The practice of trying to combine guitars with various electronics has been going on since the early 1900s. The technology has improved over time. The acoustic-electric guitars available on the market today offer the playability and natural sound of quality acoustic guitars with the amplification of electric guitars.
There is such a wide range of options on the market that it can be daunting to choose one. In this article, we have prepared a line-up of 13 of the best acoustic-electric guitars on the market and an in-depth buyer’s guide to help you make more informed guitar purchasing decisions on your own.
The Top Acoustic Electric Guitars on the Market
Here are the top choices for acoustic-electric guitars today.
Best for Smaller Hands
From the famous Martin brand, this guitar proves that it doesn't matter how large or small your acoustic-electric guitar is. Made of Sitka spruce and high-pressure mahogany laminate the sides, this instrument produces a great tone.
The guitar is small enough that you can carry it with you but not so small that the volume is too low when not plugged in. Players of all sizes will enjoy playing this guitar.
- Warm and powerful tone
- Highly portable
- Ideal guitar for people with small hands
- Some buyers complain that it gets out of tune quickly
- Might be a little too small for large hands
Best for Bigger Budgets
This dreadnought comes from Takamine, a Japanese luthier with an excellent reputation. It has a solid cedar top, maple body, and a premium finish.
This guitar produces rich and warm tones when not plugged in and maintains that richness even when amplified.
The pickup system, located under the saddle, is high quality and flexible, with a volume slider, a three-band EQ (including bass, mid, and treble), and a chromatic tuner. It's the right choice if you like to perform on stage and don't mind an oversized guitar.
- Made of high-quality cedar and maple
- Warm tones
- Has an equalizer
- A significant investment for novice players.
- A little too large for smaller players
This guitar has the shape of a jumbo guitar, but it's more compact. It offers the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you get the benefits of a jumbo guitar, and on the other, you don't have an uncomfortably large guitar in your hands.
This guitar uses basswood for the top with a body of mahogany. It also has a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, giving it great aesthetics.
- Has a very comfortable and compact profile
- Has a great acoustic tone
- The plugged-in sound maintains the richness of the unplugged soundboard
- The jumbo shape isn't for everyone.
- It may be too small for someone with large hands
Best for Experienced Players
This Yamaha guitar has SRT electronics, which take advantage of both a mic and a piezo pickup. It also has a three-band EQ preamplifier with a small footprint and quality output. The lack of a significant input is a good thing since it means the design of the A3M doesn't get spoilt by bulky electronics.
The top features Sitka spruce, and there is mahogany on the sides and back. The rosewood fretboard and hand-rolled mahogany neck make it very comfortable.
- Constructed entirely out of solid wood
- Great tone
- Aesthetically pleasing look
- Might be a little too large for some players
- The solid wood design makes it a significant investment for novice players.
This classic dreadnought has a very comfortable design and ergonomic feel. The comfort is partly due to the well-designed cutaway. The top features Sitka spruce while bridge and fretboard are rosewood.
This Yamaha sustains its tone very well, whether plugged in or acoustic. It is undoubtedly a jumbo guitar. The die-cast tuners hold the tune for a long time, so you won't need to retune.
- Die-cast tuners enhance playability
- High-quality materials
- Has a built-in tuner
- The build may feel too light for some players
- It may feel too bulky for smaller users
This guitar is eye-catching, and it also boasts playability and an excellent tone. It has a Lyrachord cutaway body and multiple soundholes, making the design unique from other acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars.
Because of its multiple soundholes, this guitar offers a unique tone with an incredible definition in the high-frequency range. It also has a rich sound with unbeatable note clarity.
- Has a large cutaway making it comfortable to play
- Has a dedicated, quality pickup and preamplifier
- Attractive design
- Doesn't sound very loud when unplugged
Best Vintage Look
Epiphone Hummingbirds are among the most famous guitars on the market. The Hummingbird Pro takes things to the next level. It emulates the vintage looks of the original while combining it with high tech features.
The body is solid spruce and mahogany, while the 21-fret fretboard is rosewood. It also has pearled inlays to make it much easier to play for beginners. The electronic components include a Shadow NanoFlex pickup system and a Shadow preamp.
