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Even though acoustic guitars haven't really changed much in the past century, modern technology did have an impact on these instruments. When the first guitar pickups were invented, it didn't take long before someone tried to find applications for this technology in the world of acoustic guitars.
The result we have at the present moment is a market full of acoustic electric models that bring a whole range of useful benefits to the traditional acoustic player.
Our mission today is to go deep into the world the acoustic electric, talk about how they work, and show you some of their main benefits.
Later on, we will show you some of the best acoustic electric guitars in particular price ranges. This should give you a good idea of what your budget can get you as well as some specific recommendations.
If you are a fan of the acoustic guitar tone but need something that is a bit more versatile, especially when it comes to studio recording and live performance, you're in the right place. With that said, let's get right to it.
Acoustic guitars were always subjected to various limitations. Since the body of the guitar is its own source of sound amplification, we had to find other ways to get the sound out there. One of the most popular ways was to put a microphone in front of the instrument. This is a method that is still heavily used today, although it's cumbersome and inconvenient in a lot of applications.
The downside of boosting the volume of an acoustic guitar this way is the fact that every microphone adds a color of its own to the end result, not to mention the preamplifier and any compression and equalization applied. In other words, not only do you have to position the microphone correctly, but you also need to be very careful when choosing which mic to use.
On top of this, being forced to use a microphone typically renders the guitar player static and even the slightest sway or repositioning can affect the desired frequency response you meticulously chose.
The only real solution to the issue of amplifying acoustic guitars for large venues is to include pickups and preamps into the system. The manifested result of this process is what is called an acoustic electric guitar.
The merging of electronics into an acoustic guitar brings all of the benefits you'd expect from this hybrid relationship while adding no negatives.
There are generally three types of acoustic electric guitars out there, separated by the method in which they generate the electrical signal that contains your audio. There are:
The idea here is to get the one that suits your needs and preferences the best. With that in mind, let's walk you through each of these different platforms.
The idea behind a piezoelectric pickup is more or less the same as with any regular electric guitar pickup. Guitars which utilize this system have a piezoelectric pickup located under the bridge. Once you pick a string, the sound vibration from the string is then interpreted by the pickup, generates an electrical signal, and is then fed into the preamplifier to be boosted to line-level. You can think of it like a microphone's diaphragm.
The main benefit of this system is that you get more control over your tone with less hum and buzz due to the pickup responding to a mechanical sound pressure instead of an electro-magnetic disturbance. Most onboard preamps come with some sort of EQ section, which will allow you to shape the tone however you see fit.
This type of acoustic electric guitar is pretty simple and is actually the oldest system in use. The whole thing is based on a small microphone that is located inside the body of the guitar, right under the sound hole. Once you pick strings, the microphone sends the tone it picks up to the preamp, which is then fed into an amplifier through the guitar cable.
The good thing about this system is that you get a fairly authentic tone on the other end, much more so than if you used a normal external microphone. However, microphone based acoustic electric guitars generally have feedback issues, which is something you definitely want to avoid.
Lastly, we have guitars which combine the two systems and have both the piezoelectric pickup as well as a microphone in the sound box. Both of these sources are fed into a preamp, which often allows you to choose the source of the sound. Not only that, but you can also blend the two together to average out the benefits of both types while minimizing the negatives.
Benefits of this system are fairly obvious. You get to choose which source to use based on the venue you are playing at. Let's say the stage you are about to perform on has a number of large monitors pointed directly at you. In that case, you'd definitely want to stick with a piezoelectric pickup. On the other hand, if there are no monitors around, you can use both or only the microphone. Alternatively you can mike your acoustic guitar with external mics, which is great in isolated situations such as a recording studio.
There are numerous reasons why an acoustic electric guitar is going to be better than a standard acoustic one. For starters, not many people realize just how versatile these instruments are. With electric guitars, you generally have to plug them into an amplifier.
That is not always the case with acoustic electric ones, especially with piezoelectric pickups since they pump out a relatively high amplitude signal. All you really need is a small DI box that will attenuate the signal a little, and you plug the guitar straight into a mixer. Naturally, how good this is going to sound will depend on your guitar's preamp.
In general, using an acoustic electric guitar expands your possibilities. You are no longer limited to the volume the guitar itself is capable of producing, which can come in pretty handy at times, nor having to mic an amplifier either. With an acoustic electric, you can perform in just about any venue that's worth its salt, without dealing with close miking and a lot of post-processing like equalizing out the boomy low-end.
