What Is An Acoustic-Electric Guitar

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Are you a guitar enthusiast exploring the vast world of acoustic and electric guitars? If so, you might be intrigued by the blend of the two, often referred to as an Acoustic-Electric Guitar. Get ready to learn more about this remarkable instrument that’s designed for both acoustic and amplified playability.

We’re going to explore its unique characteristics, its history, and the pros and cons. We’ll also see how it can be a game-changer for live performances and the ease it provides to beginners. So, whether you’re considering your first guitar purchase or simply looking to expand your collection, this detailed guide on Acoustic-Electric Guitars will be sure to enlighten you.

What is an Acoustic-Electric Guitar?

An acoustic-electric guitar, also known as an electro-acoustic guitar, is a unique blend of acoustic and electric guitar. This guitar is designed for you to play both acoustically and through an amplifier. It’s equipped with a pickup system and a preamp, allowing it to be amplified without losing the rich, natural sound of an acoustic guitar.

When unplugged, acoustic-electric guitars produce the same sound as non-electric guitars. But when plugged in, they can reach maximum volume projection, making them perfect for live performances.

Are Semi-acoustic and Acoustic-Electric Guitars the same?

Semi-acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars may seem similar, but they’re different. A semi-acoustic guitar is designed to fit somewhere between the acoustic and electric guitar. You can play it with or without amplification.

The semi-hollow body of a semi-acoustic guitar provides a warmer tone than an electric guitar. However, it doesn’t quite match the quality of an acoustic guitar. Semi-acoustic guitars are fitted with pickups during manufacturing for optimal sound and positioning. They’re a good choice if you’re a beginner interested in playing genres like jazz or blues that require an amplified sound.

An acoustic-electric guitar, on the other hand, is designed for you to play both acoustically and through an amplifier. It offers the natural sound of an acoustic guitar and the amplified sound of an electric guitar, making it a versatile choice for various musical styles and performance settings.

Man playing acoustic-electric guitar on stage with a band

Why Get An Acoustic-Electric?

If you want to take your sound from your bedroom to a live stage, an acoustic-electric guitar is an excellent investment. It offers the best of both worlds: an acoustic guitar’s natural sound and an electric guitar’s amplified sound.

This makes it a versatile choice for various musical styles and performance settings.

However, if you’re only planning on playing in your bedroom or filming yourself playing a standard acoustic guitar might be a more cost-effective choice.

Can you convert your acoustic guitar to acoustic-electric?

Yes, you can convert your acoustic guitar to an acoustic-electric guitar. This can be achieved by installing an aftermarket pickup system into your acoustic guitar.

This process involves adding electronics to your acoustic guitar to amplify the sound. There are many different acoustic to electric guitar converters available online, and they vary in price, quality, and features.

Some common types of pickups used in this process include electromagnetic pickups, piezoelectric pickups, and microphone pickups. Once installed, these pickups can give your acoustic guitar a more electric sound when plugged into an amplifier.

However, it’s important to note that the conversion process can be complex and may require professional assistance.

History of Acoustic-Electric Guitars

The acoustic-electric guitar has a fascinating lineage that dates back to the earliest stringed instruments, invented around 4,000 BCE in Central Asia. These primitive instruments, made of animal skin stretched over a wooden frame, gradually evolved and spread across the globe. The guitar, as we recognize it today, first emerged in the Middle East around 1,000 BCE.

Fun Guitar History facts

  • The six-stringed modern guitar was born in Spain in the late 15th or early 16th century.
  • The first steel-string acoustic guitar was crafted by Martin in 1843.
  • Antonio de Torres Jurado developed the modern classical guitar in Seville, Spain 1850.

The 1920s marked a significant shift in the use of the acoustic guitar, with musicians like Eddie Lang incorporating it into big bands. However, in such settings, the guitar was often overshadowed by the horn section and drums, leading to the need for amplification.

