There is something to be said for basic. When it comes to dreadnaught acoustic guitars, the Rogue RA-090 is as basic as it gets. While this guitar is certainly not what you want to bring on tour with you, it serves its purpose very well as a solid beginner’s instrument that focuses on durability and consistency over flash and show.
I ordered the guitar from Musician’s Friend a while back. One of the biggest advantages to the Rogue RA-090 is the brand itself- Rogue is owned by Musician’s Friend. Customers can take solace in this fact because despite being incredibly cheap, this guitar (at least in what they want you to think) is designed by musicians to be used by beginners. The build is incredibly light- I have never played such a light guitar before. It serves its purpose as a great first guitar, or one that will hold up on road trips without the owner having to worry about breaking or losing a more expensive guitar.
Thoughts on the build and parts
As far as the build, it does look cheap and that’s because it is. The stain on the neck is sloppy. The wood used is obviously cheap and mass produced. I did worry, although so far for nothing, that if I played too hard on this guitar that the strings would suddenly snap out of the holder on the base. But as I have continued playing, I have gained confidence in this instrument’s ability to handle itself through some wear and tear. It can handle some hits and some scratches without affecting the sound, a benefit of a cheap guitar like the RA-090. The natural top looks sleek on top of the black body, perhaps the only aesthetically pleasing element.
The guitar plays relatively well out of the box. I did not adjust the truss rod or action at all when I first bought it. The action is moderate and even on beginners shouldn’t cause any pain in the fingers, especially if you are playing mostly bar chords instead of picking. If you do a lot of finger picking, this guitar might not work great for you simply because it is so cheap. For those learning to play, this instrument is great for going through basic chord charts and memorizing easy acoustic songs. You will not find a better bag for the buck with any acoustic instrument in this respect. No matter what your style of play, the standard action is better than that of most cheap guitars.
I really enjoyed playing nickel bronze strings on this guitar, such as those available from D’Addario. They seemed to bring out the tone better than other types of strings. For the most part, what you see is what you get with cheap guitars like this but if you use certain strings like these consistently you will learn the ins and outs of the guitar so well that you can manipulate the sound a little bit here and there. The tuners are not great- one fall back of this instrument is that you definitely will need to keep a tuner close by at all times, especially if you lay with a thick pick. There are certainly other guitars on the market that hold a tune better than this one, but beginners shouldn’t need to worry too much about that.
Tone and sound
The tone is smooth but not super loud. While it clearly plays like a cheap guitar, it sounds much better than a beaten down used instrument. I have made a point of changing the strings regularly and doing a good clean-up of the neck and around the body in order to keep dirt, dust, and rust from affecting the sound. The neck feels good in my hand, probably because of how light this instrument is. I have had no problems at all moving up and down the neck, even for a quick octave strike or harmonic note. When transcribing any songs written on electric guitar, you may want to move the higher solos up a string and play them lower on the neck for two reasons- first, because acoustics have a thicker neck and it is slightly harder to move up and down in a hurry. Second, because acoustics often have less frets than electrics that were designed for lead guitarists to play those squealing solos.
How big is this guitar?
Weighing in at only 4.5 pounds, this is a great travel guitar for those not willing to sacrifice any frets or size. It won’t weigh down your cargo or require special placement in the back of your car, and if it does get a bit scratched up, who cares? You only spent 50 bucks! It is 41 inches long, 15.5 inches wide at the body and a maximum of six inches thick. Pretty run of the mill. It has the standard twenty frets. One thing you may need to do after playing this guitar for six months or so is sand down a few of the frets. I had an issue with fretting out while I was writing a few songs that were all in the same key. I constant strain on that specific part of the neck must have pushed it out of whack, but it was easy enough to fix.
Overall, the Rogue RA-090 is the best super cheap beginner’s guitar on the market. It is everything that it advertises to be- dependable, long lasting, and straight forward. After a year or so of consistent play, you will probably be ready to step up to a better guitar, but keep this one around for practice and travel. Even for those living in apartments or dormitory style settings, this guitar is good because it doesn’t play so loud that others will become annoyed. If you are thinking about learning to play the guitar, or just need a dependable back up, buy the Rogue RA-090 before the price goes up. What you are getting is much better than what you would find in a thrift store or at a garage sale.