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An acoustic electric guitar is a bad idea

Yamaha APX600 BL Natural

You may be tempted to buy one of these. You shouldn't...

...unless it's cheap, and I'll explain why.

It used to be that an electrified acoustic was an expensive thing. There was a point when it cost well over a thousand dollars to buy an acoustic electric. But now? Cheap.

An example of this is above, the Yamaha APX600. To get a thin-bodied (for better comfort) acoustic that looks great, plays great, has a preamp with 3-band EQ, master volume, has AMF (adjustable midrange) slider and built-in tuner used to be something guitarists only dreamed about owning. Today, you can get this and it's ridiculously affordable.

Here is the best selling point of the APX600: It is the ultimate acoustic electric stage guitar. And I'm not saying that lightly.

This is the guitar that players wanted for a very long time. It addresses every single feature request ever made. It's thin yet projects well, has a preamp system that runs on AA batteries (2 of them) instead of that stupid 9-volt, has the midrange slider on top of the 3-band EQ which was already good on its own, is lightweight, and has a slightly shorter 25.0" scale instead of the 25.5" for easier play.

And of course the price is low. It's cheap but good.

Everything has been attended to with this guitar, so what more could you want, right?

Well, this is where reality sets in and why this acoustic-electric along with ALL acoustic-electrics are generally a bad idea.

There is no way to make a piezo pickup sound good at home

How the electric part works in an acoustic-electric is by means of a piezoelectric pickup. The pickup is fed to a preamplifier in the body, that sound is shaped by whatever EQ settings you use on the preamp, then the sound is sent to the output jack.

Never in all the years that acoustic-electric guitars have been made has anyone been able to build one where the electric tone sounds like a proper acoustic guitar. What you get every time is a sound best described as "plastic". The tone has absolutely nothing to it that sounds like an acoustic is supposed to sound like.

In fact, if you stuck a piezoelectric pickup on a solid-body electric, such as "ghost saddles" for Stratocaster or Telecaster that effectively turns one into acousti-phonic guitar; the sound will be nearly identical to an acoustic-electric.

This is why I say that if you're going to buy an acoustic-electric, go cheap and stay there. Throwing more money at one of these will not, repeat, will not make its electric part sound better. Not happening.

The best environment for the acoustic-electric is on stage

Makers of acoustic-electric guitars outright say that the guitar is made for stage use first, and this also true for the Yamaha offering above.

When that piezo is fed to a PA system, then it starts sounding right. On stage is where the acoustic-electric makes perfect sense. Whether it's a small club or a large stage environment, if on the stage and going through the PA, that is what the guitar is made for.

A traditional acoustic guitar recorded with a microphone is always better for home recording

Here is an example of a traditional acoustic guitar that really sings, the Takamine GD20:


This is also an inexpensive acoustic, but it has a trick up its sleeve that is very easy to miss but absolutely necessary.

Look at the bridge. Notice how it is split in two pieces. There is a reason for that. The bridge design splits the resting position of the plain B and high-E strings from the wound E, A, D and G (remember, on an acoustic guitar, the G is a wound string).

That seemingly insignificant bridge setup is actually very significant, because for acoustics with non-adjustable bridges (which most are), that's the only way to have the guitar properly intonated.

In other words, when chording, all chords will be in tune whereas with a traditional single-piece bridge they will not. It is the B string in particular that "goes out" often on single-piece bridges. Not so with the GD20. Where the string rests on the saddle is backed off just enough to where that B rings the correct note anywhere on the fingerboard.

You take a GD20, stick a mic in front of that, and oh yes, that is the recorded acoustic sound you're looking for.

I will have another article soon after this one on how to get a great acoustic recording with just one mic. Watch for it. [Edit] Article is now live. Go read it now.


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