5 Best Guitars for Fingerstyle in 2021 – Buyer’s Guide

Best Guitar for Fingerstyle

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Best Overall

Seagull S6 Original

My Rating:

5/5

Runner-Up

Takamine GD20-NS

My Rating:

4.5/5

Best Budget

YAMAHA FS800

My Rating:

4/5

Fingerstyle guitar is one of my favorite techniques—I love the beauty of harmonious melody lines played overtop a steady thumb-driven bass.

I’ve fingerpicked all sorts of guitars in my time and have a pretty solid opinion of what makes the best guitars for fingerstyle.

Whether you love the spunky bark of a parlor guitar or the commanding voice of a dreadnought, we’ve got you covered.  

Our top picks of the most responsive, melodic fingerstyle guitars cover a range of body types suited for all the many genres of fingerpick acoustic music.

In this post, we’ll look closer at the following guitars for fingerstyle:

Seagull S6 Original Acoustic Guitar
  • Made in North America
  • Select Pressure Tested Top
  • Double Action Truss Rod
  • Tapered Headstock for precise and stable tuning and…
  • Tusq nut and compensated saddle for better intonation

Takamine 6 String Acoustic Guitar, Right Handed, Natural (GD20-NS)
  • Solid cedar top with mahogany back and sides
  • Slim satin-finish mahogany neck and 12″-radius rosewood…
  • Split-saddle design of the pin-less rosewood bridge…
  • Bone nut and bridge saddle
  • Elegant Natural satin finish

YAMAHA FS800 Small Body Solid Top Acoustic Guitar, Natural
  • Solid sitka spruce top
  • Nato back & sides
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Rosewood bridge
  • Diecast tuners

Fender CP-140SE Acoustic-Electric Guitar with Case – Parlor Body Style…
  • Parlor body style
  • Solid spruce top with scalloped “X”-bracing
  • Rosewood back and sides
  • Easy-to-play neck with rolled fingerboard edges
  • Fishman Presys pickup/preamp

Every one of these axes is here based on extensive research and 27+ years of experience on our team.

Let’s first look at these fine acoustic guitars, and at the end of the post, you can find the FAQ section that helps you to make the best choice possible.

Use the table of content to jump to the section you want:

Best Guitars for Fingerstyle

Best Overall – Seagull S6 Original

Playability

With a full 25.5-inch scale length, an extra-wide nut (1.8-inches), and a neck setup for perfect playability, the Seagull S6 Original is a fingerpicker’s dream come true.

Although it is a full-size dreadnought, the luthiers at Seagull have taken several steps to make the S6 an easy-to-play acoustic.

Most notable are its cedar top and strong Sitka spruce bracing. What Seagull does is use only the highest-quality pressure-tested top woods. Guaranteeing the top’s strength lets them use lighter bracing, so the soundboard vibrates more freely.

This means you don’t have to play heavy-handed. Just a light touch is all that’s required to make the S6 sing.

So when you sit down with the S6, not only will you find that there’s ample string spacing to make complicated fingerpicking patterns easy, but also that it responds almost immediately to every movement of your hands.

Sound

This solid cedar top is paired in an unusual combination with laminated wild cherry for the back and sides.

Wild cherry is a really uncommon tonewood, but don’t let that turn you away. It adds brightness and clarity to the warmth of cedar that makes every note sparkle.

Even better, Seagull uses an extra-thin finish so that every part of the S6 can vibrate like it’s meant to, adding resonance and sustain to the beautiful voice of this acoustic.

With the powerful projection of its dreadnought body, this is a fingerstyle acoustic that sounds just as good under the heavy attack of a plastic pick as it does when played with gentle finger rolls.

Hear how this guitar sounds:

Quality

Though Seagull still isn’t one of the biggest names in acoustics, that’s not for lack of quality.

As a matter of fact, each of their guitars is handmade by a talented team of Canadian luthiers. All the wood used is hand-selected and graded before production, ensuring only the best tonewoods make it to market.

There’s really no detail overlooked in the construction of the S6. Seagull has specially designed their tops, their bracing, their headstocks, their neck joints—every aspect, really—to provide one of the highest-quality acoustics available.

You can read about all their special qualities here; it’s really something to behold.

Summary

Pros

  • High-quality craftsmanship using hand-selected tonewoods
  • Tapered headstock improves tuning stability and intonation
  • Wide nut width for accurate, easy fingerpicking

Cons

  • None

The Seagull S6 is one of my favorite acoustic guitars.

It’s extremely versatile! You can play smooth and soft for flowing earthy melodies or go full-force with a pick when you want to crank out some harder tunes.

