- Published Nov 23, 2013 in Gear Garage
- Read time: about 6 minutes
The acoustic/electric is a strange hybrid instrument. Choosing one is not exactly what you'd expect. First step: get familiar with what's out there.
There's something weird about being in the middle. The middle seat on an airplane, the middle child, giving someone the middle finger. Are any of these things overwhelmingly positive? Not really.
But when it comes to guitars, I happen to be a big fan of the kind that sits in the middle, between a big fat acoustic and a solid-body electric. If you're looking for the best of both worlds; if you desire the shape and portability of an electric but can't live without the expansive woody-ness of an acoustic, then a good acoustic/electric might be just the thing you're looking for.
While in search of the perfect middle, it's important to know a little about the beast you're hunting. Despite it looking, acting, smelling and tasting like your average guitar, an acoustic/electric produces sound in subtly different ways, and therefore requires a bit of monkeying-about to get it right.
For instance, while your sound will benefit from a resonating chamber like a traditional acoustic, a sound hole is not always included. Because an acoustic/electric is meant to be plugged in, providing the guitar with its own acoustic signature isn't all that important to designers. Instead, they use the hollow chamber to produce a fuller, deeper and more sonorous tone, which is then transferred through the electronics and into your amp.
Speaking of electronics, you're gonna need some. Getting the sound out of an acoustic/electric usually involves a piezoelectric pickup. This is a transducer, often mounted under the bridge or inside the body of the guitar. Unlike standard magnetic pickups, a piezo system delivers an incredibly wide range of frequencies and sounds best when matched with a really great pre-amp. Remember that when you're trying one out: you're not just buying the wood.
Let's meet our contestants.
Unlike standard acoustics and electrics, not every major guitar maker has an acoustic/electric on the market. If you're looking to make a high-end purchase you can forget Martin, one of the world's best names for acoustic instruments, but obviously a group of people who would rather you play a guitar roughly equal in size to your kitchen cabinets. On the other hand, if you're just dying to pay five grand for one of these things, I got just the guitar for you:
Taylor T5 Custom
The last A/E you'll ever own.
Sure, you can get the entry-level T5. But you're a guitar player, dammit, and your mantra is Go Big Or Go Home! So I give to you the Taylor T5 Custom, a symphony of Macassar Ebony, Sepele (from tropical Africa) and the famed Taylor Expression System, the pre-amp by which all others are judged.
With a price clocking in just below that of a used Honda Accord, you'll be pleased to know that, once in hand, the hardest decision you'll have to make is whether to play it or hang it on the wall and look at it. (It is, in a word, pretty.)
It also sounds pretty which is kind of the point, right? No expense was spared in producing substantial lows, buttery mids and crystal highs. Plug 'er in and you've got a bunch of switches and knobs to help dial in two humbuckers and a transducer, guaranteeing just the right tone for whichever room you happen to be playing. There's no denying it, this thing is good.
- Materials Macassar Ebony; Ebony; Sapele
- Soundholes Two F-holes
- Electronics Two humbuckers; One piezoelectric; Taylor Expression System
- Price $4,499
- More info www.TaylorGuitars.com
Godin A6 Ultra
More than you paid for.
Godin Guitars is from Montreal. Rumor has it, if you happen to be in Quebec at the time, you can be thrown in slammer for pronouncing it go-din like we do here in NYC, as opposed to gau-dah(n), which you must do with a snooty look while eating a kwa-saun(t).
Once you hear this thing, you won't really care about the name anyway. Sure, you're going to give up the exotic woods and world-class electronics in the Taylor, but you're also giving up way less than a thousand dollars to get one. And, to me, that means you can get two (one for the studio and one for touring).
The A6 sounds fantastic plugged in. It feels light and easy to maneuver like a solid-body electric, but has the rich tone of an instrument with nothing but air in the middle. The newest version now includes a humbucker in the neck position to help it do it's best Telecaster impression. Godin also put in a second output jack. So you can either send an electric-only signal to your amp, or a mix of the humbucker and the transducer sitting just under the bridge.
- Materials Silver Maple (body); Cedar (top)
- Soundholes None
- Electronics One humbuckers; One piezoelectric; Godin Pre-amp
- Price $699
- More info www.GodinGuitars.com
Fender Standard Stratacoustic
Cheap and cheerful.
Because it's last on the list, you could be forgiven for thinking I was going to show you an acoustic/electric best described as a big hot mess. But the Fender Stratacoustic (I hate the name) is actually a damn nice instrument. It's price classifies it as downright cheap, but Fender's design—a long and storied history that goes back way longer than I do—prevents the corners that were cut in the name of price from running the show.
The first thing you'll notice once you pick up this axe is that most of it isn't made out of wood. Like the design made famous by Ovation, the back of your Stratacoustic is actually fiberglass. Yes, like a boat. But unlike a boat, you've got a nice piece of Spruce on top to bring the wood back to your sound and a pre-amp made by Fishman (good choice).
For a little more than three-hundred smackers, you've got Fender lineage, a neck that somehow just feels "right", and the only A/E in our lineup that you can play without plugging in—albeit in a very small room.
- Materials Fiberglass (body); Spruce (top)
- Soundholes Full-size
- Electronics One piezoelectric; Fishman Pre-amp and built-in tuner
- Price $399
- More info www.Fender.com