Looking for an acoustic guitar made for fingerstyle guitar? Maybe even the best fingerstyle guitar possible? It’s exciting, inspiring, …aaand it can seem financially daunting.
- Do you want to play the Maton Custom Shop TE Personal 2017 Natural that Tommy Emmanuel plays? Well, that’ll be $6,250 (used)
- What about the Greenfield G4 Fanned Fret Manchinga that Andy McKee plays? Hmm, that’ll set you back $14,500 or more (if you can even get one).
- Even Sungha Jung’s Grand Concert Signature Model by Lakewood Guitars seems like a steal at $3,000!
But What If You Could Only Spend $1,000?
What acoustic guitar would you buy?
After all, this is a more realistic budget range for many guitarists. Which brand and which model would give you the best ‘bang for your buck’? We’re looking for exceptional sound, playability, features tailored for fingerstyle guitar, and, of course, some good-looking craftsmanship.
$1,000 may still feel a bit high, especially for beginners and young players. But for the sake of argument (and round numbers), let’s use this as a cut-off point to separate the A-list from the Available-list. (And, for the record, conversations in the forums seem to support that this is a reasonable cut-off price.)
First we’ll take a look at what features make the best fingerstyle guitar. Then we’ll look at several popular options. Finally we’ll recommend the top models.
What Makes a Great Fingerstyle Guitar?
In terms of exact style, we include:
- Chet Atkins thumb-pickers like Tommy Emmanuel
- Acrylic-nail sporting virtuosos like Don Ross, and
- Good ol’ fingers-on-strings players like Adam Rafferty.
When we look at the guitars they play, what do they have in common?
This is for two reasons: even sound and easy playability. The traditional dreadnought body-style acoustic guitar is often big sounding, and bass-heavy. For fingerstyle, though, you want even expression of all the strings.
Also, big dreadnought bodies are hard to get your arms around. They’re great for strumming away in open positions like Johnny Cash, but more difficult for the agile dynamics of someone like Ed Sheerhan.
The cutaway provides easier access to the strings above the 12th fret. Electric guitarists routinely use this part of the guitar neck. Many acoustic guitar models, however, ignore this because this is not where the acoustic usually sounds best.
For fingerstyle, though, you want to be able to access this for a number of reasons, including: harmonics, solos, and breadth of arrangement.
“Action” refers to the height and tension of the strings over the fretboard. These details, of course, affect how hard you have to press to make the notes sound and how easy it is to switch positions. So, for example, we’re not looking for a Gibson Jumbo with fat strings and a big bottom end. We want to be able to finger the fretboard easily.
Note: expensive fingerstyle-oriented guitar typically have some additional features, things like a forward scratchguard for percussive use, and picking arm cut-outs for extra comfort. We won’t be seeing those advanced features in our sub-$1,000 search, though…
The Best Fingerstyle Guitars: A Few Options
1. Taylor 214ce
This latest edition of Taylor’s cutaway Grand Auditorium 214ce features an aesthetic update to feature attractive layered Hawaiian koa back and sides. Under the hood, upgraded internal bracing dials up the guitar’s sonic horsepower to give the solid Sitka spruce top more dynamic range. Clean appointments include white binding, Italian acrylic dot inlays, a faux tortoise shell pickguard, an ebony peghead overlay, and satin-finish back and sides with a glossy top. Together with the onboard Taylor ES2 pickup and signature Taylor playability, this guitar delivers pro-grade stage appeal in every way.View Price/Availability on Amazon
2. Epiphone Masterbilt EF500R
The Epiphone EF-500R is one of the new classics in our Masterbilt Collection. The Masterbilt Collection was first issued in the early 1930s and marked Epiphone’s arrival as one of the main acoustic designers and builders of the era. Timeless designs and innovation remains their mission today and this is in evidence on the Epiphone EF-500R, which features the classic “orchestra” body shape with a Solid Sitka Spruce top, solid rosewood back and sides and a mahogany “V” style neck perfect for fingerpicking.View Price/Availability on Amazon
3. Breedlove Solo Concert
The trademark Breedlove concert sound combines the warm, rich overtones created by red cedar, the Breedlove Bridge Truss and East Indian rosewood back and sides. The connection player feels with their instrument is enhanced with the Side Monitor Soundhole, bringing the music directly to your ears. The Solo Concert is also available in a left handed model (LH) and with the option of a 1.75 inch nut width.View Price/Availability on Amazon
4. Yamaha A Series A3M
Designed to be the ideal performance acoustic guitar, the Yamaha A-Series is crafted from the ground up to be perfectly suited to life on the road. With natural, dynamic plugged-in tone and stage-ready simplicity from the new SRT2 pickup system; played-in comfort out of the box thanks to hand-rolled fingerboard edges on a straight taper neck; a custom designed scalloped bracing pattern for a powerful, expressive acoustic tone and Yamaha’s legendary road-ready construction.View Price/Availability on Amazon
5. Fender Paramount PM-3 Standard
U.S.-designed Paramount series acoustic instruments are finely crafted and specially voiced to bring music to life. Each all-solid guitar offers many legacy design elements of classic ’60s models, including checkerboard purfling and rosette, pickguard shape and abalone and mother-of-pearl “Concert Tone” fingerboard inlays. Even with this art deco look, Paramount instruments still retain their footing in modern design. All-new Fender- and Fishman®-designed PM preamp systems are specifically voiced for each body shape in the series, ensuring complete tonal control and variation.View Price/Availability on Amazon
Drum Rolll….The Top Recommended Guitar Is:
First, I should say: all these guitar are great options. Particular qualities of one of these guitars may appeal to you so, by all means, go for that! With that being said…
My own experience would lead me to favor the Taylor 214ce as the best fingerstyle guitar under $1,000.Buy Fingerstyle Milestones
Taylor’s guitars have long had a history of fine craftsmanship and consistent quality across the years. This gives me confidence that you (or I) could pick up any of these model guitars and experience a great playing guitar.
The 214ce checks all the boxes on our list regarding body size, cutaway, and playable action.
Also, Taylors have a clarity that seems to compliment the complexity of fingerstyle guitar. For straight-ahead strumming, I would favor something more mellow and warm, like a Martin. But in fingerstyle guitar, I want each string to sing out and have it’s own voice. Taylor’s guitars are good at this.
Bottom line: This is a fine guitar that squeaks in under the $1,000 price tag.
You Want to Know How to Put That New Fingerstyle Guitar to Good Use? Here’s How.
Tommy Emmanuel offers a number of fingerstyle guitar courses. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s considered one of the best (or the best) acoustic guitarist in the world. He’s certified C.G.P. and rocks a thumb pick like no other.
So if you’re interested in learning the ways of the Jedi Master (when it comes to fingerstyle guitar, that is), then check out these course below.
He’s a personal hero of mine – he plays flawlessly, teaches endlessly, and generally makes you feel better about life after you’ve heard him. Can’t recommend him enough.