First, a few qualifications about this list of best acoustic guitar albums:
- This list is intended to cover popular music rather than classical artists. That means that we won’t be diving into the world of Andrés Segovia or Christopher Parkening.
- This list is more about being showing a cross-section of styles, rather than diving into a particular sub-genre.
- For more info, check out the references at the bottom. I polled a number of online sites and forums (as well as racked my own brain) to develop this list. The references below will lead you to some more great albums (Hmmm, I guess that makes this list “the best of the best acoustic guitar albums”?)
Top 10 Best Acoustic Guitar Albums
1. Bob Dylan – “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963)
The granddaddy of them all. Bob Dylan forged the way for modern singers to capture the attention with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a lyric. (Personal favorite: Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. It’s like when Han Solo responds to Leia’s love with, “I know”. So cocky, and somehow so right.)
2. Eric Clapton – “Unplugged” (1992)
It’s an incredible to toggle between the hyper-caffeinated version of Layla from Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes days and his acoustic version here. And while it works both ways, there’s no denying the happening groove Clapton brings here on the acoustic guitar. (Personal favorite: Old Love)
3. Nirvana – Unplugged in New York (1994)
Nirvana broke grunge as a mainstream music genre. They capture the imagination with their crazy heavy sound and dysfunctional image. To see them stripped down to acoustic instruments seemed like a trainwreck waiting to happen. But then it was awesome. (Personal favorite: Dumb)
4. Michael Hedges – Aerial Boundaries (1984)
Michael Hedges is one of the inspiration points behind the current generation of modern acoustic guitar fingerstylists like Andy McKee, Antoine DuFour, and others. He was flashy, groundbreaking, spiritual, and iconic. (Personal favorite: Ragamuffin)
5. Rodrigo y Gabriela – Rodrigo y Gabriela (2006)
So freaking good! This nylon-string slinging duo are know for incredibly dynamic covers of metal songs and fiery solos. Often, acoustic guitarists (and albums) can tend towards adjectives like “groovin”, “”relaxing”, or “mellow”. Not this one. (Personal favorite: Orion)
6. Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers (1961)
If you’ve ever tried to learn an acoustic blues, this is the guy you’re trying to copy. This album is a glimpse into another time. Dig into the genius of old school blues. (Crossroads Blues is a fan fav)
7. Tommy Emmanuel – Center Stage (2008)
Tommy Emmanuel is having a huge impact on guitar players right now and this album captures so many of his popular songs. His thumb-pick style is derived from Chet Atkins but leaves the country boom-chicka behind. His playing is melodic and modern and genius. (Personal favorite: And So It Goes)
8. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
This album spawned a generation of imitators. But the ethereal vocals, the layered guitars, and the sense of otherworldiness – that’s hard to duplicate. (Personal favorite: It’s hard to beat the title track “For Emma”)
9. Phil Keaggy – Beyond Nature (1991)
I grew up on Phil Keaggy so I’m a bit biased. But I think with a lot of other folks in voting this an incredible acoustic guitar album. (Personal favorite: Addison’s Walk)
10. Damien Rice – O (2002)
I had the chance to see Damien Rice in concert last year. It’s amazing that he can hold the rapt attention of a audience for two hours with nothing but Irish stories and his acoustic guitar. Beautiful playing and arranging here. (Personal favorite: I have to cheat and say both “Cannonball” and “Eskimo”, but you have to wait for the peak in Eskimo at 3:30 – then just sit back and die.)
11. Leo Kottke – 6- and 12-String Guitar
Added by demand from the comment thread below! For some more details, check out our review of the album here.
Got an Acoustic Guitar album you want to recommend? Drop it in the comments below!