The early 20th century saw various attempts to electrically amplify the vibrations of string instruments. Patents from the 1910s show telephone transmitters adapted and placed inside violins and banjos to amplify the sound. The acoustic-electric guitar was first invented in the early 1900s by George Beauchamp, a musician and inventor.

Beauchamp collaborated with Adolph Rickenbacker to create the first acoustic-electric guitar. Lloyd Loar, with his company Vivi-Tone, developed the first modern electric pickup for the acoustic guitar in the early 1930s.

The first commercially available electric pickup was DeArmond’s FHC pickups, released in the 1930s. These pickups were widely adopted because they didn’t require any modification of the guitar. In 1954, Gibson released the first commercially successful Acoustic-Electric Guitars, the CF-100 and CF-100E.

These models were based on Beauchamp’s designs and were released a little more than a decade later, in 1952. Les Paul designed and built The Log, a guitar that was made after hours in the Epiphone guitar factory in 1940. Gibson’s solid-body guitars were designed to compete with Fender’s Telecasters and were created by Gibson President Ted McCarty and his team of engineers.

By the 1950s, the acoustic-electric guitar had become one of the most popular instruments globally. Known for its versatility, acoustic-electric guitars are used for various genres, from country to rock.

Girl playing a guitar in the sunlight through the blinds.

Sound Differences

The tonal output of acoustic-electric guitars can vary significantly based on whether they are amplified or not. The built-in pickup and preamp allow these instruments to be connected to an acoustic amp, mixer, or PA system, enhancing their versatility, particularly for live performances.

Sound Differences When Amplified

When amplified, the tonal output of an acoustic-electric guitar can differ from its natural acoustic sound. The pickup and preamp amplify the sound, but they may not capture all the frequencies produced by the guitar, resulting in a sound that may be perceived as ‘tinny,’ ‘unnatural,’ and ‘flat.’ This contrasts the full-bodied, resonant, and vibrant range of frequencies you’d experience when the guitar is played acoustically.

However, amplification also offers the chance to manipulate the tone further. Devices such as reverb, chorus delay, or a digital multi-effect pedal can alter the tone. The use of an amp can also broaden the sound, giving you more control over the final output.

Sound Differences When Unplugged

When played acoustically, an acoustic-electric guitar produces a sound identical to a standard acoustic guitar. The full-bodied, resonant, and vibrant range of frequencies is present, offering the natural and organic sound that acoustic guitars are renowned for. The size and shape of the guitar can significantly influence this tone.

It’s important to note that the pickup controls the volume when the guitar is amplified. The amp shapes the tone, allowing even smaller models to produce a high-quality acoustic tone.

Use Of Effects

One of the benefits of acoustic-electric guitars is their compatibility with effect devices. These devices can alter the guitar’s tone, pitch, or sound, creating a wide range of sounds and effects. However, not all effects will work with this type of guitar.

For example, distortion pedals designed for electric guitars won’t work with an acoustic-electric guitar. The effectiveness of these pedals can also depend on several factors. These include the quality of the guitar, the amplifier, and how you play and record the instrument.

Despite these limitations, the ability to use effects devices adds another layer of versatility to acoustic-electric guitars. This makes them a popular choice for many musicians.

Pros and Cons of Acoustic Electric Guitar

Advantages of Acoustic-Electric Guitars

The primary advantage of these instruments is their adaptability. They can be played unplugged, offering the same experience as a traditional acoustic guitar, or they can be connected to an amplifier for enhanced sound projection, ideal for live performances.

The inclusion of a preamp is crucial for the guitar’s functionality, boosting the signal from the pickups before it reaches the amplifier. This ensures that the guitar can operate effectively even without an external power source, with the pickups serving as transmitters for the built-in amplifiers.

Moreover, the electronic components provide the opportunity to tailor your sound. By adjusting the tone controls and equalizers, you can achieve your desired sound. The ability to use effect pedals further expands the range of sounds and tones available, offering a broader spectrum than a standard acoustic guitar.

