How to Make a Cheap Acoustic Guitar Sound and Play Better

Published Categorized as Guitar Care Tuning Restringing, Setup

Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.

If you’ve bought or are looking to buy a cheap acoustic guitar, there are things you can do to make it sound better and feel nicer to play.

Though you can get some decent low priced guitars these days, a cheap acoustic will always be lacking somewhat when it comes to tone and playability.

But often there are ways to make that guitar sound better. Some of those ways are more simple and some are more complex and involved.

Here are some of the ways you can go about improving your acoustic guitar.

Table of Contents

Improve the Sound

The following are a few things you can do to improve the sound of a cheap acoustic guitar.

Strings

Chances are the strings you get on a cheap guitar will be less than ideal. Changing your strings is perhaps the thing that is the easiest and will make potentially the most difference. So this is a great place to start, but be sure to know what kind of strings you need. We already talked about importance of placing right kind of strings on acoustic guitar.

Bridge Pins

acoustic guitar bridge pins

Whilst you’re changing the strings there are some things you can do whilst the strings are off that will also help, so don’t rush to change those strings just yet! Not until you have considered whether you might want to do some other things.

One of the easiest of those is changing the bridge pins.

Often cheap guitars save cost by putting in cheap parts, such as for the saddle, nut, tuners and bridge pins.

The bridge pins come in and out easily. They have to come out every time you change the strings anyway. And it doesn’t cost too much to get a new, better set.

Tuners/Machine Heads

guitar machine heads on dusty guitar

The tuners/machine heads won’t affect the tone of the instrument, but they can affect the ability of the guitar to stay in tune.

Some very cheap tuners/machine heads affect the ability of the guitar to stay in tune. Whilst this doesn’t change the tone of the instrument, it certainly does affect how good it sounds when you’re playing it.

Tuners/machine heads may not be the only thing that are affecting the guitar staying in tune but it may be as simple as replacing them to solve the problem – and that will make you sound better and avoid a lot of frustration.

Also, it’s harder to tune if your machine heads/tuners stick or are difficult to turn. Nice machine heads/tuners are just way more pleasant to work with and way more likely to keep your guitar in tune.

Saddle

bridge saddle

A little more difficult than replacing the bridge pins but replacing the saddle will make a greater difference to tone.

If you have a cheap plastic saddle on your guitar, it’s a good idea to change to something of a higher quality – for better tone, like bone or something like TUSQ (an artificial material made to emulate bone).

(More about materials for saddles)

Nut

acoustic guitar nut

More difficult again than changing the saddle is changing the nut. The saddle usually sits loosely in the bridge, so it will drop out easily. However, the nut is glued in place, so it’s more difficult to remove.

But if you have experience, are willing to learn or if you are willing to pay someone to do it, changing the nut can also make a difference to the tone of the guitar.

(More about nut materials)

Either way, if you are changing the nut or the saddle, you’ll need to make sure that they are at the right height for the guitar so that your playability and intonation isn’t affected.

That brings me to playability.

Improve the Playability

As well as tone, there are a number of ways you can improve the playability of a cheap guitar.

Set-Up (Action)

action on acoustic guitar playability

A lot of cheap guitars – and more expensive guitars for that matter – come with a “high action”. This basically means that the strings are high above the fretboard.

This makes it more difficult to play, both physically and technically.

Some people prefer a higher action, but most prefer a lower action. And for those that prefer a higher action, some cheap acoustics are too high even for them.

This is something that you can learn to do yourself, though it will take a fair bit of learning.

(Learn how to lower the action on an acoustic guitar.)

But it’s also something that you can pay someone else to do, which is the recommended method, in my opinion. But if you like doing things like this then it can be a fun experience.

Whichever way you do it, it’s well worth doing because this alone can make a cheap guitar multiple times more pleasurable to play.

There is also a chance that you get a guitar with an action that is too low. In this case fret-buzz might occur (where you get a buzzing sound in the string, when you press on certain frets). In this case you’ll most likely want to have the action raised.

Strings

Changing the strings can not only make the guitar sound better, it can also affect playability. Cheap strings sometimes just don’t feel the same under the fingers as nicer strings.

And if you’re a beginner you might want to try starting out with silk and steel strings, so that it’s easier on your fingers. Learn about how to choose strings on my blog.

Fretboard care

If your fretboard is too dry, then it might be an idea to oil it (again whilst your changing over the strings that the guitar came with – or when you’re changing to another set sometime down the line). A dry fretboard will make for a less pleasant feel than one that is properly oiled.

Final Thoughts

There are other things you could do like remove the top of the guitar and reshape the bracing but that’s getting pretty extreme and beyond the skill and inclination of most guitarists – particularly someone who is buying a cheap guitar.

Unless you are buying that cheap guitar to practice as a guitar builder/repairer.

But for most of us a cheap guitar is bought because it is all we can afford or it’s all we are willing to invest. In which case the tips above are some practical ways to improve your guitars sound and playability, though it’s not an exhaustive list.

FAQs

How can I make my cheap acoustic guitar sound better?


To enhance the sound of your inexpensive acoustic guitar, focus on these key steps: change the strings to high-quality ones, set up the guitar correctly, experiment with alternate tunings and use a capo, refine your playing technique, invest in quality accessories like picks and tuners, consider upgrading the saddle and nut, vary your playing environment for better resonance, and explore recording and EQ options for amplified sound improvements. These measures can collectively improve the overall tone and playability of your budget acoustic guitar.

How can I make my cheap guitar more playable?

Adjust action & setup, change strings.

Can you make a cheap guitar sound expensive?

While you can improve the sound of a cheap guitar, it may not replicate the quality and tonal characteristics of a truly expensive guitar. However, with proper setup, string choice, and technique, you can significantly enhance its playability and sound, making it sound better than its original state. Expensive guitars often have superior materials and craftsmanship, which can be challenging to replicate entirely in a cheap guitar.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

2 comments

  1. “There are other things you could do ? like remove the top of the guitar and reshape the bracing…”

    When you want to reshape the bracing or rebrace your guitar, it’s always better, easier and safer to remove the back of the guitar rather than the top.

    Among other things you can also refinish the guitar. Cheap guitars usually have very thick polyurethane finish which dampens the sound. You can remove it and then put a thinner finish (e.g. nitro).

  2. I have a Taylor 314ce and keep it in its case in a humidity controlled environment among other expensive guitars,acoustic & electric but wanted a cheap laminate guitar to keep next to me in the living room so I could grab it whenever I feel the urge or think of a song. I bought a new Ibanez PS15 for $150 and I?m going to change the strings and tuners and set the action. I?m Looking forward to this little project and will keep you informed of the end result. Peace.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *