There's no such thing as a universally "good" guitar that will work for everyone. One person will find a wider nut width easier to play while another person will have the opposite experience and do much better with a narrower nut width. Same goes for neck thickness, etc...
A couple of things that are universal would be :
- Low action.. Probably the most common factor that causes beginners to give up and quit their guitar lessons due to frustration is high action which is often prevelant in cheap guitars (anything you might buy at Wal-mart or Target etc...)
The lower the action the easier it will be to play . (As long as it's not so low that you get fret buzz 'n stuff)
- Good tuning pegs. Another factor that causes endless frustration is a guitar that will not stay in tune. now there are a few factors that will contribute to this, but overall the quality of the tuners is the biggest culprit.
- Your concerns about nut width, neck radius etc. are a very important thing to consider. Basically you need to find a qualified instructor who can determine what will work best for you with regards to the size of your hands, finger length, etc. and guide you toward the best fit.
I'm not personally qualified to be answering this query and most of what I've said is just me repeating what some of my friends and mentors have told me... however, I do stand by all of it.
When i used to be a golf professional the advice I would give to beginners regarding purchasing a set of golf clubs is exactly the same advice that applies here...
Buy the most expensive guitar that you can comfortably afford. Whatever you do, do not fall for the old adage of "I'll just buy something cheap for now to get started and upgrade to something better when I've improved" That will ALWAYS backfire on you! A cheap guitar (like "first act") isn't worth having even if it's free ! It will only do you wrong!
Again I say.. this advice is worth every penny you paid for it... ;-)
I strongly agree with Mark's comments (must be the golf angle!) and especially want to emphasize a problem for newbies: Don't go too cheap on that first guitar! New students often get frustrated because the tuning won't hold, sharp frets snag the fingers, high action (worst problem on cheapies), and laminated tops that give poor tone.
All too often, these problems lead to not getting that better guitar when you've improved because you couldn't improve with a lousy piece of equipment. I love Taylors, but I've played several Seagulls that have great tone and construction all for under $1,000. Start with one of these and you just may be more likely to move up to the Martins and Taylors.
I think you just answered your own question. Go to a couple guitar stores, try out a few, which feels best....BAM! That's your next guitar. Well, unless price is an issue then try out those in your price range.
At that price range, you have a veritable plethora of choices! Check out Wolfe Guitars inventory for some ideas - http://www.gbase.com/stores/wolfe-guitars/inventory - lots of cool new and used guitars - large Breedlove inventory - and some interesting things you don't always see - like this - http://www.gbase.com/gear/willow-tree-custom-2007-natural - a very cool Willow Tree custom...
Enjoy! It's not THAT far of a drive from GA to FL... ;-)
A couple of other factors to consider are:
The size of the body. (The guitar, not yours!). Do you like a full size dreadnought or a smaller size?
What type of music do you play? If you are into say heavy strumming then you would need a guitar that can take it as opposed to say finger picking.
While there are decent guitars with laminate tops, I would recommend both solid wood tops and solid wood back and sides. The type of wood would depend upon your personal tastes - ie sound and looks.
Taylor guitars have great necks and don't make a bad guitar but you do pay a bit more for the name. (Same for Martin, Gibson etc). Some other suggestions - try a Takamine or Guild. They both have a wide selection of guitars. Basically, for $2,000, you can get a great guitar. If you can find a good used one, then that is even better as a guitar only gets better with age if it is properly cared for.
Good luck and keep us informed as we can live vicariously through you!.
Might I suggest a Taylor "BIG BABY". It is a relatively inexpensive, not a biog investment if it doesn't work out, beginner guitar, little smaller body and neck and made by Taylor, a reputable company. And it comes with a killer gig bag to boot. Also, they have a bolt on neck which is easily adjusted, and even shimmed if the need arises!
You can get them almost anywhere for about $500. I have suggested them to many and not had a complaint! Just a thought!
I have a Big Baby as well and love it.
Unless you are really well off financially, my personal opinion would be for you to stay well under half your budget. If you are a new guitar student, then there are a lot of things you're going to learn over the next several years that will shape your preferences for your next guitar. There are many quality guitars, some mentioned in this thread, that can be had in the $500 range.
As you learn to play, and get the opportunity to play on different guitars, you may develop preferences for particular woods, or get a better feel for nut width, or decide you do/don't want electronics on board, among a couple dozen different things that you might not have a full appreciation for now.
Others in this thread have done an excellent job outlining factors associated with a first guitar purchase so I won't rehash any of that except to say if it were me I would look to spend something in the $500 neighborhood since you can get for that price that is not laminate, has good tuners, and is easy to play, and bank the remaining $1,500 for lessons or for saving up for your next guitar. Guitars at the $500 price point will not be the Wal-Mart or Target guitars being warned against above, so you are not likely to make a purchase that causes those types of problems--high action/bad tuners/etc.--that would eventually discourage you from practicing.
I think at this point you're on the right track--if there is a guitar shop local to you or within reasonable traveling distance there is no substitute for sitting down and handling a guitar in person. Many guitar shops have experienced staff that would be able to talk you through alternatives in order to help you find a great first guitar.
My first guitar was an Art & Lutherie, cost under $300. It has been a great guitar to learn on, and one of these decades (some undefined point after my girls have finished college--they're 6 and 9, now) I'll be in a position hopefully to upgrade.
Ok - IMHO, Blueridge is on the same level with Eastman, Walden, Epiphone Masterbuilts, etc. - value holding or increasing is unlikely...
Indeed, guitars are not a very good investment in general - but I understand your desire for a quality instrument to pass down. Again IMHO, you don't need to go with a big name for that...
My suggestion would be to seek out a guitar made from all-solid woods at the least. PRS has a great rep, so their acoustics would be worth a try - Larrivee, Martin, Huss & Dalton, Taylor, Breedlove, Collings, Gibson, Seagull, Simon & Patrick, higher-end Eastmans, Waldens, and Blueridges, and Epiphone Masterbuilts are all names to consider. Even the Yamaha A-series...
Is country of manufacture an issue for you?