The 10 Best Guitars for Folk Musicians

Getty Images/Andy Lee

The acoustic guitar remains the most prevalent instrument in American folk music. Here is a list of the guitars most commonly employed by folk's greatest players.

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A fun game is to go to open mic night and play "Pin the artist on the Martin guitar." Martins are no doubt the most widely played. But there's a reason this company is so revered - their guitars have a warm, full sound. They're also good-looking and lightweight. Famous players include Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez, as well as John Gorka, Patty Griffin, Jerry Garcia, Arlo Guthrie the list goes on and on.

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Gibson guitars are big, pretty, and have incredible sound. Part of it is the great electronics they put in there that keep the acoustic sound top-notch even when they're plugged in at high blast. They're a little more challenging than Martins but well worth the effort. Famous players include Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris (who has her own Gibson signature series), Keb Mo, Lucinda Williams, and others. Earl Scruggs plays Gibson banjos.

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Epiphones are manufactured by Gibson, which is probably why they're one of the most loved. They sound good; they're affordable, they're durable and hold their tunings. They're pretty much the most practical guitar on the list. Famous players include Steve Earle, Patti Griffin, John Lennon, Lucinda Williams, and others.

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Taylors are among the finest guitars made. The list of folks who would agree is extensive, but among them are Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Iris DeMent, Bonnie Rait, Toshi Reagon, Suzanne Vega, Nanci Griffith. Taylor guitars are durable, reliable, warm, and great for fingerpicking or heavy strumming.

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Well for one, I have an Alvarez Artist, which has traveled with me since 1998. It's survived harsh winters and summers in the desert. It's been dropped on sidewalks and rained on during winters. And she still isn't warped. Alvarez makes their guitars with a lot of love and staying power. Carlos Santana, David Crosby, Ani Difranco, Luka Bloom, and others love Alvarez as well.

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Guild guitars are big and chunky but have a nice raw, thick, warm sound. They have great electronics and the most wonderful thing about them is that they hold onto their tunings really well. Guild, like Alvarez, really makes heavy-duty guitars. Famous players include Paul Simon, Jerry Garcia, and John Denver.

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Fender is probably most famous for their electric Stratocaster guitars. But make no mistake, Fender makes darn good acoustic guitars as well.

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Gretsch guitars have a nice sound, and they're great for fingerpicking. George Harrison, Neil Young, Steven Stills, and Bo Diddley are among the great guitarists who have owned and played Gretsches.

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Ovation guitars have a nice well-rounded sound. I learned how to play on an ovation. But aside from my personal partiality, there are tons of great Folk artists that play ovation guitars. To name a few: Joan Armatrading, Melissa Etheridge, and Karen Hunter.

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Sure their television sets and DVD players are what they're best known for, but Yamaha makes some pretty decent instruments as well. Their guitars are excellent for beginners, but they're also played by great artists like Keb Mo, Edwin McCain, and Mark Oakley.