Many musicians (and music fans) love the soulful sound of acoustic guitars. They’re raw, organic, and real. But while they can get loud, their strums and melodies don’t always carry across concert halls and outdoor venues. For that, you need amps and other electronics.
You might also want to make a recording of your acoustic guitar. That’s much easier if you can plug it into a mixer and blend your instruments and settings. So what’s the best acoustic-electric guitar for these scenarios? Let’s start by looking at seven top models then drill it down to one.
The best acoustic electric guitar for the Money
The best acoustic electric guitar on the Market 2021
1. Little Martin LX1E Acoustic-Electric Guitar
A lot of us want to own the guitar brand played by our favorite pop idol. And if buying said guitar makes the world better, that’s a buzzing bonus. So if you’re an Ed Sheeran fan and you know he loves his Little Martins, you’re going to love this one. Ed and Martin Guitar (C.F. Martin & Co.) collaborated on album-editions for Ed’s first three albums: +, x, and ÷.
The trilogy is all Little Martins so they have the same specs but different logos. So if you want the quality Ed knows and loves without the hefty price point, a regular no-logo LX1E is the best acoustic-electric guitar for you. When Ed first bought this guitar, he was a gangly teenager with big dreams and a small budget. So the entry-level version of this guitar does cut corners.
Its back and sides are high-pressure laminate mahogany (HPL) but the top is solid Sitka Spruce so you do get that quality sound from this guitar. HPL wood – sometimes called hybrid wood – is cheaper than solid wood but it’s also sustainable and environmentally friendly. The guitar has a scale of 23” and the bracing is standard non-scalloped X-bracing. Nut-width is 1 and 17/18”.
Some of the branded signature versions have control panels on the side with sliders. But on the entry-level version, there are no knobs or buttons on the guitar itself. You can only adjust them on your computer, mixer, or amp. The pickup style on this Little Martin LX1E is a Fishman Sonitone under-saddle piezo. It’s an active pickup so you get lots of versatility when you play.
This pretty little acoustic-electric has large specs, a massive reputation, and a friendly price. It has a folksy shape and a warm tome. Pair it with a pedalboard and loop to your heart’s delight.
- It’s famous for being Ed Sheeran’s guitar.
- The small size is great for portability.
- The hybrid wood is green and socially forward.
- The truss rod is adjustable but difficult to access unless you’re a luthier. You need an extra-long 5mm hex screw to reach the rod without opening up the guitar.
2. Gibson J-200 Acoustic-Electric Guitar
If you (or your musical tastes) are over a certain, you’re more attuned to Elvis Presley or Bob Dylan. They both played this guitar, and Dylan has a collector’s version. Of course, you’re probably more interested in the standard J-200 with a far more attainable price. The country-style guitar has a folksy dreadnought shape with deeper curves and rounder sounds.
This is a vintage-styled guitar so even the 2019-2021 version has a retro look. The aged appearance is achieved using deep penetrating oil that produces a long-lasting, realistic, distressed patina. This guitar comes in antique natural or vintage sunburst shades.
The top is spruce while the body and back are maple. The softened fretboard is maple as well and is extremely comfortable to play. The pickguard has distinctive decorative detail, just like Bob’s. Its pickup is an LR Baggs Anthem with an element and an internal Trumic. This pickup is hum-resistant because it has a feedback suppressor built-in. It also has soundhole controls.
This guitar has an engraved cover for its truss rod and its set-up is Plek-assisted so it doesn’t need much tweaking when it lands on your doorstep. It does need a 9V battery, but it ships with one pre-fitted. The guitar has a hardtail bridge well-suited to its passive pickup though the LR Baggs Anthem can be both active and passive. It’s guitar full of sound heritage, pun intended.
The Gibson J-200 (sometimes sold as SJ-200) has a beautiful mustache bridge with mother of pearl detail. Its distinctive look and sound will make you (and Bob Dylan) proud.
- The pickguard detail is pretty.
- Its pickup is an upgraded LR Baggs Anthem.
- It has a softened fingerboard for added comfort.
