Any discussion of the best instrument ignores a major factor in the music-making equation -- the player. When it comes to acoustic guitars, this is particularly a factor given the range of playing styles that can be brought to different guitar designs. But over time, some makers and models remain at the top of game, serving as benchmarks for the competition. Knowledge of the top manufacturers helps as a starting point for shopping, as well as comparisons with other makers.
C.F. Martin & Co.
With a lineage dating back to 1833, no discussion of the best acoustic guitars can ignore the Martin name. Known for superior craftsmanship across its product line, Martin guitars remain under family ownership. In a 2014 article on high-end acoustics, Guitar Player Magazine reviewed the OM-18 Authentic 1933 model and spoke highly of its no-frills design elegance and well-executed woodwork. Its sound was loud and very clear, with good definition between strings. While having a heavy neck by contemporary standards, it is supportive of the fretting hand and playable.
While Martin defines old-world standards brought forward, Taylor guitars use innovative manufacturing techniques with superior attention to detail. The result is a line of instruments generally regarded for great sound combined with very easy playing. The 40th anniversary edition of Taylor's best-selling 814ce model has improved upon previous models with character of tone that recalls well-regarded vintage instruments. Taylor's trademark thin neck maintains the playability for which Taylor is noted.
Though noted in the rock era for its Les Paul and SG models, Gibson's history dates back to 1894 as a guitar and mandolin maker. The company's J-45, Hummingbird and Jumbo model guitars figured heavily in the post-World War II era. Though the company has undergone both changes of fortune and ownership, high-end Gibson acoustics maintain the brand's reputation. For example, the SJ-200 Western Classic reveals a guitar steeped in cosmetic extras, while remaining easy to play with a full, twangy sound.
Takamine guitars date back to 1959 and a small family-run company in Japan. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that the brand went world-wide and as an early innovator in bridge pickups and onboard electronics, Takamines became popular stage guitars. Though heavily vested in acoustic-electric design, the company's instruments stand up well in strictly acoustic settings. The 2014 P6JC model is noted for its bold sound and even balance. The narrow neck improves playability for electric guitar players moving to an acoustic instrument.
A newcomer to the high-end acoustic guitar scene, Breedlove's instruments made their entrance featuring asymmetrical design elements that stood out from traditional designs. While the company has added traditional guitar styles, models such as the Master Class Pacific continue the tradition of striking design. Guitar Player's Art Thompson compares the bridge to a ninja throwing star while complimenting the instrument's strong visual appeal. Though not a loud guitar, its tone is solid and balanced across the frequency range, with low action and playable neck.