Best Blues Guitar – Buying Guide & Reviews

If you’re reading this I’ll assume you love blues music and are looking for the best blues guitar. Fortunately for you, you’ve stumbled upon one of the most comprehensive guides to buying a blues guitar on the internet. In this article we cover the key things you’ll want to look out for when buying a blues guitar, and we look at both acoustic and electric guitars.

Eastman E20 Parlor Guitar

If you’re in a rush, here’s the products we review further down the page. If you’re new to all this, I advise you read the whole article as you’ll get a really good grounding on the subject.

Best Acoustic Blues Guitar

PREVIEW PRODUCT FEATURES

Fender CP-60S Right Handed Acoustic Guitar - Parlor Body - Natural

Fender CP-60S Parlor Acoustic Guitar
  • Mahogany neck and body
  • X bracing
  • Solid spruce top
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlor - Appalachia Cloudburst

Gretsch G9511 Single-0 Parlor
  • X bracing
  • Solid Sikta spruce top
  • 12 fret neck
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Gretsch G9200 Roundneck Boxcar, Natural

Gretsch G9200 Roundneck Boxcar
  • Laminated mahogany back, top and sides
  • 12 fret neck
  • Aluminium resonator
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Eastman E20 Parlor Traditional Flattop Acoustic Guitar

Eastman E20 Parlor
  • Hand-carved X bracing
  • Solid Adirondack spruce top
  • Solid Rosewood back and sides
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Martin 000-15M - Natural

Martin 000-15M
  • 14 fret neck
  • X bracing
  • Solid mahogany
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Taylor 522e 12-Fret Grand Concert

Taylor 522e Grand Concert
  • 12 fret neck
  • Solid mahogany top, back and sides
  • Pickup and preamp
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Ok, here’s what we cover in this article. We start with a brief look at where it all started, then look at the features you commonly find with acoustic blues guitars. From there we looking at considerations when buying one of these and finally we review our favourite blues guitars.

The Blues Guitar – How it All Began

It’s good to look back at what the original blues players used to help inform you when buying a new blues guitar. First, let’s remind ourselves how good ‘real’ blues sounds. Here’s Son House’s Death Letter Blues:

Blues music originated in the Deep South of the United States as early as the 1870s. Plantation workers, brought over from Africa as part of the slave trade to work in dreadful conditions, has suffered a profound cultural dislocation. Blues music came to express those struggles.

Purveyors of the style such as Charlie Patton, Willie Brown and Son House combined skilled rhythmic playing with techniques such as slapping the guitar’s body and playing it in unconventional positions. Some of the earlier blues played guitars by manufacturers Stella, Gibson (their ‘Kalamazoo’ line of acoustic guitars were popular, as were their L series) and of course Martin guitars.

Buying an Acoustic Blues Guitar – Key Considerations

There are some features that guitars traditionally used for acoustic blues have in common.

Which Type of Blues Guitar?

Traditional blues guitars have much smaller bodies than your standard acoustic guitars. Smaller bodies produce less sustain than larger bodies, giving you a down-to-earth, clean sound. They also bring out high end frequencies, producing piercing notes which can cut through and make you feel. The smallest bodied guitars are called ‘parlor’ guitars, whilst the next size up is a ‘Size 0 concert’ guitar. Both of these sizes are well suited to acoustic blues music.

Another type of acoustic blues guitar is the Resonator guitar. These use metal cones to amplify their sound and are often favoured by bottleneck/slide players due to their high action and distinctive tone. They are often played in ‘lap steel style’, where the guitarist lies the guitar across their lap before using the slide. However, they can also be held conventionally.

Ladder or X Bracing

Ladder bracing is when the wood that supports the guitar’s top is arranged inside the body like a ladder. This way of bracing the top leads to a spacious, airy top-support, which results in a higher, top-end tone. It’s a cheaper way of bracing the guitar than the now-common X bracing, and was how 1920s and 1930s Gibson guitars managed to produce low-end products which could compete with cheaper brands (who were also using ladder bracing). If you’re looking for an authentic 1920s/1930s blues sound, finding a guitar with ladder bracing is key to achieving that.

