One of the earliest lessons I learnt in my time as a guitarist and using different guitars was that you do not have to spend huge sums of cash just to get a worthwhile guitar – especially when buying a fingerstyle guitar.
Surprisingly, you will find a wide range of options of fingerstyle guitars, even when you are on a tight budget of less than 500 dollars. Many are of very good quality and can serve you well for many years, hardly disappointing you along the way.
This is good news if you are a beginner and want to buy your first instrument, looking forward to upgrading your first guitar, or simply seeking to add to your present collection without splurging too much money on a new instrument.
However, which fingerstyle guitar option is the best news for you?
That is why I have written up this guide – to give you options to start looking into.
Best fingerstyle guitars under $500 – Comparison Table
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Yamaha FG800 solid top acoustic guitar
Solid Sitka spruce
Takamine GD93-NAT dreadnought guitar
Epiphone Texan Acoustic/Electric guitar
Taylor GS Mini Mahogany acoustic guitar
Sapele & Mahogany
Washburn WD10SCE acoustic guitar
Mahogany & Spruce
Best fingerstyle guitars under $500 – Top Picks For 2021
The Yamaha FG series of guitars is quite established, dating back to the mid-1960s; and their primary purpose was showing guitar enthusiasts that they did not need to spend a fortune on a good instrument. The FG800 lives up to that expectation as well, featuring a solid tone, high-class quality, and great playability that make it ideal for many guitarists.
- Top is comprised of solid Sitka spruce, alongside Nato sides and back
- Mahogany body
- Rosewood fingerboard and bridge
- Adjustable truss rod
- Diecast tuners
- Scalloped bracing to maintain a natural sound and improve durability
As long as you are using a Yamaha guitar, you are always certain of a pleasant balance to the sound quality, making the company one of the best low end guitar makers. The FG800 follows in these footsteps due to its dreadnought design, so you can expect plenty of fullness in its tone. There is also notable brightness in its sound, likely due to the rosewood fingerboard and spruce top.
The playability is quite good, though players who prefer a low action may not like it – its action is noticeably high, similar to Yamaha guitars in general. Despite that, it is easy to play because of the narrow nut width, as your hand will not need to move around as much when playing it. That also makes it good for fingerstyle playing as well.
- Plenty of value for money
- Great sound quality and volume output
- The solid spruce top provides very good levels of sustain
- The laminate back and sides are not as great for tonal quality
- High action can make it challenging to play
This guitar will suit people that love dreadnoughts and the sound quality they produce, without paying too much for it. Note that it may be challenging to play if you prefer lower action guitars, unless you lower it after purchasing the instrument.
From its origins in the 1950s in Japan, Takamine is among the most renowned guitar manufacturers in the world today. Their products are very unique in their design approach, usually employing a smaller lower register and a standout asymmetrical neck profile that makes them easier to play – and this guitar follows that model.
- Rosewood back and wood body
- Spruce wood top
- Rosewood bridge uses a split-saddle design to provide better intonation
- Natural gloss finish
Among the first traits you notice with this instrument is its superior build quality and great attention to detail. It is among the first guitars to feature the classic dreadnought shape, with its elegant top and body. It has a scale length of 25.3 inches and a rosewood fretboard to add a classic tone to its sound. The playability and feel is also excellent because of its smooth neck, while the C-shaped radius of the neck only measures 12 inches and is easy to play.
Suitable for a wide variety of playing styles, it comes with all the features you would expect from a standard guitar; the Pearloid dot inlays, bridge saddle, chrome die-cast tuners, and synthetic bone nut.
- Easy playability
- It has a very high responsiveness, even to gentler playing styles
- Very pleasant tonal combination
- Pin-less saddle
- Lacks extra accessories in the package
- Action is quite high
This guitar is an affordable version of the Takamine series of guitars, which tend to come at prohibitive prices. Its solid build makes for a rich sound, without forcing you to fork out a lot of money to get it.
There are few guitars that evoke the sentimentality that an Epiphone instrument has, with the origins of the company going back to the late 19th Century, with this specific guitar model seeking to capture the vintage history in a modern spin.