- If you buy it overseas, double-check the quality. Sellers sometimes export sub-standard versions with knock-off fretboards and low-end components.
3. Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster
Shopping for an acoustic-electric guitar means you probably like the visual and aural character of acoustics … you just need a little more power. So an acoustic guitar that ‘looks electric’ may not appeal to you. On the other hand, it’s an acoustic Strat – best of both worlds, no?
This Acoustasonic Fender is pretty, with its black /natural front and spruce edges. The streamlined body is a combination of solid mahogany and spruce, but its slim shape does affect acoustic resonance. That could be why they fitted multiple pickups on this guitar – a mounted magnetic one and a permanent piezo. This helps recover some of the lost acoustic character.
The guitar has two control knobs and a five-step slider to shift between acoustic and electric. Every step on the slider gives you an option of ‘two voices’. It also has a tusk saddle bridge and a soap bar single coil. So in reality, this guitar has three pickups. That’s a lot of battery power, but you can charge while you play so there’s no time lost. The battery lasts 20 hours at full charge.
Let’s talk some more about the pickups. The single-coil soap bar is one. The noise-canceling N4 magnetic makes two. And the third pickup is an under-saddle Fishman. Combined, these pickups provide full electric play plus six acoustic tones. The fingerboard is made of ebony.
The cutaway neck is maple and the bridge is maple too, but distressed. And because this guitar has a solid spruce front with solid mahogany back and sides, it’s a heavy instrument. Well over 14 pounds. So be sure to get a well-padded strap before you pay. The guitar is California-made.
While the slim contours may throw you, this guitar meets all its acoustic and electric bona fides. And it’s a Fender so you’re getting what you pay for. Plus the N4 kills off any feedback problems.
- It’s a Strat so you get the prestige that comes with the name.
- The visuals are arrestingly gorgeous.
- This guitar has both piezo and magnetic pickups.
- As an acoustic player, you may be put off by the ‘electric look’ of this Stratocaster.
4. Takamine Pro Acoustic-Electric Guitar
A lot of acoustic guitars are dreadnoughts while electric guitars are largely cutaways. For an electro-acoustic, you can go either way. And this Takamine opts for a cutaway. It’s a good-looking instrument with a glossy black finish. The front of this guitar is solid cedar while the back and sides are Maplewood. The guitar has a hardshell case though that does add the shipping costs.
As for the other parts of the guitar, the neck is maple and the fretboard is dark rosewood to match the rest of the guitar body. The neck joint is a dovetail for added strength. Takamine guitars have an exclusive palathetic pickup. This piezo pickup is considered among the best under-saddle pickups for acoustic-electric guitars because it’s so good at eliminating feedback.
This pickup has the rich, natural sound you expect from acoustics. It achieves this through larger aluminum housing and bigger cylinder-shaped piezo elements. The pickup has an element for each string (six in total). A printed circuit board serves as the positive pole. This Takamine pickup is designed to work with CT4B II preamps up top fitted near the neck joint.
The preamps facilitate volume and reach without dimming acoustic quality. This ensures the guitar’s tone is warm and wholesome regardless of what or where you’re playing. And while the Takamine comes with its pickup pre-installed, you can put one in yourself through a hole in the top of the guitar. There’s no need to open up the guitar so mounting this pickup is a DIY dream.
The Takamine acoustic-electric guitar looks good and sounds amazing. It comes with the famous palathetic pickup and built-in Takamine preamps … and lots of dealers salvage these preamps.
- It comes with a hardshell case.
- The guitar is fitted with CT4B II preamps.
- It ships with phosphor bronze strings.
- This is an import (made in Japan) and many acoustic players prefer their instruments locally made. It’s still a top-shelf guitar though.
5. PRS Angelus Acoustic-Electric Guitar
You don’t pay much attention to the sides of the guitar. But in a darkened club or hazy festival, that flash of light as it hits a decorative side can add flair to your performance. Plus it’s those little details that make a brand stand out. So this PRS guitar comes with a natural front with glossy colored sides. You can choose abaco green or black gold burst (a rich dark brown).