X bracing is more commonly seen today, on flat top guitars and other acoustics. Like ladder bracing, its name is descriptive. The wood to support the guitar’s top is arranged like an X shape, which enables a tighter, more focused mid-range sound. These guitars also give out a louder sound than those which use ladder bracing. It has become the norm for us to consider this volume to be the natural volume of an acoustic guitar, although the impact of the bracing on this amplification is often overlooked.

Mahogany Tonewood

Guitars used for playing the blues often have a mahogany back. They also frequently have mahogany sides and a mahogany top. Mahogany is a high-quality wood which is favoured for its punchy qualities and delivers a dark sound. It brings out mid-range tones, giving your guitar sound more clarity, and it tends to get better as it matures with age.

12-14 Frets

These guitars often just have 12 frets before the neck reaches the body. 12 fret guitars can suit people with a smaller frame as there’s less far to reach when playing in open positions. These guitars also have lower bridges than usual, which enables them to sound full and warm. It was mainly 12 fret guitars which were used in early blues music, so those seeking to recreate that sound will be best opting for one of these. 14 fret guitars offer a brighter sound, with a greater emphasis on high frequencies. They also have the obvious benefit of easier access to higher frets, which is a must for players who might want to slide from fret 12 to 14. These guitars are often preferred by larger players, or those who just love the brightness that they offer.

If you want something that’s a bit more versatile, to play blues and beyond on, you might be best opting for a ‘normal’ guitar (e.g. a sturdy dreadnought which is made of mahogany and has a wide neck).

Slotted Headstock

Traditionally, acoustic blues guitars also have a slotted headstock like the ones you typically see on classical guitars.
They’re called ‘slotted’ headstocks because the strings go through bars which are slotted into the headstock. Some people believe that this produces a crisper tone than a solid headstock, however, this tonal difference is debatable, and many people choose slotted over solid for aesthetics alone. Solid headstocks can be sturdier, and many people actually prefer the way they look over slotted ones.

Nut Size

Guitars’ nut size varies from 43mm to 51mm. Acoustic blues guitars usually have a nut width of 44-47mm, with 47mm being especially suited to raw blues playing. This wider neck gives you easy access to each string and lends itself to fingerstyle playing as well as techniques like hybrid picking or ‘chicken pickin’’.

Will You be Playing Live?

Some acoustic blues guitars also include a pickup, making them electro-acoustic. If you’re planning on playing in front of an audience, this can be a really handy feature to have already fitted. Without one, you will be required to either stand still and close to a mic, or to fit a pickup after buying the guitar. If you’re planning on playing live, you might also require strap buttons. Although these guitars are very small and lightweight, the support of a strap can be very useful, so it’s worth checking whether or not they’re included.

Another thing to look out for if you’re planning on taking your guitar out to gigs is whether or not it comes with a gig bag or hard case. These can be expensive to buy separately, so it’s worth making the most of a bundle offer.

C or V Shaped Neck?

Acoustic blues guitars usually come with either a C shaped neck or a V shaped neck. C shaped necks are most common, and have a comfortable ‘C’ shaped design which is shallow and easy to get small hands around. Some players prefer V shaped necks, and these are more in keeping with vintage guitars. These can come as soft Vs which are rounded or hard Vs which are pointy. The pointy ones suit players who like to have their thumb over the edge of the fretboard, to play D/F# chords and other thumb-demanding shapes.

Laminate or Solid Top?

Something else to consider before you get excited by the fact that a guitar is mahogany is whether or not the top is solid or laminate.

Laminate mahogany can still offer a good quality sound, but it’s less pure as it combines other materials with mahogany to create the same amount of material by using less wood. It’s commonly found on cheaper guitars and offers a sound that’s inferior to solid tops. If a guitar has a solid mahogany or sikta top, it is of higher quality, is better crafted and will have a superior tone.

Product Round-up and Mini Reviews – Best Acoustic Guitars fo Blues

So, now you know what to look out for in acoustic blues guitars, let’s have a look at some of the best ones currently on the market.

To make it easier for you, we’ve split this into budget, mid-priced and high-end guitars.

Best Budget Acoustic Blues Guitars

Fender CP-60S Parlor Acoustic Guitar

Fender CP-60S Right Handed Acoustic Guitar - Parlor Body - Natural

The Fender CP-60S Parlor is a parlor-sized guitar with a 14-fret neck (before it reaches the body). It is made of mahogany, making it true to the original blues guitars and meaning that it sounds rich and smooth with well-balanced tones.

