What is an Electric Acoustic Guitar?
An electric acoustic guitar is any standard acoustic guitar that includes a pickup system or on-board microphone. This allows the guitar to be connected to an amplifier and therefore played through a speaker or PA system.
Why Use an Electric Acoustic Guitar?
Whether you play a classical guitar with nylon strings or a full-sized, steel-string instrument or something in between, any acoustic guitar can be fitted with a pickup system if needed. The advantage of using an electric acoustic may seem obvious; the ability to amplify your instrument without the need for a separate microphone. So why else might you consider using an electric acoustic? The answer is versatility and consistency.
With a pickup system built in to your instrument, the guitar can be plugged directly into an amplifier or mixing console. Using the guitar in this manner enables a consistent tonal output from the instrument, making it easier to control in live situations. This is very helpful if you are touring, since you might not always have adequate time to tweak the sound of a separate microphone before the show.
The use of a regular microphone would also need to factor in the microphone type (e.g., condenser, dynamic), microphone brand, polar pattern and positioning, small movements by the guitarist which affect the sound, amount of gain achievable before feedback, not to mention bleed from other acoustic sources on stage. It is certainly possible to get a great, if not better sound with a good microphone and positioning, plus a venue with a decent PA system and acoustics. However with a pickup system, you have the freedom to move around on stage, plus the sound of the guitar’s pickup output is easier to control at higher volumes, so it is much more practical.
Types of Pickup Systems
There are 3 main ways to amplify your acoustic guitar without the use of a regular microphone. The most common method is to use a piezo-electric transducer, which sits under the saddle of the strings, at the bridge. This requires an on-board preamp and power source, typically from a 9V battery. A second method is to use a regular magnetic bar-shaped pickup (similar to an electric guitar pickup) which is designed to mount under the strings, at the soundhole. This is very easy, since it requires no alteration to the guitar. The third method is to install a small electret condenser microphone inside the guitar. Manufacturers also offer combination pickup units, such as the Maton AP-5 Pro, which includes a piezo under-saddle unit and an internal mic, or the Seymour Duncan Mag Mic which combines a magnetic pickup with an internal mic. Nowadays, acoustic players will often customize their guitars to get a blend of two or even three of these pickup types, which means the guitar itself will have multiple outputs.
Issues To Be Aware Of
Guitars fitted with a preamp system require power, normally from a 9V battery. The battery doesn’t need replacing very often, but it’s a good idea to carry a spare just in case.
Secondly, the natural tone of your guitar will be compromised a little by most direct pickup systems. This is considered a small price to pay for the advantages of using one in live situations, however in the recording studio it is a common practice to mic the instrument as well as record the pickup output (through a D.I. box), giving the engineer several options for recording the best possible sound.
At higher volumes, feedback can also become an issue, regardless of whether you use a pickup or a microphone. If relying on a pickup, you can help reduce the problem by using a feedback buster, which is essentially a rubber plug that fits into the soundhole.
Choosing an Acoustic Pickup
There is no easy answer to this, as it depends on how you play, what kind of acoustic guitar you have and what kind of sound you’re after. Do some research online, including watching and listening to video demonstrations of pickups. Here’s our recommendation: if you are considering an upgrade and already own a great acoustic guitar that you have no plans on retiring, then it would be worthwhile having a pickup system fitted to that instrument. If you have an average or below-average instrument, consider purchasing an electric acoustic, as the pickups will be factory-installed, tested and optimized for that instrument. When testing an electric acoustic guitar, listen carefully – does the amplified sound clearly resemble a bigger, louder version of what is coming from the soundhole? For most people that should be the aim – a louder, but natural sound. To get you started in your research, some well known acoustic pickup manufacturers include Maton Guitars, Seymour Duncan, Fishman, B-Band and LR Baggs.
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