The guitar, which is among the most popular instruments in the world, plays a significant role in many forms of Western music. Although the electric form of the instrument is often the preferred choice of younger generations, the acoustic guitar continues to enjoy popularity among people of all age groups. While opinions about the best brand of acoustic guitar will predictably vary depending on the guitar player that one speaks with, the following five companies consistently earn the praise and admiration of talented musicians everywhere.
1. C.F. Martin
C.F. Martin, known more commonly as “Martin,” is the oldest guitar company in the United States. Founded in 1833, the company originally operated out of a small shop on the Lower West Side of New York City, where the eponymous luthier sold music supplies, as well as a limited number of handmade guitars. The earliest Martins had several distinguishing characteristics, including the placement of all tuning keys on one side of the headstock, an adjustable neck, and bracing system along the top of the guitar in the shape of an “X.” Of these three features, only the X bracing system is still in use today, and its design continues to contribute to the standard sound of Martins—a tone that maintains both a strong bass response and a lively degree of treble. C.F. Martin is the only company included within this list that now focuses exclusively on the production of acoustic guitars, although it has experimented with the production of electric guitars at various points throughout the 20th century. Famous Martin players include Neil Young, James Taylor, John Mayer, Woodie Guthrie, and Kurt Cobain.
The Fender name has long been associated with rock and roll music, as its founder, Leo Fender, invented the world’s first solid-body electric guitar in 1951—a model that would eventually become the Telecaster. Although it is predominantly known for producing some of the world’s finest electric models, the company today designs and produces a wide range of instruments, including banjos, electric violins, and—naturally—acoustic guitars. While the company’s Fender brand of acoustic guitars is noted for being a great choice for beginning guitarists due to its low price and good quality, Fender is also the parent company of Guild, which produces some of the best acoustic guitars in the business. Guild particularly is favored by big-name artists such as Tom Petty, Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, and Hank Williams, Jr.
Founded in Michigan in the late 1800s by craftsman Orville Gibson, the Gibson brand first gained acclaim for its collection of acoustic guitars and mandolins. The instruments were different from competing models due, in part, to their archtop design that is meant to mirror the design of a violin. Most archtops are curved on top and sometimes on the back, with uniquely carved sound holes that create a rich, mellow tone and a low degree of sustain when played. Although the company is just as famous for its eventual electric models, such as the world-famous Les Paul, Gibson acoustics are considered by many to be the highest-quality acoustic guitars in the world, with many famous musicians favoring its instruments. Well-known Gibson players include Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, and Bono.
Founded in the mid-1970s by luthier Bob Taylor and his partner Kurt Listug, Taylor Guitars is the youngest among the world’s top guitar companies. Based in Southern California, the company creates guitars that are known for their playability, bright sound, and warm tones. Due in part to its debut in the later decades of the 20th century, Taylor guitars eschewed some of the more traditional design elements employed by the world’s most famous acoustic guitar companies. The end result was an instrument with a slimmer neck for easier playability, a more precise method of attachment between the neck and the guitar’s body, and an internal expression system that allows Taylor pickups to create a remarkably natural sound when plugged into an amplifier or soundboard. Taylor Guitars is also among the most sustainable of the world’s guitar makers, and its instruments are favored by musicians such as Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift, and Steven Curtis Chapman.
Out of any company on this list, Yamaha produces the widest range of instruments, beginning with pianos in the late 19th century and later expanding to guitars, brass, woodwinds, drums, strings, percussion, and specialty instruments. Yamaha first released its line of handmade FG Series acoustic guitars in the 1960s, and the tradition of creating quality acoustics fit for players of any level continues to this day. Yamaha sells instruments that suit the budgetary needs of musicians within any price range, and in return it provides players with guitars that evokes an even balance between bass and treble. The design of these guitar is unique in that they incorporate dovetail neck joints and are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles to suit the unique needs of different musicians. Famous guitarists who favor Yamahas include Edwin McCain, Chad Kroger, soloist Andy McKee, and 3 Doors Down guitarist Chris Henderson.