Acoustic vs Acoustic-Electric Guitar: Which One is Right for You?

So, you’re stuck choosing between an acoustic and an acoustic-electric guitar. Don’t fret! The perfect guitar selection is a pivotal point for any guitarist’s adventure. And with a bewildering smorgasbord of choices out there, making that all-important decision can feel a tad daunting.

In this Killer Rig article, I’m going to pull back the curtain on both the acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars, pitting them head-to-head to aid you in your quest. We’re going to focus on their individual perks and unique traits.

By the time you’ve soaked in all the details, you’ll be better equipped to answer that burning question, which one is the ideal match for me?

Or, perhaps, if the good old traditional acoustic is a more fitting ally for your musical journey. So, buckle up, and let’s kickstart our exploration of these two sought-after stringed marvels!

Quick Summary

  • Acoustic Guitar Benefits:
    • Known for their rich and full-bodied sound.
    • Ideal for fingerpicking and strumming styles.
    • Perfect for solo performances, intimate settings, and unplugged sessions.
    • Requires no external amplification – just pick it up and play!
  • Acoustic-Electric Guitar Benefits:
    • Offers the same beautiful sound as acoustic guitars with added flexibility.
    • Built-in electronics for easy amplification, perfect for gigs and larger venues.
    • Often features an onboard tuner and EQ settings for sound customization.
    • Can be played unplugged or plugged in, providing the best of both worlds.

Sound and Tonal Qualities

The whole playing experience and how well an instrument fits a player’s style are greatly influenced by the guitar’s tone and tonal characteristics.

Here, we will delve into the sound and tonal qualities of both acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars. Highlighting their similarities and differences to provide a clearer understanding of what each type offers.

Acoustic Guitars

The acoustic guitar was designed and made to provide a natural tone. But one that is dynamic without any amplification at all. Here are some factors to consider when considering this version.

Acoustic guitar

Warm and Natural Tone

There’s something almost magical about an acoustic guitar, isn’t there? They have this warmth, a kind of natural, down-to-earth vibe to their tone.

Imagine trees swaying, leaves rustling, the earth beneath your feet. That’s the organic echo you get from strumming an acoustic.

But it isn’t just about that earthy sound. Oh no. What makes these guitars sing like they do? It’s a harmony, a symphony even, of different parts working together.

The build of the guitar, the very materials used in its making, and the design intricacies that are more than meets the eye, they all play their part. They blend together, striking a chord that can weave into any tune you like. Be it folk or blues, pop or rock, the acoustic guitar can hold its own.

That’s the beauty of acoustics, you see. They aren’t like other guitars. They have a tone, a voice, that’s truly unique, and that’s what makes them special.

Whether you’re a musician looking for the perfect partner to your melodies or simply someone who loves listening, there’s something about acoustics that draws you in. It’s a universal appeal, a charm that resonates far and wide.

Dynamic Range

One of the most notable aspects of an acoustic guitar’s sound is its dynamic range. Guitar players love it, because they can play around within that range, adding their own style and imagination.

They can make the guitar softly murmur or make it roar like a lion, all depending on how they touch the strings. This gives the guitar life, makes it more than just a bunch of strings and wood. It’s like a language they’re speaking, where every little tweak, every different touch, tells a different story.

Resonance and Sustain

Resonance and sustain are two essential elements that contribute to the overall sound and tonal quality of an acoustic. 

A well-crafted guitar will resonate freely, allowing the strings to vibrate and produce a rich and full sound. 

The sustain, or the length of time a note can be heard after being played, is also an important factor. This is because it can greatly impact the guitar’s overall tonal quality and playability.

Acoustic-Electric Guitars

Adding electronics to an acoustic then provides more versatility in certain areas. Here are a few factors that make the electro-acoustic a strong choice.

Acoustic-electric guitar

Amplified Acoustic Tone

Acoustic-electric guitars are designed to capture the essence of an acoustic’s sound while offering the added benefit of easy amplification. By integrating pickups, acoustic-electric guitars can be plugged into amplifiers or PA systems. 

Enabling guitarists to achieve a more consistent and controlled sound during live performances or recording sessions. 

