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Posted on May 28, 2013 in Tools | 4 comments

Who Makes the Best Acoustic Guitars for the Money?

When you’re in college, everyone “plays guitar” and I remember cringing every time an inexperienced or careless peer would want to pick up the snazzy Ovation I owned at the time.  So I decided to buy a cheap guitar that I could keep out for such occasions and never worry about.  I never dreamed I’d fall in love with my cheap guitar!

Since then, I’ve sold that Ovation but still own and love to play that same ol’ cheap guitar.  It’s a Dean Exotica FM (Flamed Maple) Acoustic Electric in Transparent Blue (is it ironic that it’s blue???). You can still buy the same model today for about $369.

my dean

In my book, Dean makes the best quality acoustic guitars for the price. Period. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Beauty.  What can I say? I like my guitars and women to look great! So I married Julie and I mostly steer clear of plain-jane guitars. In fact, I think this is a big reason why I’ve never had much love for the widely respected Martin guitars–it’s just hard to get excited about something so drab (read my humble retraction blog post). I dare you to find a more consistently beautiful line of guitars than Dean makes for this kind of money! Without much TLC, my Dean still looks great after 12ish years (and don’t forget about all those crazy college kids that passed it around). The flamed wood, the abalone (and yes, the fantastically bright blue!) make me feel like I’m playing a $1,000 guitar every time I reach for it.
  2. Playability. Most cheap guitars are not fun to play! Tuners are finicky or break altogether, strings kill your fingers, higher frets don’t produce the right pitches, changing strings is a chore, etc. My guitar comes with quality Grover tuners, the action at the nut is low to save your fingers (see note below for more details about finger-saving), and is free of other pesky cheap-guitar-woes.
  3. Sound. I’ve had several good musicians pick up my Dean and tell me it’s one of the most beautiful sounding guitars they’ve heard.  I won’t go that far but it certainly has a quality of sound that far outreaches its price tag. I’ve kept Elixir Lights on mine since the beginning and that seems to be a match made in heaven!

A note about beginner guitars: Truth be told, “beginner guitars” are the hardest to play. That’s a shame. I think the main problem is simply that cheap guitars have cheap necks. And since the neck isn’t trusted to be straight and true, they place the nut really high at the top of the neck to avoid unwanted jangling, etc. The result is death-by-finger-tips for every beginner.  So when I recently set out to find a super-cheap guitar for a beginner at my church, I looked on Craigslist and picked up a used Dean Tradition AK48 (for $60ish) that had come in a beginner starter-pack. She had been playing a Fender acoustic and was amazed at how much easier the Dean was to play.

Questions about Deans? Other guitars you think deserve consideration as the best guitar for the money?

Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


  1. Julie IS a beauty :) And that guitar is pretty sharp too! That’s so great when you can find a quality instrument that doesn’t cost a fortune. I know the sound and even the feel of an instrument can make a big difference on how often I want to play it. Thanks for sharing your wisdom I know it will be a help to other aspiring musicians.

  2. I have this model, except the darker tiger’s eye. Another plus is the XLR out, skipping the need for a D/I.

    • Awesome, they must’ve added that XLR feature to the model since I bought mine!


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