Even though it’s sometimes marketed as an entry-level guitar, I’d recommend this to anyone honestly. 

It’s affordable enough for beginners but produces pro-level sounds with superb playability, making it my number one choice for fingerstyle guitar.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Runner-Up – Takamine GD20-NS

Playability

Takamine’s GD20-NS might not be the first guitar you’d think of when you’re looking for fingerstyle acoustics, but it’s got a lot going for it outside the usual selling points.

With a nut measuring 1.69-inches, you don’t have the string spacing that makes fingerstyle guitars ultra-playable. Still, if you learn to adjust your technique just a little, any change-over from a wider neck guitar will be easy in time.

And on the other hand, if you’re switching from electric to acoustic, you should feel right at home with this neck width.

Personally, I like this style of neck for all kinds of playing. It’s not too narrow that fingerpicking is hard, and the slim profile makes playing fast riffs in other genres a breeze.

Sound

The GD20’s tone is something special.

Unlike most dreadnoughts, this one is made with a solid cedar top, which changes the whole sound of the instrument.

Rather than the brash, bold sound of a spruce guitar, the cedar GD20 plays with a mellow smoothness. But it’s never muddy-sounding like an all-mahogany guitar can be.

Instead, every note is clear and articulate. And thanks to the responsiveness of the top, you don’t have to play hard to get the full sonic experience this guitar promises.

Hear how this guitar sounds:

Quality

There are a few extra cool things going for this Takamine that we can take a look at.

Maybe the first thing you’ll notice is that its saddle is split in two. The 5th and 6th string have their own shared saddle piece. This design ensures proper intonation at every point of the fingerboard so all your progressions are pitch-perfect.

The next nice oddity in this model is its pinless bridge. That’s right—no bridge pins to contend with.

If you’ve never dealt with a pinless bridge before, this might be a little intimidating. But there’s no secret when it comes to how to change strings on a pinless bridge; you simply slide them through the bottom end and thread them out like normal.

Once you get the hang of it (and learn to NOT scratch your soundboard with the ball-ends), I think you’ll wonder why more guitars aren’t made with this type of bridge.

Summary

Pros

  • Cedar and mahogany tonewood combo for a shimmering warm tone
  • Split-saddle design improves intonation
  • Pinless bridge makes string changes easy

Cons

  • Higher chance of top damage with pinless bridge
  • Narrow nut reduces string spacing

A punchy midrange, chill highs, and a mellow low end comprise the voice of the altogether lovely and quite affordable Takamine GD20.

Best suited for softer styles (no heavy-handed blues on this bad boy), you’ll love the rich warmth that’s so easily accessible in this fast-playing fingerstyle dreadnought. 

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Best Budget/Beginner Fingerstyle Guitar – Yamaha FS800

Playability

The Yamaha FS800 is an awesome budget concert guitar. 

Its narrow waist allows it to rest snugly on your thigh. And you can play in classical position just as easily thanks to its smaller bottom bout.

If you look at its specs, you’ll see its nut is actually a millimeter more narrow than what you typically want in a fingerstyle guitar.

But this only translates to again, a 1-millimeter difference in string width at the saddle. You’ve still got a whole .4-inches of space between each string for your picking hand.

It might take a little more precision than a wider neck, but it’s hardly a problem once you get used to it.

Sound

Honestly, there are few guitars at the same price point that sound as good as the Yamaha FS800.

Its solid spruce top provides a rich tone that is particularly clear in the middle and high ranges.

As a concert-shaped guitar, don’t expect a lot of bass response from the FS800. It’s a little disappointing due to the nato body, but there’s still enough low end there to carry your tunes.

If you love a bright guitar with a sharp attack, this is a good way to go. 

Hear how this guitar sounds:

Quality

It’s not very common to find a guitar with a solid top at this price so that works strongly in the FS800’s favor.

But, this is definitely an entry-level model, so be prepared for the typical problems that plague budget acoustics.

For instance, the tuning machines aren’t very stable. The fret edges might be sharp. The neck finish might feel tacky.

And lots of people complain about how high the action is when they first receive this model. Of course, all it takes is a trip to the guitar tech to fix most of these problems, but the FS800 may not be very fun to play right out of the box.

Summary

Pros

  • High-quality construction at a low cost
  • Shallow concert body projects focused tones
  • Optional accessory bundle with hard case, guitar stand, and more

Cons

  • Entry-level model with entry-level problems

With its small body, comfortable C-shaped neck, and high-quality spruce top, this is a good acoustic for beginners and intermediate players alike.

