Trying to buy your first guitar, but finding it hard to play the ones at the store? Returning to acoustic from electric but hoping to find one that’s easy on the fingers? We’re going to walk you through our top choices for the most playable acoustic guitars with low action straight from the factory (or from our favorite retailer Sweetwater).
What are our top choices?
Our number one choice for an easy to play, low action acoustic guitar is the Ibanez AE245JR. It’s a well made, beautiful and easy to play guitar, it sounds fantastic and it’s available for under $500.
If you want something lighter on the pocket, we suggest the Yamaha FS800 or the FG800 (we explain the difference below). Yamaha make fantastic acoustic guitars for the money (I own a few myself) and the 800 is no exception.
If on the other hand you’re less concerned about affordability, we suggest the Taylor 114e which will leave you change from $800, but plays and sounds like a guitar twice it’s price.
What is action on a guitar?
Action means the distance between the strings and the fretboard. When you have a lot of distance (called high action), you have to apply more pressure with your fingers to get a note to ring clearly. If the string is naturally very close to the fretboard (called low action), it is much easier to fret a note.
Are there any disadvantages to low action?
The two main disadvantages to low action are that it can cause the strings to buzz, and it can effect the volume. The reason the strings may buzz is that they’re already so close to the fretboard that they don’t quite have room to vibrate without hitting off other frets. This of course has an obvious effect on volume.
However, if you’re a beginner, the most important thing is that you’re able to play your instrument and enjoy it. Once you build up finger strength you may want to try out something with higher action to get some more volume, but we would definitely suggest crossing that bridge when you come to it.
Best Low Action Acoustic Guitars
Ibanez AE245JR Review
This is the short scale version of the full sized AE245. It has a mahogony body and neck, a 20-fret ovangkol fretboard, an ovangkol bridge with bone saddle, die cast tuners, and comes with an Ibanex T-Bar pickup.
The guitar also sports a beautiful flowing inlay that gives it the look of a much more expensive instrument.
Tone wise this has a rich and dark timber, and the smaller size means it’s super comfortable to play. In addition it comes set up with wonderful low action (it is an Ibanez after all) that combined with it’s size makes it a really enjoyable guitar to spend time with. Excellent for beginners and experienced players alike.
Check out the Ibanez AE245JR at Sweetwater
Yamaha FG800 and FS800 Review
The FG800 is a dreadnought guitar and the FS800 is a concert guitar. What this means is the FG800 is larger and has a deeper sound, while the FS800 is more compact and has less bottom end, but has a more focused sound. Essentially if you’re playing with a band you want the dreadnought, if you’re alone you want the concert guitar.
Both have a solid sitka spruce top, nato back and sides, a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, die cast tuners and an adjustable truss rod.
Tone wise the FG800 is full but mellow, with a warm sound rich in the lower and mid range. The FS800 is less full, but has more distinction in the upper mid frequencies. Both are very comfortable to play, and while they are for sure budget guitars, they do not suffer any of the pitfalls one would expect in this price range. An excellent buy.
Check out the Yamaha FG800 and FS800 at Amazon.
Taylor 114e Review
The 114e is for sure a high class instrument. It has a solid sitka spruce top, layered rosewood back and sides, a neo-tropical mahogony neck with a luxurious West African ebony fretboard, West African ebony bridge, Micarta Wave sadde and nubone nut. The guitar sports a Taylor Expression System 2 pickup with active bass and treble controls.
Sound wise, the Taylor has an amazing low end richness, but feels very responsive. While it does lack a cutaway, making the top register all but unusable, the overall quality of this guitar is more in the range of guitars twice it’s price.
Check out the Taylor 114e at Amazon.
Ovation CE44P-FKOA Review
Ovation make some of the most unique looking acoustics, especially at this sub $600 price range, and the CE44P is no exception. Sporting a Lyrachord cutaway body with a Figured Koa top, this one is a looker, no question. The neck is a satin Nato, with a rosewood fingerboard and abalone inlays. It has a rosewood bridge and gold die-cast tuners.
Ovation are also known for their superior onboard electroncics, and here we have an Ovation Slimline pickup and OP-4BT preamp system with three-band EQ, volume/gain control, onboard tuner and low-battery light.
In addition to being a famously low action acoustic guitar, the Ovation is light and comfortable both sitting and standing, and the neck is fast and smooth.
