number of guitars under different brand names, including Kalamazoo, Ambassador, and Capital.

Recording King’s operations ceased in 1939, and for all intents and purposes that was that. At least until 2007 (a mere gap of 68 years) when the brand was brought back to life through The Music Link (Hayward, CA). by Greg Rich, former Gibson custom shop designer, and Travis Atz (product development). 

While it’s a stretch to say Recording King has a long heritage to draw upon, the company’s ethos is to make guitars using vintage designs (with hardly a cutaway in sight) while taking advantage of modern craftsmanship. 

An example of this is the use of Torrefaction, a method of slowly heating the wood in an oxygen-free environment. The process produces a lighter, more resonant timber in keeping with vintage instruments and the natural aging process that leads to the water-soluble sugars that make up the wood’s cell walls slowly breaking down resulting in a more resonant tonewood.

Notable mentions: 

Dirty 30’s series 9 000

The series 9 OOO definitely looks the part. Featuring a tobacco burst finish, ivory tuning buttons, and oversized inlays it oozes vintage appeal.

Complete with solid Sitka top, bone nut, and compensated saddle and providing good bass response and plenty of high-end richness it’s a solid performer representing great value, coming in at under $300.

Body ShapeOrchestra
Scale Length25.4” (645mm)
Nut Width1 11/16” (43mm)
Soundboard MaterialSolid Sitka Spruce
Body (back and sides)Whitewood
Neck MaterialWhitewood
Neck ProfileThin C
FinishSatin
FretboardOvangkol
Nut and Saddle MaterialBone
Tuners Ivory Buttons
ElectronicsNA

Eastman Guitars

Eastman Guitars Logo

Eastman guitars are one of those brands that guitarists have really begun taking notice of, especially since the pandemic and subsequent renewed focus on guitar. 

To describe Eastman guitars as ‘made in China’ while accurate, gives entirely the wrong impression to those familiar with companies outsourcing production to China.

While the majority of Chinese-made guitars are mass-produced, Eastman guitars are handmade, relying on traditional construction methods such as tap tuning and hand scalloped bracing rather than computers and CNC industrial routers. 

The company was founded by Qian Ni, at the time a music student (flute) from China who traveled to the United States to study music. The company started initially building violins, before branching out to archtop and traditional acoustics.

The majority of Eastman guitars sit around the $1000 – $2000 range. If compared to one of the big three, using similar materials you would be looking at at least twice the price or more.

While at one time Eastman guitars were considered a little hit and miss, over the past five years feedback has been excellent with many positive reviews from satisfied buyers

In recent times thanks to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China prices have increased, however considering the fact that these guitars are handmade by expert luthiers, they still represent great value.

Custom shop quality at standard prices is Eastmans’s motto and based on feedback from satisfied customers it appears Eastman is doing just that. 

Notable mentions

Eastman E10-SS Slope Shoulder Acoustic

Almost certainly based on the Gibson J-45 the ED-SS as the SS in the name suggests is a beautiful, slope-shouldered dreadnought.

Featuring a solid Adirondack Spruce top and Mahogany back and sides. The guitar itself exhibits a punchy, lively sound with great bass response and projection. A great guitar for strummers and finger pickers alike.

Body ShapeSlope Shoulder Dreadnought
Scale Length24.75” (625mm)
Nut Width1 11/16” (43mm)
Soundboard MaterialAdirondack Spruce
Body (back and sides)Mahogany
Neck MaterialMahogany
Neck ProfileTraditional ‘C’
FinishGloss
FretboardEbony
Nut and Saddle MaterialBone
Tuners Open-Gear PingWell V93N
ElectronicsNA

Blueridge

Blueridge Guitars Logo

Producing guitars for beginners, students and seasoned pros alike Blueridge has established a reputation for great quality at affordable prices making them a worthy inclusion on our list.

Coming under the Saga Musical Instruments umbrella (one of the largest stringed instrument importers and distributors in the world) Blueridge guitars are perhaps best known for their historic reproductions, specializing in reproducing vintage and pre-war Martins

In operation, for over 35 years the guitars are made in China, but like the majority of guitars on this list, that’s really not a reason to be put off nowadays. Especially when operating within the entry-level to intermediate price range with a slew of notable guitar brands including Guild, Gibson, Yamaha, and Epiphone all producing at least some of their range in China due to the lower cost of production which is then passed on to the buyer.