‘Abaco’ here refers to the greenish turquoise waters at Paul Reed Smith’s happy place – a beach in the Bahamas so this guitar model is carefully named. The guitar comes in two styles – a cutaway named Angelus or a dreadnought branded Tonore. It’s a PRS A55 where ‘A’ means Angelus (cutaway) and ‘55’ means quilted maple. (PRS 50s are all curly maples.)
Both the Angelus and the Tonare have the deep-waisted folk guitar shape. And they both have Fishman GT1 pickups and a hardshell guitar case. The guitar top is solid Sitka spruce while the decorated sides (and back) are quilted maple, sometimes called blistered maple because of its distinctive patchwork appearance. This blends maple tonal functionality with visual beauty.
PRS electro-acoustics have reinforced hybrid bracing. They combine an X brace on the sides with a fan brace on the belly. The guitar has a bone nut and saddle with an ebony bridge and fretboard. The scale of this guitar is 25.35 inches and it has a wide comfy neck is mahogany.
The PRS A55 has real abalone shell inlays along the rosette and purfling. These may seem like minor things, but they will catch your eye at the guitar store. And the guitar sounds cool too.
- The colored sides, blistered maple, and abalone are all nice aesthetic touch.
- It has a solid spruce top and a quilted maple body.
- The electronics are Fishman GT1.
- PRS has superior quality controls, yes, but they still build their guitars in China. So this guitar is US-approved rather than US-made. This may bother acoustic purists.
6. Epiphone Hummingbird Pro Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Epiphone is to Gibson what Squier is to Fender. They’re both entry-level lines of a famous (and expensive) brand. So they offer younger players access to executive grades of musicianship. They also provide a gateway for consumers who will likely upgrade to the ‘big brother model’ so they’re a handy marketing tool. And This Epiphone Hummingbird does quite well for itself.
If you remember anything from math class, you know radius refers to circles and arcs. So you may have wondered why the term keeps popping up around guitars. It’s about the neck. We’re so busy focusing on how long or wide it is that we forget the girth. Guitar necks have a curve at the back where it nestles in your palm. It might be a D, V, C, U, BB, slim-fit, or asymmetrical.
This Epiphone has a slim comfy D-neck and its rosewood fretboard has parallelogram-shaped inlays. These inlays are both decorative and instructive, they help you identify the frets as your fingers develop muscle memory. The guitar’s nickname comes from the hummingbird etched onto its pickguard. Its sibling the Epiphone Dove has the same specs but with a maple body.
It’s a retro guitar revamped for modern players, and original owners include Keith Richards. The pickup is active and the guitar has a versatile control panel positioned on the side of the guitar, just above the waist. This panel has a phaser for feedback control, equalizers (bass + treble), volume, and a switch for muting. The guitar has 20 frets and a standard brand head stop.
The guitar has a solid spruce front, mahogany body, faded cherry coloring, and a Fishman pickup. It’s a 2.2lb guitar and needs two CRC batteries to power its electronics. It’s a 25.5 scale guitar. And while it’s ‘pocket-friendly’ by Gibson standards, it stills costs more than other guitars in its class. So while it’s positioned as a ‘beginner’ guitar, you may not want to buy it for the kids …
The Epiphone Hummingbird is a beautiful low-action instrument with trusted electronics. It’s easy for beginners to play so teachers love it. But it comes without a case so be careful with it!
- You get the backing of the Gibson brand.
- The pickup is Fishman Sonitone.
- It has a slim neck and pearloid fretboard inlays.
- The tone isn’t what you’d expect from a guitar with this name and price point.
7. Yamaha APX 600 Acoustic-Electric Guitar (Our Top Pick)
There’s something about the way sound bounces around inside acoustic guitars. It’s what gives them that recognizable sound. So may worry that buying a slimmer guitar will lose that. But as we saw with the Acoustatonic, slim is in – even in the world of musical instruments. While not as slim as the Strat we looked at earlier, this Yamaha is still thinner than conventional acoustics.
