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Acoustic Electric Guitar: Amplifying Acoustics

Acoustic Electric Guitar

For limited performance situations with a small audience, or in the studio, acoustic guitars on their own are sufficient. Beyond that, they need to be amplified. For years, a guitarist’s only choice was to put the guitar in front of an external microphone -- a technique fraught with problems, but now there are many superior alternatives.

Acoustic Guitar Pickups

These generally fall into three categories: magnetic, piezoelectric, and microphone.

Magnetic Pickups
Like the pickups of electric guitars, magnetic acoustic guitar pickups employ a coil which senses the magnetic vibrations of the strings, and translates them into sound. They are typically “clipped on” to the edges of the sound hole under the strings.

Some advantages are that no preamp is necessary, and installation (and removal) is fast and easy. However, they sound the least like the natural acoustic guitar and don’t work with nylon strings.

Piezoelectric Pickups
These units are mounted under the bridge of the guitar or attached (using a safe adhesive) to the body of the guitar. They are also fairly easy to install and remove, and have a more natural sound quality than magnetic pickups.

The disadvantages are the need for some kind of preamp system due to the low output of the pickups, and the tendency for feedback at higher volumes.

Some systems employ a condenser microphone mounted inside the guitar. More convenient and reliable than the traditional external microphone, these can provide a rich, warm tone that is closest to the natural tone of the guitar itself.

Systems like this are generally more expensive than the others, and tend to be more difficult to install.

Electric Acoustic Guitar Models

Luckily, there are many acoustic-electric guitars with built-in pickup systems. Features may include onboard volume, tone, and equalization to name a few. Because the systems are built into the guitar, they can utilize the most effective methods, such as placing the pickups in the optimum spots and blending different type of pickups to achieve the fullest, most natural sound.

Amplifier Options for Performance

For performances, you may run your acoustic-electric guitar through the sound system, in which case you wouldn’t need an additional amplifier. Sometimes, however, the monitors of the existing P.A. are inadequate, or you just prefer the sound of your own amp. Then, the sound engineer will use a “direct box” or microphone to run your amp through the P.A.

Where no sound system is provided, you will need an amplifier. There are many types of amplifiers with a wide range of features. Test various models with your own guitar to decide which is best for you.

Don’t forget that whatever amp you chose, you will have to transport it between locations!

Additional Resources

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