Blueridge produces a range of solid top, laminate back, and side acoustic guitars (the BR series) which are very affordable starting at under $400 (at the time of publishing) for the BR-43 000. 

They also produce an all solid-body instrument (BR-14 series) starting at around the $750.00 mark. 

​​Notable mentions

​​Blueridge BR-40

The BR-40 is a highly versatile, intermediate guitar. A dreadnought made with solid Sitka spruce top and laminate mahogany back and sides utilizing forward shifted X bracing and featuring a bone nut and saddle.

At this price point, it represents great value and comes highly recommended.

Body ShapeDreadnought
Scale Length22.9″ (582mm)
Nut Width1 9/32″ (32.5mm)
Soundboard MaterialSitka Spruce
Body (back and sides)Mahogany
Neck MaterialMahogany
Neck ProfileLow Profile
FinishNatural High-Gloss
FretboardRosewood
Nut and Saddle MaterialBone
ElectronicsNA

Seagull Guitars

Seagull Guitars Logo

Hailing from Canada Seagull Guitars, owned by Godin guitars (Godin also owns Simon and Patrick, Art and Lutherie, and La Petrie Guitars, along with the Godin brand) and subsequently founded in 1982 by Robert Godin have always been one of the most underrated acoustic guitar brands. 

I recall first seeing these guitars in the 90s and having a distinct dislike for the small, weak-looking headstock. But the first time I heard one I was instantly a fan. The guitar was full, rich in overtones and sounded like an ideal strummer with great sustain, at least to my relatively inexperienced ears at the time. 

All Seagull guitars are manufactured in Canada using sustainably sourced wood sourced in Canada. And Seagul offers a lifetime warranty against any defects in the material or a result of workmanship.

And, the tapered headstock really is more about function than form, with Seagull claiming greater tuning stability as the strings are literally straight from the nut to tuning post.

If you play fingerstyle, Seagul makes some of the widest nut widths out there, with the S6 having a nut width of 1.8″.

I still don’t like the headstock design, but as far as underrated acoustic guitar brands go Seagull makes a compelling argument to be included on this list. But, don’t just take my word for it, look at what people are saying online and keep in mind Seagull guitars are handmade.

Notable mentions

Seagull S6 Original

The flagship Seagull acoustic guitar. The S6 has apparently won a number of awards, although strangely any information on this is difficult to find. Regardless, the S6 certainly has its share of fans considering the relatively low price (starting price approx. $530) for a solid Cedar top guitar.

Highly responsive, and articulate, the S6 is well-engineered (good tuning stability thanks to the small headstock, contoured top, and light bracing), looks great, and sounds even better. What’s not to love.

Body ShapeDreadnought
Scale Length25.5″ (648mm)
Nut Width1.805″ (45.5 mm)
Soundboard MaterialCedar
Body (back and sides)Laminated Wild Cherry
Neck MaterialSilverleaf maple
FinishSemi-gloss
FretboardRosewood
Nut and Saddle MaterialTusq
ElectronicsNA

Guild Guitars

Guild Guitars Logo

Many might be surprised to see Guild included on this list, after all, Guild has been making great acoustic guitars since 1952 and have been played by some greats of the guitar, including
Mississippi John Hurt, John Prine, John Denver, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Paul Simon to name just a few of many..they also invented the cutaway, something almost every major brand has since copied and just so happen to be the brand of guitar in the hands of Richie Havens in 1969 when he opened Woodstock…So why include them on this list?

Well, despite that rich history Guild never seem to be paid their dues, especially in the vintage department, and as a result are only rarely mentioned in the same breath as the big three of Martin, Gibson, and Taylor.

Yet for many acoustic guitar aficionados, especially taking into account their earlier lineups especially the D-40, D-50, and D-55, many consider Guild every bit the equal of their more iconic counterparts.

The company itself formed in the 50s and was staffed by ex-Epiphone employees after a four-month strike followed shortly after by the relocation of the Epiphone factory from New York City to Philadelphia.

During the folk era of the 60s Guild grew, quickly first expanding and relocating to Westerley, Rhode Island in 1966. 

In 1995 Guild was acquired by Fender who moved production to their Corona factory in California, albeit briefly before moving to Tacoma, Washington in 2004, only to move again in 2008 to New Hartford, Connecticut.