Disadvantages of Acoustic-Electric Guitars

Despite their numerous benefits, these guitars may not be suitable for everyone. The requirement for a power source to play the instrument when plugged in can restrict your mobility and may not be ideal for those who enjoy playing in various settings.

Additionally, the electronic components may deteriorate over time, necessitating replacement. This, coupled with the additional expense of purchasing amplification equipment, can make owning an acoustic-electric guitar more costly than a standard acoustic guitar.

While the sound of an acoustic-electric guitar is versatile, it is often perceived as less natural when amplified due to the onboard pickup’s inability to capture the full range of frequencies produced by the guitar. If you appreciate the unadulterated sound of an acoustic guitar, this could be a disadvantage.

Finally, while an acoustic-electric guitar can be connected to an electric guitar amp, the amp may alter the tone and introduce distortion. This may not be ideal for those seeking a clean, pure sound. In contrast, an acoustic guitar requires a microphone and amplifier for volume amplification, which can deliver a more natural sound.

Man playing electro acoustic guitar at outdoor event, free musical performance of street musician

Acoustic VS Acoustic Electric Guitar For Beginners

Choosing between an acoustic and an acoustic-electric guitar can be challenging for novices. Each variant has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Let’s examine the distinctions between these two guitar types, focusing on their cost and dimensions.

Price Differences

Acoustic guitars are typically less expensive than their acoustic-electric counterparts. This is primarily due to the additional components, such as a pickup and a preamp in acoustic-electric guitars, which enhance the sound and increase the price.

For beginners, both acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars can be found around the $200 range. However, as your skills improve, you might want to explore more advanced models with additional features like a cutaway or piezo pickup, typically priced between $300 and $800.

For professional musicians, premium models can exceed $800, with some reaching over $1,500. It’s worth noting that the disparity in quality becomes less noticeable as the price increases.

If you’re on a budget, consider purchasing a pre-owned acoustic-electric guitar. They can be significantly less expensive than new ones, and with some luck, you might find a high-quality instrument at a fraction of the cost of a new one.

Size Differences

The guitar’s size is another crucial factor to consider when choosing between an acoustic and an acoustic-electric guitar. The size can significantly affect your comfort and playability, especially if you’re a novice or have a smaller build.

Acoustic guitars are available in various body styles, each with unique sound characteristics and comfort levels. For example, Dreadnought guitars are known for their robust volume and bass response, but their large body might be challenging for smaller players to handle.

In contrast, Classic body style guitars have a narrower waist and deliver a more balanced sound across the low, mid, and high frequencies. Some guitar models are specifically designed with beginners in mind.

For instance, the Rogue Starter acoustic guitar has a smaller profile, making it highly playable for children and those with petite body frames. Similarly, the Ibanez V70CE acoustic-electric guitar features a soft cutaway for easier access to higher frets, making it an excellent choice for budding singer-songwriters.

Wrapping Up Acoustic-Electric Guitars

Navigating the acoustic-electric guitar universe extends far beyond mere looks and sound. It embraces the creative marriage of history, design, versatility, and technology. While the guitar’s price and size are key considerations for beginners, the instrument’s adaptability, tonal range, and compatibility with effects make it a darling of seasoned musicians.

Despite minor downsides like needing a power source or subtle sound distortions when amplified, the acoustic-electric guitar remains a powerful musical tool. As a blend of tradition and innovation, it stands as a testament to the boundless possibilities of music. As you explore your musical journey, choosing the right guitar should resonate with your style, aspirations, and, importantly, your heartstrings.

Andrew Scrivens

Andrew Scrivens

I am a live musician and guitar teacher from Brisbane, Australia, with extensive experience playing live, in the studio and for TV shows. I play in many venues, studios, music shops and with my students and as such am exposed to a lot of different gear. I form my opinions based on my experiences playing instruments in these locations.

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