With so many awesome acoustic guitars to choose from, where do you begin? Unless you’re a purist who never, ever plans to plug in, you should consider an acoustic-electric guitar.
Why Buy an Acoustic-Electric Guitar
There was a time not long ago when technology hadn’t yet caught up with the concept of electrifying the sound of wood. But, with the advent of remarkably good electronics and great designs, the latest models produced by a number of manufacturers are “plugged in” gems that sound every bit as good in the air as their unplugged counterparts. And the future is getting even better.
First, a little history. I blame those infernal songwriters from the ’60s. (Uh, yes, I am one.) We loved those acoustic tones, but we just had to stand out there in front of the band and move around. Clip-on mics worked … sort of. But, feedback was the dreaded terror. Think about it: what kind of dumb does it take to stand in front of a wall of amplifiers with a live mic sitting inside a resonant guitar chamber? Thankfully, in 1966 Charles Kaman created the Ovation guitar. Made with the same fiberglass technology used to make rotor blades on helicopters, these round-backed plastic and wood beauties dominated the landscape. In the air, they sounded a little like—uh, plastic, but when you plugged in, you were in acoustic guitar heaven.
Finding the perfect acoustic guitar sound became one of the great quests of the rock age. Technology pushed forward. Makers fit fine acoustic guitars with electronics by clipping, screwing, and gluing microphones, magnetic pickups, transducers, and piezoelectric devices inside. The goal was to replicate the sound an acoustic guitar without destroying the integrity of its structure or the beauty of its finish. Feedback was tamed by placing an “ashtray” (custom fit rubber) in the sound-hole of your guitar, thus crushing any hope of getting beautiful sound to come out.
Makers persevered and there’s a whole class of acoustic-electric guitars based on new technology. Onboard electronics allow, not only for amplification, but for a wide range of tone control. Most current models even include a built-in tuner.
If you want a great looking acoustic guitar that plays beautifully and sounds spectacular, whether you play plugged or unplugged, right now is a perfect time to buy an acoustic-electric guitar. Ask your friends who play, and visit your favorite music shop. Play lots of instruments and plug them in. Take your time. If you’re lucky, the instrument you choose will be a friend for life.
Taylor 214ce Grand Auditorium
Derek Senestraro from Sweetwater.com wasn’t alone in heaping praise on Taylor acoustic-electric guitars. His current favorite is the Taylor 214ce Grand Auditorium: “This model is a solid spruce top with laminate rosewood back and sides, so you get the tone of the rosewood and then the great response and projection of the spruce top.”
I sat down and played about a dozen Taylor guitars. They were all consistent. Don’t look at the price tags. Just play them. You’ll be surprised at the value you can find, top to bottom. And virtually every single Taylor recorded at the studio was rock solid.
Yamaha Series A
Among the most important people you can know at your local music shop are the people who fix and set up guitars. Ask them which guitars they like. Dave Wingfield, who repairs guitars at a Guitar Center, says, “Yamahas never come back for repairs.” Now, that’s a tip worth knowing. It speaks volumes about the quality of these instruments. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite Yamaha, so I selected a series. The Series A marks the first time that the Japanese manufacturer has used the experience of its American team to design an acoustic-electric guitar. Every one of these fine instruments will serve you well. I particularly recommend them to students. Even less expensive models perform well, and last a lifetime. Try a bunch of them and see which one fits you.
Breedlove Atlas Stage D25/SRe
The Atlas Stage D25/SRe has a unique look. Its rounded dreadnought shape helps deliver a little more bottom and punch. I like the chromatic tuner and EQ adjustments. There’s definitely some artistry to the design and detail of the instrument. This is one of those guitars that just “fits” certain players. That’s why you owe it to yourself to play a lot of instruments. When you stumble upon one that feels right, looks great on you, and sounds wonderful through an amp, you just know. The Breedlove will surprise you.
You will read in their literature that the Takamine P3NC “rewards you with its mellifluous sonority, understated good looks, and buttery playability.” Don’t let the pretty words fool you. Takamine is a workhorse, and this baby is no exception. The P3NC features CTB4 electronics, with an onboard tuner. This guitar is equally viable on the gig and in the studio. As with most acoustic-electrics, I recommend recording directly out of the guitar and placing a nice condenser microphone over the body where it meets the neck. Find the sweet spot and then mix the two signals together in stereo. It will sound big and bright.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a semi-acoustic electric guitar. Designed with rock power in mind, and with a clear advantage in a loud stage environment, these guitars play and sound like an acoustic, but without a large body cavity, they simply will not feed back. This one is made in Vermont by DeMars guitars. They are American-made and truly beautiful. It’s my personal weapon of choice.
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