The Top 5 Guitars For Bluegrass Reviewed
Bluegrass is a unique sound. Country tinged with Appalachian strains, folk music on steroids, call it what you will, it’s a sound that speaks to lots of people, and many musicians, both professional and amateur, practised and beginner, yearn to play it, to add their interpretation to the body of the music, to put smiles on faces and to free the inner music of their hearts.
But bluegrass, like most forms of music, is a meeting of the musician and the instrument. In guitars, the better and richer your bracing and your tonewoods, the more satisfying your bluegrass sound will be, the more people will immediately recognise it, and nod, and respond to it – and that includes you as you play.
With that in mind, how do you choose the best guitar as you learn, as you play, as you master the sound, the tone and the soul of bluegrass music?
The Best Guitars For Bluegrass
Let us show you the best guitars for bluegrass.
In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.
Choosing a bluegrass guitar is like choosing a partner. You want one you can laugh with, sing with, that can appreciate and amplify your heart when you play it. The Taylor 214ce is a great-natured bluegrass companion, no matter what your mood.
While many of the better, more friendly bluegrass guitars use the Dreadnought design, Taylor’s 214ce is leaner in the waist and, like a friend trying to be helpful, has a cutaway for user-friendly access to the frets. That’s extra thought made visible in the making of a great bluegrass guitar.
In particular, the cutaway makes the 214ce accessible to bluegrass enthusiasts who might struggle with fuller, more broad-waisted instruments – with the user-friendly cutaway, it doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, you’ll be getting the tempo of bluegrass music faster and with much less hassle.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, the action can be lowered, which makes it a great option for those more used to electric guitars.
You want to know about the wood, don’t you?
The back and sides are made of Indian rosewood – the favorite guitar wood of many bluegrass players, for that extra drop of claret sweetness it gives to the tone. Meanwhile, the top is made of Sitka spruce, which means your sound plays right through the guitar and your fingerpicking rings out crisp and clear.
And the bracing?
Well, all Taylor bracing for its steel-string models like the Grand Auditorium Cutaway is a form of X-bracing. The X delivers a continuous flow of strength from the upper bout to the lower bout, which gives you rigidity despite the soundhole being in the middle of the soundboard. The K DLX variant of the 214ce moves the X closer to the soundhole, and also gives you Taylor’s Relief Rout, a technique involving a groove carved along the inside edges of the top to enhance the guitar’s tone even further.
One of the differences that make the Grand Auditorium Cutaway our top pick is its ability to sweetly deliver the best of both worlds – the flatpicking ease of a Dreadnought and the fingerstyling precision of a Grand Concert.
The Grand Auditorium allows you a wider range of options to express yourself and your skills across the range of bluegrass technique.
You get a distinctive voice with the Grand Auditorium Cutaway, robust enough for some pretty strong picking but clear and balanced across the mid-range, a fact which has made singer-songwriters embrace it in recent years and made the Grand Auditorium Taylor’s bestselling shape of bluegrass guitar.
For its versatility, its accessibility, its sweetness of tone and its robustness for fingerpicking, more even than for its proven reputation with singer-songwriters or its legions of happy customers, the Grand Auditorium Cutaway is our best guitar for bluegrass.
- Accessible to shorter guitarists because of its cutaway
- Accessible to electric guitarists through its droppable action
- Rosewood adds sweetness to the tone
- Best of both worlds in terms of bluegrass techniques
- Spruce top means clear fingerpicking
- Robust to at least medium strength fingerpicking
- Some more experienced bluegrass guitarists might find it neither one thing nor the other
- Some feel that while it delivers as an acoustic, it fails as an electric
- "Shape: Grand Auditorium Number of Strings: 6 Back/Side Wood: Layered Rosewood Scale length: 25-1/2"" Top Wood: Sitka Spruce Body Length: 20"" Electronics: Expression System Body Width: 16"" Cutaway: Venetian Body Depth: 4-5/8"" Nut and Saddle: NuBone Nut/Tusq Saddle Neck Width: 1-11/16"" Neck/Heel: Sapele Bracing: Forward Shifted Pattern Fretboard Wood: Ebony Fretboard Inlay: Small Diamonds Headstock Overlay: Indian Rosewood Binding:"
- Number of Strings: 6
- Back/Side Wood: Layered Rosewood
- "Scale length: 25-1/2"""
- Top Wood: Sitka Spruce
The Ford Model T. The McDonalds hamburger. The Apollo 11.
Some things are classic, their look and their feel and their performance baked into the history of their world.
The Martin D-28 Dreadnought is the Model T of bluegrass guitars.
Since Martin launched its first D-28, it’s been a fundamental part of the American music scene. It still is.
The ultimate musical expression of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ the Martin D-28 Dreadnought is a platinum pass to delivering authentic bluegrass tone and sweetness, because it’s been a fundamental part of the sounds you’ve heard, the sounds of the bones of bluegrass.
With a back and sides of solid East Indian rosewood, topped with Sitka spruce, it brings the well-balanced acoustic tone, warmth and punchy volume to deliver classic bluegrass.