- Solid spruce top
- Advanced jumbo mahogany body
- Tuners are in a vintage style with small buttons
This guitar is visually striking, and has garnered many fans because of its vintage design approach. It has a silver ‘E’ on its big-block pick guard, as well as parallelogram fretboard inlays, slope shoulders, and a reverse bride – all giving it an essence of familiarity. The dreadnought design has a slim waist as well, which provides it with a more balanced tone without emphasizing the lower ends too much, and also makes it very easy to play.
The headstock shape is an enjoyable feature, as it creates interesting layering in the contours even though they are not immediately obvious. The mid-range sound is powerful and packs plenty of clarity, lending itself particularly to choppy chord work. It has a similar tone when you plug it in, except that it lacks distinct warmth – probably due to its size.
- Very clear and strong tonal quality
- Unmistakable appearance
- Lacks warmth to its sound, especially when you plug it in
Even though this guitar has difficulties in achieving a warm sound, it is particularly impressive in its performance and does well to maximize on the technology it relies on. Expect plenty of value for your money, as there are few elements to dislike about it.
It is difficult to exclude Taylor Guitars from a discussion about the best acoustic guitars in the market, and this is another of those examples. The brand has a solid reputation of dependability, and the use of exotic tonewoods that enhance the sound quality, solidifying them as favorites of many veteran guitarists in the industry – and the GS guitar lives up to that in numerous ways.
- Scale length of 23.5 inches with 20 frets
- Solid mahogany sides and back, and a layered sapele bracing pattern
- African ebony fingerboard
- Mahogany top
This is an excellent guitar choice if you are a beginner in acoustic guitars, as it carries the advantages of playability, projection, and portability. It is physically bigger and deeper than most Taylor mini guitars, though it still retains its portability – the size seeks to increase its projection power. If you are purchasing a guitar for a younger player or if you have smaller hands, it will allow you to play comfortably due to its physics and attention to certain aspects.
The tonal quality is among the best I have heard in fingerstyle guitars, due to the materials making up the guitar. Sapele wood comprises the sides and back, while the fully mahogany body allows it to achieve a deep, warm tone and maximum volume projection. It is very easy for beginners to use because of its uncomplicated design, and a synthetic bone handle crowns the Sapele Bridge to increase its durability.
- Very good design and build quality
- Perfect instrument for a frequent traveler
- The sound quality is excellent and matches up to more expensive guitars
- Great for beginners and intermediate players
- Its satin finish does not protect it from road wear
If you are searching for a bargain pick that delivers premium sound quality, you can rarely go wrong with the Taylor GS guitar. It has a traditional acoustic aesthetic, is very easy to play, and delivers very good sound quality.
For many years, many considered the D series from Washburn to be an upper-entry level guitar set, and it is now rebranded as the WD series – with the WD10SCE being the most famous of the set. The sound quality is generally very inviting and warm, thanks to its emphasis on mid-range frequencies – and this makes it popular among fingerstyle players.
- Top is comprised of solid Sitka spruce
- Fishman pre-amp
- Exclusive wood rosette
- Bone saddle and nut
- High gloss finish
The design follows the dreadnought shape of its predecessors, with the classic mahogany sides and back, as well as the solid spruce top. The finish is a high gloss black type, which makes its tonal quality spectacular – but also has the disadvantage of collecting fingerprints.
The sound quality is quite powerful, and even the first few strums deliver a strong low-end punch. When you plug it in, the bass will not really transfer – instead, you get a lower midrange result, which is helpful when you want to seat it in an instrumental mix. It could improve on the soundhole design though – there are some minor blemishes on the edges, and it also tends to fatigue after you play barring chords on it.
- Solid set of features
- Very good pricing
- Great sound quality
- The edges of the soundhole have some minor blemishes
This guitar sets the bar high when it comes to quality features and a great sound profile, even though it tends to suffer from slight fatigue after barring chords.
What should you look for in fingerstyle guitars under $500?
The first attribute to examine is the size – in fact, this is likely the most important factor to keep in mind when selecting a fingerstyle guitar, no matter the price.