It has a rosewood fingerboard with rolled edges, and a new ‘easy to play’ neck shape. There are also strap-buttons, which make the guitar easy to handle whilst on stage or multitasking.

It has a solid spruce top, which makes the notes ring brightly and is especially suited to fingerpicking or flatpicking. There is also X bracing, which helps the small guitar to release significant volume and gives it a focused, mid-range tone.

The headstock is solid, with the Fender logo on it and it adds to the sturdy quality of the instrument.

It will be suited to those who want a high-quality instrument that is true to original blues guitars in terms of looks and tone but also includes more modern design features.

It will be less suited for people looking to play slide guitar, or for those who prefer the aesthetic of a slotted headstock.

PROS

  • The neck and body are all mahogany, which is in keeping with original blues guitars and enables a rich, smooth sound.
  • X bracing boosts the dreadnought’s natural resonance, making a powerful guitar for both rhythm and lead playing.
  • Solid spruce top enhances the resonance even further.

CONS

  • Solid headstock isn’t true to some original blues guitars.
  • There are no built-in electronics.
  • 14 frets before the body rather than 12.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Gretsch G9511 Single-0 Parlor

Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0 Parlor - Appalachia Cloudburst

The Gretsch G9511 is a 12-fret guitar which has laminated mahogany backs and sides with a solid sikta spruce top.

The sound is rich and resonant, with a surprising amount of volume owing to its X bracing. The low bridge also gives it a fullness which is silky as well as clean.

There are open back tuners which give the guitar a more vintage appearance, and there’s a larger lower bout than upper bout like the L series Gibsons.

The fingerboard is Rosewood, guaranteeing a smooth playing experience and adding to the silkiness of the tone, and it has a slim, C shaped neck which makes it easy to handle and comfortable to play.

There are no strap-buttons, which some players might miss but the guitar is so light that you don’t really need them.

It will be suited to players who like the richness of a 12-fret guitar and have a smaller frame.

It might suit larger players less, and it’s not the most appropriate guitar for slide/bottleneck style playing.

PROS

  • X bracing boosts the mid tones and makes this instrument sound both full and pristine.
  • Solid Sikta spruce top and laminated mahogany backs and sides deliver an excellent resonance.
  • 12 fret neck enables a warmer, more rich sound.

CONS

  • Laminated back and sides.
  • No strap buttons.
  • No built-in electronics.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Best Mid Priced Acoustic Blues Guitars

Gretsch G9200 Roundneck Boxcar

Gretsch G9200 Roundneck Boxcar, Natural

The Gretsch G9200 is a resonator guitar which also has two f holes.

Its body, back, top and sides are all made of laminated mahogany, giving it a tone that’s consistently rich and reliable.

The neck shape is a soft V, making it seem extra old-school, and it has a long body design which is in keeping with 1930s resonator guitars.

The resonator cones are made of pure aluminium, giving them an impressive volume and quality and making this an excellent choice for players wishing to play slide guitar.

There are no strap buttons, but it’s unlikely that you’d need them if you’re playing with the guitar across your lap. The headstock is also solid, with ‘GRETSCH’ written in huge letters to proudly exhibit that you’re playing an instrument of quality.

Whilst it’s perfect for slide guitarists, the G9200 will be less suited to guitarists who are looking for an instrument to play fingerstyle acoustic blues on.

PROS

  • Laminated mahogany back, top and sides give the guitar a rich resonance.
  • 12 fret neck enables a warm, rich sound.
  • Aluminium resonator cone delivers an impressive volume and exceptional quality of tone.

CONS

  • No strap buttons.
  • Not as versatile as some other blues guitars.
  • No internal electronics.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Best High End Acoustic Blues Guitars

Eastman E20 Parlor

Eastman E20 Parlor Traditional Flattop Acoustic Guitar

The Eastman E20 Parlor has solid rosewood back and sides, giving it a warm, smooth and high-quality sound. There is also hand-carved X bracing, which gives it an organic richness and encourages precision of tone.

There are 12 frets before the neck reaches the body, so it’s true to original blues guitars and comfortable to hold. There’s also a c-shaped neck.

