So, you’re on the Internet, and you’re shopping around for a new acoustic guitar when you run into something that’s called an ‘acoustic electric’ guitar. You’re probably a little bit confused because the instrument looks like an acoustic guitar, so you’re just figuring it’s a typo of some sort.
A quick search on Google turns up a whole list of other instruments that are described as acoustic-electric guitars. Acoustic electric guitars look like their normal acoustic guitars- so what is the difference?
These acoustic-electric guitars look the same as acoustic guitars, but do they produce the same sound?
There are a lot of questions that come along with trying to distinguish the differences between an acoustic guitar and an acoustic-electric guitar, especially if you aren’t all that familiar with acoustic guitars, to begin with.
Today, we’re going to talk about the differences between these an acoustic guitar and an acoustic electric guitar. By the end of this discussion, you will have a better understanding of an acoustic-electric guitar is and which type of acoustic guitar will fit your musical needs!
What is an Acoustic Electric guitar?
If you’re here reading this article, chances are you already know what an acoustic guitar is. But, if you’ve ever looked at an acoustic electric guitar and an acoustic guitar, it’s pretty hard to tell the two different instruments apart just by a quick glance at their physical appearance.
The acoustic-electric guitar (also called electro-acoustic guitar) has a very similar build to that of an acoustic guitar in both the physical construction of the instrument and the acoustic sound that we all know and love. However, the difference between an acoustic guitar and an acoustic-electric guitar is the electronic components that have been fitted into the acoustic electric guitar.
Having electronic parts fitted into the acoustic-electric guitar allow your instrument to be plugged into an amplifier or a soundboard. The electronic components installed into your acoustic-electric guitar can be:
- A built-in microphone
- A magnetic pickup
- A Piezo pickup
The most commonly used pickup is the Piezo pickup, but there are some more advanced acoustic electric guitars out there that use a microphone, a Piezo pickup, and sensors altogether.
In addition to an acoustic-electric guitar needing a pickup system, an acoustic-electric guitar will also need a built-in preamp to work properly. Having a preamp in your acoustic-electric guitar takes the signal that your instrument products from the pickup and amplifies it before sending your signal (sound) to your amplifier.
Most built-in preamps typically have a built-in tuner, tone controls, and equalizers. But since the preamp system does need a power source to be able to run, you will often see batteries of different strengths added to your purchase of an acoustic-electric guitar.
What are the pros and cons of using an acoustic-electric guitar?
Playing an acoustic-electric guitar isn’t for everyone, even if you are someone who has years of acoustic playing experience. Even though an acoustic is one of the most popular instruments to learn in the entire world, there are countless different variations of an acoustic electric guitar.
If there are specific characteristics you’re looking to keep or integrity you’re attempting to maintain during your live performances, an acoustic-electric guitar may not be the best option for you (especially if you’ve already made a name for yourself with the sound that you’re currently creating).
On the other hand, acoustic-electric guitars are a wonderful invention to invest in if you are someone who is looking to take your sound outside of your bedroom walls and onto a live stage. Attempting to amplify an acoustic guitar with just the microphone you’re using not only limits the amount of space you have to move around on stage, but it can cut back the amount of energy you’re portraying to your crowd during your performance.
Not to mention that not all microphones are made equally, and if you’re simply depending upon whatever mic your venue has open for the night, you’ll also have a hard time portraying the beautiful sound that you’re capable of creating. Playing in front of a microphone doesn’t provide you with any consistency, but it also doesn’t provide you with stable sound projection, and that pure acoustic sound that your instrument is producing is going to be muffled and muted.
Pros of owning an acoustic-electric:
- You can play your acoustic-electric plugged in or unplugged
- You will have access to a bigger sound projection
- You will notice that your harmonic overtones are more amplified
- Ability to customize your sound
- Aren’t too much more expensive than non-acoustic electric guitars
- You can move around on stage while doing live performances
- Still sounds, plays, and looks like a regular, non-electric acoustic guitar
Cons of owning an acoustic-electric:
- You will have to have access to a power source to be able to play your instrument plugged in, which can be a hassle if there are a lot of other people using electricity for their sound or if you enjoy playing outside venues
- If one of the electronic parts fail in the electronic system, you will have to get them replaced to be able to play amplified again
- Unless you purchase a kit that comes with additional accessories (this is common with cheaper kits that aren’t worth your money), you are going to have to shell out additional money to purchase the equipment that you need to project your sound (an amplifier)
- Acoustic electric guitars are great for live performances, but there really isn’t any need for an acoustic-electric guitar if you only plan on filming yourself playing or if you’re never going to transfer your playing outside of your bedroom walls. If you’re more interested in playing the acoustic-electric guitar for your own personal amusement and nothing else, there really isn’t any need for you to invest in an acoustic electric guitar.
|Pros of owning an acoustic electric guitar||Cons of owning an acoustic electric guitar|
|Acoustic electric guitars provide a much larger sound projection than non-electric acoustic guitars||You need to have access to a power source to be able to play your instrument plugged in|
|Projects acoustic harmonic overtones and allows you to customize your sound||It’s not uncommon for parts of the electronics to fail|
|You can play unplugged or plugged in. Unlike electric guitars, you don’t need an amplifier to play an acoustic electric guitar||You will need to purchase additional equipment if you want to play plugged in|
|Gives you the opportunity to move around a lot on stage||You will need additional storage space for all of the equipment you need if you’re looking to play plugged in|
|Is still an acoustic guitar and will give out the classic acoustic guitar sound (depending on what model you purchase)||If you aren’t looking to play live shows or performances, investing in an acoustic-electric guitar doesn’t really serve many purposes|
Acoustic electric guitars vs. acoustic guitars- Which one is better for a
Some musicians will argue that acoustic guitars are great for beginners to start off with, while other musicians will say that acoustic-electric guitars are the best way to go for new musicians. If you’re looking for an honest answer, neither of these above statements are correct. What type of guitar is best for you all depends upon what your personal preferences are.
Due to the advantages and versatility that an acoustic-electric guitar provides, I would highly recommend starting off an acoustic electric guitar. But again, several factors go into making this choice, and it all depends upon what your personal needs are.
Let’s talk about these factors so you can decide which instrument will work best for you!
1. Sizing and shape
Both acoustic guitars and acoustic-electric guitars come in the same form, shape, and size that will best fit comfortably into your playing style. With acoustic guitars, you have the option to purchase a ¾ acoustic guitar that is smaller in size to fit your smaller stature comfortably. The only thing with buying a ¾ acoustic guitar is that for the majority of ¾ guitars, you have to sacrifice sound projection with your smaller body.
This problem is solved with acoustic-electric guitars. If you’re looking to get your hands on acoustic guitar with a smaller body to be able to play on comfortably, but aren’t looking to sacrifice your sound project, an acoustic-electric guitar will be an excellent choice for you.
With acoustic-electric guitars, you can scale up or down on sizing and not have to worry about your sound projection decreasing thanks to the help of pickups. With a non-acoustic guitar, you have to depend upon the sizing and the shape of your guitar for sound quality and sound projection, no matter your comfort level, your arm length, your body frame, and your height.
Overall, acoustic-electric guitars win in this category.
Acoustic electric guitars and acoustic guitars usually cost the same, but if they don’t acoustic guitars can just be a sliver more. The difference (or equality) in pricing just depends on the brand you’re looking at, the features that are offered on both guitars, and the quality of the materials used to build both instruments. Look at all of these differences, and you will have a better understanding of why the acoustic-electric guitar costs a little bit more or if there isn’t any price difference at all!
The actual pricing for an acoustic guitar and an acoustic-electric guitar may be the same, but the overall investment in an acoustic-electric guitar is going to be a little bit more. For you to get an amplified sound out of your acoustic-electric guitar, you have to purchase additional equipment.
Some acoustic-electric guitars come with an equipment package, but most of the time you’re going to have to purchase the equipment separately. No matter how you buy that extra equipment, it’s still going to cost you additional money. So, if you’re looking to go the cheapest route possible, the acoustic guitar is going to be the winner.