Sound wise, the mini-soundhole design gives the guitar clear highs and focused bass response when played naturally. Plugged in (which is where ovations shine), the sound is full and yet delicate, with remarkable clarity.
Check out the Ovation CE44P-FKOA on Amazon.
Martin DJR-10e Review
The DJR-10e is dreadnought junior, so it’s not as big as a regular dreadnought but for sure not as small as say a Baby Taylor. It features a Sitka spruce top, Sapele back and sides, select hardwood neck, richlite bridge and fingerboard. It also features premium Fishman Sonitone electronics with the controls semi-hidden inside the sound hole.
Speaking of sound, this Martin has the kind of balanced sound you’d expect from a guitar that’s both dreadnought and junior. The slim taper neck and low action make it play like an electric, and the comfortable body size leaves you with a guitar you can sit with for hours. For sure an absolute gem.
Check out the Martin DJR-10e at Amazon.
Fender CD-60S Review
The CD-60s features Fender’s classic shape and style in a very affordable package. This dreadnought style acoustic features a solid spruce top, mahogany back and sides, mahogony neck, walnut fingerboard, and chrome die-cast tuning machines. It does feature a plastic nut, but that is cheap to replace should you find you run into any tuning issues.
Sound wise, the guitar is very full bodied. The spruce top gives it more projection, and very pronounced top end. The guitar has an easy to play neck with rolled edges, which combined with the low action out of the box results in a guitar that is effortless.
Check out the CD-60s at Amazon.
Washburn Woodline WLO10SCE Review
The WLO10SCE is part of the fantastic Woodline series, which is Washburns mid-tier guitar – as they put it “a mix of elegance, musicality and affordability”. That being said, you do get a lot for your money.
The guitar has a solid sitka spruce top, mahogony back and sides, satin mahogony neck, and ovangkol fingerboard. It also has a number of higher quality parts such as a GraphTech NuBone nut and saddle, a Fishman Presys II 301T tuner/preamp, and walnut binding. Overall, a very high quality instrument for the price.
Sound wise, the woodline is very smooth with a nicely rounded top end. It has a full midrange and the bass is deep without being boomy – really everything you need for a finger picking machine! The neck is very comfortable and the low action combined with the smooth single cutaway design make it super playable.
Check out the Washburn WLO10SCE at Amazon.
How To Lower the Action on an Acoustic Guitar
If you do decide to buy a guitar with higher action, you still have options. You can of course ask the store or your local luthier to lower the action, or you can do it yourself – though I would caution that lowering action on an acoustic is a far more complex job than it is on an electric.
There are three ways to adjust the action on a guitar, that go broadly from easier to harder.
Truss Rod Adjustment
Guitars have a steel or graphite rod called a truss rod that runs down the neck of the guitar to provide reinforcement. A guitar tuned to pitch has several hundred pounds of pressure on the neck that would almost certainly snap the wood itself were there no truss rod present. You can adjust the rod to give more less or more relief, which is basically the amount the neck bows in either direction.
Adjusting the truss rod can bring the strings closer to the neck, but it can have several knock on effects.
Here’s a great video explaining these effects, and how to adjust your truss rod.
With a nut adjustment, you’re looking at directly deepening the nut slots, string by string, to lower the action. If the action is too low already, you’ll need to add a shim behind the nut, or replace it altogether.
The trick here is that you need to make sure you maintain the correct break angle coming out of the nut, as any adjustment potentially has a huge effect on your intonation and tuning stability.
Here’s a great video that will walk you through a nut adjustment.
This is where things get more complicated. Ideally you want the radius of the saddle to match the radius of the fretboard. The better they match, the better the playability of your guitar. A tighter saddle will result in higher than necessary strings, flatter will give you lower strings that may buzz.
On an electric guitar, the string saddles typically have some sort of adjustment screws to make this process a breeze, but with an acoustic you’ll need to file or sand the saddle to lower it or add a shim to raise it.
Here’s a great video on how to do this – though if you’re not confident I would for sure suggest taking it to the shop.
Hopefully this list gives you at least some good starting points to choose a smooth playing acoustic guitar. It’s super important to make your guitar as comfortable as possible because the goal is to play more, and anything that makes playing more enjoyable gets you closer to that goal.
Let us know in the comments if you think there are any guitars that should be on the list. If you’ve played any of these, let us know your thoughts down below!