This amplified acoustic tone retains much of the warmth and natural quality of a traditional instrument, while providing greater flexibility in sound manipulation.

Flexibility with Effects and Tone Shaping

The built-in electronics of acoustic-electric guitars open up a world of possibilities when it comes to effects and tone shaping. 

By using effect pedals or adjusting the onboard preamp settings, players can tailor their sound to suit specific styles, genres, or performance environments. 

This level of flexibility is one of the main reasons many musicians choose acoustic-electric guitars. It permits them to explore a wider range of sonic landscapes and creative expressions.

Plugged-in Sound Characteristics

When an acoustic-electric guitar is plugged in, its sound characteristics can change depending on the type of pickup and electronics used. 

Some can maintain a natural and authentic acoustic tone when amplified, while others may exhibit a slightly different timbre. 

This is often described as more focused or electric-like. It’s essential for players to consider these plugged-in sound characteristics when choosing an acoustic-electric. They can significantly impact the overall playing experience and sound quality.

Acoustic vs Acoustic-Electric Comparison Video

Comparing the Sound of Both Types

Both acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars offer unique sound and tonal qualities that cater to different musical preferences and requirements. Acoustic guitars deliver a warm and natural tone with impressive dynamic range and resonance. 

Acoustic-electric provide the added versatility of amplification and tone shaping, making them an ideal choice for guitarists who perform live or record their music. 

Ultimately, the decision between these two types comes down to personal preference and the specific sound qualities that best align with a musician’s style and goals.

Sound and Tonal QualitiesWarm and natural toneAmplified acoustic tone
Dynamic rangeAdaptability with effects and tone shaping
Resonance and sustainPlugged-in sound characteristics
Versatility and PerformancePortability and convenienceEase of use in live performances and recording
Suitability for different genresCompatibility with effects and amplifiers
Amplification options through external devicesCan be played unplugged, similar to an acoustic
Pickups and TransducersRequires external pickups or microphonesPickups and electronics built-in
Various options available for aftermarket upgradesType affects plugged-in sound characteristics
Price and AffordabilityGenerally more affordableHigher price range due to built-in electronics
Wide range of options for different budgetsFactors affecting cost include type and quality

Versatility and Performance

Looking for the right guitar is a little like finding a friend. You need to think about what’s most important.

Let’s dive into the world of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars. What makes them tick? What sets them apart?

These two types have their own special talents. Acoustic guitars, with their bare-bones elegance, might be all you need. Or perhaps the versatile acoustic-electric, with its extra “oomph,” suits your style better.

Now it’s time to examine the adaptability and performance aspects of both acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars, highlighting their unique features and benefits to help you make the best choice.

Acoustic Guitars

Unplugged Performance

True to their name, acoustic guitars work wonders when it comes to raw, unaided shows. They don’t need any fancy gear, just the touch of skilled fingers. It’s like having an honest chat, you and the listeners, no electronic frills involved.

Ever wondered why the humble acoustic guitar is the go-to for those lone artists and tiny bands? It’s the purity of sound. No echoes from machines, just the strumming whispering tales right from the heart. It’s that simple, pure melody that makes them loved by so many.

This attribute lends itself well to settings such as acoustic showcases, open mic nights, and smaller venues where amplification may not be necessary or desired. If you feel as though you will never need amplification, then this is your best choice.

Suitability for Different Genres

Acoustic guitars are incredibly versatile instruments, suitable for a wide range of musical genres, from folk and blues to pop, rock, and beyond.

It’s all about the guitar’s sound, you see. It’s warm, it’s real, and it’s got this wide range of feels to it. So, whether you’re strumming softly at a coffeehouse or belting out a rock song on a big stage, the guitar changes with you.

It’s the beauty of acoustic guitars! They match your style and mood, no matter the setting.

Amplifying a Standard Acoustic Guitar

While acoustic guitars do not have built-in electronics, there are still options available for amplifying their sound when necessary.

Players can use external devices such as microphones to enhance the volume and projection of their instrument during live performances or recording sessions.

This offers a certain degree of versatility, although it may not provide the same level of control and consistency as an acoustic-electric.

The sound sample below is of an acoustic guitar being captured by a microphone. It will allow you to hear how a regular acoustic sounds when amplified this way.