Acoustic guitars have been around a lot longer than acoustic-electric guitars, but does that make acoustic guitars an easier to play than acoustic-electric guitars? Is there some sort of guitar secret that makes acoustic guitars an easier to play?
Good news for you, there isn’t! Both acoustic guitars and acoustic-electric guitars can be played with steel strings. While steel strings can be tougher for beginners to play because they’re a lot harder on the fingers, you can adjust the action on your instrument to make the strings not hurt your fingers as much.
Both acoustic guitars and acoustic-electric guitars allow you to adjust your action to medium/low action. Purchase a set of light steel strings and adjust your guitar’s action and your instrument will be all set for your beginning fingers to play without too much pain!
This means that both instruments are just as playable, so this is a tie!
4. Cosmetic appearance
While you may not want to admit it right off of the bat, the cosmetic appeal of your guitar is definitely one of the leading buying factors that come into play when you’re going shopping for your new guitar. Both acoustic guitars and acoustic-electric guitars are often made out of the same tonewoods, have the same shaping, the same sizing, and even often sport the same finishes. In this category, both acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars are equal!
This is probably going to be the biggest make-it or break-it factor for a lot of people, but it’s important to discuss the good and the bad of both instruments. When they aren’t plugged in, acoustic-electric guitars have the same sound project as non-electric guitars. However, plug your acoustic-electric guitar in, and you’ll be able to achieve maximum volume projection.
This is great for live performances, but it’s going to be hard to get the maximum volume projection out of your acoustic-electric guitar if you want to play at the beach, at a campout, or if you want to pull your instrument out for a quick duet with your guitar buddy.
Lugging around your amplification equipment is not only heavy and tiresome but bring all of that extra equipment with you is really unnecessary if you aren’t sure when you’re going to need it or not. Not to mention you need to have access to electricity if you are looking to play plugged in, which is going to be hard when you’re in the middle of the beach!
While the acoustic-electric guitar can be played unplugged and will sound just like a non-electric acoustic guitar, you still have to carry around all of your extra equipment just for the off chances that you want/have to plug in. With a non-electric acoustic guitar, you don’t have to stress about extra equipment (or the cost of it), your extra equipment getting damaged, and having to find space for all of the extras that you’re carrying. You can simply pull out your acoustic whenever and wherever you want to play, as you never know when the unexpected need for your acoustic playing skills will pop up!
So, which one is actually better?
There really isn’t any catch to it- both instruments have flaws and strengths for certain playing styles and certain musicians. They both produce the same sound and play the same, just one of these instruments can be plugged in!
While the benefits of an acoustic-electric guitar may outweigh the benefits of an acoustic guitar, that doesn’t mean that acoustic-electric guitars are meant for everyone. It really all just depends on what works best for you, your sound, your playing style, and what your goals are for you and your guitar. At the end of the day, pick the instrument that is going to work the best for you and not what you think makes you look cooler.
I hope this guitar guide has helped you to have a better understanding of the differences between the two types of guitars. Good luck on your acoustic journey, no matter which type of guitar you end up choosing!
Of Gibson's many famous designs, the Hummingbird Standard may be one of the most recognizable. The first square shoulder dreadnought Gibson ever produced, it has been turning heads since 1960.
The Oscar Schmidt OG2CE acoustic electric guitar is a deep dreadnought with full acoustic resonance. It features the Barcus Berry Preamp with digital tuner built in.
The Yamaha GigMaker Guitar Package is built around the F325D acoustic guitar with die-cast chrome tuners and a spruce top.
The special X Series GPCX Grand Performance Acoustic-Electric Guitar has a powerful, rich tone, with all the sustain you have come to expect from a Martin guitar.
Rich overtones and improved sustain thanks to the rosewood back and sides deliver improved sound through greater ‘depth’.
Alizabeth Swain is a freelance content writer and a passionate musician with nine years of musical training. Alizabeth is on a mission to share her passion for music with others, as she believes that the power of music has the ability to change lives and the world. When she’s not writing, you can find her fashion blogging on her YouTube channel or creating new products for her cruelty-free cosmetic company.