You can spend a lot of money on an acoustic guitar these days and end up with an instrument that doesn’t improve with age, either tonally or aesthetically. With CNC machines and other robotic aids, assembling a decent instrument is no longer the exclusive province of the master luthier. Now that any idiot can do it, any idiot does, and the results vary wildly. I don’t know how any beginner is expected to choose wisely from such a tawdry lot and end up with something worth passing on to their kids.
I’ve owned and played professionally close to a hundred fine instruments in the 35 years I’ve been playing and I’ve ended up being something of an accidental Martin collector. When people ask me what they should buy for their first guitar, I tell them to go straight to their nearest authorized Martin dealer and get a OO-15 or an OM-15. (The OM-15 is no longer in the Martin catalog as of 2003 but is still available used; I just saw one on eBay for $495). These all-mahogany instruments are an absolute steal in today’s wacky market. They are spartan versions of Martin’s multi-thousand dollar OO and OM models, offering the same playability but without the Nashville flash. Simple, honest, great-sounding, great-looking guitars that can take a beating and will last a lifetime — all for a less than a grand. I bought my OO-15 new for $700 with a Martin hard case, and my beloved OM-15 slightly used for $550 with the same case. The OM-15 is slightly larger, with a wider fretboard suitable for fingerpicking styles and/or larger hands. Both instruments have a characteristic “airy” sound from the mahogany top, making them particularly well-suited for recording. They don’t boom, nor do they crackle; they hum with a satisfying balance, strummed or fingerpicked. The satin-finished mahogany is lower maintenance than the softer spruce tops, and minor dings disappear in the dark chocolate-colored grain patterns. By the way, the “O” in both names refers to Orchestra, not the number zero, so say “oh-M”.
You can’t get more guitar for the money anywhere.