Learning how to play guitar on an acoustic style guitar brings about the benefit of forcing you to learn better habits at the beginning rather than unlearning them later, which is exponentially harder to do, because they're a bit more unforgiving about hiding your errors, especially because you won't be hiding behind a string of distortion and reverb pedals.
Another good reason to go with this type of acoustic guitar is the fact that there aren't really any significant reasons not to. These days, an acoustic electric model won't be that more expensive, and having the electric option available is priceless. You can get them really cheap, but just like with anything else, quality of the system will depend on the price. It's the little things that I appreciate, like the built-in tuners, besides the main feature. These tiny details bring so much convenience that traditional acoustic guitars lack that can save the day, like when you forget to pack your nice guitar tuner in your gig bag.
Much like standard electric guitars, the quality of pickups and preamps is going to vary from brand to brand and model to model. Finding a good acoustic electric guitar depends on what you need and how forgiving your budget is.
For the most part, you might want to get a preamp that has at least some type of EQ on it. Tone shaping on an acoustic electric guitar can really give you an edge or at least a semblance of control before the sound guy butchers it during your gig, although you can do this with an effects pedal. Even though this is something that takes the time to learn, it's better to have the option readily available when you decide to step up to that level.
Other than that, you are mostly limited by your budget. The more money you sink into an acoustic electric guitar, the more authentic the sound will be. You don't want to focus only on the preamp system, of course. Our recommendations make sure you get a great build and tone quality in addition to the electronics.
Note: Each image and text link leads to Amazon.com where you can read additional user reviews, find specific technical detail listings, see additional body sizes and finishes, and make your purchase.
Now that we are familiar with acoustic electric guitars and how they work, it's time to check the market and see what you can get for your money. We will divide the next segment into several price ranges, allowing you to find something that best suits your budget, starting with the cheapest first.
Right around $300 is where you will find the best budget acoustic electric guitars. There are models which can be had for less, but those simply won't be as good as guitars right around this price point. A lot of times they can be downright bad. Forget that though, we've got two great, and more importantly, proven models for you to check out.
Epiphone's offering in the low and mid-range segment has been pretty strong for years. The Epiphone Hummingbird Pro is their take on a legendary Gibson model and it brings much of the same qualities. What really makes this acoustic-electric stand out is the overall level of quality you get for your money. You can trust it as an accurate emulation since Gibson now owns and produces Epiphone's guitars.
Right off the bat, you have a very decent solid spruce top that is paired with a mahogany back and sides. The neck is also a mahogany piece and features a SlimTaper D profile. If you are one of those guitar players who like to inspect every single piece of the guitar looking for flaws, you won't be disappointed with this one's attention to detail.
Epiphone offers the Hummingbird Pro with binding both on the body and the fretboard, which is a nice touch for a guitar in this price range. The finish comes in the form of a vintage sunburst, which plays well with the overall theme of this guitar. Generally, the level of detail and effort put into this guitar is impressive, to say the least.
When it comes to the electronics, we have a Shadow Performer system. Epiphone reached out to Shadow from Germany looking to create a decent preamp for their lower mid-range segment. The result is an awesome system that gives you a fair amount of control over your tone. You get a two-band EQ along with master volume and dynamics control.
The tone of the guitar is strong and well defined. There's plenty of warmth to work with, while the trebles and upper mids pack in the brightness. When you turn on the preamp and plug this bad boy into an amplifer, you will get a very close render of the guitar's natural tone. With some tone shaping, you can really dial in a great sound.
If you like the inlays on the fretboard and the flowery design with the hummingbird and butterfly on the pick guard, make sure to check out the version with the dove on it too.
The Yamaha's FG series FGX800C is a perfectly machined instrument. If there is one thing Yamaha is known for, it's the quality of their mass-produced acoustic guitars, which people like to pooh-pooh due to the romanticization of extremely expensive handmade guitars. Yamaha has perfected this machining process to a point where you wouldn't really be able to figure out if the instrument was put together by a luthier or if it was made on a factory floor somewhere. This is the case with nearly every accessible guitar these days thanks to machines reducing errors and driving prices down.
The FGX800C features a solid Sitka spruce top with a dreadnought body type that features a cutaway design as well as a Nato wood back and sides. This alone makes it a very fearsome contender in this price range. Strumming a chord really paints the picture as to why this wood combination is so good.