It has a depth of 5 inches while acoustics are typically 6 inches or more. But the guitar is built with scalloped bracing to enhance its bass registers. This makes up for the slimmer slides, which offer playing comfort and encourage longer practice sessions. To ensure the bass stays as deep as you need it to, the Yamaha features that trusted oval soundhole for louder lower frequencies.
The strings on this guitar have narrow spacing. This makes bar chords easier but could be a challenge for fingerwork unless you have small hands … though slender fingers would be more helpful. The rosette is embellished with protective abalone detail. Electronically, this guitar has the APX 600 pickup that’s tweaked for the stage. The control panel is positioned on the side.
Veteran guitarists barely blink as they tune their instruments. They can do it in their sleep. But it could always be easier – especially for beginners. That’s why the APX 600 has an integrated tuner on its control panel. The tuner needs AA batteries though, so always have some handy. The guitar purfling is bound in ivory-colored plastic for added reinforcement (and aesthetics).
If you want a sleek, slim guitar as you transition from bass (or electric) to acoustic, this is a good choice. The thin profile and enhanced low registers keep the guitar familiar and comfortable.
- Its slim shape makes it easier to hold and play.
- To maintain deep bass, the soundhole and bracing are modified.
- You can buy the guitar in four colors and it has a tuner built-in.
- It’s a high action guitar so you may want to tweak the strings, fret, or bridge for comfort.
Some acoustic-electric guitars have electronics built-in. They come ready to play – just find a ¼-inch cable and plug it in. Others are just regular acoustic guitars, so you have to clip or screw a soundhole pickup with a hanging cable to turn your acoustic into an electric. So what features should you consider when shopping for the best acoustic-electric guitar? Let’s find out!
Shape and Size
Like any other guitar, you want a guitar that suits your height, body frame, and playing style. Acoustic-electric guitars (described as electro-acoustic, semi-acoustic, or semi-electric guitars) are basically acoustic guitars with a built-in pickup and integrated electronics. And like any other acoustic, they can have dreadnought, folksy, or Spanish guitar shapes with cutaways.
The cutaway lets you reach higher frets and play higher notes. They are also useful if you prefer to play with a capo. Cutaway guitars are best if you do a lot of fingerwork. But if you mostly strum-and-sing then dreadnoughts will do. Shape also affects how your arms hang over the guitar. You want to feel relaxed as you play so if you can, go to the music store in person.
Type of Electronics
This covers the pickup, the control dials, and even the control style. Do you want a guitar with a built-in pickup? You still have to choose between piezos, transducers, or internal mics. These are permanent pickups that come pre-installed. But you can also buy a pickup separately and have a luthier mount it for you. If you’re brave enough, you can even try to mount it yourself.
As for the control panel, it can be located on the side, on the front, or in the soundhole. These controls can be sliders or rotary knobs. You can also opt for an active or passive acoustic-electric. Active guitars allow more tone-shaping so the control panel will have more buttons and dials. Active guitars need a battery to power their panels. Get one with LED indicators if you can.
If you generally play acoustic guitars, going electric can either feel like an upgrade or a sell-out. Similarly, for electric experts, going acoustic may be seen as going off the grid, pun intended. So your attitude and musical experience play a big role in the additional features you prefer. Electric guitarists may want a built-in tuner to make the set-up process quicker and easier.
Acoustic guitarists are more accustomed to strumming by ear so tuning is effortless for them. It’s almost automatic because weather changes affect the acoustic wood so you tune it almost every time you play. So acoustic experts may be more interested in a guitar with hum-canceling, buzz-suppressing, or noise-canceling features because the guitarist is focused on feedback.
Strum and Riff
Given these considerations, we recommend buying the Yamaha APX 600. Here’s why:
- It’s available in four colors.
- The strings have narrower spacing so it’s easier to play.
- The slim sides also make the guitar easier to handle.
- Scalloped bracing gives you deeper bass.
- The APX soundhole is elliptical and this deepens your bass as well.
- The guitar has an auto-tuner, pun intended.
- It has an APX contact pickup customized for stage performance.
- The top is spruce, the body is mahogany, and the fretboard is rosewood.
What acoustic-electric guitar do you play? Show us a photo in the comments!