Acoustic-Electric Guitars and Basses: What You Need to Know

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

A Guide to Electro-Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic-electric guitars, also known as electro-acoustic guitars, are a hybrid type of guitar that allows for wide playability across a great number of different genres. In this article, we will go over many of the basics of these fine guitars, as well as the advantages and disadvantages they have over their purely electric and acoustic cousins.

What is an Acoustic-Electric Guitar?

An acoustic-electric guitar is an acoustic guitar that has been fitted with a pickup or a microphone. Two types of pickup (or a combination of the two) are typically used: a magnetic pickup similar to those found on an electric guitar, or a piezoelectric pickup, which produces a sound more like a traditional acoustic guitar. Those with piezoelectric pickups also have built-in preamps to boost the sound before it goes to a guitar amplifier. Most guitars of this type have tone controls or a built-in equalizer to help shape the sound to your liking.

Acoustic-electric guitars are usually used in situations where an acoustic sound is desired but amplification is needed.

Acoustic-Electric Basses

The idea behind the acoustic-electric bass is the same as that behind the electric-acoustic guitar. They are ideal for situations where an “unplugged” sound is desired, but you want or need to amplify your sound. They have a distinct advantage over the traditional double bass due to their portability and easier playability. They are available in 4-string, 5-string, and 6-string models from a variety of guitar makers.

The Advantages

As is implied elsewhere in this article, acoustic-electric guitars and basses are great for amplifying an acoustic sound. Another advantage is their playability in a number of different settings. Because they are, at their core, acoustic guitars, they can be played in the widest variety of settings, from an intimate jam in your home or a small coffee shop to a packed football stadium. Most of these guitars and basses sound just as good as similar full-on acoustic guitars made by the same companies. They are frequently more lightweight than other acoustics and electrics, despite the presence of electronics. (This is especially true of basses.) If you are in need of a versatile instrument and can only carry one with you, an acoustic-electric may just be the way to go.

The Disadvantages

What makes an acoustic-electric great can also be a disadvantage: They are basically acoustics, and do not have the range of tone that a full-on electric guitar has. However, this can often be overcome with a combination of amplifier settings and effects pedals, so it may not be the disadvantage you think it is.

As for electric-acoustic basses, they simply do not have the depth and richness of an upright bass. This can be made up in large part with amp settings and effects pedals.

Is an Electric-Acoustic Right for You?

Most major guitar makers offer electric-acoustics in their lineup, and most guitar shops carry a variety of them. Try playing a few both with and without an amplifier, and maybe add on some effects to see if one of these guitars is right for you.

 

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