An acoustic-electric guitar is an acoustic guitar with the addition of pickups or other means of amplification, added by either the manufacturer or the player, to amplify the sound coming from the body of the guitar.
This is not the same as a semi-acoustic guitar or hollow-body electric, which is a type of electric guitar that originated from the 1930s. It has both a sound box and one or more electric pickups.
Electric-acoustic guitars are a great way to get the best of both worlds. You can play them plugged in to get a louder sound or unplugged to get a more natural sound.
In this article, I’ll explain what an electric-acoustic guitar is and how it works. Plus, I’ll share some tips on how to choose the right one for you.
Acoustic-Electric Guitars: The Best of Both Worlds
An acoustic-electric guitar is a hybrid instrument that combines the best of both worlds- the acoustic and electric guitar. It is essentially an acoustic guitar with a pickup and preamp system built-in, which allows the guitar to be plugged into an amplifier or PA system for amplification. The pickup converts the sound of the strings into an electrical signal that can be amplified, while the preamp boosts and shapes the signal to produce the desired tone.
What are the Differences Between an Acoustic-Electric Guitar and a Regular Acoustic Guitar?
The main difference between an acoustic-electric guitar and a regular acoustic guitar is the addition of a pickup and preamp system. This allows the acoustic-electric guitar to be plugged in and amplified, whereas a regular acoustic guitar requires a microphone or other external equipment to be amplified. Other differences include:
- Body: Acoustic-electric guitars often have a slightly different body shape compared to regular acoustic guitars, with a cutaway or tailpiece to allow easier access to the higher frets.
- Price: Acoustic-electric guitars are often more expensive than regular acoustic guitars due to the added electronics and hardware.
- Sound: Acoustic-electric guitars can sound slightly different compared to regular acoustic guitars, especially when plugged in and amplified.
How to Choose the Right Acoustic-Electric Guitar?
When choosing an acoustic-electric guitar, there are several factors to consider, including:
- Budget: Acoustic-electric guitars can range from relatively cheap to very expensive, so it’s important to set a budget before making a purchase.
- Sound: Different acoustic-electric guitars will have different sounds, so it’s important to choose a guitar that produces the desired tone.
- Pickup System: Some acoustic-electric guitars come with a single pickup, while others have multiple pickups or a combination of pickup and microphone systems. Consider which pickup system will best suit your needs.
- Body Shape: Acoustic-electric guitars come in a variety of body shapes, so choose one that feels comfortable to play and suits your playing style.
- Brand and Model: Some brands and models are known for producing great acoustic-electric guitars, so do some research and read reviews before making a purchase.
Ultimately, the choice of acoustic-electric guitar will depend on the player’s needs and preferences. Whether you’re a keen performer or simply want the convenience of being able to plug in and play, an acoustic-electric guitar can be a great addition to your musical arsenal.
Playing an Electric-Acoustic Guitar: Can You Play it Like a Regular Acoustic?
An electric-acoustic guitar is a type of guitar that is designed to work as both an acoustic and an electric guitar. It has a built-in pickup that allows you to plug it into an amplifier or recording device to create an amplified sound. Despite the fact that it has an electric component, it still functions as a regular acoustic guitar when it’s not plugged in.
Can You Play an Electric-Acoustic Guitar Like a Regular Acoustic?
Yes, you can play an electric-acoustic guitar like a regular acoustic guitar. In fact, it’s recommended that you learn to play it this way before plugging it in. Playing it unplugged will help you learn the correct positioning of your hands and fingers, and it will also help you develop a good tone.
How to Play an Electric-Acoustic Guitar Unplugged
To play an electric-acoustic guitar like a regular acoustic guitar, follow these steps:
- Tune the guitar’s strings to the correct pitch.
- Hold the guitar in the same way you would hold a regular acoustic guitar.
- Play the notes and chords as you would on a regular acoustic guitar.
- Utilize the guitar’s natural tone and sound without plugging it in.
Misconceptions About Electric-Acoustic Guitars
There are certain misconceptions about electric-acoustic guitars that are worth addressing:
- Some people think that electric-acoustic guitars are only for experienced players. However, they are a great choice for beginners as well.
- Some people think that electric-acoustic guitars are extremely expensive. While there are certainly high-end models that can be costly, there are also many excellent and highly recommended electric-acoustic guitars that are quite affordable.
- Some people think that electric-acoustic guitars are only good for certain uses, such as recording or running effects. However, they offer a wide range of different sounds and can be used for many different styles of playing.
The Importance of Playing an Electric-Acoustic Guitar Correctly
Playing an electric-acoustic guitar correctly is critical if you want to get the best possible sound out of it. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
- The positioning of your hands and fingers is just as important when playing an electric-acoustic guitar as it is when playing a regular acoustic guitar.
- The pickup and preamp included in the guitar contribute to the sound, so it’s important to follow the correct method for plugging it in and adjusting the settings.
- Mixing the sound of the pickup with the sound of a microphone positioned close to the guitar can offer an incredible sound.