Keep in mind that Yamaha's FG series still holds the record for the most sold acoustic guitar ever. There's a reason for that which transcends their current manufacturing methods. Yamaha simply knows how to make a solid mid-range guitar that brings the bang for the buck.
The tone you can expect on getting from this particular model is balanced across the frequency spectrum, strong in feeling, and full of volume. That dreadnought body belches out a decent number of decibels even with that cutaway. Speaking of which, having a cutaway really helps when you just need to reach those higher notes, physically.
In terms of the electronics, Yamaha went with a System 66 piezoelectric platform. The preamp packs a standard three-band EQ couple with a built-in tuner and a flexible mid-range control. Needless to say, it gives you more than enough room to dial in a decent tone. Quality-wise, this might be the best acoustic electric you can get in this price range, period.
Moving on to the next price range, we are starting to see a more intricate build quality and generally better electronics. This is where you will find some of the best workhorse guitars meant to keep up with stage work as well as casual use. Let's go over our picks for this category.
Up next comes another compact model and our second Yamaha recommendation. This time around, we are looking at their Yamaha FSX830C model. Unlike all of the guitars we have mentioned so far, this one isn't a dreadnought. Instead, we are looking at a standard concert shape with a cutaway. Now, you do have the choice of eleven finishes and body types, and since the options are nearly endless we've narrowed down to our favorite configuration, but definitely look at the others, there's some neat options in there.
Much like the FG series model we have talked about above, this guitar is made solid and has passed Yamaha's unforgiving quality control. You know precisely what you're getting and how it'll perform because each guitar in this line-up is exactly the same as the next, with no discernible variation. They went with a nice solid Sitka spruce top in combination with a rosewood back and sides. This should tell you right away that the guitar is going to be very responsive aurally.
Rosewood is one of the hardest tonewoods around and using it in an acoustic guitar's body is a good way to introduce brightness. At the end of the day, that is exactly how you would describe the performance of this Yamaha. It is bright, but with more than enough girth in the low end to not be anemic.
In terms of the electronics, we are once more faced with a System 66 unit. You get a three-band EQ, a built-in tuner, and a versatile mid-range slider that allows you to really tune those mids to perfection. Overall, if you appreciate a comfortable guitar that sounds good and will take on any stage performance you can dish out, this Yamaha is something to look into.
Taylor's lower end segment is often the target of controversy. On one hand, you have those who claim these guitars are overpriced at best, while others stand firmly behind Taylor's brand and reputation. The truth is leaning more towards the latter, because as you'll see these are hardly 'high-priced' relatively.
Unlike the guitars we have mentioned so far, the Taylor BT2 Baby Taylor is a travel guitar. In other words, it's a 3/4 scale size of a standard dreadnought, making it easier to play for a lot of us. The top wood is a solid mahogany piece while the back and sides are made of layered Sapele. The use of laminate wood is one of those friction points which many purists like to point out to. However, the way Taylor builds these guitars, you really won't hear a difference. In this case it's only a visual difference, and a fairly attractive one at that.
In terms of tone, a smaller dreadnought body will be slightly lacking in projecting the low-end frequencies. That doesn't matter here thanks to being an acoustic electric. With that said, the trebles and mids give away its origin, tone-wise. Play a few chords and you'll immediately hear that classic 'Taylor sound' even from a lower mid-range guitar like this one.
Taylor went with their own Expression electronics for the BT2. This system features volume and tone controls as well as a built-in tuner. You generally don't get too much maneuvering space in terms of tone shaping, however, the default setting of the Expression preamp is perfectly capable of reproducing this Taylor's native tone, and there's generally never any desire to leave that realm either.
Next segment we'll look at are the best acoustic electric options you can get for a grand or under. This is where some of the true gems of the market are hiding. Keep in mind that this is considered to be the upper edge of the mid-range segment, so there will definitely be some more refined models to choose from. Let's dig in.
No list of acoustic guitars, especially those in the higher price bracket, can be complete without at least one Martin. This has nothing to do with Martin's justified prestigious status, but rather the quality of their guitars alone. The Martin DRS2 is one of their most cost effective models out there and it definitely deserves your attention.
Within Martin's own classification, the DRS2 model is their 'entry level' dreadnought. That sounds a bit weird, but it starts making sense when you realize it is their cheapest solid wood acoustic electric offering, with some of the others hitting astronomical prices.