You might want something with a bit more projection if you’re planning to play out. But for all your in-home fingerstyle needs, the Yamaha FS800 has what it takes to be a great little folk guitar.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Best Parlor Guitar for Fingerstyle – Fender CP-140SE

Playability

You might be looking at this small Fender CP-140SE and thinking that it’s made for kids, but hold on a second before you pass!

Parlor guitars used to be one of the most popular types of acoustic. Although they’ve lost the spotlight to louder dreadnoughts over the years, parlors are still a great choice of guitar for fingerstyle.

Because it’s so small, you need very little attack to receive the full vibrational response of the CP-140SE, which means it’s perfect for fingerpicking.

Its neck is about average for acoustic width at 43mm, but there is one special feature here—the rolled fretboard edges.

Basically, the edges of the fingerboard are smoothed out and kind of rounded. This provides a playing surface that fits better with the natural curve of your fingers. 

It also makes it a lot easier to wrap your thumb around to fret bass notes.

Sound

The CP-140SE gets a lot of undeserved criticism from people who don’t realize what a parlor guitar is supposed to sound like.

You’re not gonna get the beefy bass that a dreadnought can provide—honestly, nowhere near as much.

This small body size makes for a voice that is, by some measures, boxy. It’s very tight and focused, without an excess of overtones (although the high-mids are particularly musical in my opinion.)

Its solid spruce top sings crisp and clear, smoothed out just a bit by the mahogany back and sides.

If you know what to expect, you’ll hear that Fender’s CP-140SE does an excellent job of capturing the truly vintage, historic tone of parlor acoustic guitars.

Hear how this guitar sounds:

Quality

A Fishman Presys preamp system further sets this parlor apart from the rest. If you don’t quite love the raw voice of the CP-140, onboard EQ enables you to plug-in and tweak your tone to your liking.

You still won’t get booming Bass of bigger acoustic guitars, but you can actually bring it up in the mix a fair amount with the Fishman preamp.

All other parts of this little acoustic carry the usual mid-range Fender quality. The tuners are dependable, the frets are polished nicely, and all-in-all everything is ready to play with maybe some minor adjustments.

Summary

Pros

  • Extra-small body size responds well to fingerstyle playing
  • Rolled fretboard edges for easy chording and thumb-fretting
  • Fishman Presys electronics with onboard EQ

Cons

  • “Tinny” parlor tone not ideal for all genres or players

Parlor guitars aren’t for everyone, but if you love the jingle-jangle of Piedmont blues and the rough-around-the-edges charm of Appalachian folk, you’ll love the Fender CP-140SE.

It’s a peppy, fun-to-play model with a spunky brilliant voice. One of the best parlor guitars at its price point, the CP-140SE is my top recommendation for small fingerstyle guitar.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

Best for Small Hands – Taylor Academy 12e

Playability

Now, like I’ve said before, I think just about any guitar is great for fingerstyle once you learn the basics.

Depending on just how hard-handed of a fingerpicker you are, the Taylor Academy 12e may or may not be right for you.

That’s because this model was made with beginners in mind, and it’s actually really easily playable for most general styles. But its extra-low action and shorter scale make the strings feel somewhat loose.

So if you pick hard and strong like I do (even with my fingertips, yes), you might find too much fret buzz in the 12e. 

But if you have a more delicate, precise technique, you’ll find the Academy to be really comfortable thanks to features like its integrated armrest and special slim neck profile. 

Sound

I guess there’s no surprise here—it is a Taylor, after all.

Yeah, of course the Academy 12e sounds great. Pairing a solid spruce top with sapele back and sides, you get a vibrant tone that’s rich in every range.

The Grand Concert body size reduces bass power and volume by only a little bit compared to dreadnoughts. At the same time, the mid-range is especially crisp and kicking, while highs sing clear and with huge amounts of sustain.

Another model with electronics, the Academy 12e is equipped with Taylor’s own Expression System 2 piezo pickup and preamp. Instead of 3-band EQ, you’re given a tone knob to roll off the high-end, plus the added perk of an onboard tuner.

Hear how this guitar sounds:

Quality

Again, we’re looking at a Taylor, so you can expect a much better than average build quality.

So, everything’s pretty top-notch and there’s not much to complain about. You’ve got a great-sounding pickup system, smooth, easy playability, quality hardware, and more—like Taylor’s signature picking hand armrest. 

Would I prefer another body wood over sapele and maybe a real bone nut and saddle? Sure—but Taylor makes perfect use of their materials in the Academy 12 to craft a guitar I wouldn’t really change a thing about. As one of the biggest names in acoustic guitars, I trust they know what they’re doing. 

