You have decided to learn the guitar – amazing! More specifically you have decided you want to play an acoustic guitar.
However, now you have realized there is also the acoustic-electric guitar which you might be wondering is possibly a more versatile instrument.
Confused? This is where we step in!
As a beginner, you are more than likely unsure of which guitar to buy, and that is understandable.
In this article we shall go through the differences between a standard acoustic and an acoustic-electric guitar. We shall be looking at different areas such as function, tone and the diversity each one can bring.
Before we begin, here is a contents of what we shall be looking at in this post:
- The Difference Between An Acoustic Guitar and an Acoustic-Electric Guitar Even though it may seem a little obvious, here we explain what the simple main differences are between the two instruments.
- Let’s Take a Look at the Acoustic Guitar A popular choice by many guitar enthusiasts, let’s take a look at what an acoustic guitar actually is.
- Can You Use An Acoustic Guitar On Stage? If this is something you are interested in, hopefully this little handy guide will help you.
- Let’s Take a Look at the Acoustic-Electric Guitar We take a look at the acoustic-electric guitar in a little more detail.
- The Versatility of the Acoustic-Electric Why an Acoustic -Electric is a good choice if you are after versatility and want to perform in front of a live audience.
- Playing the Acoustic-Electric Guitar Acoustically… Even though a lot of people think this is not true (without seeing for themselves), yes, you can play an electric-acoustic guitar acoustically and here is why.
- Comparing the Tone of a Pickup Against a Microphone The acoustic-electric guitar may also have its own limitations when it comes to outputting acoustic sound electronically.
- Acoustic-Electric: The Difference Between the Sounds Do you think an acoustic-electric guitar sounds the same plugged into an amplifier as it does acoustically? We take a look at why there is a difference.
- Pros and Cons Still unsure? Here are a few pros and cons that may sway your decision now that you have decided to buy a guitar.
- Which One Should I Buy? Now that you have read up on both of the guitars, which one is it you want to buy? Hopefully by now you may have just made your choice.
- FAQ Here are some frequently asked questions that may help in your decision making if you still need it, or it will just give you some answers to your burning guitar related questions!
So, before we dive right in, let’s take a look at each one of the guitars in a simple manner and find out what the main differences are before we get into the technicalities.
So, What Is The Difference Between An Acoustic Guitar And An Acoustic-Electric Guitar?
They look the same, so what is the difference? To put it simply, and rather obviously, the acoustic guitar does not have any electronics to amplify the sound, whilst an electric-acoustic guitar has the option of plugging it into an acoustic amp due to it having an electronic pickup.
You can also plug it into a mixer or a PA system which is useful if you want to play upon stage for an audience. Not only that, it has a built-in tuner and volume controls.
Let’s Take A Look At The Acoustic Guitar
To put it simply, the acoustic guitar is a fretted instrument that you ‘pluck’ at the strings above a hollow chamber to produce a vibration that reveals sound.
Because of this chamber in the hollow body of the guitar, the vibrations travel through the air and cause the guitar to make a noise that is loud enough for you to hear.
When it comes to the acoustic guitar, you might think that it offers less versatility, but you cannot be further from the truth.
Even so, both the acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars are basically acoustic guitars due to the fact they can both output acoustic sound, the only difference is electronics.
Whereas the acoustic cannot modify its sound which poses limitations, the acoustic-electric offers different effects and tone changes.
Also, the acoustic guitar is limited when it comes to the volume of its sound being played unless you use an onboard pickup – so it can be done (which we shall look at later on).
If you are just looking to play acoustically around the home, rather than live, then the acoustic guitar will be the best choice for you.
However, there are ways to amplify the sound of your acoustic guitar if you do want to perform live on stage and you do not have an acoustic-electric.
Can You Use An Acoustic Guitar On Stage?
It is possible to use an acoustic guitar on stage even without a built-in onboard pickup, however, it can just be a little fiddly. Here is how to do it:
Position The Microphone Close To The Hollow Chamber
It probably sounds obvious, but the first step will be to place the microphone as close to the soundhole as possible to pick up the sound of you playing without it getting knocked over. The microphone will be hooked up to the PA system so everyone will be able to hear it in the room.
This way of doing it is considered quite traditional for a standard acoustic guitar player, so do not feel unprofessional doing it this way.
There are some down sides, however, because like we mentioned before, there are limitations when it comes to the acoustic guitar. It will be impossible to do any effects, if that is your thing.
Also, you will need to position the microphone in a particular way to pick up sounds the best way.
Depending on what the microphone is, it may impact on your overall sound, so keep that in mind if this is the route you want to take.
Because you will need knowledge of placing the microphone to get the best sound, it probably is not suitable for beginners, however, the place you are performing at will likely have people who know what they are doing, so it still is not the worst option. If there is nobody around to help, then practice does make perfect!