Why Electro-Acoustics Are More Versatile
One of the main reasons why electric-acoustic guitars are more versatile than regular acoustic guitars is their ability to produce extra sounds and effects. With the electrical signal produced by the pickup, players can add different effects to their sound, such as chorus, delay, or reverb. This means that players can create a wider range of sounds, making the guitar more versatile for different styles of music.
Convenient and Quick to Play
Another reason why electric-acoustic guitars are more versatile is that they are easier and more convenient to play. In the case of a regular acoustic guitar, players need to practice and perfect their technique to get a decent sound. However, with an electric-acoustic guitar, players can simply plug in and play, making it easier for beginners to get started. Additionally, the ability to plug in and play makes it more convenient for players to practice and record their music quickly.
Opportunity to Expand and Tweak Your Sound
The versatility of electric-acoustic guitars also lies in the opportunity to expand and tweak your sound. With the use of a preamp or EQ, players can modify their tone to their liking, allowing for a perfect playing experience. Additionally, the use of effect pedals or a looper expands the range of personal touches players can add to their sound. This means that players can sculpt their sound to their liking, making the guitar more versatile for different styles of music.
Recording and Live Performance
The versatility of electric-acoustic guitars also makes them ideal for recording and live performance. With the ability to plug in and send an electrical signal, players can easily record their music without the need for microphoning. Additionally, the use of a tuner or external volume control makes it easier to adjust the sound on the fly during live performances. The endless possibilities of phrases and melodies that can be looped and layered make the guitar more versatile for live performances.
Dealbreaker for Traditional Acoustic Players
While some argue that the use of electronics and effects takes away from the traditional acoustic sound, the versatility of electric-acoustic guitars is a tie-breaker for many players. The ability to create extra sounds and effects, the convenience and quickness of playing, the opportunity to expand and tweak your sound, and the versatility for recording and live performance make electric-acoustic guitars a better option for many players.
Microphone vs Onboard Pickup: Which One Wins the Tone Comparison?
When it comes to getting the best sound out of your acoustic-electric guitar, you have two main options: using a microphone or an onboard pickup system. Both methods have their advantages and drawbacks, and it’s up to you to decide which one is the best fit for your needs.
Mic’d Up: The Natural and Organic Sound of a Microphone
Using a microphone to capture the sound of your acoustic-electric guitar is a traditional and famous method that many performers still utilize today. The benefits of using a microphone include:
- A pure and natural sound that closely resembles the tonal qualities of the instrument
- The ability to control the mic placement and capture the sound from a specific area of the guitar
- The tonal range is wider and captures more frequencies compared to an onboard pickup system
- Easier to adjust the volume and EQ settings to get the desired sound
However, there are also some drawbacks to using a microphone:
- The sound can be affected by external factors such as room acoustics and background noise
- It can be a struggle to capture the sound of the guitar without getting too much of the surrounding noise
- The mic placement needs to be precise, and any movement can result in a change in the sound
- It’s not as easy to amplify the sound live compared to an onboard pickup system
Onboard Pickup: The Direct and Magnified Sound of an Electric Guitar
An onboard pickup system is a loaded system that is built into the guitar and aims to capture the sound directly from the instrument. The benefits of using an onboard pickup system include:
- The sound is direct and magnified, making it easier to amplify the sound live
- The sound is not affected by external factors such as room acoustics and background noise
- The pickup system is easier to control and adjust compared to a microphone
- The versatility of the system allows performers to adjust the volume and EQ settings to get the desired sound
However, there are also some drawbacks to using an onboard pickup system:
- The sound can be a bit too electric compared to the natural sound of the guitar
- The tonal range is typically narrower compared to a microphone
- The sound can be too direct and lack the organic feel of a microphone
- It can be challenging to adjust the EQ settings to get the desired sound without affecting the natural sound of the guitar
Which One Should You Choose?
When it comes to choosing between a microphone and an onboard pickup system, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and the type of performance or recording you are attempting. Here are some things to keep in mind when making your decision:
- If you want a natural and organic sound, a microphone is the way to go
- If you want a direct and magnified sound, an onboard pickup system is the way to go
- If you are recording songs in a studio, a microphone may be the better choice to capture the natural sound of the guitar
- If you are performing live, an onboard pickup system may be the better choice to amplify the sound
- If you are attempting to enhance the tonal qualities of the guitar, both methods can be used together to get the best of both worlds
Electric-Acoustic Guitars- Digging Deeper
Pickups are built into electric-acoustic guitars to convert the acoustic sound into an electrical signal that can be amplified. They work by sensing the vibrations of the strings and converting them into an electrical signal that can be sent to an amplifier. There are two types of pickups: piezo and magnetic. Piezo pickups are designed to pick up the vibrations of the strings, while magnetic pickups work by sensing the magnetic field created by the strings.
Do electric-acoustic guitars need to be plugged in to work?
No, electric-acoustic guitars can be played unplugged just like regular acoustic guitars. However, they are designed to be plugged in and provide a wider range of sound options. When plugged in, the pickups convert the acoustic sound into an electrical signal that can be amplified, modified, and enhanced.
So there you have it- the ins and outs of electric-acoustic guitars. They’re a great way to get the best of both worlds, and with the right one, you can really unlock your creativity. So don’t be afraid to give one a try!
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe