I am an acoustic guitar lover. I have been playing guitar since I was a kid but it wasn't until I was 22 that I started loving my acoustic guitar much more than I ever did my electric. Recently I had to sell my acoustic in order to buy a new one. Sounds peculiar but due to travel constraints I couldn't travel with all my guitars, forcing me to sell my precious acoustic.
Since I couldn't live without a proper acoustic guitar I decided shortly thereafter to buy a new one. Buying a guitar, for me, is an intense project. I absolutely can not buy guitars online and need to weigh every option before I part with my cash. If you are in the same predicament I was, keep these few things in mind when you are deciding on your acoustic guitar. It will get you an amzing axe, regardless of budget.
Play Every Guitar in Your Price Range
When you go in to buy your guitar, set aside some time in the store to test out guitars. Se aside a budget and play every guitar in your budget. I had a budget of $350 which isn't a huge amount but by trial and error got me an amazing sounding guitar. I'm not kidding about this one, if you are serious about your next guitar purchase, actually try out every guitar in the store.
For me, a few strums can often tell me everything about a specific guitar. If you like the sound, make a mental note of the copy and move on. Don't come back to a specific guitar until you are through with each one. Maybe the first one you played was so amazing sounding that it blew all the other ones away. But unless you try each one out, you might not find the perfect make for you.
Check the Strings
Guitars aren't restrung that often in the store. So an otherwise great sounding guitar might sound dull and lifeless just because it has worn out strings. I restring my acoustic every three months or so because I can hear the life of the instrument getting sucked out by the corrosion of the strings.
Also, I feel that some gauge strings are better for some models than others. A lighter set of strings sometimes do not compliment the fullness of an instrument, making it sound sharp and toppy. I accidentally put a lighter gauge of strings on my old acoustic and the sound changed dramatically for the worse. Needless to say, I quickly changed the strings back to a heavier gauge to get my old sound back. Strings can have a lot of say in the sound, especially on an acoustic guitar.
Check for Buzz
I bought and acoustic guitar I thought was really good. I thought, “This sounds really good for the price, and I can even feel the strings being worn out. Imagine how it would sound with a new set of strings?”
But when I brought it home and started playing it for a while I noticed fret buzz that I should have checked right away in the store. Check for every type of technical problem the guitar might have, or move on to another guitar if you think it isn't worth it.
Find Out What They are Made Of
Certain types of woods sound a certain way. Depending on what you are going to use your acoustic for, just for playing live or primarily in the studio, some woods might have a more balanced sound suitable for recording for instance. For a detailed run down on the various woods check out Sweetwater's Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide.
Check the Action
Do those open chords sound great? Ringing out and awesome? Cool, but have you checked how it is to play chords up on the neck? Do those power chords feel harder to play because of the action?
If the action of the guitar is too high it's a good indication that you should put it down and move on. I want my guitars to be set up properly and playable from the get go. When I'm moving around the store, playing every guitar I can, I completely disregard and don't think twice about guitars that have their action too high.
Check for Extras
Are you lucky enough to happen upon a guitar package that comes with a bag, picks and new strings? Great! Check and see if there are any extras you can squeeze out of the store. Sometimes you can negotiate new strings if you make a convincing argument that the current ones are too worn. I got mine for $50 off because there was an offer in the store and I was lucky. See if it's your lucky day, you might gain something from it.
Make Sure It's Set Up Right
If you find your dream guitar make sure it's set up right intonation wise. If you strum a nicely in tune open E chord but when you start playing up on the neck it suddenly sounds a little out of tune the guitar might have an intonation problem.
Obviously, guitar stores should be aware of these problems and not have guitars that have them but sometimes they get overlooked. Most stores offer free set up for your guitar, especially if it has a problem to begin with. There's nothing worse than finding these things out after you've taken it home. The hassle of bringing it back really takes away from the pleasure you should have of having bought your new acoustic.
Next time you find yourself with a wad of cash in one hand, a pick in your pocket and your feet inside a guitar store, keep these simple things in mind. It can help you weed out the sub-par ones from that make and model of your dreams. You don't have to buy that $2000 Martin to get a great sounding guitar. If it's the right fit for you, sounds good to you and is properly set up, it can last you a long time.