- Electro Acoustic Guitars Buyers Guide
What is an Electro Acoustic Guitar?
An electro acoustic guitar is just like your standard acoustic, but with one big difference - it contains electronics similar to an electric guitar. This means you can plug your instrument into an amp or PA system and crank the volume! Luckily for us most acoustics come pre-fitted with electronics, so we don’t have to give it much of a second thought when we’re searching for our next purchase.
This take on classic acoustic design is ideal when you need to increase the volume of your instrument in line with the rest of a band, which usually involves a loud drum kit and bass guitar. An electric guitar naturally slots right in here, but your regular acoustic simply couldn’t compete. Unlike an electric’s pickups which are used to ‘colour’ the tone, these electronics are designed to reproduce your acoustic’s natural sound, only louder.
An electro acoustic will save you a lot of time setting up for gigs and playing to large audiences. The only way to play louder under normal circumstances would be to strum harder, or to go through the rigmarole of setting up an external microphone. All you have to do with an electro acoustic is plug into an active speaker and you’re good to go.
Types of Electro Acoustic Pickups
You can capture the sound of an acoustic guitar in a number of ways. There are three main types of electronics used to ‘pick up’ sound – each with their own pros and cons. Essentially, they all result in the same outcome:
- Piezo – Piezo systems are usually situated between the bridge saddle & bridge. They detect vibrations from the strings, which alters the voltage of their special piezoelectric material. This is then converted into something audible – the result is a clear, direct sound.
- Soundhole (magnetic) – These are essentially the same as electric guitar pickups. When you wrap wire around a magnet, it creates a magnetic field that is disturbed by string vibrations. Often found in the soundhole of an acoustic (you can’t miss them). Similar sound to an electric guitar pickup.
- Microphone – literally a miniature microphone inside your guitar. And much like placing a mic in front of your acoustic, it’ll sound natural and realistic. Because of the mic placement, there’s always risk of feedback - something to bear in mind when gigging.
What is an Electro Acoustic Preamp?
Some electro acoustic guitars come with a built-in preamp. This takes the raw sound of the pickup/mic and gives you the ability to shape the tone in more detail. Electro acoustics without preamps tend to sound very transparent, so you’ll have to do all your adjusting on the external amp.
Some preamps come with a three-band EQ and additional controls, like presence, phase and even a built-in tuner. Preamps make life easy when setting up for PA systems which will differ between venues.
What are the Best Electro Acoustic Guitars?
There are plenty to choose from. As with any guitar or instrument, it depends on a few things: your sound, your style and your budget. Here’s a selection of some of the most popular electro acoustic guitar brands on the market…
Sire Electro Acoustic Guitars
Sire made waves with their Marcus Miller-designed bass range – accessible, professional, beautiful. Their acoustic offerings continue the trend. They cover a wide range of prices, from the affordable R3 to the premium R7 models. Choose dreadnought or grand auditorium, natural or sunburst, then choose between the two preamps on offer: the Zebra SIB and the Zebra 7.
SIB stands for ‘simple is best’, combining a piezo with an internal mic. Three simple controls allow you to tweak without overcomplicating things: mic blend, EQ search and volume. The Zebra 7 takes things a step further with the use of a soundhole pickup, piezo system and a separate preamp unit for maximum control. The best bit? Both cost the same – it’s down to preference!
Alvarez Electro Acoustic Guitars
Alvarez have been in the business longer than many of their competitors – they were founded back in the ‘70s and have pioneered acoustic electronics for a long time. Because of this, they’ve got one of the most diverse ranges of acoustic guitars on the market. They use a wide variety of woods in their builds, including African mahogany, macassar ebony, flamed maple and black walnut bodies.
Their electro acoustic models are fitted with the renowned L.R Baggs Element pickups and StagePro EQs. Element pickups are super discreet and don’t distract from the glorious build quality of the Alvarez acoustics. You’ll find a few guitars just use these without the EQ – keeping the aesthetic of the guitar super simple and classy. If you’re after more tweaking ability, the StagePros are where it’s at. Three-band EQ, phase, volume and built-in tuner.
EastCoast Electro Acoustic Guitars
Beginner or casual players will feel right at home with EastCoast guitars. They’re simple, effective and don’t cost the earth. You have a classic choice of tonewoods, including spruce, mahogany and sapele bodies and tops. Saying that, the selection here are still packed with electro acoustic goodness, capable of projecting your music to a larger audience.
These guys make their pickups and preamps in house in order to keep costs down, making it more affordable in the long run for you. They only require basic functionality and perform admirably, producing a clear, transparent sound when plugged in.
Learn more about EastCoast acoustics here.
Martin Electro Acoustic Guitars
Martin pretty much set the trend for contemporary dreadnought design. These guys know a thing or two about making guitars and build a wide range of brilliant guitars for your perusal. Another milestone in their long list of accomplishments is traditional x bracing. This reinforces the tonewoods and ensures vibrations are disperse evenly throughout the body.
When it comes to electro acoustics, Martin favour the high-end Fishman electronics. Depending on the price range and specs, Martins are equipped with their classic and clear sounding Matrix VT pickup and preamp, or the solder-free Sonitone for more affordable models.
Find out more about the complete line-up here.
Acoustic Guitar Pickups
Sometimes all you need is the pickup. In most cases, it doesn’t take too much adjustment to add electronics onto an acoustic. If you’re not feeling comfortable with the idea of tinkering with your precious instrument, take it to a local guitar shop (including Andertons!) and they’ll have it done in no time.
Fishman are no doubt one of the most popular pickup manufacturers. Not only are they highly regarded for designing pro pickups for electric guitars, but their electro-acoustic range is extremely consistent too. You’ll find a lot of guitar builders source their electronics from Fishman because they’re extremely reliable.
L.R Baggs are the other big name in acoustic pickups. These are certainly geared towards pro players and the premium market with the best microphones, piezo systems and humbuckers you can get your hands on. They are widely lauded for their faithful reproductions of the acoustic itself – one of the reasons you’ll want one if you have a guitar made of quality tonewoods.