- Unique design
- Great sound and volume
- Good for beginners
- May not be the best option for rhythm guitarists
- Complex electronic components
Ibanez guitars are yet another popular type of guitar. The brand is better known for its line of affordable electric guitars, but they also make great acoustic and acoustic-electric models. The PF15ECE model, in particular, has a mellow tone with good bass sounds. Go here for the best bass guitars on the market today too.
In terms of electronics, this guitar has an under-saddle Ibanez pickup and an AEQ-2T preamp. These do a great job of projecting while maintaining the tone of the guitar when plugged in. There's also an onboard tuner.
- Offers great value to learners
- Has a tuner
- High-quality Ibanez electronics
- Not very loud when unplugged
- A little too large for some players
The Seagull S6, is one of those hidden gems in the guitar world. While it's not very well-known, that doesn't mean that it isn't a quality guitar. It has a dreadnought body and no cutaway.
The top is cedar, and the sides and back are wild cherry. It has a unique build and appearance. The choice of materials also makes for a bright, full tone.
The electronics include a four-band EQ and an M-450T pickup. The EQ has adjustments for bass, presence, mid, and treble.
- Has a four-band EQ
- Good sound and volume even when unplugged
- Includes a pickguard
- Very high string action
- Novice players may not find good value in the guitar's advanced electronics
Best Balanced Tone
This dreadnought has a unique finish that looks sunburned and vintage. It also has a great tone, thanks to the solid spruce top and the mahogany on the sides and back.
The bridge and fretboard, as is expected of a high-quality guitar, are made of rosewood.
The soundhole has a triangle shape with rounded corners, though some may say it looks like a guitar pick.
- Very balanced tone
- Features Fishman electronics
- Attractive vintage look
- Doesn't have a cutaway
- Some players may find it too large
Best for Professionals
This instrument is one of the genuinely unique guitars on the market. Gibson has an excellent reputation for its unique and high-quality guitars, and the J200 lives up to those standards. It is large, with a round body, lending itself well to the presence and bright and resonant sounds.
This guitar is one of the most potent acoustic guitars on the market, with a punchy and resonant sound. This guitar works well for live performances, and it is a popular choice for professionals.
- Great quality
- Looks very beautiful
- High-performance electronics
- Sophisticated electronics may not appeal to novices
- May be too large for some players
- Geared towards professionals, not new players
Best for Younger/Novice Players
This guitar is a 3/4 size version of the APX500. It has great tonewoods, including meranti wood and mango veneer for the top and meranti wood for the sides and back.
The fact that it is so small makes it a perfect choice for children and smaller players. It can also be an excellent choice for more experienced players who want a portable guitar.
- An ideal choice for younger players
- Highly playable
- The amplified sound is just as good as the natural one.
- It might be too small for some players.
- The volume might be too low when unplugged.
This guitar has a mahogany body that gives off an excellent warm tone. The result is a clear tone and a deep resonance.
On the electronics side, this guitar features a Fishman Isys+ pickup and preamp system with a built-in tuner. These features offer excellent plugged-in performance and playability.
- Great aesthetic appeal
- Mellow tones
- High playability
- User-friendly electronics
- May not be the best for those who prefer bright tones
- A little large for some players
Acoustic-Electric Guitar Buyer’s Guide
Any acoustic guitar conversation has to start with the differences and similarities between acoustic-electric guitars and standard acoustic guitars.
The main difference between the two, as we shall see, is electrical amplification for louder sound in acoustic-electric varieties. Everything else is pretty much the same.
Luckily, these similarities mean that many of the tips for choosing the right acoustic guitar apply to acoustic-electric guitar shopping too.
Unique tips for acoustic-electric guitars involve features such as adjustment knobs. However, most tips are the same for both electrified and non-electrified guitars.
The acoustic guitar is one of the most versatile and popular musical instruments in the world. These guitars are easy to learn, and you can start playing a tune almost immediately after you get one.
Do not be fooled by the low barrier to entry. These deceptively simple instruments can take years to master. Luckily, a quality guitar can last for a long time and be an heirloom item that you pass on to the next generation.
