9 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars: Reviews and Buying Guide
You love your acoustic guitar, but it’s just not cutting it when you hit the stage. Like Bob Dylan before you, the time has come to plug in. But with which guitar?
Performing is intimidating enough. The last thing you need is to be embarrassed by a poorly made, weak sounding instrument. Gasp.
So let us help you. We’ve rounded up 9 best acoustic-electric guitars guaranteed to blow your audience away. We’ll start with the top picks, and then offer critical advice on how to choose the right one for your needs.
The 9 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars of 2020
The best acoustic-electric guitars promise a natural acoustic sound with the versatility of onboard electronics. Here are our review of the nine best acoustic-electric guitars that are guaranteed to deliver on that promise.
Yamaha’s Folk Guitar (FG) series are some of the most popular acoustic guitars on the market, due to their great sound, quality craftsmanship, and affordability (1). And it’s for these same reasons that we love the FGX acoustic-electric guitars as well.
Though value-priced, the FGX800C offers a high-quality solid Sitka spruce top. Paired with laminated nato and okoume back and sides, this guitar produces a rich and full-bodied sound whose tonal balance will only improve with age. The forceful projection and sizeable dynamic range make it suitable for a variety of musical styles, so don’t feel constrained by its folk guitar label.
Compared with previous models in the series, the FGX800C has an updated scalloped bracing design. This allows for better top vibration for enhanced projection and a stronger low end.
When it’s time to hit the stage, the onboard Yamaha System-66 electronics provide a beautiful amplified sound that accurately conveys the Sitka spruce tone. The onboard preamp has a 3-band EQ to avoid feedback and includes a reliable tuner.
Who was it made for? This versatile guitar is for anyone considering a first foray into performance. With its folk stylings, quality tonewoods, and value price, this is a great guitar to take to your first gig, and it will still be performing beautifully at your hundredth.
Paul Reed Smith Guitars is a relatively new American guitar manufacturer that has quickly gained a reputation for high-quality craftsmanship and innovative designs (2).
The SE Angelus A55E is the most expensive guitar on this list, but its incredible sound and remarkable build quality make it well worth the extra investment.
It features a solid spruce top paired with quilted maple back and sides, which gives it a classic acoustic sound, with a crisp top-end and no lack of power in the bass. PRS acoustic-electric guitars use a proprietary bracing design inspired by history’s most renowned luthiers. The hybrid X-brace/classical bracing yields a powerful tone that emphasizes the details of your play.
The custom Angelus body shape is similar in size to a dreadnought but slightly thinner. Coupled with the cutaway, this makes the A55E comfortable to handle and enables fast play along the entirety of the smooth ebony fretboard.
When you want to plug in, the Fishman GT1 under-saddle pickup system provides a strong and clear natural tone, without unwanted feedback, and the onboard preamp gives you the controls to customize your sound. The electronics have a slim design that keeps them from interfering with the natural look of your acoustic.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for intermediate to experienced players, especially those who love to perform. It’s a high-end instrument, so it’s best suited to those with the expertise to appreciate its quality, both in terms of sound and stage presence.
The Epiphone Hummingbird Pro is a classic, both in terms of sound and style. Moreover, it tops every other guitar with its value: a fantastic price for such a powerful beauty. So, if you want a rockstar’s stage presence, this surprisingly affordable guitar is a winner.
The faded cherry sunburst finish, intricate hummingbird pickguard design, and split parallelogram inlays along the rosewood fretboard contribute to the iconic style of this acoustic-electric. Based on Gibson’s famed Hummingbird guitar, Epiphone has done an good job of lowering the cost without sacrificing quality.
The Hummingbird Pro is more than just a pretty face; it has some serious sound chops as well. The spruce top and mahogany back and sides give it a rich and well-balanced tone that will improve overtime as the spruce opens up. The dreadnought body shape provides good projection, and the slim mahogany neck makes it easy to play.
