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

Choosing the right guitar is an essential step in every musician’s journey. With a plethora of options available, it can be challenging to decide which guitar best fits your needs and preferences. 

In this article, we will delve into a comprehensive comparison between acoustic vs electric-acoustic guitars to help you make an informed decision. Our focus is on the unique features and benefits that each type of instrument offers. 

By the end, you will have a better understanding of whether an electric-acoustic guitar is the right choice for you. Or, if a traditional acoustic is more suitable for your needs. Let’s begin our exploration of these two popular options!

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Sound and Tonal Qualities

The sound and tonal qualities of a guitar play a significant role in determining the overall playing experience and how well the instrument suits a player’s style.

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

Acoustic Guitars

The acoustic guitar was created to provide a natural tone that is dynamic without any amplification at all. Here are a few factors to consider when considering this version.

Acoustic guitar

Warm and Natural Tone

Acoustic guitars are known for their warm and natural tone, which is often described as organic and earthy. 

The combination of the guitar’s construction, materials, and design elements work together to produce a sound that is well-suited for various musical genres, including folk, blues, pop, and rock. 

This unique tonal quality sets acoustics apart from other types and contributes to their widespread appeal among musicians and audiences alike.

Dynamic Range

One of the most notable aspects of an acoustic guitar’s sound is its dynamic range. These instruments offer an impressive range of expression, allowing guitarists to showcase their creativity through subtle nuances in their playing. 

The responsiveness of acoustic guitars to different playing techniques and the player’s touch enables a wide spectrum of tonal possibilities. All from soft and delicate passages to powerful and robust strums.

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.

Electric-Acoustic 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.

Electric-acoustic guitar

Amplified Acoustic Tone

Electric-acoustic guitars are designed to capture the essence of an acoustic’s sound while offering the added benefit of easy amplification. By integrating pickups with electronics, electric-acoustics 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.

Versatility with Effects and Tone Shaping

The built-in electronics of electric-acoustic 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 electric-acoustic guitars. It permits them to explore a wider range of sonic landscapes and creative expressions.

Plugged-in Sound Characteristics

When an electric-acoustic 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 electric-acoustic. They can significantly impact the overall playing experience and sound quality.

Acoustic vs Electric-Acoustic Comparison Video

Comparing the Sound of Both Types

Both acoustic and electric-acoustic 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. 

Electric-acoustics 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

The versatility and performance capabilities of a guitar are crucial factors to consider when choosing the right instrument for your needs.

In this section, we will examine the adaptability and performance aspects of both acoustic and electric-acoustic guitars, highlighting their unique features and benefits to help you make the best choice.

Acoustic Guitars

Unplugged Performance

Acoustic guitars are well-suited for unplugged performances, allowing players to deliver an intimate and authentic playing experience without the need for amplification. 

The natural resonance and projection of acoustic guitars make them a popular choice for singer-songwriters, solo performers, and small ensembles who prefer a more organic sound. 

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.

Their warm and natural tone, combined with their dynamic range, allows guitarists to adapt their playing style to suit different genres and performance settings.

This flexibility makes acoustics a favorite among musicians of all skill levels and stylistic preferences.

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 electric-acoustic.

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.

Electric-Acoustic Guitars

Ease of Use in Live Performances and Recording

Electric-acoustics offer a distinct advantage in live performances and recording situations, thanks to their built-in pickups and electronics. 

By simply plugging into an amplifier or PA system, players can achieve a more consistent and controlled sound, without the need for additional external devices. 

This makes electric-acoustic guitars an ideal choice for those who frequently perform on stage or record their music in a studio setting.

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 Electric-acoustic Guitars Unplugged

One of the most appealing aspects of electric-acoustic 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

When choosing between an acoustic and an electro-acoustic guitar, it’s important to consider the price and affordability of each option. 

In general, acoustics tend to be more affordable than electric-acoustics, primarily due to the absence of electronics. 

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 can be found at various price points, from budget-friendly beginner models to high-end, handcrafted instruments. The cost of an acoustic is influenced by factors such as the type of wood used, the quality of the hardware, and the level of craftsmanship involved in its construction. 

While it’s possible to find affordable options that offer a decent sound and playability, investing in a higher-quality instrument can result in a better overall playing experience and a more satisfying tone.

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

Breedlove at Sweetwater.

Electric-Acoustic 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. 

However, the price range is similarly diverse, with options available for different budgets and skill levels. Factors that can influence the price include the type and quality of the onboard electronics, the materials used, and the craftsmanship of the instrument.

It’s worth noting that if you choose to amplify a standard acoustic guitar using external pickups or microphones, the additional cost of these devices should also be taken into account when comparing prices.

Balancing Cost and Quality

When selecting a guitar, it’s essential to strike a balance between cost and quality. While it’s possible to find affordable options for both acoustic and electric-acoustic guitars, it’s important to consider the long-term value of your investment.

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. Electric-Acoustic Guitars

After exploring the various aspects of acoustic and electric-acoustic 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

Your budget will also play a significant role in determining the right instrument for you. While acoustics tend to be more affordable, electric-acoustic guitars offer additional features that may be worth the investment. 

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. 

Experiment with different pickup types, tonewoods, and body styles. This hands-on experience will provide invaluable insight into the feel, playability, and sound of each guitar, helping you make a confident decision.


The decision between an acoustic and an electric-acoustic 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.


Can I play an electric-acoustic guitar without plugging it in?

Yes, you can play an electric-acoustic without plugging it in. Just like you would a regular acoustic. Electric-acoustic guitars are designed to function both with and without amplification. Offering the natural acoustic sound when unplugged and the option to use built-in electronics when needed.

Is it possible to amplify a standard acoustic guitar?

Yes, it’s possible to amplify a standard acoustic guitar using external devices such as microphones. You can even have pickups installed down the road. 

These options can enhance the volume and projection of your instrument during live performances or recording sessions. Ultimately, providing a certain degree of flexibility even without onboard electronics.

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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!