That means you’re paying for a part in a historic chain of guitarists, but you’re by no means just paying for nostalgia. You’re paying for the quality, the tone, the clarity and the power that have built that nostalgia.
With the familiar Dreadnought shape and its recognizable shoulders, the Martin D-28 delivers the deep bluegrass sound that resonates in your bones, and clear projection so you reach every listener in the room with the clarity of your intention.
With a proven balance between fingerboard and string action, the Martin D-28 delivers the tone and sound people understand as bluegrass.
To play real, rich, historically connected bluegrass, you need pronounced sweet bass notes, you need balance and you need strong projection. The D-28 Dreadnought has been delivering that through a hundred years of bluegrass evolution. It more than deserves its second place on our list of the best guitars for bluegrass.
- Historic bluegrass tone
- Rosewood body and sides for sweet tones
- Sitka spruce top for clarity and projection
- Balanced acoustic tone
- Boxy shoulders might put off some electric guitarists
- Body Body type: D-14 Fret Cutaway: Non-cutaway Top wood: Sitka Spruce Back & sides: East Indian rosewood Bracing pattern: Non scalloped X-type Body finish: Gloss Orientation: Right handed Neck Neck shape: Low profile Standard Taper Nut width: 1.69" (43mm) Fingerboard: Ebony Neck wood: Select Hardwood Scale length: 25.4" Number of frets: 20 Neck finish: Satin Electronics Pic
- The tone of the Martin D-28 Acoustic Guitar is what separates it from all other guitars
- It has a solid Sitka spruce top with glossy finish, special East Indian rosewood for the polished back and sides, and genuine ebony fingerboard and bridge
- With its rich, resonant warmth and punchy volume, the D-28 is particularly well-suited to music styles requiring loud, powerful rhythm accompaniment
- Includes Martin deluxe hardshell case and limited lifetime warranty
The Taylor 224ce-K DLX Deluxe might strike some hardcore bluegrass guitarists as an unusual choice for this list, because unlike the first two options, it doesn’t have the rosewood body and sides you might expect, being built instead of Hawaiian Koa, and also with a Koa top.
That Koa construction brings a brightness to its sound which might take some getting used to within a bluegrass tonal palate, but don’t let that stop you from choosing it. While it’s bright at first, the more you play it, the more the brightness deepens into a rich bluegrass sound with a twinkle in its eye.
Like the Taylor at the top of our list, the 224ce-K DLX Deluxe brings a Grand Auditorium body shape and a Venetian cutaway to the party, meaning it delivers that same accessibility to guitarists with a broader range of skill and experience.
The sound of this guitar is akin to a good pair of boots. Shiny and a little stiff to begin with, it gets better the more you use it, growing richer and softer and sweeter every time you play.
What the 224ce-K DLX Deluxe especially brings though is a versatility – it absolutely delivers the bass and projection you need for more than decent bluegrass, but you can also use it to specialize in other types of music too. It’s got a forgiving heart that will let you get your country vibe on, and will help you wherever else your musical journey takes you. It’s also among the most visually striking bluegrass guitars on the market.
Its forgiving nature, its accessibility and its growing richness in tone earn it a place on this list, and in your guitar collection.
- Venetian cutaway allows guitarists of any height and arm-length to play
- Grand Auditorium body shape makes it an accessible option
- The tone gets richer and sweeter the more you play
- Stunning aesthetic
- Koa is not among the classic bluegrass woods
- Has a brightness to its tone at first that might turn off some bluegrass fans
- Grand Auditorium Body w/Solid Hawaiian Koa Top & Layered Koa Back/Sides
- 25.5"-Scale Sapele Neck w/Ebony Fingerboard w/1-11/16" Nut Width
- Taylor Expression System 2 Electronics
- Full Shaded Edgeburst Gloss Finish, Chrome Tuners, Ebony Bridge w/Micarta Saddle, and Tusq Nut
- Includes Deluxe Hardshell Case.
Blueridge may not be as famous as the likes of Martin or Gibson, but it has a reputation for making high-quality guitars that balance recognizable sounds with rich tones, and modern construction methods which evolve the craft of instrument-making.
There’s the coveted rosewood in the BR-140, though it’s not in the base and sides, but in the neck. The base and sides are actually made of mahogany, which brings a warmth with more of a gruff catch in its voice than the honey sweetness of the rosewood.
It does share similarities with some of our list-leaders though, with a Sitka spruce top delivering clear, powerful mid-range tones, which almost challenge you to give your fingerpicking all it’s got. The handmade braces use a conventional forward X design and a neck joint.
There’s a joy in the craftmanship that goes into the BR-140, and in the blending of old-fashioned tone knowledge with new-fangled production methods. It’s a guitar that, thirty years from now, people will envy alongside the Martins and the Taylors, because it’s advancing what a bluegrass guitar can be, and how it can sound.
What’s more is that the use of modern guitar-making methods means it delivers superior value for money, being available for significantly under a thousand dollars.
For something old, something new, something cool and something bluegrass, the BR-140 hits all the right notes, and encourages you to hit them too. It’s a great budget-friendly alternative to the more traditional heavy hitters, and it manages, even with its low cost, to share some tonal characteristics with those bigger players.
You can either watch as the BR-140 becomes an increasingly respected bluegrass guitar, or you can get your own and be part of the wave.
- Rich tones from mahogany body
- Crisp projection from the Sitka spruce top
- Invites rapid fingerpicking
- Balanced mid-section sound
- Modern production methods
- Low cost delivery of high-quality bluegrass sound
- Traditionalists might not appreciate its production methods
- Mahogany, rather than rosewood for the body and sides
- Solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped braces gives you clean articulation and a crisp, bright tone
- Solid mahogany back and sides for robust, warm resonance.Scale length: 25.6 inch
- Slim mahogany neck offers fast, easy action and inherently long-lasting stability
- Choice Santos rosewood fingerboard ensures silky smooth playability
- Every Blueridge now comes with an exclusive sturdy, padded Blueridge logo bag
Talk to most serious bluegrass fans and guitarists about Martin guitars, and they’ll probably tell you to go with a D-28. There’s nothing wrong with that view – the D-28 scores highly on our list too, because oh, that sound.
But it would be a serious mistake either to overlook or to underestimate the desirability for bluegrass of the D-18 model.
You can fancy up your guitar all you like, but there’s something fundamental about the richness, depth, clarity and balance it delivers, time after time after time, that makes the D-18 a popular choice
You can almost teach the D-18 tricks, and it will not only forgive you but enjoy the game – it’s famous for its ability to both boom and whisper, and so bring the heart and the itch and the occasional foot stomp of bluegrass to a room like it’s a real part of the experience.
With a mahogany back and sides, spruce top and forward-shifted, X scalloped bracing, it’s been updated since the days in which it originally made its name, and the strategic refinements improve the guitar’s flexibility, strength and rigidity. It’s a guitar almost begging to be proved.
The all-new neck has a slimmer taper than the old D-18 you may be used to. That makes for a faster neck which has won the new D-18 fans even over its own predecessor model.
If we’re talking tone, the new D-18 is much more responsive than its predecessor. While like many bluegrass guitars, the tone will warm and mellow the more you play it, that responsiveness lets you do more, and even inspires you to think creatively about what you can get out of a bluegrass guitar.
Whether you’re fingerstyling like an angel or playing it with a full-on pick, the D-18 doesn’t want to let you down or misbehave – it gives you a balanced, rounded sound whatever you try to do with it.
It may not score highly on our list of best guitars for bluegrass yet, but the competition on this list is really stiff. That means there’s no bad guitar here for bluegrass. These are up there among the best of the best. Pick the one that suits your style and personality and you’re going to have a love affair with a guitar that’s full of bluegrass heart.
- Classic richness you’d expect of the D-18
- New neck is extra responsive
- Balanced mid-section
- Very forgiving guitar
- Fans of the old D-18 might find the tone less rich than they’re used to
- Powerful dreadnought design
- Great-sounding combination of solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides
- Modified low oval neck profile with high performance taper
- Smooth black ebony fingerboard
- Bone nut and compensated saddle for improved sustain and intonation
Best Guitars For Bluegrass: A Buyer’s Guide
When buying a bluegrass guitar, look for an instrument that suits your moods, and that you always want to turn to and play.
Riches Are In The Heart
Most bluegrass afficionados will tell you to get a guitar with a rosewood back and sides, because rosewood is traditional for bluegrass.
But there are other tonewoods that give you options on the sounds you want to make and add to the bluegrass heritage – Koa, mahogany etc. Are you looking for the sweet sounds of tradition or does something more modern speak to you?
Choose your tonewood carefully, and make sure it resonates with the sound of you.
Watch Your Mid-Section
Balance in the mid-section is important in bluegrass – look for a guitar that helps you through that section and has a forgiving nature.
All those on our list are exceptional through the mid-section, so you can’t go wrong, but look for a guitar that makes a virtue of its mid-section balance or your transitions could be unnecessarily shaky.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much should I spend on a bluegrass guitar?
As much as you can afford, as long as you get a guitar that helps you play.
Don’t over-extend yourself getting thousands of dollars worth of prime guitar real estate like a D-28 or a 214ce if you’re not going to do them justice. There are some great guitars that are classics of tomorrow, like the Blueridge BR-140, that you can pick up for under a thousand dollars.
What’s more, while the heavyweight classics will help you replicate the sounds of traditional bluegrass, you need a guitar that will specifically help you to play your songs, your way. If that means paying for a D-28, then save up and do it by all means – it’s an astonishing bluegrass guitar.
But if you’re at all unsure of spending that much, don’t. Buy lower down the ladder, get better, learn what your bluegrass soul sounds like, and then buy again.
Does a bluegrass guitar have to be rosewood?
Absolutely not. Rosewood is favored by many bluegrass guitarists, because there’s an undeniable sweetness to the sound you can get out of a guitar with rosewood in its construction, but even on this list, other woods have made a name for themselves, particularly mahogany, which brings a real rich warmth to bear. Go with the guitar that sounds most like the songs you want to play and the sounds you want to hear.
How to play a bluegrass guitar
Bluegrass is relatively easy to learn, but this video will help you get started on the right foot: