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A versatile electric guitar is a must for modern musicians. As a performer, I often need a clean acoustic guitar tone in the middle of a set or song that pedals and different pickup combinations cannot emulate. Owning an electric guitar with a piezo pickup is how I achieve that. In this guide, I will help you find the best electric guitar with piezo at all price ranges.
Bottom-line up-front: Electric guitars with a piezo are an excellent solution for the modern guitarist that needs an acoustic-like tone on stage. The crisp, glassy sound of a piezo in an electric guitar is very useful for strumming and blending with the magnetics pickups for extra note separation.
Even though it can somehow imitate to a certain point an acoustic guitar and cut through the mix well, the tone of a piezo on an electric guitar by itself is very bright and lacks the warmth and low mids an acoustic has.
If you already own an electric guitar with a piezo installed, this article will prove helpful with tips on how to get the best tone out of it.
What is a Piezo Pickup?
A piezo pickup works by picking up the vibration of the string and instruments. Unlike a regular electric guitar pickup where the field created by the magnet and coil translates the string vibration into electrical signals, a piezo measures the pressure strings/instruments vibrations create an electrical current.
Typically, a piezo pickup is made out of compressed crystals that receive the vibration and send the signal to the preamp and then to the pedal, amp, or PA system. In electric guitars, a piezo picks up the guitar’s body, hardware, and string vibrations and translates those into an electrical signal.
Since the signal is weak, it needs a battery-powered preamp to bring it to line level. Most piezo systems will require a 9v replaceable battery.
The electric guitars we are reviewing use a “piezo bridge,” where the pickup is built-in in the bridge design. Your other pickups won’t affect the piezo’s tone, and there will be no hum noise since there are no magnets involved.
There is not much more technical knowledge that you should know as a player.
Pros of Electric Guitars with Piezo Pickups
- The guitars are more versatile for live shows.
- The tone is very articulated and offers great note separation when strumming.
- Offer attractive options to blend both the pickup and piezo sound
- The piezo is not visible and does not ruin the original guitar’s design
- The ‘pickups’ themselves are noiseless
Cons of Electric Guitars with Piezo Pickups
- A piezo can sound too plain and bright without any richness or warmth
- The piezo system, in most cases, requires batteries
- The piezo bridge/pickup ads much to the price
- In some models, you need to have two separate outputs resulting in a more complex rig.
How does a Piezo Pickup Sound on an Electric Guitar?
A piezo pickup on an electric guitar sounds very similar to the unplugged tone of the guitar itself; bright and crisp without any additional coloring. The quality of the piezo tone depends on your reasons for using it.
If you are after a full-body acoustic guitar tone, piezo pickups won’t satisfy your needs. The reason why acoustic electric guitars with a piezo sound like an acoustic guitar is because of the unplugged tone of the instrument itself.
The solid-body electric guitar does not have a soundhole that ads resonance or depth to the sound and the piezo will amplify the almost ‘plain’ sound the guitar gives acoustically.
A piezo is great for players who need to add clarity to the clean sound of their electric and strum or pick without getting muddy. You will not have a full acoustic tone with mids and low end; however, you will have a bright glassy ringing that, in many cases, is just what you need to cut.
Why Do You Need a Piezo Pickup in an Electric Guitar?
There are many reasons why I used a piezo pickup other than faking my way into a song that needed some strumming.
There are many situations where a completely clean acoustic-like guitar tone is needed for gigging musicians. If you are the only guitar player in the band, backing up the singer with strummed chords sounds much better with a piezo than a single-coil pickup.
Fingerpicking and slapping the guitar sounds very authentic and percussive with a piezo installed. Slapping is very common in acoustic guitar as the sound of the hand against the muted string is much more rounded than slapping an electric one. A piezo can imitate that sound with some accuracy.
Compressing the tone of the piezo, adding some warm mids and low end with a sparkle of reverb and chorus will make for a great tone. Not entirely an acoustic tone, but neither too far from a processed plugged-in acoustic guitar.
Another great reason you might need a Piezo pickup in an electric guitar is blending the clear piezo tone and processed magnetic pickups. Adding too much chorus, flanger, tremolo, or any other effect can make the tone lose note separation and not sound like a guitar at all. Adding a clean piezo tone to the mix with bring back the original guitar tone.
Can You Install a Piezo on an Electric Guitar?
Yes, you can. The best option would be to change the bridge with a piezo bridge. They are slightly more expensive than normal bridges but worth it.
The other option is to mod the guitar by installing a piezo under the bridge. It’s a tricky procedure that needs an experienced luthier who can work with the guitar’s electronics and wood.
In both cases, you could either add a second output to the guitar or a modern mixed output, which could cost. Overall the first option of changing the bridge is the best for a better tone without much extra work.
Best Electric Guitar Models with Piezo Pickup
The main criteria for preparing the list were five.
- The tone of the piezo,
- The versatility of the guitar.
- The guitars playability
- The guitars pickup’s tone
- The price.
All the models I picked are very playable, and their magnetic pickup tone is great for their style of music. One thing to note is that you should not buy a guitar only because of the installed piezo. Better pickup and neck will beat a guitar with average pickups and playability with a piezo bridge.
PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo – Best Piezo Tone
A quality PRS is an excellent guitar; however, you look at it. The SE Hollowbody II shares all the qualities of a premium PRS with an added PRS Adjustable Stoptail with Piezo.