Acoustic-Electric Guitars

Ease of Use in Live Performances and Recording

There’s one variety that’s a real winner when it comes to the stage and studio life, that’s your acoustic-electric. It’s got a hidden superpower, right there inside it. I’m talking about the built-in gizmos called pickups and electronics.

Now, you might be thinking, What’s the big deal? Well, this makes everything a breeze. No hauling around extra gear or fiddling with pesky external devices. Just grab a cord, plug it into an amp or a PA system, and bam! You’re good to go.

Suddenly, you’ve got a sound that’s not just awesome, but also consistent and easily managed. It’s like being in the driver’s seat, having the perfect control over your music.

So, for all you stage heroes and studio warriors, acoustic-electric guitars are your trusty allies. They’re designed for you, helping you shine in the limelight or nail that recording session.

Compatibility with Effects and Amplifiers

The integration of pickups and electronics allows for seamless compatibility with a wide range of effects and amplifiers. Guitarists can experiment with various effect pedals and sound-shaping tools to enhance and customize their tone. 

Creating a unique sound that suits their individual style and preferences. This added versatility is a significant draw for many musicians! Especially those who enjoy exploring new sonic possibilities and pushing the boundaries of their creativity.

Playing Acoustic-Electric Guitars Unplugged

One of the most appealing aspects of acoustic-electric is their ability to be played unplugged, just like a regular acoustic. 

This feature offers musicians the best of both worlds, as they can enjoy the natural, warm tone of an acoustic guitar while still having access to the benefits of onboard electronics when needed. 

This dual functionality makes them a popular choice for people seeking a versatile and adaptable instrument.

Pickups and Transducers

The sound quality and characteristics of an electro-acoustic are significantly influenced by the type of pickups and transducers used. 

In this section, we will explore the different options available, as well as their pros and cons. This will help you make an informed decision when choosing the right electro-acoustic for your needs.

Magnetic Soundhole Pickups

Magnetic soundhole pickups are a popular choice for amplifying acoustic guitars. They are relatively easy to install and do not require any modification. 

These pickups work by capturing the vibrations of the strings and converting them into an electrical signal, which can then be amplified or recorded. 

The resulting sound is often described as warm and natural, with a slight emphasis on the midrange frequencies.

Under-Saddle Piezo Pickups

Under-saddle piezo pickups are another common option for electro-acoustic. These pickups are installed beneath the saddle of the instrument, which allows them to detect the vibrations of the strings directly through the bridge. 

Piezo pickups produce a bright and articulate sound, with a pronounced emphasis on the high frequencies. This makes them well-suited for cutting through dense mixes or achieving a more defined tone during live performances.

Piezo pickup

Contact Pickups and Transducers

Contact pickups and transducers are mounted directly onto the surface of the guitar, typically on the soundboard or bridge. These devices capture the vibrations of the entire instrument, rather than just the strings. 

This results in a more natural and accurate representation of the guitar’s acoustic sound. They are available in various forms, including soundboard and bridge plate transducers, and internal microphones. Each with their unique sound characteristics and installation requirements.

Pros and Cons of Each Type

Each type of pickup and transducer offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages, depending on the specific needs and preferences of the musician.

  1. Magnetic soundhole pickups are easy to install and produce a warm, natural sound. However, they may be more prone to feedback in high-volume situations and can be sensitive to magnetic interference from other electronic devices.
  2. Under-saddle piezo pickups provide a bright and articulate sound, with excellent resistance to feedback. However, they may not capture the full tonal complexity of the guitar’s natural sound. Some players find the resulting tone to be somewhat sterile or harsh.
  3. Contact pickups and transducers offer a more accurate representation of the guitar’s acoustic tone, with a wide range of options to choose from. However, they may require professional installation and can be more expensive than other pickup options.

Choosing the Right Pickup for Your Needs

When selecting a pickup or transducer for your electro-acoustic, it’s essential to consider factors such as the desired sound quality, ease of installation, and compatibility with your instrument. It’s also important to take into account the performance environment and how the guitar will be used. 

