Ok, so you play guitar, or at least want to. And you're thinking, What should I look for in my guitar? Well if you are looking for an electric guitar I suggest looking here. I am here to help you if you want an acoustic. As you are reading, keep in mind this article is directed more towards people who are just starting out, but many of the principles can be used for any acoustic guitar purchase. Well, here I go.
How Much Do I Spend?
This is a tough question. If you already play guitar and know it is something you like doing then you can spend a good amount of money. If you are just starting out and want to see what guitar is like then don't bother spending a whole lot, but spend enough to get something decent. If you have already playing for a little while but it is your first acoustic, I would say at minimum $200 but more toward $250 or $300. Remember these are just guidelines and not set rules. Spend what you want just don't get a hunk of unplayable junk.
Nylon Or Steel String?
This depends on your style of play. Ask yourself what you see yourself playing more, classical or something else. If you said classical you will want a nylon string guitar. Nylon string guitars have a neck that is wider with more space between each string. The body of the guitar is also slightly smaller. Another difference in construction is that the neck connects to the body at the 12th fret. Nylon strings produce a softer sound and are easier to push the strings down for beginners.
Steel string guitars are used for most other music, such as anything rock or blues related, as well as country and jazz. Steel string guitars have a neck that tapers toward the headstock, and the body is usually larger. Also the neck connects to the body at the 14th fret most of the time. Steel string guitars are usually louder, and harder to fret. The two types of guitars attach the strings in different manners and require different stringing techniques.
Types Of Construction
With an acoustic you can either have solid wood components or laminates for the body. Solid wood sounds better but is also more expensive. Laminates don't reflect your sound as well, but are cheaper to make and therefor cost less for the consumer, you. The thing is though, laminates are actually stronger than solid wood. If you are looking for an inexpensive guitar then it is going to be made from laminated parts, which is fine as it will be durable and sound ok. A step up would be to get a solid top and laminated back and sides. This will cost you a bit more, but since the top has the most effect on the sound it will improve your sound quality.
Checking The Quality
No matter what type of guitar you want to get, you don't want it to fall apart and you do want it to sound like it is supposed to. First I suggest going to a well-lit area and looking into the guitar. If you happen to have a flashlight with you, definitely use this as well. If the inside of the guitar looks like crap, then the whole guitar probably is. Make sure that the gluing job is well done and there aren't globs of glue all over the place. A lot of sawdust is another indicator that the workmanship is a bit shoddy.
To make sure the guitar sounds good you need to check the intonation. Now, many new guitarists may not know what to look for in this so I will try to explain it as well as I can. Play the note at the 12th fret (the one with 2 dots). Then place your finger over the metal fret wire just towards the body of where you just played but don't push down, touch lightly. Play the string now. The two notes should have the same pitch. If they don't, put the guitar down and go find another. Check this on all six strings, it's extremely important so if you can't do it yourself ask for help in this. This does not mean that you are tuning the guitar, but checking to make sure that it will sound correct when in tune and playing later. Because acoustic guitars don't have adjustable bridges, bad intonation is much harder to correct and for a beginner the trouble isn't worth it.
Some acoustic guitars come with extra little things that make them cost more, but add to the guitar. Look at these features and decide if it is worth the extra money, how much will you actually use it? One such feature is a cutout. Now I know that these are on electrics, but how much will you use it on your acoustic? If you plan on doing a lot of work on the upper frets, then this is a definite must. If you just want your acoustic for strumming a few folk songs or open position chords then don't worry about it.
You can also get built in electronics for you acoustic. If you want this then defiantly get it built in now, it costs much more if you want to add it later. This is useful if you want to connect your guitar to an amplifier, and the guitar usually has a built in pre-amp. In my experience I find it requires the use of a 9v battery for the pre-amp but this might not always be the case.
So you followed all this advice and found a well-built guitar that can hold a tone and has the features you want. Now play that guitar and see if it sounds good to you. Even if you don't know how to play anything just push some strings down and play one note at a time. Or strum all the strings open. If you know some songs play them. Listen to the way the guitar sounds and the way it feels. If the guitar is comfortable in your hands then you are gonna be happy. If it sounds good then you are gonna be happy. If it is both then buy that sucker!