What sets this guitar apart from the other in the list is the richness of tone when using the piezo. A Hollowbody guitar acts as an acoustic guitar when it comes to resonating the tone and giving warmth to the instrument’s unplugged tone. The body shape and f-holes enhance the guitar’s acoustic properties, making it warmer and fuller.
The guitar has two separate outputs, one for the 2 58/15 “S” humbucker pickups and another for a blend between the pickups and the piezo. This proves to be very handy as you can always plug the guitar in even if you don’t have any batteries for the piezo preamp.
Another valuable way to use both outputs is to route the signal in two different chains. You can run the magnetic pickups through an amp while connecting the piezo directly to a PA system.
The individual volume control for the piezo and pickups adds to the guitar’s versatility. Combining all this with the superb built quality and playability, I recommend this guitar for every intermediate/advanced player who can afford it.
Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci Majesty Electric Guitar – Best Overall
One of the most expensive electric guitar signature models happens to have a quality piezo among its other extraordinary electronics.
The Majesty features all the best elements Ernie Ball can fit into a guitar and is superbly versatile from the heaviest metal to clean crips tones. John Petrucci’s wide range of sounds among his discography is a testament to all the possible tones this guitar can achieve.
The Custom Music Man Floating Tremolo Bridge with Fishman Powerbridge Piezo Saddles is a unique build that blends perfectly with the hand-picked Dimarzio humbuckers.
The piezo tone resonates with what the guitar body feeds it acoustically, so you will get a crisp, bright tone that might not sound full without any EQ of FX added. However, the main scope of the piezo in this guitar is the ability to blend it with the other pickups, which you can do effortlessly with the individual volume controls.
Considering the very high price, it’s no wonder that all the modern features such as locking tuners, active preamps with gain boost, and the best tonewoods and crafting quality are present in this model.
I recommend this guitar only for professionals that play metal or progressive music genres that require this much tona versatility and playability. In truth, you could, for the same price, purchase a very high-quality guitar with a piezo along with a good amp and some pedals.
Epiphone Alex Lifeson LP Std. Axcess – Most Affordable
It’s no wonder that a versatile guitarist like Alex Lifeson needed a piezo tone in his signature model. This Epiphone guitar is an affordable model fit for intermediate and advanced players who want warm, heavy Les Paul sound and bright, glassy cleans.
Somehow more limited in range than the PRS or Majesty, this Epiphone still offers a lot to modern players. This is a great rock guitar for vintage tone lovers that can go from dark and warm to aggressively distorted only by using the two humbuckers.
The FR-Style graph tech ghost tremolo bridge is a unique fit for a Les Paul guitar, making it even more versatile. The 2 volume knobs have a push/pull option for coil split and the one piezo volume knob and push/pull on/off option.
With this many options and the quality of the guitar itself, I recommend this guitar for every player level, especially for Les Paul lovers. It’s a guitar that can get you through any show, however big or small.
Relish Guitars Jane Model – Modern Suprise
A premium guitar builder that not many people might know about is the Swiss ‘Relish Guitars’ company. This might not be a guitar for everyone; however, it’s worth mentioning due to some unique modern features.
On any Relish guitar, you can change the pickups instantly in a few moments. There is a wide selection of Single Coils, Humbuckers, P90s, and other models already modded for relish guitars and the option of modding your pickups.
The tone is almost as an authentic Strat or Les Paul when you change the pickups to match theirs. Adding the piezo bridge in the mix makes this modern more versatile than any other model.
The downside is the very high price of the guitar and the cost of the modded pickups or for modding your pickups to fix the guitar. The modern look and elements of the guitar are also not very favored by vintage instrument lovers.
I recommend this guitar only for professional musicians or collectors ready to spend much for the unmatched versatility or futuristic look of this guitar.
Alternatives to Electric Guitars with Piezo Pickups
The piezo tone is hard to emulate as it doesn’t have the natural compression and sustain that magnetic pickups have. However, you can emulate it to a certain degree with a well-balanced neck or middle Strat pickup.
A Stratocaster is one of the most versatile guitars for everything apart from metal. The middle pickup position and neck pickup can achieve a similar acoustic-like tone if you run the guitar through a clean amp with a slight compressor and EQ out both the very Low and High end.
Another model that has an excellent acoustic-like tone similar to a piezo is the Les Paul Junior.
This single pickup guitar is surprisingly versatile and can achieve a crisp clean tone when lowering the volume and tone knob. Check out the full guide to the model for more details.
Question: Will Pedals Work with a Piezo Pickup?
Question: Will a Piezo Pickup Work with Nylon Strings?
Question: Does My Guitar Have a Piezo Pickup?
Final Thoughts of Electric Guitars with Piezo Pickup
Before purchasing an Electric Guitars with Piezo Pickup, the main thing to consider is if you truly need one.
As great as the extra versatility of adding a piezo to an electric guitar is, it will not resemble an acoustic guitar’s full and rich tone. However, the uses of the articulate, bright Piezo tone go beyond imitating an acoustic guitar and find its place in almost every genre where a clean or crunchy tone is involved.
Since there is much tone difference between different solid body guitar piezo sounds, you should primarily judge a model from the overall quality as an electric guitar first and then from the extra versatility and blend option the added electronics give.