This can influence the choice of pickup or transducer. By carefully evaluating the various options available and weighing their pros and cons, you can find the right solution that best meets your needs and enhances the overall sound and playability of your guitar.

Price and Affordability

Picking between a regular acoustic guitar and its electrified cousin can be a bit like choosing between apples and oranges. You’ve got to keep your wallet in mind, right?

Often, you’ll find that the humble acoustic comes in lighter on the pocket. Why’s that, you ask? Well, it’s simply because they don’t lug around all that electronic gear.

However, there is a wide range of prices for both types of guitars, depending on factors such as materials, craftsmanship, and brand reputation.

Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars come in a whole range of prices. You can get ones that are easy on the wallet, perfect for someone just starting out. On the other hand, there are also expensive, handmade ones that really stand out.

What makes one guitar cost more than another? Well, lots of things! The kind of wood it’s made of matters a lot. So does the grade of the bits and pieces that hold it all together. And, of course, how well it’s put together in the first place.

You can find cheaper guitars that sound okay and are fine to learn on. But here’s the thing, spending a bit more money can get you a guitar that feels better in your hands and sounds sweeter to your ears.

The picture below is of a Breedlove acoustic guitar at Sweetwater. They are very affordable as you can see.

Breedlove at Sweetwater.

Acoustic-Electric Guitars

Electro-acoustics tend to be more expensive than their purely acoustic counterparts. This is primarily due to the added cost of the included pickups and electronics. 

Think about it this way. Much like a box of chocolates, the costs of these fancy instruments cover a vast landscape. You’ll find ones fitting snugly into any wallet size. Now, what makes one costlier than the other? It’s not magic, but a blend of factors.

Take a peek inside, and you’ll see electronic components. The kind of these parts, their sheer quality, greatly sways the price. But it’s not just what’s within. It’s also about what meets the eye. Materials that make up the instrument, how expertly it’s put together, all this counts.

Ever considered making a regular guitar go electric? You can do it with add-on pickups or mics. But remember, my friend, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. These add-ons have a price tag, so factor that in when you’re making a cost comparison.

Balancing Cost and Quality

Picking a guitar, you need to balance price and worth. Sure, you can find cheap acoustic or electric-acoustic guitars, but don’t forget to think about your investment’s long-term return.

A higher-quality instrument may be more expensive upfront but can offer better sound, playability, and durability over time. Ultimately, the decision will depend on your budget, personal preferences, and the specific features and benefits you seek in an instrument.

Making the Decision: Acoustic vs Acoustic-Electric Guitars

After exploring the various aspects of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars, from sound and tonal qualities to performance, and price, it’s time to make an informed decision. Which type of guitar best suits your needs and preferences?

Assessing Your Personal Requirements

When choosing between them, it’s crucial to consider your personal requirements, including your playing style, musical preferences, and the environments in which you typically perform or practice. 

Think about whether you prioritize a natural, warm acoustic sound. Or, if you need the added flexibility of electronics for live performances and recording. Additionally, consider the type of music you play and the specific tonal characteristics you seek in a guitar.

Evaluating Your Budget

The best instrument for you will be determined in large part by your budget. Acoustic-electric guitars offer additional characteristics that can make them worth the cost even though acoustics are often more economical.  

Keep in mind the potential costs associated with amplifying a standard acoustic guitar using external devices. Weigh these against the benefits of a built-in pickup system.

Trying Out Different Guitars

Finally, one of the most effective ways to determine the perfect guitar for you is to try out various models in person. Visit local music stores or attend trade shows to test different options and models. 

Finally, one of the most effective ways to determine the perfect guitar for you is to try out various models in person. Visit local music stores or attend trade shows to test different options and models. 

Experiment with different pickup types, tonewoods, and body styles. This practical exposure will provide you priceless knowledge about the feel, playability, and sound of each instrument, empowering you to make an informed choice.


The decision between an acoustic and an acoustic-electric guitar is a personal one. Influenced by factors such as sound and tonal, versatility, performance, and price. Both types of guitars offer unique benefits and cater to different preferences and playing situations.

By carefully assessing your personal requirements, evaluating your budget, and trying out different guitars personally, you can make an informed decision. One that will best serve your musical needs and aspirations.

Photo of author

Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!