The top comes in the form of a solid Sitka spruce while the back and sides are solid Sapele. The neck is made of select hardwood, which used to mean strata bound when this guitar first appeared on the market.
In standard Martin fashion, the guitar looks amazing. We have a subtle and refined binding all around the top, along with a simple rosette design around the sound hole. The tone of the guitar is that of a supreme quality dreadnought. This doesn't come as a surprise considering that Martin invented this body shape a long time ago.
For the electronics, Martin went with Fishman's Sonitone. Now, if you were to look at the guitar, you wouldn't find the preamp in its usual place. Instead, the preamp and its controls are located inside the sound hole. While this might complicate things a little for the beginner still tinkering, ultimately it's generally a set-and-forget issue.
Bang for the buck, this guitar is simply amazing. The amount of warmth, the thicker low end, and the shimmering brightness in the trebles you get is beautiful. If you are looking for a more reliable and field-tested acoustic electric guitar in a price range that's more than respectable, this is it.
Our alternative choice in this range comes under the name of the Takamine GN93CE-NAT. This is another compact body model that features an orchestra shape with their NEX cutaway. In all honesty, it feels more like a shrunk jumbo acoustic than anything else. If you like the sound of a jumbo, then definitely give this guitar a fair shake.
With a solid spruce top combined with a solid rosewood back and sides, you are looking at a more responsive selection of tonewood. The guitar's shape guarantees a stronger low end compared to dreadnoughts of the same size, while the mids are pretty well balanced. Of course you can do anything you want to the sound with the electronics.
The electronics they chose for this occasion is their TK-40D system. The preamp packs a whole lot of versatility, including a three-band EQ as well as gain controls. On top of that, you also get a mid contour switch that widens this portion of the frequency range, giving another option to dial in.
The cool thing about this setup is the EQ bypass feature. In other words, you can completely nullify any effects of the EQ and tap into the raw tone of the guitar. That works great for those who want that authentic tone or to let the mix engineer handle the rest. Overall, this Takamine is rock solid in all aspects. It is a great alternative for anyone who's looking to extract the most out of their money who wants to try something other than a Martin.
Finding the best of the best, with no budget constraints is a hard task. There are so many awesome models out there, most of which deserve to share this spot. Because of that, we have decided to keep things fairly simple and choose the most universally pleasing from the batch.
That's right, we have another Martin guitar. This time around it's the Martin DCPA4R from their Performing Artist series. This guitar is not really the very best they have to offer, but we feel that it combines all of what makes Martin so unique at a price that isn't impossible to afford. Because there are some insanely priced ones out there from Martin and others, but funnily they aren't the best of the best, just the most expensive.
This beast features a classic Sitka spruce top with a rosewood back and sides combo. We have already mentioned a few guitars that feature these types of tonewood. However, the difference here is that the Martin DCPA4R is a handmade instrument that brings you the craftsmanship of Martin's top luthiers. If you appreciate craftsmanship, you'll love this instrument.
The fit and finish are as amazing as one would expect, and the general aesthetics of the guitars are just awesome to look at. They aren't gaudy or try-hard, but refined and subtle in their expression. Strumming a single cord will tell you all you need to know about the tone quality of this guitar, which is what really matters. It has that Martin twang and a lot of it.
For the electronics, Martin went with a Fishman F1 system. This is a fairly straightforward platform that features a clear, transparent sound with plenty of authentic vibes, and a very simple control layout, which matters when you're in the middle of playing and need to tweak something. There's no EQs or anything extra like that. Instead, you get one volume control, one tone control, and a built-in tuner.
Even with such a lightweight configuration, the Fishman F1 system is still more than capable of rendering the tone of the DCPA4R with a great deal of accuracy due to the superior tight focus on the preamp. This guitar is our pick for the top acoustic electric guitar if price is no object. There are many other awesome models out there and we urge you to check them out as well, but you'll likely find that your search could have ended right here.
At the end of the day, acoustic electric guitars are definitely the way to go if you want a bit of extra versatility. The models we have shown you today are by far some of the best on the market at the moment and in the past. With that said, there are many more guitars which are awesome but didn't make the cut.
The reason for this wasn't really the lack of quality, but rather a lack of space. We'd love to fit them all in, but that list would be the size of a small novel. On that note, we hope you've found this guide helpful and have discovered some awesome acoustic electric guitars.