There’s a solid Adirondack spruce top which makes this guitar really sing and the fingerboard, bridge and bridge pins are all ebony.

This guitar also has a slotted headstock, so it really looks true to those vintage blues guitars.
It comes with your choice of LR Baggs, SL or Element electronics, so you can plug this guitar in on stage and it’s well suited to the professional musician who wants to do just that.

It will be less suited to those on a budget or to musicians looking for something more suited to slide guitar.

PROS

  • Solid Adirondack spruce top offers a superior resonance and fine craftmanship.
  • Hand-carved X bracing is well-built and produces a sound that’s precise yet rich.
  • Solid rosewood back and sides gives it a warm, smooth sound.
  • 12 fret neck and slotted headstock make it true to original blues guitars.

CONS

  • No strap buttons.
  • Very expensive

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Martin 000-15M

Martin 000-15M - Natural

The Martin 000-15M is made entirely of solid mahogany giving it consistency with its rich, warm tone.

There’s a 14 fret neck on this one which increases your fretting options and gives the guitar a brighter attack then 12 fret guitars.

There ix X bracing to boost volume and give the sound depth and both the fingerboard and the headplate are made of solid East Indian Rosewood. The neck is a modified low oval shape, so
it’s comfortable to hold.

This guitar looks and sounds smooth, and can come with a premium fitted pickup – though this is a limited edition bonus feature.

With or without the pickup, the tone is both classic and quality and even benefits from a solid sikta spruce top.

Like the Eastman, the Martin 000-15M is perfect for the professional musician who plays the blues. The 14 fret neck might be better suited to those with a larger frame, or those who prefer a brighter sound. It also has a solid headstock, which some people prefer over slotted headstocks.

This guitar will be less suited to musicians who require an exceptionally small scale, or those who are looking for a slide guitar.

PROS

  • Solid mahogany neck, top back and sides give it a rich, warm tone.
  • 14 fret neck gives it a bright attack and increases your fretting options.
  • X bracing boosts the mid tones, giving the guitar a full sound.

CONS

  • No strap buttons.
  • Doesn’t always come with internal electronics.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Taylor 522e Grand Concert

Taylor 522e 12-Fret Grand Concert

The Taylor 522e is a 12 fret electro-acoustic guitar which is made entirely of solid mahogany.
It has a rich tone both acoustically and plugged in, and the buit-in pickup is designed by Taylor using their ever-improving technology.

There is also innovative bracing on this guitar, designed by Taylor to bring out the best tones for its specific shape.

There is a slotted headstock, making it true to the aesthetic of vintage guitars and a v shaped
neck.

The Taylor 522e is a good looking, excellent sounding, professional guitar which is well suited to the stage as well as in the studio.

It will be less suited to musicians looking for a purely acoustic instrument.

PROS

  • 12 fret neck gives it a vintage vibe and enables a warmer, more rich sound.
  • Solid mahogany top, back and sides gives it a rich resonance.
  • Includes expression 2 pickup and preamp, which provides natural sounding amplification.

CONS

  • No strap buttons.
  • No pick guard.
  • Very expensive.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

 

Summary

As you can see, there are several decent acoustic blues guitars on the market, and the one you choose will largely be dependent on your budget, body size and style of playing.

If you’re a slide fanatic, the resonator Gretsch G9200 will be the best option for laying on your lap and running a bottle neck down.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly beginner’s guitar, the Fender CP-60S or the Gretsch G9511 are two excellent options to choose from. If you prefer brighter tones, the Fender’s 14 fret neck will achieve that, whereas the Gretsch offers the classic look and tone of a 12 fret neck.

Those who are looking for something to be used professionally have the choice of the Eastman E20 Parlor, the Martin 000-15M or the Taylor 522e. The Eastman and the Taylor are both 12 fret guitars, giving them a warmth as well as a vintage vibe. The Martin has 14 frets before the neck meets the body, which some people may prefer as it gives you more options and can be easier to hold for those with a larger frame.

Whichever guitar you decide is right for you, we hope that these reviews have helped you as you continue your journey into the joys of playing the blues.

 

 

Featured image: Jerry Welsh (www.jerrysleftyguitars.com)

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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