Add A Pickup To Your Acoustic
Your acoustic may not be an acoustic-electric guitar, but you can modify your acoustic to take on some of those characteristics. One of those ways is by adding a pickup, either a soundhole, piezo, a microphone pickup or a transducer.
The most simple of all is the microphone pickup because all you have to do is clip it inside the chamber or on the soundhole and there is no modification necessary.
However, something like the piezo requires drilling into your acoustic which is not something everyone wants to do to their much-loved guitar. It might all go wrong, afterall!
Other problems include the fact that not all acoustic guitars are universal when it comes to size, so not all pickups will fit perfectly on each one.
If you are thinking of buying a pickup, then you need to look at tonal output and price. So do your research first!
Let’s Take A Look At The Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Just by looking at an acoustic-electric face on, you would not be able to tell the difference. It literally looks the same.
There is a difference, however, and that is the fact it is fitted with a preamp and a pickup along with something like volume controls and an EQ.
These are the things that convert the acoustic sound into an electronic signal so you can play much louder and clearer. This means you can do a live performance comfortably as you will be ready to plug into the PA system or acoustic amp straightaway.
Also, because of being electric, you can record your guitar playing skills directly by using an audio capturing device.
Because of the convenience of being able to ‘plug in and play’, this is a great choice if your ultimate goal is to perform in front of a live audience. It creates less faff than an acoustic guitar.
The Versatility Of The Acoustic-Electric
The reason the acoustic-electric is so versatile is because of the opportunity it gives you when it comes to outputting its sound. You are able to directly change the amp and the guitar’s EQ if you would like extra tone.
There is also a built-in tuner which ultimately will save you money because you will not need to buy a pedal tuner. It is also convenient because you can make little tweaks there and there.
Just like with a standard electric guitar, you are able to use effects pedals on an electric-acoustic to change the tone even further. We are talking – chorus delay, reverb and much more. This will help to give you a wider range of sounds – perfect for a live performance.
Also, if this is something you are wanting to do, then you might be interested to know you can even add a looper pedal in the signal chain which is perfect for a live gig.
If you are a little unsure of what one is, the looper pedal can record different parts of your guitar playing so you can loop it as if it is background music – perhaps a rhythm guitarist along with a soloist. You get the idea!
The difference here is that an acoustic guitar does not have this option, so it becomes a less versatile instrument compared to the acoustic-electric.
Playing The Acoustic-Electric Guitar Acoustically…
Yes, you can play an electric guitar acoustically. The reason an acoustic-electric guitar is a good choice is because whether you play it acoustically or via an amp, it sounds good.
It uses the exact same function as an acoustic – so the sound chamber – to give it that typical acoustic guitar sound when you strum it.
So, they will sound absolutely identical when the acoustic-electric is not plugged into an amp because they have the same basic functions of using the soundhole.
Some people actually do not like the electronic sound and instead still opt for the traditional microphone to soundhole method when performing on stage.
What you should take from this is that the acoustic-electric is flexible in terms of sound and can offer a direct line from acoustic to electronic. The standard acoustic cannot offer that same flexibility, however it is still possible, just with more effort.
Comparing The Tone Of A Pickup Against A Microphone
Because an acoustic-electric may struggle to capture that wonderful and natural sound a standard acoustic guitar makes within its soundhole, many users of the acoustic-electric also go the microphone method.
So, even though it is a much more versatile guitar, you will not get the true acoustic sound when plugged in, which perhaps also makes it quite limited when it comes to sound output.
Keep this in mind when buying one, as you may decide in the end to actually just use a microphone.
If that is the case, an acoustic will be a better option.
However, even though buying an acoustic-electric might have its drawbacks when it comes to sound, acoustic preamps and multi-effects can change the tone for the better.
This will improve the output of sound, and could potentially help bring the natural tones of the acoustic guitar through.
Acoustic-Electric: Microphone Vs Plugged In
When it comes to the acoustic-electric, many people make the mistake of thinking that it sounds exactly the same acoustically when being played through an amplifier, just much, much louder. Unfortunately – or fortunately – this is not true at all.
An acoustic-electric guitar will not sound the same plugged in as it will when you play it acoustically.
As we know, an acoustic sound is full of different frequencies and is beautiful to listen to, whilst electronically it has been described as sounding ‘flat’ and ‘tinny’.
Even though this is the way it has been described, it does not mean it is awful. People will still choose to go through this route, simply because it is convenient and actually not that bad.
