Can A Cheap Guitar Sound Good? | Expert Advice

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Guitars, like most things in the twenty-first century, have become readily available and reasonably priced. Whereas even a low-end guitar used to cost well over a thousand dollars, it is now possible to get a perfectly serviceable mass-produced guitar for less than a hundred dollars. But the question is… Can you make a cheap guitar sounds good?

With guitars, in many cases, you get what you pay for. For most of us, a truly great guitar that would most likely cost multiple thousands of dollars is absolutely unrealistic and something we simply cannot justify.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get the most out of your budget acoustic guitar without breaking the bank.

The goal here is to identify and describe the major areas for improvement so that you may be confident in your experiments. We’ll skip the setup and maintenance procedures that include proper cleaning, truss rod/action/intonation adjustments, and so on because that’s a whole other topic or work for your tech. In reality what we are going to do is to try to improve the playability.

Here are a few tips for making your inexpensive acoustic guitar sound like an expensive instrument without breaking the bank.

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Does it matter what your right hand fingers are doing when playing guitar?
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Setting Up A Guitar with changes

A lot of cheap guitars, as well as more costly guitars, have a high action. This signifies that the strings are elevated above the fretboard. This makes playing both physically and technically tougher.

Some people like higher action, whereas the majority prefer lower action. Some cheap acoustics are even too high for individuals who enjoy a higher activity. This is something you can learn to do on your own, albeit it will take some time.
However, it is also something you can hire someone else to perform. Which, in my opinion, is the best technique.However, if you enjoy doing things like this, it can be an enjoyable experience.

Whatever method you employ, it is highly worth it because this alone may make an inexpensive guitar ten times more enjoyable to play.

There are numerous aspects to setting up a guitar, but the following are the most important:

Neck relief

Modifying the truss rod, nut height, or saddle height to change the “action” of the strings can drastically affect the playability of your guitar. Obviously, if it’s simpler to play, it’ll sound better when you do!

Nut filling and shimming.

This can be done to change the action of the strings, but it can also be done to solve the problem of strings springing out of their nut while playing. This is required whenever a new nut is installed, as the chances of it being exactly the appropriate height for your guitar out of the box are extremely minimal.

Fret work

If your guitar is old, you might consider having it re-fretted. If it’s a new but inexpensive guitar, the neck and frets are likely to have had the bare minimum of attention, and appropriate leveling and crowning could make all the difference.

Unfortunately, this is not a simple task. It is certainly doable for the typical hobbyist or guitar owner to undertake, and there is certainly enough knowledge readily available online to help you out, but this, more than any of the preceding advice, will most likely benefit from the assistance of an expert.

There is also a potential that you could receive a guitar with an excessively low action.
Fret-buzz may arise in this instance (where you get a buzzing sound in the string, when you press on certain frets).
In this instance, you should most likely have the action taken.

Does it matter what your right hand fingers are doing when playing guitar?
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Replacing Nut

The nut is the component at the top of the guitar neck that holds the strings in place while they travel to the tuning keys. This is a critical point of contact for your strings.

String vibration travels up the neck and thus influences the tone of your guitar. To achieve the best tone and loudness, use a material that is firm, dense, and robust. As many low-cost acoustic guitars use plastic nuts, the overall tone is badly harmed.
A bone nut is a frequent feature on higher-end guitars (such as a Martin D-28).

You can buy pre cut bone nuts or blanks to cut your own string slots with a needle file. Measure the width of the nut of your guitar and look for one that fits.

Bone is an excellent material because it does not absorb a lot of vibration. This means that the string can freely vibrate within the slot. The bone nut aids in the passage of energy into the wood, producing a louder and more defined acoustic tone.

Another wonderful alternative for picks is Graphtech’s TUSQ, which is naturally lubricated and far more consistent than bone because it does not come from an animal, which adds inherent and unpredictable variation.

Finally, you can attempt a metal, but these are typically composed of brass. They can provide an open string sound comparable to a fretted note. This constancy results in open chords with a bright and even voice, which is ideal for acoustics who utilize a lot of open tunings and have open strings droning.

On most acoustics, replacing a nut is a simple task. They do necessitate regluing, so make sure you read up on the process step by step.

Enhance The Saddle

The saddle of an acoustic guitar is located on top of the bridge. These are frequently built of the same low-cost materials as nuts and are hence a serious weakness for much low-cost acoustics. The saddle is where the strings come into contact with the bridge pins.

The bridge is located on top of the soundboard (top) of the guitar, and all string vibrations are carried from the saddle to the bridge and then to the top. Again, bone is an excellent and historically accurate material.

The saddles are not cemented in place. Man-made metals and plastics, like the nut, can produce excellent saddles.
The guitar strings keep them firmly attached to the bridge. This makes it very simple to swap them out.
Bone saddles, like bone nuts, amplify string vibrations and transfer them to the soundboard for increased volume and tonal balance.

You can buy bone saddles with precut slots, but it is highly advised that you cut your own from a blank with a needle file.
This is a straightforward process that can be aided by your old saddle.

Does it matter what your right hand fingers are doing when playing guitar?
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Use Better Strings

This is the most effective and efficient technique to improve your acoustic guitar tone!
Why do you believe there are so many string manufacturers?

Acoustic guitar strings are classified into three types: 80/20 bronze, phosphor bronze, and nylon. This paper will concentrate on 80/20 bronze and phosphor bronze. Because of the presence of phosphorus in the wound strings, phosphor bronze strings differ chemically from 80/20 bronze threads. They are significantly warmer than 80/20 bronze strings, have a wonderful mid-range balance, and have a longer life due to Phosphorus’ anti-corrosive characteristics.

You can change their sound even further by coating them, which gives them a longer life and a brighter sound.
If you prefer a little brighter tone, 80/20 bronze strings are the finest option.

Remember that not all guitar strings are created equal.

Use Finer Pick

This is determined by the way the pick material interacts with the strings. Try to strum with your thumb first, then with something made of metal , pay attention so that you can hear the difference – picture how many spectrums are in between those two extremes! Here are some typical pick materials and how they affect acoustic guitar tone. Here are some things to have i consideration when choosing a pick:


Typically a darker tone with less brightness. If your guitar has a shallow body or is made of brighter tone woods like maple, you may want to use this pick material to add warmth to your tone. This material is often utilized in Herco and later Dunlop classic picks.


DuPont invented these polymers, which have proven quite popular among guitarists as pick materials. They produce a well-balanced tone that varies slightly depending on the thickness of the pick. Thicker picks create greater warmth, whilst thinner picks provide a more rhythmic “jingle-jangle.”


This is a polymer that Graphtech uses to make nuts, saddles, and picks. It is dense and might resemble bone.
This density can be altered during the manufacturing process to produce picks with a range of tones ranging from very dark/warm to very brilliant.


A traditional guitar pick material that was initially intended to replace tortoise shells. Celluloid has a balanced overall tone with a dash of brightness. If you want a brighter pick attack without sounding too thin, they are a perfect option.
This material was once used in the renowned Fender picks.


This space-age polymer has grown in prominence in recent years. It is less flexible and does not wear as quickly as other polymers. This indicates that you have a mid-forward tone with a lot of volume.
Pick thickness influences tone, so expect a louder sound if you pick a thin gauge (0.50 mm or thinner).


Imagine a sound even softer than finger picking; rubber strap locks produce an incredible gentle acoustic strumming sound that is impossible to break.

Options for boutiques

You can spend a lot of money experimenting with different acrylic and related pick materials that vary your sound gently or dramatically, from Blue Chip to Honey. Consider these to be an acoustic overdrive pedal collection.

Alter Bridge Pins

Bridge pins keep the ball end of a guitar string in place in the bridge. Because they are the first point of contact between the string and the guitar, they are extremely significant in terms of tone and volume.

Plastic, wood, metal, and bone can all be used to make bridge pins. Each substance has its own set of advantages. Plastics are generic, inexpensive, and simple to replace. If you change your strings frequently, they will wear quickly and may not always provide the finest sound transfer from the string to the bridge.

Wooden bridge pins typically give the guitar a deeper tone.Depending on the type of wood used, they may not provide as much volume as other materials.

Metal bridge pins can increase volume dramatically, but they can also make a guitar sound extremely bright. These are useful if you believe your guitar sounds too dark.

Just like the saddle and nut, bone is the material of choice for bridge pins.They provide optimum sound transfer without adding unnatural colors to the tone of your instrument.

Does it matter what your right hand fingers are doing when playing guitar?
Photo by Phua Eu Kien:

Tuning Keys

Tuning keys, tuning pegs, tuners, whatever you want to name them. These are the final points of contact for the string and are frequently missed. Manufacturers frequently scrimp on tuners, especially with lower-priced guitars. While this may not be detrimental to your tone, cheaper tuners frequently wear out over time, resulting in tuning instability and even buzzing sounds.

There are numerous tuner styles available on the market. Each has a unique “footprint,” or the way it screws into the back of the headstock. Keep this in mind while replacing tuners so you can select some that fit the footprint of your current tuners.
A good rule of thumb for selecting the correct tuners is to buy from recognized manufacturers. They may usually have the highest overall quality.

Work on your tone

This last one is the most beneficial of all of them. While the quality of the guitar can help you, it doesn’t guarantee to sound good on an expensive guitar if you don’t have a great tone. Working on tone is the cheapest and long-term more beneficial than most of the topics here. If you can have a great tone on a cheap guitar, imagine how you will sound on an expensive guitar.

Working on tone requires constant practice on specific exercises, probably daily. It may require you to play open string with just one finger. I would say that for electric guitar, there is also exercise to work on tone.

Final Words

There are a lot of small details that can make a big impact on acoustic guitar tone! Although you cannot modify the guitar’s construction, you can change the materials that comprise the critical contact points that allow string vibration to transmit to the instrument body.
This means that by performing a few easy adjustments, you can truly make a low-cost acoustic wake-up and sing.

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