When I was young I used to ask to myself the same about women. I was a beginner in love stories. After more than forty years of practising, I realized that nothing existing is for a lifetime. Just life.
So, start with whatever you like and go on searching whilst your needs change.
Seagull S6 .... Without question, one of the better inexpensive guitars that will last you a very long time when treated with TLC. It outplays some guitars at triple the price. Outside of that take a look at Laravee. It will be at lest double the price. Your ear may not be attuned yet to what a really fine guitar sounds like so I wouldn't go spending a fortune yet, which is very easy to do. These instruments will certainly put you in the right direction though ... in two somewhat different price ranges.
In any case, you should definitely play before you purchase. IIf a shop doesn't exist nearby, take a trip perhaps to Louisiana. There's most likely a finer shop there that has these in stock.
You should wait for the "one guitar that works for a lifetime" as some new players only last a few weeks before they decide to give it up. There are so many styles of playing and sizes of guitars that if you continue you will find you want several different guitars if you can afford it. Then again many of us are afflicted with GAS and there will never be "one" guitar. Come over and join us in Acoustic Newb where you will be with a bunch of different new players that will share their experiences on what it is like to still be new at this. Look under groups for Acoustic Newbs.
I bought a repaired Washburn off of E-bay ($2.31) and started taking lessons at the local college. Then decided I would continue and bought a Gibson Songwriter deluxe. I find it easy to play but in the future might have purchased something else. And I still play the E-Bay guitar from time to time and would take it if I was to go out camping. In the last three years I have purchased five guitars, three acoustic and two electrics as well as two amps. Right now I have four as I gave the Oscar Schmidt to my grandson and will also pass the Strat and Marshall amp on to him if he follows through with his lessons. Oh yeah GAS is "Guitar Acquisition Syndrome", be careful as you too can catch it.
Greg, what most are saying here is that probably it is unrealistic to expect your first guitar to be the perfect lifetime guitar, for the reasons they have mentioned. Paul sums it up well (although Antonio's way of putting it is more intriguing). Do look for a good guitar in your price range because the wrong one may cause you to become discouraged about playing and practicing if it is hard to play, is not comfortable to hold, or doesn't have a sound you really like.
Try several; look at used ones. Take a friend with you who plays and has some experience. Let him play them for you, not just the salesperson at the store. There are several good articles you can Google on "How to choose your first guitar" or similar descriptions.
And I second Clark's invitation to join Acoustic Newb.
Here are a couple of additional Ideas: #1 take a friend who's knowledgeable about guitars with you when you shop. This should be someone who understands neck angle and action adjustments, who can hear problems in the intonation, and give you some judgment on overall tone and volume. The final call will still be yours, but your friend may save you from buying a guitar that would very quickly become a disappointment. #2 Leave room in your budget for a setup after you buy the guitar. Some companies do a better job than others, but most new guitars would benefit from some further attention to the frets, nut and saddle from an experienced luthier. Ask some professional players for a recommendation in your area.
I would say the Composite Acoustics OX is a guitar that you could enjoy for a life time. It's carbon fiber so you don't have to worry about humidity and it's got good playability and volume. I find it to be very versatile. So, that's the case for what I chose.
From a non-biased point of view I would say that a Martin D-28, OM-28, or 000-18 would be guitars that you could enjoy for a lifetime. It depend a little on the type of music you want to play but one of these would probably suite your style. I kind of like the short scale 000-18. If you like dreads a D-28 is one of the defining dreadnought guitars. The OM-28 would be versatile and have volume for a variety of styles and it has a 1 3/4" nut if you like wider spacing. I think one of these standard series Martins would tend to be the type of guitar that would help stave off GAS. They are classice designs in versatile sizes and you would not ever think... gee, maybe I should have gone ahead and bought the Martin.
The problem with buying your last guitar first is that as you learn you might prefer a different sound/feel etc. If you already have a guitar and have played long enough to have an idea what kind of you like that's one thing but if this is really your first guitar you might want to get a cheaper well made guitar and play it for 2 or 3 years then decide what you want as your ultimate guitar. That is still a bargain as you'd end up paying less than $10 a month to play while you learn and then when you get the nicer guitar you can keep the first one around for friends to pick up when they stop by.
My first nice guitar when I started playing again was a Seagull S6 and I agree that that is a great guitar to start out on. I ended up selling mine and sometimes I still regret it. But on the other hand I have other that took it's place. I would say whatever you get first keep it even if you end up getting something much nicer. Your first nice guitar that you learn to play on is special and you might miss it.
Buy a Taylor by all means! They are reasonably priced, beautifully made and have a wonderful tone. They are guaranteed
for life to the original owner, and if any repairs are necessary Taylor will repair them free of charge in a reasonable time and
mail them back to you in like new condition - they will even do things necessary to make it new even if you did not mention
them. I am speaking from personal knowledge. I own two and play them every day. James H. Etheridge