Summary

Pros

  • Taylor quality at a relatively low cost
  • Expression System 2 pickup and preamp for tone-true amplification
  • Grand concert body for easy playability and good articulation

Cons

  • Low action and short scale length limit hard-playing ability

If you’re the kind of player who dreams of owning a Martin or Taylor, the Academy 12e is a great entry-point into the world of high-class acoustics.

Though I would say it’s too expensive to be a starter guitar, it’s a beautiful-sounding model for intermediate players to upgrade to.

The Academy 12e’s low action and smaller body let you play with next to no effort, so your fingerstyle jams can go on for hours.

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

 

The Verdict

I’ve had such a rewarding time as a musician playing budget-end guitars, I’ll probably never own a Taylor. While there’s prestige in the name and obvious quality of sound and construction, I think many lower-cost options provide much more in both tone and playability than the Academy 12e.

For perfect pitch and playability in all genres—not just folk and blues—the Seagull S6 is one of the best fingerstyle guitars around. 

Made to the highest quality with no detail overlooked, this is an acoustic you could proudly play for the rest of your life.

 

FAQ

What Makes a Great Fingerstyle Guitar?

The number one thing you need for a great fingerstyle guitar is…

Good fingers! (har har)

But all joking aside, to find a guitar that will sing beneath your fingertips, there are a few key traits to look for:

Responsive Tops and Tonewoods

One of the things that influence fingerstyle guitar playing the most is that your fingers offer a much softer attack than a plastic pick.

To make up for this loss of picking power, a guitar needs to be responsive—meaning it produces higher amounts of volume with lower amounts of energy.

Many different things affect a guitar’s responsiveness and overall tone, such as:

  • Body shape
  • Body size
  • Bracing style
  • Tonewoods
  • String gauge
  • Nut and saddle material

But the most important to keep in mind—those with the biggest influence that are most easy to shop for—are body style and tonewood choice.

Body Style

Although you can technically play fingerstyle on any shape and size of guitar, to get the most out of your sound you’ll want a smaller body.

In general, acoustics with smaller bodies, like Concert or Parlor guitars, will have a more focused sound. Their tones are usually more balanced between the low and high ranges than dreadnoughts because of their bottom bout reduction.

Why’s this good for fingerstyle? In contrast to rhythm-based strumming styles, fingerstyle has more emphasis on single notes than on volume and projection. A good balance between the bass parts and the melody lines is essential for the best fingerstyle tone.

Now you might be asking, “Are dreadnought guitars good for fingerstyle?”

I’ve played fingerstyle on just about every guitar body shape there is, and I think dreadnoughts are just “ok” for fingerstyle. 

They have their drawbacks. You have to play harder to be heard, they’re a little more difficult to wield than smaller guitars, and the basslines can overpower riffs in the middle range.

Of course, there are lots of players who use dreadnoughts for fingerstyle, but all in all, I would recommend a smaller body size.

Tonewoods 

The tonewood you choose for your guitar top is largely a matter of preference, but there are a few recommendations people generally suggest for fingerstyle.

You might be best off with cedar or certain varieties of spruce, like Engelmann or European.

These are lightweight woods prized for their resonance and tonal balance.

They’re considered more responsive than woods like mahogany and maple because their low densities mean less energy is required to vibrate the tops.

Wider Nuts

Your fingers need a lot more room for accuracy than a thin little guitar pick, so a wider nut is the way to go.

Compared to narrow-necked electrics that are built for speedy flatpicking, the best guitar for fingerstyle allows you to comfortably and accurately play intricate fingerpicked patterns.

Generally, look for guitars that have a nut of around 1.75-inches, or around 44 millimeters. This will give you the flexibility you need to nail complex chords without cramping your hands.

Now, the difference between classical and fingerstyle guitars—and why you don’t have to go up to the full 2-inch nut—is that your fingerstyle guitar has a truss rod. 

This strengthens and stabilizes the neck so it doesn’t have to be super wide, letting you achieve a great balance between speed and comfort.

The Best Action for Fingerstyle Guitar

You’ll hear some players say that you need to have your action set as low as possible. If you’ve been playing for a while and already have a pretty good technique, I would agree with this.

Having your action really low is great for fingerstyle guitar for a few reasons.

  • It reduces fretting hand fatigue
  • It can increase your speed and accuracy
  • It improves articulation and your overall tone

When you’re playing fingerstyle, you can have the action set a lot lower than if you’re strumming because you’re not attacking the strings so hard. Since they’re vibrating with less intensity, you won’t have the same problems with fret buzz you would have otherwise.

