Recession-Ready Acoustics: Cheap Guitars That Are Anything But “Cheap”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

In 1980, our country was staggering toward a recession, with unemployment and the cost of living rising to create a perfect storm of financial hardship. Today, our economy is experiencing similar travails. However, there is one fundamental difference between our current economic woes of today and the recession of thirty years ago: right now, a savvy shopper can find a great acoustic guitar for a reasonable price.

Though I was but a fresh-faced kid in 1980, barely able to stretch my wimpy little hands around a “G” chord, I desperately wanted an acoustic guitar. My local music store offered two options: 1) The unattainably expensive guitars made in the U.S. (Martin, Gibson, Guild), or 2) cheap foreign crap made of plywood that sounded like fishing line tied over a cardboard box.

Instead of a guitar, I wound up with my grandmother’s hand-me-down trumpet; I didn’t get a good acoustic until I was well into my twenties.

Today, those in the market for an acoustic guitar have a far better world full of nearly unlimited selections. The heavy competition among guitar manufacturers has made for enormous improvement in the quality and price of moderate to inexpensive guitars. There are incredible bargains for acoustic hunters who are willing to do a little research.

Sure, any bozo with a two-comma income can waltz into a music store, slam the platinum card on the counter and leave with a good acoustic guitar and a $3,000 debit; but that’s simply not an option for most of us. Gentle reader, I suspect many of you, much like your humble scribe, need a bit more bang for your buck during these thrifty times.

American Songwriter examines five affordable guitars hovering around the $1,000 mark. I realize that 1k is not chump change but keep this in mind: according to The Federal Reserve Conversion chart, spending $1,000 on a guitar in 2010 is the equivalent of spending $375 in 1980, and that would get you plywood crap in 1980. So, let’s put our country’s monetary problems on the back burner, look at the bright side and explore some acoustic guitars that anybody with a job and a little discipline to save can afford.

The Workhorse
Takamine ETN40C
LIST: $1,649.00

Import brand guitars fight an uphill battle when attempting to sell in the states. In the relatively short time Takamine has been exporting to the U.S. (since 1975), they have enjoyed an amazing amount of success. Continue reading

An Asian Take on an American Classic
Guild GAD-50
LIST: $1,399.99

The Guild Acoustic Design series, or GAD for short, introduced in 2004, was designed to offer guitars with premium specifications at affordable prices. It gives price-conscious players the opportunity to step into the Guild world and get a high quality, all-solid wood guitar without breaking the bank. Continue reading

Get Yo’ Gut-String On
Córdoba Fusion Series 12 Orchestra CD/IN
LIST: $755.00

A hardcore classical guitarist can easily drop 10 large on a gut-string guitar that will respond to every subtle tonal variation that a master’s fingertips may want to express. Most of these fine distinctions are lost once a guitar is plugged in or played Willie Nelson-style with a pick. Continue reading

For The Thrifty
Sierra SAS30CEM
LIST: $659.00

The Sierra SAS30CEM is an auditorium acoustic-electric cutaway designed with a round, narrow body to yield a warm, balanced tone. Like most of the other guitars reviewed in this column, Sierra builds them with a dovetail neck joint for that extra tone girth. Continue reading

A Great Guitar, Regardless of Price
Tanglewood TW70-H Grand Auditorium
LIST: $1,749.00

Tanglewood’s Heritage Series, inspired and designed by custom builder Michael Sanden of Sweden and influenced by the golden era of acoustic guitars, represents Tanglewood’s best. These are all-solid wood guitars constructed from some of the finest tone woods available. The TW70-H Grand Auditorium, offered only in North America, is the top of the line model in Tanglewood’s top series; in short, the best of their best. Continue reading

Oh the Irony

Assuming that most of you readers are U.S. citizens, it’s more than a tad ironic that I’m suggesting you can ease your way through the recession by purchasing a guitar manufactured in another country. American-made guitars have always been the most universally praised and coveted in the world. Their superior workmanship and design will ensure they remain the guitars by which all others are judged; that prestige and craftsmanship comes with a high price. Guitar players and collectors with ample cash or credit will always lay down top dollar to buy top shelf American guitars. The rest of us can count ourselves lucky to live in an age where there are alternatives in guitar buying. A little competition raises the bar for all guitar makers and buyers. Our recession 30 years ago offered few options by comparison; things are looking up for guitarists.


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Get Yo’ Gut-String On: Córdoba Fusion Series 12 Orchestra CD/IN

A Great Guitar, Regardless of Price: Tanglewood TW70-H Grand Auditorium