Everyone needs an acoustic guitar. There are death metal bands who’ve never been seen with anything remotely acoustic on stage or in the studio that will happily admit to using them as a writing tool – so it really doesn’t matter how much of your life you spend on your guitar amp’s high gain channel. A good acoustic, better still, one fitted with an onboard preamp, can be an incredibly powerful tool for any kind of songwriter or performer. Here, we’re exploring the best acoustic electric guitars for all budgets.
The good news right now is that you’re truly spoiled for choice when it comes down to acoustic electrics. There are the higher-tier instruments, often made by companies like Martin, Guild or Taylor, designed with carefully selected woods to delicately balance their response across the frequency spectrum. But it’s worth remembering that some of the more moderately priced electro-acoustics these days have come incredibly close to those high standards, at sometimes under a quarter of the cost. Here’s our guide to the best acoustic electric guitars to help find the right one for you…
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The first consideration with any acoustic guitar will generally be its shape and size. Concert and auditorium-sized instruments are smaller, with symphony and dreadnought cuts in the middle and – as the name suggests – jumbos at the top. Generally speaking, smaller body sizes offer more touch dynamics and response while the larger ones out there will sound fuller thanks to enhanced bass. But, as with electrics, these differences can range hugely from instrument to instrument. It really comes down to what fits your body comfortably and feels the most inspiring to play.
Woods also play a big factor in an acoustic’s tone. Spruce tops are by far the most common, known for their natural chime, immediate response and dependable clarity. Cedar, on the other hand, is a less dense wood that carries a darker tone – with more warmth and roundness in comparison, which is why it tends to be more popular among fingerstyle players. Similar things can be said of mahogany and sapele, though they’re more likely to be used for the back and sides, bringing more of a natural and ‘woody’ sound. The most popular tonewood for these parts of an acoustic is rosewood – usually of the East Indian variety, with the CITES-protected Brazilian Rosewood saved for the more expensive models.
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Other options include Maple and Koa, which are both renowned for their bright articulation and eye-watering grains, and Walnut – which tends to be more mid-focussed. The Taylor website allows users to A/B any of their instruments strummed as an open chord, a riff or played fingerstyle – effectively letting you hear the difference between the varying tonewoods in each series, so could very well be worth referring to for direct comparisons…
Then, of course, there are the electronics – which is often where some of the cheaper alternatives fall short. Companies like Fishman and LR Baggs are among the most celebrated in the acoustic pickup trade, but some companies have done incredibly well at producing their own. Are you the kind of player that just wants one ‘good’ sound or perhaps a choice of five different voicings complimented by a three-band EQ? Every player will have their own needs, which is why our list of the best acoustic electric guitars covers all bases…
The best acoustic electric guitars available today
If Taylor is capable of making some of the world’s greatest high-end instruments, then they’re bound to know a thing or two about producing high quality guitars at a lower price point too. This Dreadnought features a solid spruce top and layered walnut back and sides, and comes fitted with Taylor’s Expression System 2 onboard pickup and its discrete volume and EQ controls.
It’s incredibly playable too, with a slim-profile neck and a slightly narrower 1-11/16-inch nut width for extra playing comfort. Admittedly, the 110e might not sound or feel as meticulously crafted as anything from Taylor’s 900 or Presentation Series, though you do end up with an instrument that’s worth hanging on to for life.
Resurrected in 2016, the Epiphone Masterbilt series pays tribute to the brand’s enduring legacy – bringing vintage designs and sounds into the modern age. This AJ-45ME is based on the original J-45 ‘Jumbo’ from the early 1930s, a model favoured by rock and country luminaries such as John Lennon and Hank Williams. It screams retro like no other acoustic.
This model also benefits from the Fishman Sonitone under-saddle pickup system – specifically designed to meet the needs of more affordably produced instruments – and has a discreet preamp located inside the soundhole with easy access to a master volume and master tone control.
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Yamaha might not be considered one of the more luxury brands of the acoustic world, but time and time again they’ve managed to deliver instruments that appeal to the ear as much as they do the wallet. The FGX820C models, for example, might not look like much at first glance but anyone that’s picked one up will attest to their sheer volume and resonance.
The mahogany back and sides add warmth to the solid spruce top punch, making for an incredibly wide sound with Yamaha’s under-saddle piezo pickup and System66 analog preamp ensuring it all translates fully when plugged in. There’s also a chromatic tuner, an adjustable mid-range control and 3-band EQ for total control in just about any live environment.
Relatively unknown compared to the Martins and Taylors of this world, but with four decades of experience, French manufacturers Lag have been responsible for some brilliantly designed acoustics that offer boutique tones without the boutique price tag. This auditorium cutaway electro-acoustic features a Fishman Ink3 preamp system, with an LCD tuner and EQ/volume controls.
Ovangkol, which is an African relative of rosewood, combines well with the spruce top and tropical khaya neck for a sound that’s wide and deep. Ultimately, you end up with a guitar that looks, feels and sounds more like instruments retailing at double its price.
This electro version of the highly acclaimed D-55 comes fitted with an LR Baggs Anthem pickup system to capture that classic Guild sound in full sonic glory. Relaunched in 2017, the new D-55s share much in spirit with their 1968 originals, with a combination of AAA Sitka spruce, Indian Rosewood and ebony blending to create rich and warm tones that resonate with power and class.
The deeper bass frequencies are wonderfully offset by a high-end sparkle when strummed. Then, of course, there are the finer details like the Guild “Peak and Shield” inlay combination over a figured ebony overlay, Guild’s iconic abalone/pearl V-Block inlays across the matching ebony fretboard. A truly mesmerising instrument.
For a lot of players, the Martin D-28 is the definitive acoustic guitar. From Page to Clapton, Cash to Cornell or McCartney to Gallagher, it’s the kind of instrument with a legacy that cannot be overstated. This electro variant from the Reimagined series utilises Fishman’s Thinline Gold and VTII system to capture those glorious tones at full capacity.
It features forward-shifted bracing, a wider real bone nut and vintage-style aesthetic changes, as well as a low-profile neck shape for player comfort. These guitars are also sent through a PLEK machine for unparalleled consistency from top to bottom – so, unsurprisingly, what you get at the end is a real work of art.
This year’s Acoustasonic series from the big F takes the idea of an acoustic electric guitar to a whole new level. At first glance it just looks like an electric but wait, there’s a soundhole and bridge pins – which means, of course, you can go from real electric tones to real acoustic sounds at the touch of a button. And there’s more – you can even blend different tones together – which only adds to the dimension and versatility.
Granted, these Acoustasonic Strats and Teles won’t be for everyone. Purists and traditionalists may very well prefer their acoustic and electric instruments to live side-by-side rather than all-in-one. But to the more adventurous among us, these guitars look like hours and hours of fun.
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PRS aren’t exactly known for their acoustics, though it’s worth bearing in mind they teamed up with Alex Lifeson from Rush for his SE Thinline acoustic signature in 2015 and a prog rock legend of his calibre might not be so easily impressed. This auditorium-sized acoustic electric’s Hybrid X/Classical bracing allows the solid sitka spruce top to freely vibrate and project with a more rounded sound you’d expect from an acoustic with maple back and sides.
It also benefits from the Fishman GT1 system with an undersaddle pickup and soundhole-mounted preamp that includes easy-to-access volume and tone controls. Thankfully, these guitars now only come in one finish – a natural top with truly exquisite black gold burst back and sides – and this is good news because the abaco green versions were, quite frankly, an eyesore.