When it comes to buying an acoustic guitar there’s a quite a few choices you need to make to be sure you’re getting the perfect guitar to suit your needs, and one of the most important of those is whether you need a standard acoustic or electro-acoustic model. Luckily, as well as being one of the most important decisions, it is also one of the most simple! It all boils down to whether you’re going to need to plug your guitar into an amplifier for a louder sound or add effects to your sound.
What is the difference between an ‘acoustic’ and ‘electro-acoustic’ guitar and which one do I need?
Conventional (non-electric) acoustic guitars produce sound when the resonation produced by a string being plucked reverberates in the ‘sound box’ (the hollow bit inside your guitar) and through the wooden body of the guitar itself. The advantage of this is that acoustic guitars produce a very natural, resonant sound, but the disadvantage is that producing sound in this way has its limits when it comes to volume, and this is where electro-acoustic guitars come in. Electro-acoustic guitars are fitted with an on-board ‘pickup’, a device which takes the signals from the vibrations of your guitar’s strings and sends them to an amplifier, which in turn converts these signals into an audible sound. Because the sound comes from the amplifier rather than the guitar it can be modified in several ways, most importantly in turns of volume, but you also have the option of altering your sound by adding ‘effects’, such as distortion, delay or reverb.
Can an electro-acoustic be used in the same way as a standard acoustic guitar?
Yes! It’s a surprisingly common misconception that electro-acoustic guitars can only be used whilst plugged in and not in the same way as a standard acoustic. However, because the body of an electro-acoustic is designed in the same way as a normal acoustic and features a hollow ‘sound box’ it will produce exactly the same sound as a normal acoustic when unplugged. The versatility of being able to use them either amplified or unplugged means that electro-acoustics are the more common choice amongst guitarists, especially those who perform live – amplification is pretty much essential for anyone playing gigs or busking!
Can you amplify a standard acoustic guitar?
Yep, even if your guitar does not have an on-board pick-up there are still a few ways to amplify your sound for live performances, but they are slightly more complicated than the simple plug-in-and-play option of an electro-acoustic. Firstly, and most commonly, you can fit a removable acoustic pickup, such as the Shadow SH330, which slots into your guitar’s sound-hole and can then be plugged into an amplifier. The only downside of this is that guitar sound-holes are not a universal size, so you might find your pickup doesn’t fit in your guitar! Another common option is to ‘mic up’ your guitar, meaning that instead of using a pickup to transmit the signal from string vibrations to the amp you simply place a microphone in front of your guitar’s sound-hole, amplifying the natural sound from your guitar. This method produces a very nice sound and is great for recording, but for live performances it limits your movement drastically! So, yes you can amplify a normal acoustic guitar, but for simplicity and versatility most musicians prefer electro-acoustic guitars with an on-board pickup.
So which one is best for me?
Well, it all boils down to how often you intend to play your guitar through an amplifier – if you’re going to be playing gigs or busking then it makes sense to go for an electro-acoustic guitar, especially if you move around while playing. The main appeal of a standard acoustic guitar for most players is the price tag – they tend to be cheaper than their electro-acoustic counterparts (you can often get the same model with or without electrics) and are therefore perfect if you’re just starting out on the guitar and aren’t worried about amplifying your sound just yet! Overall, in the long term it makes sense for most guitarists to spend that bit extra and go for an electro-acoustic due to the fact that it offers you all the qualities of a standard acoustic but with the added versatility of having an on-board pickup for amplified playing, but every guitarist has different needs and a different style, so the choice really is down to you!