You see all of the ads for all of the different brands - Takamine, Taylor, Alvarez and Epiphone guitars. All claiming to be the latest and greatest.
And are they any better than adding an acoustic guitar pickup to your old Martin Guitar?
The original idea was to make an acoustic guitar louder. There are drawbacks to using a microphone to do this. So guitarists
and guitar manufacturers started trying to figure out how to do it.
The first models were acoustic archtop guitars that had a pickup attached. The most popular pickup was one made by DeArmond.
It could be attached in a couple of ways, one of which was the "monkey on a stick". This worked okay for adding a pickup to an acoustic guitar. It became less common as guitar makers started making guitars with built in pickups.
This was a fine answer for making the guitar louder but it wasn't good enough. There was a version of the old DeArmond pickup that could go in the soundhole of an acoustic guitar. The problem was that the amplified sound didn't sound "acoustic".
So guitar players, makers and pickup makers started trying to figure out how to make it sound acoustic.
Look at this page for more information on acoustic guitar pickups.
How The Factory Does It
For most people the term acoustic electric guitars means an acoustic guitar with pickup and controls. In most cases this means an undersaddle transducer and controls mounted in the side of the guitar.
The amplified sound is still affected by the guitars woods and body size. It will also have the bright sound that is common
to undersaddle pickups.
A factory installed system will have the pickup mounted in the saddle slot under the saddle. The controls are mounted inside
the guitar at the edge of the soundhole or in a hole cut into the side of the guitar. The biggest advantage to a set-up like
this is that control of the guitar is at your fingertips.
What should you look for in the controls?
Who's In Control?
There are a few obvious things that you should look for in the controls of acoustic electric guitars. The most obvious is
volume. Next you'll want something for the tone. The most popular thing for this is a parametric E.Q. This allows you to
individually adjust lows, mids, and highs.
What else should you look for? A real must is a notch filter. A notch filter helps you deal with feedback. It does this by letting you tune in on the frequency that's feeding back and eliminate it.A frequency control will help to fine tune the notch filter.
If you're considering a guitar that has a pickup as well as a microphone there will have to be a blend control. There should
also be a phase reversal control so that the two pickup sources work together and don't fight each other.
The size of the body makes a difference. Larger body sizes are more likely to feedback.
Feedback happens when an amplified sound is re-amplified. The big full sound of a large bodied guitar is it's own worst
enemy. That booming sound is re-amplified easier than the sound of a smaller bodied guitar. If your guitar has a notch
filter on it you should be able to take care of the feedback.
Smaller bodied acoustic electric guitars tend to have a tighter, punchier sound. They usually won't have the big bass of the larger bodied guitars. This makes them less likely to feedback.
Some companies have models that are very slender and
aren't very resonant. Some of them don't even have soundholes. They are acoustic electric guitars with the emphasis on
electric. They are your best bet in a high volume situation.
There are other things to consider when you're looking at acoustic electric guitars. One of those factors is how resonant the guitar is. The things that make an acoustic guitar sound good cause problems for the acoustic electric guitar.
The woods that are used will affect how well it works. One of the best woods to use is maple.
Maple has a very bright sound and it's notes decay quickly making it very resistant to feedback. The bright sound makes it
easier to hear in a band situation.
Some of the best acoustic electric guitars have a very quite voice. They're not very loud and they tend to be very balanced
in sound. A good example of this is the Alvarez-Yairi Bob Weir Signature model. It's a good looking, well made guitar, but
it's acoustic sound isn't fantastic. Plugged in, it has a great sound.
Acoustic Electric models have become a neccesity for many guitar manufacturers. Ovation, Takamine, Alvarez, Taylor and Martin have been leaders in this area.
Why have acoustic electrics become so important to these makers?
Guitar building is no longer a slow handbuilding procedure for many companies. The developments in machinery used in the guitar building process has really shortened the time from start to finish.
Also, the basic design of the steel string acoustic guitar has been established. Different guitar makers may make small changes in the design. But they can't get too radical or the public won't accept it.
This means that they can crank out the same old designs very quickly.
The problem is that they can make them faster than the public can buy them. Plus, how many people want to have several guitars that are basically the same?
Many players have one fairly low end guitar and one mid-to-high end guitar. And for most hobbyists and semi-pro players, that's plenty.
How do guitar companies get people to buy their newest offerings?
One way is by making improvements in their guitars pickups.
They all want to have a pickup system that sounds like the guitar sounds without a pickup.
So you end up with interesting designs like the Taylor Expressions System, Takamine's Cool Tube and Martin's Aura system.
You can be sure that all of these companies are constantly looking new ideas to attract customers. And that these new ideas will lead to better sounding
acoustic electric guitars.