Inside, the Shadow Nanoflex pickup is a cutting edge system that provides natural amplification to any volume. The onboard preamp includes controls for treble, bass, mute, EQ, volume, and dynamics. However, note that this guitar lacks an in-built tuner.
Who was it made for? This acoustic-electric guitar was made for the stage. Its vintage styling is too gorgeous not to show off under the bright performance lights. If you want to rock like Keith Richards but can’t afford the Gibson price tag, this Epiphone replica is for you (3).
The Ibanez PF15ECE is an electric-acoustic guitar that delivers far more than its price would suggest. This guitar may be inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap.
The tonewood combination of a spruce top and nyatoh back and sides provides a traditional acoustic sound, with a bright and well-articulated upper register, a rich and full bass, and incredible sustain. Nyatoh is similar to mahogany in its tonal properties but is less expensive and more environmentally sustainable.
The dreadnought body style allows for good projection. Even before you plug in, this guitar has some serious volume. When you do plug in, the Ibanez electronics, including an under-saddle pickup and AEQ2T active preamp, provide both the power and tone to hit the stage.
Who was it made for? Being an acoustic guitar under $300, the PF15ECE acoustic-electric was crafted with the novice guitarist in mind. It may not feature the same high-end craftsmanship or tonewoods as more expensive models, but it certainly punches above its price class when it comes to sound quality and style.
Based in Japan, Takamine has built their reputation on steel string acoustic guitars. That’s good news for you, because it means that even their low-priced models are beautifully designed and meticulously crafted.
The GD30-CE is basically the platonic ideal of an acoustic guitar, both in its sound and its design.
For an acoustic-electric guitar priced under $500, this is worth every cent. The topwood is solid spruce, which means it will sound even better with age, and the back and sides are mahogany. This is a classic combination for good reason. It yields a rich and well-balanced sound, with crisp highs and warm midtones. The dreadnought body style adds a strong bass and powerful projection. This guitar has some serious volume, even before you plug it in.
When you do want to plug in, you’ll find Takamine’s patented TP4T preamp, which includes a gain knob, tuner, and an active shelving EQ with bass, middle, and treble sliders. That’s everything you need to shape your sound and blow your audience away.
One thing we particularly love is how easy this guitar is to play. The soft Venetian cutaway gives full access to the upper frets, and the slim mahogany neck is topped with an ovangkol fretboard that feels slick and comfortable under your fingertips.
Who was it made for? With its traditional dreadnought shape and quality tonewoods, this guitar was made for anyone who craves that classic acoustic sound, but at a price that doesn’t break the bank. Performers, in particular, will appreciate the quality of its electronics and its stage-ready good looks.
Finding an acoustic-electric guitar under $200 probably means making some sacrifices in terms of materials. But as long as you stick with a well-established brand, there’s no reason to make similar sacrifices when it comes to build quality and design.
That’s why WE LOVE this ultra-affordable Fender model.
Sure, it doesn’t use the exotic solid tonewoods of the more expensive options, but Fender’s decades of design and manufacturing expertise go a long way in compensating for lower-cost materials.
The FA-125CE is all laminate, spruce for the top and basswood for the back and sides, but has a surprisingly full-bodied sound, with some serious power thanks to the dreadnought body style. The spruce soundboard means bright and well-articulated high notes. And though basswood is often associated with budget guitars because of its abundance, it actually offers a rich tone of its own, with a good amount of punch in the low end.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll love this guitar’s easy playability.
The slim C-shaped nato neck with premium walnut fingerboard adds a lively tone, as does the attractive Viking bridge. Inside, you’ll find a solid set of Fishman electronics, so it’s a piece of cake to crank up the volume when you hit the stage.
Who was it made for? At this price, it’s clear the FA-125CE is for the new guitarist on a budget. While advanced players will probably want to look elsewhere for higher-end tonewoods, beginners will appreciate the lively sound, easy playability, and solid construction of this classic dreadnought.
