I wrote a post not too long ago asking; do you need an acoustic guitar effects pedal? I know this is a site dedicated mostly to guitar pedals, but acoustic electric guitars and acoustic guitars in general hold a special place in my heart.
Now why would you need an acoustic electric guitar, and should you buy one? There are many reasons why you should, and some reasons why you shouldn’t, mostly depending on what sound you want from your guitar and your playing style.
Let’s get into it.
What is an acoustic electric guitar?
Some people don’t know the answer to this question so I will touch on it briefly. Let’s talk about electric guitars for a second. An electric guitar is “electric” because of it’s wiring, and most importantly it’s pickups. What do pickups do?
When an electric guitar string vibrates from being plucked or strummed, it sends a small electric current into the pickups of your electric guitar. Your pickups are wound with magnetic wires that are very fine which “pick up” the electric current (hence the name).
This current, or signal, is then passed through two circuits. The tone circuit, and the volume circuit.
It then passes through the output jack, through the guitar cable, and into your amplifier, which then melts faces. Science is cool!
The main difference between a regular acoustic and an electric acoustic is, well you guessed it, the electric acoustic has a pickup.
Obviously, acoustic guitars have a sound hole which “amplifies” the sound of an acoustic guitar, which is why your electric guitar isn’t loud when you play it not plugged into an amp. There is nothing to amplify the sound.
How Acoustic Electric Guitars Work
If you are thinking about buying an acoustic electric guitar, it is important to know at least the basics of how one works. That way, if you do pull the trigger and purchase one, you will better know how to use the guitar to it’s full potential.
With an acoustic guitar and it’s lack of electronics, the same vibrations from the strings pass through the soundboard (which is the top piece of wood that makes up an acoustic guitar) and also down to the bridge and the saddle.
These vibrations allow air to go into the sound hole, which in turn produces the sounds coming out of your acoustic guitar. Pretty neat!
With acoustic electric guitars we have a pickup added. The two most common types of pickups you will see on these guitars are either piezo pickups or a microphone pickup. Some guitars even come with both.
What are piezo pickups you ask? A piezo pickup (pronounced pye-zo) will be installed right under the saddle of your guitar, which means you won’t be able to see it. It is there that it will most efficiently pickup the vibrations from the strings.
Piezo pickups generally come with a preamp which will allow you to shape and modify the sound of your guitar to your liking. Some might also come with a microphone as well, and in turn will allow you to “blend” the two together, giving you even more options for your sound.
With a “blend” system, you’ll be able to use the piezo pickup, the microphone, or both at the same time.
The second most common type will be a microphone inside of the sound hole. The microphone takes the vibrations and sounds from your acoustic guitar and sends them directly to your amp.
This means you can’t really alter the sound as much, but if you just want your acoustic to make sound out of an amp then this is the way for you to go.
One of the downsides of a microphone is that not only will it pickup the vibrations from the strings, but it will also pick up other sounds from the environment if they are loud enough. This is when you might get feedback which is that wurbly sound you sometimes hear at gigs.
So if you go this route keep the feedback in mind.
Should I buy an acoustic Electric?
I’m personally a fan of owning as many instruments as I can get my hands on, so I would say yes. But for most people, buying a guitar can be a big and important investment, so you obviously want to buy what is right for you.
Let’s look at some benefits of acoustic electric guitars.
First, when played out of the right amp or a good sound system, your acoustic guitar can sound even better than when it is not plugged in. More often than not the pickups will provide crisp and beautiful tones that your ear might be able to hear because of a lack of amplification.
It is here that an acoustic can really shine and give the sound that they are so loved for.
Second, if you don’t have an acoustic electric and you want to play a gig, you normally would have to use an external microphone and put it in front of the sound hole of your normal acoustic.
This would mean you have to be strict with not moving much while you are playing while also making sure you keep the distance between the microphone and the guitar constant.
With an acoustic electric guitar you have freedom to move around and play more expressively. You aren’t constrained to playing in front of a microphone so it’s one less thing you have to worry about.
Finally, you can plug an acoustic electric into any amp. There are amps made specifically for acoustic electrics, but any electric guitar amp will work.
In terms of negatives there are a few.
For starters, electric components, pickups, and preamps on an acoustic guitar will mean that it’s going to cost more money. I bought an acoustic electric recently and the difference between the same guitar without a pickup was about $120.
There is also the case of the electric aspect being somewhat of a novelty.
I play my acoustic electric guitar almost every day, but 9 times out of 10 I play it unplugged. There are very few times when I have actually played it out of an amp or monitor. But when I did, it made a world of difernece.
The last con that comes to mind is acoustic amps. Again we are talking about more money here. Like mentioned above you can plug any acoustic electric into any guitar amp, but acoustic guitar amps will sound much better. They are made specifically for acoustic guitars.
So if you want to get the best tone possible for your electric acoustic, you will need to spend more money on an acoustic-specific amp.
Figure out what works for you
When it comes down to acoustic electric guitars, it can be difficult to decide if you want to buy one or not. You need to ask yourself a few questions before purchasing one.
Do you see yourself playing gigs regularly? If this is the case, then it might be a good idea to pick up an acoustic electric. That way you will have more options when gigging.
Do you already have a regular acoustic guitar? If the answer is yes, then you may not need to spend a lot of money on a brand new guitar. You can get a preamp and pickup installed on the guitar you already have which can save you money in the long run.
I always advocate trying something out before you buy it. You wouldn’t buy a car you’ve never driven before right?
So if you are interested in buying an acoustic electric, go to your local guitar store and try some out. Experiment with different brands and different kinds of pickups.
Try amps out and find out which ones work for you. If it fits your playing style, go for it. Either way, at the end of the day, everyone can always use another guitar.
If you have an acoustic electric, consider leaving a comment down below and tell us what you like about it. What sort of experiences do you have with acoustic electrics? We would love to hear from you. Keep pickin’.