There is a wide range of acoustic guitars from which to choose. Sometimes, so many choices can often be overwhelming, especially for a beginner. The factors to consider are seemingly endless. Considering how expensive some of these guitars can get, it often feels like making even one wrong choice can leave you stuck with a costly instrument you'll regret buying.
There's no need to panic. This guide can help give you confidence in your decision. We're going to do a thorough review of the world of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars that will hopefully leave you feeling a lot more confident about your ability to choose the right one for yourself.
What is an Acoustic Guitar?
First, let's get a fundamental definition of an acoustic guitar. An acoustic guitar is an instrument with a hollow body and a stringed neck that you play with your fingers or a pick. That hollow body can use a wide range of materials, ranging from metal to glass, though the most common, by far, is wood.
The average acoustic guitar has six strings, with the typical tuning (from the low to the high strings) being E, A, D, G, B, and high E.
What is an Acoustic-Electric Guitar?
Acoustic-electric guitars are just acoustic guitars with some electronics to amplify the sound. They are similar in appearance (and almost everything else) to acoustic guitars, with the main difference being that acoustic-electric guitars have a pickup built into the bridge.
The guitar's controls are at the edge of the body panel or on either side. These controls set the tone, volume, tuning, and equalization of the guitar. You can play an acoustic-electric guitar like an acoustic one, and they have all the properties of an acoustic guitar.
If you need the volume to be amplified, such as if you're playing in a concert, you plug in the acoustic-electric guitar.
Don't mistake an acoustic-electric guitar for an electric one. You can only play an electric guitar after you plug it into the amplifier, but you can play an acoustic-electric instrument when it is both plugged in or unplugged.
Also, an electric guitar requires lots of different settings to be just right before it is playable. An acoustic-electric guitar is exactly like an acoustic one, so all you need to do is appropriately tune it, and you are ready to go.
Acoustic guitar only produces sound from the strings vibrating, and that sound gets amplified in the hollow wooden body. An acoustic-electric guitar can be plugged into an amplifier to amplify this sound. It does not create electronic sounds; it only amplifies existing sounds.
Because of these similarities, I'll use 'guitar,' 'acoustic guitar,' and 'acoustic-electric guitar' interchangeably for most of this discussion, except when discussing specific topics such as amplification controls.
What Types of Acoustic Guitars Are There?
There are three main types of acoustic guitars.
These are the most common types of acoustic guitar. They have a flat top, and guitarists can use them to play all styles of music.
These have an arched top instead of a flat one, and come in all versions, including acoustic, semi-acoustic, and fully electric versions. They are more popular among jazz, blues, and rockabilly guitarists.
These guitars have holes on either side shaped like treble clefs. These holes are also known as f-holes and are a replacement to the round soundhole found in usual guitars.
These guitars have 12 strings, which get grouped in six pairs, with each pair tuned to the same notes as a standard acoustic guitar. The main difference is that the B and E strings, which are the highest, are tuned to the same note, while the other four strings separated by octaves.
12-string guitars are popular among rock, country, and pop guitarists. The main challenge with these guitars is that they are sensitive to the set-up, and they can be hard to play with the wrong set up. Tuning them also takes a lot of time. For these reasons, 12-strings are not advisable for a beginner.
Types of Guitar Strings
While it's customary to call all guitars that are not electric 'acoustic guitars,' only those with steel strings are genuinely acoustic. These are also the most popular guitars across genres, including rock, pop, country, acoustic, and folk.
Guitars with nylon strings have a softer volume and tone and more common in flamenco and classical music.
So the type of guitar you ultimately choose depends a lot on the kind of music you like to play. If you want to learn the classical guitar, then you should get one with nylon strings. If you're going to play rock, pop, or country music, then a steel-stringed guitar would be better.
Another thing to note is that you can't change string types on the same guitar. Steel-string guitars can handle the kind of high tension that exists in steel strings. Nylon guitars aren't as sturdy. If you put steel strings on a nylon guitar, you're more than likely to damage it.
The Different Body Sizes and Styles of Acoustic Guitars
When deciding what acoustic guitar to buy, you should consider both the style and size of the body. These will impact the sound produced by the guitar.
A small-bodied guitar tends to have a balanced sound. A thin body sounds more intimate and warm, though the projection might be lower. A smaller guitar is also more comfortable to play for ergonomic reasons.
On the other hand, larger-bodied guitars have deep, resonant sounds, and they offer better projection. They can, however, be uncomfortable to play for some, due to their large size.
It's a good idea to try guitars of as many sizes as you can when you're at the guitar shop. Handling them will help you figure out which is right for you. Be sure to consider both the quality of sound and comfort.
There isn't a single guitar size that is perfect for everyone, but there is one for you, and the only way to find that perfect fit is to try as many of them as you can.
What About Guitar Styles?
Acoustic guitars come in various styles, including concert guitars, auditorium guitars, dreadnought guitar, the jumbo guitar, and the cutaway guitar. Additionally, all of these are considered 'full-size' guitars. There are other guitars which aren't full-size.
There are two types of concert guitars: regular concert guitars and grand concert guitars. These happen to be two of the most common styles among acoustic guitars.
The concert guitar is medium-sized with a bright tone that is well-balanced. You can play it with both fingerpicking and strumming styles.
The grand concert guitar is slightly larger than the concert guitar, with a deeper sound. Despite being larger, it is not so big that it is uncomfortable to play. Because of this sizing, it is still a good option for players with smaller hands. It's also useful for fingerpicking playing style.
Auditorium guitars are medium-sized, just like concert guitars. They produce a warm and balanced tone that lends itself well to both strumming and picking. They have better projection than concert guitars due to their greater size, but they also have a deeper waist, making them comfortable for smaller players to hold.
Dreadnought guitars get their name from the large ships first used by the British during WWI. The term refers to a type of guitar first produced in the early 1900s. These guitars were larger than regular guitars, and so the name "dreadnought" felt appropriate.
Today, dreadnought guitars are popular for producing big and bold sounds. These guitars have the same depth and width as auditorium guitars, but they have shallower waists and a 'boxier' shape.
As you might have guessed from the name, these are the largest type of acoustic guitar. They have a rich tone and excellent projection. Their only downside is that they are so large that they are not comfortable for smaller players and beginning guitarists.
Travel acoustic guitars
These guitars are for travel because they are easy to carry and very light. Some models can fold up to make them more compact. All good travel guitars have a thinner fretboard and much smaller bodies than regular guitars. Because of their size, they don't have good projection, and their sound tends to be too light for playing to a large crowd.
A cutaway guitar has a little cutaway on the body's underside to give the guitarist easy access to the frets. Guitarists who play advanced styles, solos, and leads love these guitars as they offer more comfort when playing with a wide range of frets.
Not all guitars have this cutaway, so you should determine if you want one with a cutaway before buying. This feature is not necessary for beginners, but it can be useful as you progress.
Guitars that aren't full size
Some guitars are less than full size. These come in quarter, half, and three quarter-size bodies. The quarter and half-size guitars have a short neck and are mainly for very young children. They are small enough for a child to hold and strum comfortably. They also have enough frets to learn the most basic scales and chords.
What about frets?
Guitar makers tend to refer to their guitars as being either 12-fret or 14-fret. The number refers to those frets that are clear of the body, rather than the total number of frets.
The types of wood used for acoustic guitars
The tone of an acoustic guitar is influenced to a great extent by the wood used to construct it. Sitka spruce, for example, gives a well-balanced sound, while mahogany offers a richer sound.
When it comes to the materials, the makeup of the guitar's soundboard matters most. Most acoustic guitars have at least two types of wood. One wood is for the soundboard and the other for the rest of the body. Some guitars have a third material for the fretboard and the neck.
It is up to the luthier (the technical name for a guitar maker) to decide which type of wood would be best to make a high-quality sound. They may choose different types of wood for various reasons, such as their ability to give distinct overtones or projection levels.
Another thing to consider is whether the top of the guitar is solid or laminate. This feature can heavily influence the price.
A guitar with a solid top uses real wood. Most of these models use a single piece of wood split into two identical halves. The wood is chosen both for its visual beauty and the sound it offers the guitar.