The table below will give you a comparison of how the sound may be different when an acoustic-electric guitar is using a pickup compared to the microphone:
|Convenient and completely hassle free to set up||Can take time to set up and get right. Experience may be necessary|
|Does not capture the true essence of an acoustic, and may appear flat||Sticks to the original wonderful sound of an acoustic guitar|
|Much more inexpensive as a lot of what you need comes directly with the guitar itself||Can be pricey if you want to buy additional items|
|When recording direct, it is clear and you capture the right tone||The natural acoustics within a room will change how the final recording sounds|
When it comes to finding the right one for you, a pros and cons list may just be the deciding factor. There are good points and bad points to both depending ultimately on what your final goal is for buying a guitar.
Acoustic Guitar: Pros
- Cheaper than an electric guitar meaning it is affordable for most budgets – you could even probably buy one really cheap secondhand
- Great for a beginner who is not even thinking about playing live yet, if at all
- Great if you want to have true to acoustic sound when performing live
- If you plan to record, it will keep the beautiful sound of an acoustic guitar
- If you do not like the electric sound, then it just makes sense that you will like the acoustic guitar better
- May be expensive to buy additional items that you need in order to perform live
- Due to buying additional items, if you plan to play as a busker, you have extra items to carry around with you
- You have to stay stood still in place if performing with a microphone on a stand
- Limited sound options – acoustic only
- Versatile with tone and sound options which you cannot get with a standard acoustic guitar
- Convenient that you are able project sound due to the necessary electronics built-in
- The ability to move around when performing rather than being stuck next to a microphone
- Has the option of being played as an acoustic as well as electric
- Can be used for performances on stage or on the street
- Can use a looper pedal and other pedalboards, perfect for being on stage or performing in the street
- If you have the desire to perform live, then the acoustic-electric guitar will likely be a preferred choice
- The electric sound does not give the true acoustic tone
- Additional costs include an amplifier to plug the guitar into
- Costs more than a standard acoustic guitar
Which One Should I Buy?
When it comes to choosing the right guitar for you, in the end it all depends on what you intend to use it for.
An acoustic is best suited for a beginner who never plans on going the route of playing live in front of a cheering audience, however, even if you are, a standard acoustic can be a great guitar to get your bearings with, especially if you have just moved from a traditional electric guitar.
It is also a great option if you want to stick with the full sound of an acoustic guitar, whether you are playing live or not. There are still options, even if the guitar itself is not as versatile as buying an acoustic-electric version.
Yes, it may cost a little more with having to buy extra equipment, but it will mean being able to stick to that true acoustic sound that you would like to play.
An acoustic-electric guitar on the other hand, is perfect for those who want convenience and perhaps are a little more bouncy on their feet when they perform.
Even though the sound can change when put through an amp, it actually does not bother a lot of people, especially because it gives them less limitations.
Having the options to use pedalboards and getting creative is usually a dealbreaker for many people. If playing live is what you want to do, as well as wanting to be able to put on a full show alone, then the acoustic-electric is a fantastic choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Buy An Acoustic Guitar With A Cutaway Or One Without?
When it comes to the cutaway – which alters the shape at the top of the body of the guitar – there are a few things that need to be considered: tones, reach of upper frets and use of guitar.
If you are a rhythm guitarist, making use of the full body of the guitar will be paramount. It will give you an all-round benefit of tone, plus, you will not need to keep using the upper frets. so, having a full bodied guitar should not be a problem.
If you are more of a lead guitarist, then it is much more likely you may consider having a cutaway. This is because it gives you better access to the upper fret.
Having the cutaway may decrease the tone your guitar gives out, but it should not be a problem and it really is all down to personal preference.
Some people like that fuller sound with no cutaway – it is bassey, whilst others may prefer the sound of a cutaway guitar which has a treble-heavy noise.
As A Beginner Who Does Not Intend To Play Live, Should I Buy An Acoustic-Electric Guitar?
Unless you are intending to play live, it will be much better for you to look down the acoustic guitar route. This is because you do not generally need the amplified sound, and will benefit from just having the full acoustic experience.
Is It Possible To Amplify An Acoustic Guitar?
Absolutely possible. This is done in two ways. Firstly, by using a microphone placed at the soundhole to pick the strumming sound up.
This is better in situations where you do not need to play your music really loud. For these situations a pickup is handy. They come in various formats, but have their own limitations such as size and cost.
Can You Play An Acoustic-Electric Guitar Through An Electric Guitar Amp?
The short answer is yes, you can. The problem is, the sound will not be the same. It will do the job and many musicians do this, however, it will not give you that clean sound you would like. The only option you have here is to use a dedicated acoustic-electric amp.
If you are looking for a distorted sound, then it might actually be beneficial, plus, if you have one lying around, then why not try it?
If you are wanting to perform and would like the correct frequencies, then a specialized amp for the acoustic-electric will be the preferred choice overall.