As I mentioned before, Takamine has quickly made a name for itself in the steel-string acoustic market. This beautifully designed model demonstrates why (5).
Thanks to its unique NEX body style, the Takamine GN93CE is a small guitar with a surprisingly big sound. The NEX body is essentially a jumbo shape condensed to a dreadnought size, and it keeps the best features of both, offering comfortable play and high volume. A smooth cutout provides easy access to the upper frets, and fast players will love the slim mahogany neck.
The solid wood top is spruce, the sides are black walnut, and the 3-piece back is a combination of black walnut and maple. This unique set of tonewoods, coupled with high-end scalloped X-bracing, gives this instrument a distinct sound. It’s rich and well-balanced, with a vast dynamic range and incredible resonance.
With such impressive construction, this guitar hardly needs electronics to command a room. But they’re there, and they’re great. The TK-40D preamp yields clear-sounding amplified output and includes a gain knob, tuner, 3-band EQ with bass, middle, and treble sliders, and a low battery indicator.
Who was this made for? With stage presence in spades, this guitar is for performance, whether a small gig or a concert hall. Lovers of country music and Americana, in particular, should give Takamine guitars a closer look. When names like Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and Toby Keith play it, you know you’re on the right track.
Taylor’s popular 100 series guitars may be their entry-level models, but they’re still Taylor guitars, which means they’re still expertly crafted and beautiful sounding. The 114e plays like it was made for the pros, but they offer it at a price for the masses. There’s even a gig bag included.
The grand auditorium body style is slightly smaller than the classic dreadnought, making it suitable for small players or those who want more maneuverability around their instrument. It’s particularly suited to fingerstyle play and produces considerable volume from strumming and flat-picking, making it a great all-arounder.
It has a solid Sitka spruce top, paired with layered rosewood for a uniquely rich sound with crisp articulation. Taylor optimized the internal X-bracing to get the most volume from this smaller-bodied instrument. The fretboard features genuine responsibly traded ebony, a rarity at this price range, which gives the fingerboard the smooth feel and fast play no other wood can match.
The onboard electronics are Taylor’s Expression System 2 design, an innovative amplification system that uses a behind-the-saddle pickup with three separate sensors (6). Compared with more common under-saddle pickups, the ES2 allows the guitar’s natural tone to come through more clearly and captures a greater dynamic range.
Who was this made for? This versatile acoustic-electric guitar is for any player with an appreciation for Taylor guitars’ craftsmanship, particularly those who favor fingerstyle play. The grand auditorium body style can’t match a dreadnought in volume, but it has a charming sound that’s all its own.
Both Fender and punk rock are probably best known for electric guitars, but that is no reason to overlook the acoustic-electric Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat. This guitar is a product of collaboration between Fender and Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong (7).
Tim Armstrong is a punk through and through. It is almost impossible to talk about punk music in the last 25 years without mentioning the undeniable influence he’s had on the culture as a whole.
So, you get a guitar that has a vibe of a man with SERIOUS PUNK ROCK CRED.
The guitar is based on Armstrong’s favorite 1960s-era Fender acoustic but updated for the modern scene. It’s an all-mahogany instrument that promises a rich, full, and warm sound that you won’t find from a spruce-topped guitar. The concert body, which is smaller than a dreadnought, features a scalloped bracing design that enhances the tones from the wood and optimizes projection.
The Hellcat has a classic retro style, but with a few edgy touches that point to its punk rock heritage. The walnut fingerboard, sports pearl acrylic, Hellcat logos on three frets, and a pair of skulls on a fourth. The open-gear tuners are vintage style, as is the tortoiseshell pickguard.
The onboard electronics, however, are entirely modern. The Fishman Tim Armstrong preamp provides reliable amplification without distortion, and the built-in tuner means you’ll never be out of tune.
Who was it made for? This guitar is for punk rockers, and Rancid fans will be clamoring for it. But it will also appeal to anyone who loves the warm tones of an all-mahogany guitar, and it’s very reasonably priced for a collaboration model.