Solid woods offer more sophisticated and detailed sounds than laminate woods, primarily when it comes to the guitar's soundboard. They also tend to get better as they mature, making the guitar's tone fuller as it ages. You won't get that nuance with laminate material.
A laminate top consists of many layers of wood pressed together. The cheapest acoustic guitars used plywood, and the sound is usually weak as a result.
Laminate top guitars do not produce the same high-quality sound as solid tops. They do, however, have a good tone overall. Also, they have a lower price tag, which beginners looking for a guitar might appreciate. Some laminate top guitars have high-quality sound and offer great value. Laminate can also be polished to look like wood.
Here is an overview of the different types of wood.
Spruce is by far the most common type of wood used on tops and soundboards. It is very lightweight, durable, and makes a well-balanced sound. The tone of this type of guitar only gets better as the wood matures. Vintage spruce guitars always sound good.
Sitka spruce is the most common type of wood used by American manufacturers when making guitars. It is light yet strong and offers a sophisticated tone, and it great for both fingerpicking and strumming. It ages very well as well just like standard spruce.
Adirondack spruce is yet another kind of spruce highly-valued for its rich tone. It has, however, been overharvested and has limited availability for new guitars.
Other kinds of spruces are Engelmann spruce and Lutz spruce. Engelmann, in particular, is very light with an airy yet beautiful sound. It is in some of the most expensive guitars around. Lutz spruce appears most often in Taylor guitars.
Rosewood is common for the neck of the guitar, as well as the sides and back. It produces warm and rich tones and projects well. Brazilian Rosewood, in particular, has become overharvested, so most new guitars use Indian Rosewood instead.
Mahogany is usually in bridges and necks. It is a very dense hardwood and produces warm highs and resonant lows, with a balanced tone. It also projects very well and has a quick response due to its high density.
Walnut is another dense wood for guitar tops. Its tone is somewhere in between that of rosewood and mahogany. It has clear, rich highs. The sound gets fuller over time as it ages and matures.
Maple is another material for necks, sides, and backs. It has an attractive grain and transparent tone. It is an excellent choice for live performers due to its bright sound that pierces through the sounds of other instruments.
Also Consider: The Best Guitar Capos To Buy
How do you pick which guitar is right for you?
Now that you know more about guitars, how do you know which is the best for you? There are a few things to consider.
Your playing style
There are two playing styles for both acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars: playing with a guitar pick and fingerpicking. Most beginners start with strumming because it's much more manageable and simpler to learn. Most players use a guitar pick, though a few will use either their thumbs or fingernails.
How you plan to play the guitar should factor into the type of guitar you choose.
Why would an acoustic-electric guitar be better?
If you want better projection, such as if you're playing on stage, then an acoustic-electric is best. Amplification is less critical when playing at home or in a recording studio.
Keep in mind that acoustic-electric guitars also work unplugged, so they provide more flexibility than standard acoustic guitars.
How do you check for price vs. quality?
While it might seem like a good idea to start with the cheapest guitar you can and then upgrade from there, the answer is that price isn't always the primary factor. You can get a guitar that is easy to play, and that sounds great for a low cost, or you can get one with a poor tone for the same price.
The action of the guitar
"Action" is the term for the distance between the fretboard and the strings. It should be low enough that you don't get buzzes or dead notes. Guitars with action that is too high can pose a challenge for players, and many entry-level guitars have this problem.
The intonation of the guitar is something else you should check. This term refers to the ability of the guitar to play a consistent tune across the fretboard. You check the tone by playing chords using different frets. If the same chords are out of tune on different frets, you may have an intonation issue.
The tuners are next. Turn them and tighten or loosen each string in turn. Entry-level guitars tend to go out of tune quickly. This issue can be frustrating when you're learning to play the guitar since you'll have to frequently retune the guitar.
You may have a great sounding guitar, but is it comfortable? The guitar should be comfortable to hold and should feel just right in your hands. You should always play the guitar in the shop before you decide whether to buy it or not.
And with that, we come to the end of our review of the best acoustic-electric guitars. As you can see, there is a lot more to acoustic-electric guitars then meets the eye. You can choose from any of the ones listed in our review, or, if you want to make your own purchase decisions, our in-depth buyer's guide should help you make informed ones.