As a general guideline, larger acoustic guitars produce more bottom end bass, resonance, and volume, while smaller guitars have the opposite effect.
Therefore, getting a treble sound is difficult if you are playing a jumbo-shaped guitar, but easier to achieve when playing a mini-size or ¾ size guitar.
With that in mind, many manufacturers are creating smaller guitars that have greater balance in their sound with more punchy bass, especially in recent years.
On the other hand, a smaller fingerstyle guitar is easier to transport and play, especially for a player who has a smaller body frame.
There are three types of guitar shapes when buying a fingerstyle guitar and each has its own advantages and drawbacks. They are:
These are the default shape of any acoustic guitar, and are quite large in size.
Their origin goes back to the 19th Century, though they began gaining popularity during the expansion of rock and country music alongside radio in the mid-20th Century.
They are very versatile guitars, and can easily play any music genre and accommodate multiple playing styles.
These have come a long way, and many experienced guitarists use them due to their sound quality. They are also popular with beginners, especially children.
In a guitar, the wood in use matters, because it determines the tone the guitar produces. Even though there are different combinations of the tonewoods in use, all will affect the overall sound in some way.
The wood used at the top of the guitar and the body have the greatest impact to the tone.
The most common woods you will find are:
- Mahogany – this produces a rich, warm, and dark sound. Other woods that have the same effect are hardwoods such as Okule and Nato.
- Spruce – you will commonly find this on the tops of guitars. Its sound tone has plenty of resonance and clarity.
- Sapele – this is another popular hardwood, though it has a more balanced output compared to mahogany. Its sound is also slightly brighter, which allows it to work well in a variety of musical genres.
Aside from these three, there are plenty of other woods that you will find in guitars, and the choice you make depends on what sounds good to you – the same tonewood can sound very different to different people.
You will want to experiment with ebony, rosewood, or a combination of both when considering the neck, with the body being comprised of mahogany, maple, or both.
Fingerstyle guitars have two main types of strings: the steel strings, and the nylon string. Your choice will depend on whether you are experienced in the instrument or just starting out.
If you are a beginner, it is best to go for the nylon strings, because they are softer on your fingers and will usually fall across a wider neck. This makes them easier to play, even for children who are learning the instrument or people with smaller hands.
On the other hand, steel strings are much tougher and can leave calluses on your fingers, so choose guitars with these strings when you gain some experience in the instrument to make it easier for you.
The advantage with steel strings is their sound quality, as they offer a more contemporary sound.
The string action
This is also an important factor to consider, regardless of which guitar you want to buy – but it is even more important when purchasing a fingerstyle guitar. The action is the physical height between the fingerboard and the strings, so it will determine your comfort levels when playing the instrument.
In fact, the more advanced fingerstyle playing will demand plenty of movements of the hand you are using to fret the strings, rather than only holding down a few chord shapes.
The lower the action is, the more comfortable you will be when playing the instrument – and guitar will also sound better.
Alongside the action, also consider the width of the neck, particularly at the nut.
While your choice will depend on your preferences, the general rule is that thinner nut widths make the instrument more challenging for some players, because the strings have a closer positioning.
Since you are moving your fingers and wrist frequently while playing a fingerstyle guitar, having a cutaway on the body of the instrument will make it easier for you to navigate the guitar.
It will prove useful when you want to access the higher frets, and prevent you from injuring your wrist when playing triplets.
It can be overwhelming narrowing down your options for fingerstyle guitars, because it depends on your preferences and overall playing experience.
However, this guide should give you good pointers on where to start looking, and what to look for.
Can I use electric guitars for fingerpicking?
This depends on your experience level. For beginners, it is difficult to play fingerstyle on an electric guitar, and an acoustic guitar is a better option.
Will I need long nails to play fingerstyle?
No, it is not necessary. However, it will sound better if you have longer nails, especially on the strumming hand.
Should a beginner guitar player use picks when playing?
Yes, until your fingers get used to the strumming movements. Picks will also make it easier to learn the basics of fingerstyle play.