What EXACTLY is an Acoustic Electric Guitar?
An acoustic-electric (sometimes referred to as acousto electric, or electro acoustic) is simply an acoustic guitar that you can plug in to an amplifier.
(For those who don’t know, a pickup is an electric device that is used to amplify your guitar. On electric guitars they are the devices underneath the strings, built in to the body of the guitar).
With most electrified acoustic guitars, the pickups are tucked away within the hollow body of your guitar. Unless you really poke your head in there, you won’t see the pickup.
You will however, see an input jack on the body of your guitar where you can plug in a guitar cable.
You may also see some kind of control panel on the body of the guitar.
The control panel may include things like a built in tuner, a battery case, a gain/volume control knob, and/or tone controls.
There’s a lot more to it… here are some common questions….
How much do acoustic-electric guitars cost?
Acoustic electric guitars cost a little more than standard acoustic guitars. Basically, you’re paying for the pickup.
This is where prices can get a little tricky, but I’ll try to explain.
If you buy a low end guitar, expect a low end pickup to be installed.
If you buy a high end guitar, expect a high end pickup to be installed.
There isn’t much middle ground here.
But keep in mind: you can almost always upgrade your pickup by installing your own.
In other words, you can buy a normal acoustic guitar and install a pickup later (or you can have a guitar tech install it for you).
I usually recommend spending your money on the guitar (not the pickup). You can always upgrade the pickup… upgrading the guitar is a little more difficult.
However, if money is tight and you’re ready to play live – go for an inexpensive acoustic electric.
Just be warned: The cheaper the guitar, the cheaper the pickup. And while even cheap guitars can sound good, cheap pickups can sound awful.
Who should buy an acoustic electric guitar?
If you aspire to perform live with your acoustic and you don’t know a whole lot about guitars an acoustic electric may be right for you.
If you don’t care about plugging in, performing, or amplifying your guitar: don’t get an acoustic electric.
When should I buy an acoustic electric guitar?
What is the best acoustic electric guitar?
My favorite acoustic electric for beginners is this Fender CD-60CE.
This is sentimental to me because it was my first real guitar (that was actually mine and not stolen from my dad).
I use this guitar almost every day.
I used this guitar when I had my first gig.
I used this guitar when I wrote my first song.
I used this guitar when I recorded my first songs.
However…. after I started gigging regularly: I upgraded the pickup because the build in pickup wasn’t great.
Acoustic electric guitar brands that are worth looking into include:
I mean… pretty much any reputable guitar maker (of acoustic guitars) will make a decent acoustic electric.
Should I bother buying an acoustic electric guitar?
This is a tricky one.
If you’re absolutely ready to start playing live (even if it’s just at an open mic night, or busking on the streets) then go get a cheap acoustic electric guitar.
If money is tight, by an inexpensive acoustic electric guitar…. remember you can always upgrade the pickup later.
Are there special acoustic electric strings?
If there are… I don’t know about them and they may be a scam.
Just get your usual acoustic guitar strings.
What kind of pickup should I get for my acoustic guitar?
If you want to turn an acoustic into an electric you can install your own pickup (or take it to a guitar store and have them install the pickup for you).
There are a few kinds of acoustic guitar pickups (as you can see here).
I’m not going to go into great detail about them now (maybe in a future article).
For the most part – you get what you pay for.
You also may want to consider the venue you’ll be playing in before getting a pickup.
I currently use an LR Baggs soundhole pickup like this.
It sounds great when plugged in and it was super easy to install (though I did have to drill a hole into my guitar (which freaked me out… but it was worth it).
This type of pickup can handle pretty loud volumes in pretty loud venues (which is why it works for me if I’m playing a crowded bar).
The LR Baggs model is pretty cheap ($150).
I wouldn’t spend much less than that unless you’re really strapped for cash.
The Dean Markley’s are cheap and will work if you’re in a pinch…. but I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re planning on upgrading your pickup system.
There are a other types of pickups too.
The LR Baggs is a passive pickup (doesn’t require any external power source like a battery). I think passive pickups provide the most natural sound for the price.
On the other hand, active pickups need a battery (usually a 9 volt). They’re pretty cheap and frequently come installed on many factory acoustic electric guitars.
There are still more pickups (like internal mics and undersaddle transducers) but we’ll talk about them in a future post.
What kind of amp should I get for my acoustic electric guitar?
It depends what you need it for.
First off: do you actually need an amp for an acoustic electric guitar?
If you’re just hitting up open mic nights… probably not.
If you’re performing at your own gigs… get an amp (or just plug your guitar into your PA system).
If you want an amplifier specifically for your acoustic guitar ideally you’ll get an amp that is designed for acoustic guitars.
I have feedback problems with my acoustic electric?
Acoustic electric feedback problems are pretty common.
Before you do anything, you probably need to identify the cause of your feedback (is it when you turn the gain up, is it hitting on only certain frequencies, etc).
Try to keep the gain/volume on your guitar turned down (40%-50%) and control the volume with your amp or PA.
You may also want to invest in one of these.
You can also try one of these sound hole covers for your sound hole – it’s a cheap solution that has worked for a lot of guitar player friends of mine.
Should I record with an acoustic electric guitar?
Yes – but don’t plug it in.
You’re better off directly mic-ing your acoustic guitar.
As I mentioned earlier – pickups can make your guitar sound unnatural.
That’s it. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Jake Posko does Online Guitar Lessons and Coaching as well as in-home lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.