In my opinion Yamaha makes the best low priced acoustic guitars on the market. I have been a guitarist for over 30 years and a teacher for nearly 20 years. In that time I have seen thousands of new students with countless acoustic guitars. The vast majority of these are low priced guitars. Very occasionally a student will bring a high priced guitar to a lesson which they have purchased used or been given by a relative. Far more common is a low priced guitar. Usually these are of very low quality, often they sound very poor and are very difficult to play. Often the strings are so difficult to fret that new players feel like giving up straight away. A new students finger strength and dexterity is usually quite low as it takes time to build up muscles in the hand.
It is a paradox of guitar playing that new players would benefit from the best guitars available and seasoned players can make any instrument sound good. Of course a new player can not usually afford or be able to justify the purchase of an acoustic guitar made by a leading manufacturer like Taylor or Martin which cost several thousand to buy new. New players will usually buy guitars in the sub $200 range. This is were Yamaha are excellent. One guitar in particular is very good indeed. The Yamaha FG-403 MS. If ever a student asks me which guitar they should by I always recommend on of these guitars.
I am fortunate in the fact that my many years as a guitarist have allowed me to build an impressive selection of both acoustic and electric guitars. One of them which I play most often at home is a Yamaha FG-403 MS. This is in-spite of me having access to guitars which cost me 40 times as much as my faithful Yamaha.
The guitar is just as easy to play as any acoustic I own. The sound is bright and clear. For a guitar to sound as good as this one, in this price range, is simply incredible. The matt finish is a major reason for this excellent sound quality. The reason for this is that solid wood naturally has excellent tonal qualities. These tonal qualities can be muffled by the high gloss finish which is applied to guitars to give them a beautiful appearance. In high quality guitars a finish called nitrocellulose is applied to the guitar to achieve a high gloss finish without compromising sound quality. This takes many hours of spraying multiple coats, each coat needs to dry and is then rubbed down to build up a thin layer. This is then polished to obtain the final finish.
This process takes a skilled craftsman many hours and as a result is very expensive. To cut costs, budget guitar makers use a quick drying resin which is applied in one coat. This cuts the time it takes to finish the guitar drastically but also results in a much thicker layer which effects sound quality. By finishing the guitar with a matt finish the FG-403 MS retains the sound quality of the wood without the usual high cost of nitrocellulose finishing.
The matte finish is also very attractive in its own way. Perhaps not as attractive as much more expensive guitars but if you are buying a guitar from the lower end of the market you will be prepared for some compromise. Ask any serious guitar player whether they would rather compromise on sound quality, playability or cosmetic appearance and they will say cosmetic appearance every time. A good looking guitar is fantastic but a guitar which sounds great is even better. A guitar that sounds and plays great at the price of the Yamaha acoustics is miraculous.
The hardware used by Yamaha is also excellent. The machine heads which are used to tune the guitar will often allow low priced guitars to frequently go out of tune. This is the last thing a novice player needs as they will not yet have learnt to properly tune a guitar. The machine heads on Yamaha acoustic guitars will stay in tune for months at a time. I genuinely have no reservations recommending a Yamaha acoustic to any potential guitar player. If you buy one it will be many years before you need to replace it.