Nowadays Guild is owned by Cordoba (best known for classical guitars) and produces guitars out of California, notably the M, D, F, and F twelve-string body shapes along with the Westerley series made in China.

I’ve loved Guild guitars from the moment I heard ‘Life by the Drop’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan and his iconic JF6512, which he also played on his MTV unplugged appearance.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Live - MTV Unplugged 1990

Notable mentions

Guild M-120E Westerley Series

The Guild M120E, concert guitar is part of Guild’s Westerly collection, which pays homage to the early history of the Guild guitar company. The name ‘Westerley’ isn’t a hat tip to western movies, rather it’s a reference to the town of Westerly in Rhode Island where Guild manufactured guitars from 1966 to 2001 before relocating to California, as mentioned above. 

The M120E is a small body, concert size guitar with a narrow waist. It has a compact feel which matches the compressed and nicely balanced tone that the guitar projects.

The guitar features a solid African Mahogany top and sides and a mahogany neck, short scale, C shape neck profile, and vintage style open gear nickel-plated tuners.

I own one of these myself and in my opinion, the M120E Westerley Series stacks up nicely against similar guitars coming in at almost twice the price. Highly Recommended.

Body ShapeConcert
Scale Length24 ¾” (628.6mm)
Nut Width1 3/4” (44mm)
Soundboard MaterialAfrican Mahogany
Body (back and sides)African Mahogany
Neck MaterialAfrican Mahogany
Neck ProfileC shape
FinishNatural or Cherry Red Gloss
FretboardPau Ferro (or Rosewood)
Nut and Saddle MaterialBone
ElectronicsGuild/Fishman AP1

Larrivée

If you’ve ever seen the footage of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s version of Space Oddity on a tiny parlor guitar live from the international space station you’ve heard a Larivee guitar.  And while those in the know consider Larivee guitars ‘out of this world’ the truth is their prices are a little more down to earth compared to other brands of similar quality.

Founder Jean Larrivée has been making stringed instruments for more than 50 years, first in his native Canada before eventually making the move to Oxnard, California in 2001.  Since 2013 All Larivee acoustic guitars have been manufactured in the U.S, prior to this some were still being made in Canada.

Now a family business, at 77 Jean Larrivée remains very hands-on and is highly regarded for his expertise with regard to tonewoods, regularly traveling to all corners of the globe to source the finest quality Spruce, Rosewood and Ebony along with ‘moon wood‘ a species of spruce (aka Swiss Alpine spruce) found in Austria and Switzerland that is only grown in high altitudes. Named moon wood due to the lunar phase in which it’s harvested. 

Perhaps surprisingly Larivee guitars were early on the scene when it came to automation, particularly the use of CNC and laser engraving. But, this has allowed Larrivée to produce high-quality solid wood acoustic guitars while keeping prices relatively low in comparison to the big three.

Unlike some manufacturers which for all intents and purposes are building Martin, and Gibson clones Larivee prides itself on not following the traditional norms too strictly, instead, innovating new methods including Scalloped Parabolic Hybrid bracing which features on their 40’s series of guitars, accentuating the bass frequencies while maintaining the evenly balanced tone Larivee are well known for.


Other notable brands

While I have focused on what I consider 9 of the most underrated acoustic guitar brands out there, I’d be remiss not to mention Cordoba, Cort, Sigma, Washburn and Orangewood guitars.

Orangewood is the new kid on the block that has many guitarists on Youtube only too happy to endorse the brand, with solid top guitars starting at $295.00.


Final Thoughts

All of the brands on this list make great guitars at affordable prices but if you are looking for a recommendation, here’s my two cents.

If you’re a beginner, unfamiliar with the world of acoustic guitars and looking for a great guitar to get started with it’s difficult to go past Tanglewoodor Yamaha. While both offer more expensive guitars also, their entry to mid-range offerings represent tremendous value and offer a reliable playing experience.

If you are a more experienced guitarist looking to emulate a high end guitar without the hefty price tag, it’s hard to go past Eastman. Loved by dealers and players alike, these handmade solid wood construction acoustic guitars have an enviable reputation that one suspects is only set to grow over time.

About Marty

My name's Marty, I've been into guitars for over 30 years. Theacousticguitarist.com is my blog where I write about acoustic guitars, music, and home recording.