How to Choose the Best Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Choosing the best acoustic-electric guitar isn’t much different from selecting the best acoustic guitar models. Consider the tones you enjoy and the music you like to play, and then follow our tips below.
Not sure if an electro-acoustic is for you? Click here to learn the difference between acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and acoustic-electric guitars.
Tonewoods still matter.
You might think that the addition of electronics to your guitar and the ability to manipulate its sound renders the tonewoods less critical, but you would be mistaken. The woods used in the construction of your guitar, particularly the topwood, are still the main factors determining its sound.
Guitar craftsmen, or luthiers, believe that the wood chosen for the top is the single most important factor in determining what the instrument will ultimately sound like.
So when choosing an acoustic-electric, think about how you want it to sound unplugged. For one, you’ll probably play it unplugged regularly. For two, a guitar that doesn’t sound well unplugged will only sound worse when amplified.
In general, spruce tops produce a bright sound, with a crisp upper register, strong resonance, and good sustain. Mahogany, whether used as a topwood or for the body, contributes a warmer, richer sound.
A popular tonewood combination is a spruce top with a mahogany body that yields a guitar with a well-balanced sound from bass to treble. In contrast, all-mahogany guitars have an overall warmer voice, with a bit less definition in the top end. They sound particularly beautiful when played fingerstyle.
Consider the different types of onboard electronics.
There are several options for inbuilt electronics when it comes to an acoustic-electeric guitar. The most crucial component is the transducer, which converts noise vibrations into an electronic signal that can be amplified.
Transducers are located where they can easily pick up vibrations, often under the saddle. They come in the form of magnetic pickups, piezo pickups, or a built-in mic. A steel-string guitar can have any or all of these, but a nylon string guitar won’t be able to use a magnetic pickup.
Many acoustic-electric guitars also feature a preamp, which takes the sound from your pickup and allows you to manipulate it before it reaches the amp. Preamps aren’t mandatory, and their downside is the need for additional batteries, but they increase the versatility of your guitar. The preamp often includes a built-in tuner, a useful add-on, particularly for beginners.
Match the guitar size to your size.
Acoustic guitars rely on the hollow body of the instrument to project sound (8). To a loose approximation, a more significant body equals a bigger sound. This is unfortunate for smaller players, who may struggle to wrap their arms comfortably around a dreadnought and find it downright impossible to handle a jumbo.
Because acoustic-electric guitars can use electronics to amplify their sound, you have a bit more flexibility when deciding on your guitar’s size and shape. Of course, small-body guitars will still lack the volume of massive guitars when you’re playing unplugged.
The most common acoustic style is the dreadnought, and it’s famous for good reason. Large enough for good sound projection and small enough to be comfortably played by an average adult, these guitars are great for all music styles.
Jumbo guitars are sized up from dreadnoughts, and they can project a big sound. They’re famous for country music or rock and roll when inclined to heavier strumming or aggressive fingerstyle play. But if you love the sound of a jumbo but find them uncomfortable to play, check out Takamine’s NEX style, shaped like a jumbo but sized like a dreadnought.
Smaller players have more options for acoustic-electric guitars, with many brands offering unique shapes and sizes.
Thin-body guitars, which maintain the form of a dreadnought but with less depth, are a great choice. They may sound a bit thin when played unplugged but can rock out with the best of them when plugged in.
If you like making use of the upper frets in your play, look for a guitar with cutaway design. Although they remove a bit of volume from the guitar’s body, their projection effect is negligible, especially when plugged to an amplifier (9).
You can teach yourself to play guitar. There are now many online guitar lesson platforms you can use.
Yes, electro-acoustic guitars sound good unplugged. This is what makes them such versatile instruments.
Yes, you can turn an acoustic guitar into an electro-acoustic guitar. Check out our article on how to make it acoustic-electric.
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