But I will say that if you’re a beginner, it can help to have your action set not quite so low.

I think you should have your guitar set up to allow you to practice all the essential techniques, including fingerpicking, flatpicking, and basic strumming.

If your action is too low (setup for optimal fingerstyle), you’ll limit what you’re able to do. On the other hand, you can still learn fingerpicking with higher action while practicing other playing styles as well.

How to Choose the Right Fingerstyle Guitar for You

Now that you know what makes a great fingerstyle guitar, we can talk a little about how to make sure you get the best one for your needs.

You’ve got some choice in your preferred body shape, as well as tonewoods, electronics, and more.

The Best Body

Dreadnoughts might not be your best bet for fingerstyle guitars. But if you mix your playing style up with a lot of strumming, they’re not a bad option.

Working down the sizes, you’ll find the Grand Concert, which is maybe the best choice for fingerstyle guitar. The shallow body and ample lower bout of Grand Concert body guitars give them a focused projection that lacks very little bass response.

As guitars get smaller, they become richer in the higher ranges while losing fullness in the low-end, but Concert style bodies are still a prime body shape for fingerstyle guitar. Bright and plucky, Concert bodies are really similar in size to classical guitars, so if you’re making the change from nylon to steel string, you’ll feel right at home with a Concert guitar.

Parlor guitars are your smallest option. They’re way brighter than dreadnoughts and lack any of that low-end boom, but they still sing loud and clear. If you love the bell-like chime of a trebly acoustic, parlor guitars are your number one.

For more on these body shapes and others, check out this article.

Your Perfect Tonewood

If you want a bright, warm sound that has a mellow burn in every range but a particular sparkle in the highs, going with a cedar top would probably be your best choice. 

Spruce is one of the most versatile of the common fingerstyle tonewoods. It’s clear and articulate but still blends enough overtones to be rich and pleasing.

Although these are the most common choices, I personally like to play with a mahogany top. Not only do I have a somewhat harder playing style, but I also like the earthiness and warmth that mahogany gives you.

You can read a lot more about how tonewoods affect your sound here.

Your Budget: Are Fingerstyle Guitars Expensive? 

Maybe most importantly, you’ve gotta work within what you can afford.

Fortunately, great fingerstyle guitars are available at just about every price range—from entry-level budget guitars to high-end Taylors and Martins.

There’s really nothing standing in the way between you and fingerpicked beauty.

To find the best guitar for you, I highly suggest listening to as many different models as you can. It’s even better if you can visit a music store to actually give them a test run, but these days that’s not so easy.

At any rate, we’ve gone through several great picks, so check out some demos of these guitars and I’m sure you’ll find one of them to be an awesome match for your fingerstyle dreams.

Is Fingerstyle Guitar Hard to Learn?

For me, fingerstyle was actually pretty hard to learn for a long time. 

When I first started playing guitar, I focused mostly on just learning chords so that I could write songs. I picked up a few strumming patterns and didn’t focus too much more on technique.

Then years later I became friends with a couple people in high school who were really great at fingerstyle folk music. I was blown away, so I asked, “How did you all get so good at fingerpicking?”

Their answer? “We just stopped using picks.”

So I did the same. Freeing my hand from a guitar pick was super liberating, and I quickly started to learn some cool fingerpicking patterns. Now, fingerstyle is my main technique and is basically second-nature.

What that experience taught me is that things are only hard when you aren’t used to them. Ditch the pick, and fingertstyle is a must. 

So, is picking easier than fingerstyle? Is fingerstyle easier than pick playing? Nope! As long as you set your mind to practicing, you can learn any guitar technique you want.

Do You Need Long Fingernails to Play Fingerstyle Guitar?

Personally, I never grow my nails long and think that it isn’t necessary.

It can help you get a sharper attack to your tone, similar to using actual fingerpicks. 

But unless you’re specifically after that in your sound, you don’t need long fingernails to play fingerstyle guitar. 

Conclusion

No matter if you’ve never touched a guitar before in your life or if you’re a classically-trained master, there’s a steel-string fingerpicking machine here for everybody.

When you find the best guitar for fingerstyle, you’ll unlock a world of musical potential as you explore countless picking patterns and new and exciting chord voicings.

It’s time to let your fingers do the talking, so put down that pick, pick up your acoustic, and let those fingertips fly.

Author: Tommy Tompkins
Author: Tommy Tompkins

Playing guitar since 2004. Primarily an acoustic guitarist who plays and writes traditional American folk music, with a background in melodic metal and a solid foundation as a bassist. You can contact Tommy via:

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