Buying yourself one of the best acoustic electric guitars is a thoroughly exciting prospect. An acoustic guitar can be a lifelong friend for a player – a go-to instrument at home for relaxing, practice, songwriting, recording – and with added electronics onboard in the form of a pickup, you can take your acoustic electric even further.
Whether you're a busker, home player or headlining huge shows, having an acoustic electric can make the difference between your music getting heard by potentially thousands of people, or none at all. Having electronics in your acoustic guitar also makes recording your playing so simple – so we'd recommend taking a look through this guide, and picking the best acoustic electric guitar for you.
Your new acoustic electric obviously needs to be a great guitar first and foremost. It needs to be easy and comfortable for you to play, and it needs to look and sound right for you and your style. Get an acoustic that suits you, and you'll hit the ground running.
Not all acoustic electric guitars are made equal when it comes to electronics; though even affordable models can achieve impressive results. We explain the differences to look out for when it comes to the pickups and preamps on electro acoustic models in our buying advice section which is at the end of this guide. If you'd rather just get straight to the products, keep scrolling.
Best acoustic electric guitars: Guitar World's choice
Our number one pick is the gorgeous Martin Junior Series DJR-10E. The combination of solid woods displays great value for money, and the tone those solid woods create is unbeatable for the price. It’s a superb performer from an iconic name and would make an excellent first acoustic-electric or all-rounder for anyone.
If you're in the market to spend a little more on an acoustic electric guitar, then our pro-level favorite is the Taylor American Dream AD17E Blacktop. A fairly new USA-made model from Taylor, it uses sustainably sourced woods, and with Taylor’s Expression System 2 and V-Class bracing, represents a great investment for stage, recording and home. It's also Taylor's best-priced USA-made acoustic to date.
Best acoustic electric guitars: Product guide
A solid wood Martin acoustic electric guitar under $600? For us, nothing comes close for value in the iconic company’s catalogue right now. The Dreadnought Junior is just that good. It’s a smaller take on a classic Martin shape but we really like the combo of 000 body depth and shorter 24” scale length - it helps the guitar feel intimate and portable. But it still sounds and plays with the unmistakable Martin flair.
Martin’s consistently high build standard offers peace of mind if buying online and we’re confident that this is a guitar you’ll want to keep close – the visually low key Fishman Sonitone system means you can take it onstage too.
Read the full Martin Junior Series DJR-10E review
Taylor’s most accessibly-priced USA-made solid wood acoustic is an addictive guitar; with the company’s V-Class bracing offering stunning intonation and resonance across the fretboard, you’ll find yourself visiting the dusty end more than you’d imagine.
We love the Johnny Cash and Everly Brothers vibe of the matte black spruce top, complimented by the rich ovangkol grain of the back and sides. This Grand Pacific slope shouldered dreadnought is a pro-level guitar for life, offering tonal balance and wide frequency response that makes it a great example of dreadnought class.
It’s a woodier tonal character than players might expect from Taylor - a little Gibson J-45-esque - and the Expression System 2 does it proud.
Read the full Taylor American Dream AD17E Blacktop review
Fender’s Acoustasonic series began with a Strat, then a Tele but we think this Jazzmaster is the best example yet. But isn’t it an electric guitar? Yes and no, we’d say it falls a little more on the acoustic side of sound. The hook here is it plays like an electric, but it’s soundhole means you can strum it unplugged for a parlor-esque sound. But plug in and things get really interesting…
There’s five positions, each with A and B voices that can be blended to suit and three different pickup sources for an ‘Acoustic Engine’ to generate them; a magnetic Shawbucker that can cover a wide range of tones, then a transducer and body sensor that help to recreate the sounds of various different size acoustic guitars. And the result is an incredibly effective stage guitar.
Read the full Fender Acoustasonic Jazzmaster review
Although this is an entry-level price for a Taylor electro acoustic guitar, it’s more expensive than much of the competition when it comes to ideal beginner guitars. But we believe for playability, comfort and performance it is the best, and a guitar that will go the distance with any guitar player.
Taylor designed it that way; a slim profile neck, shorter-scale, low action and an arm rest creates accessibility for all. And we’ve chosen the smaller Grand Concert body over the 10e dreadnought with that in mind. Taylor’s superb onboard ES-B electronics mean it can stay with you for the vital step up to live performance, should you wish.
Read the full Taylor Academy Series 12e review
Cort has built a formidable reputation for value and the Little CJ is a prime example; immensely playable and appealing, it’s also no slouch when it comes to plugging in either.
Right now we’re seeing street prices in the US under $450, making it a very attractive option for anyone looking for a travel electro acoustic. We found the mahogany neck with ovangkol fingerboard fast with the low action, and though its smaller size won’t deliver boomy bass it offers punchy mid range and lively highs.
Its Fishman Presys II transfers its strengths well through an amp or PA, making the Little CJ sound like a larger proposition, especially with an onboard bass and treble EQ to dial in.
Read the full Cort Little CJ Walnut OP review
Martin is a name usually associated with the careful evolution of classic designs that have stood the test of time, but here it made a move for bold innovation… and delivered with a guitar that’s truly distinct.
The body shape here is a huge departure from acoustic traditions; an offset with a dramatic cutaway to take advantage of a minimalist heel for unrivalled upper fret access. Coupled with the lowest action we’ve experienced on an acoustic guitar, there’s a level of speedy freedom here on Martin’s Low Profile Velocity that is exciting new ground for players.
Tonally it’s a good all-rounder – with a voice in Martin OM/000 territory. The Fishman MXT pickup captures its strengths well plugged in too.
Read the full Martin SC-13E review
Guild has a long history when it comes to 12-string jumbo acoustics – right back to the 1960s. The F-2512E combines that experience with contemporary manufacturing. Nothing compares to the rich sound of a 12-string acoustic but it’s not an everyday acoustic guitar for most, so the lower entry price here is important.
The arched back design helps the projection of the shimmering out-of-phase sounds you’ll get here, and a bone nut and saddles are welcome for their contribution to sustain on a more affordable model.
The electronics here are pretty basic - based on the Fishman Sonitone design with volume and tone (the latter a treble rolloff) controls placed just inside the soundhole.
Martin’s D-28 and 000-28 are benchmark acoustic guitars that many others are measured by. But for us the latter is our go-to choice because of the comfort and intimacy the smaller, shallower body offers. And this is the premium, reworked contemporary example that was released in 2020.
The pearl logo, vintage style gold-plated open-back Waverly tuners, flamed maple wood binding and long lasting gold alloy frets all mark the Deluxe edition’s ‘sophistication meets performance’ manifesto. This is also a lighter 000 than most with a titanium truss rod for strength, but it’s also louder (aided by the carbon-fibre bridge plates, the Liquidmetal bridge pins). It’s a supercharged 000 with the bass holding its own to the treble and remaining wonderfully touch sensitive.
The top here is also given the vintage treatment thanks to Martin’s VTS torrefication process and the custom Fishman Aura VT Blend system uses sound images from miking examples of this model to blend with the pickup. The results are the best of both worlds; organic detail with some welcome pickup attack for the mix.
Read the full Martin 000-28E Modern Deluxe review
The A5R is a great acoustic before we even get to the electric side of things. The ARE torrefied spruce top has a vintage aesthetic and with solid rosewood back and sides alongside scalloped bracing delivers a classic full-bodied dreadnought sound with cutaway access.
The SRT2 system complements the timeless quality with a cutting edge preamp; allowing players to blend the under-bridge piezo with character of the classic Neumann U 67 large-diaphragm condenser or a Royer R-122 active ribbon microphone. It works very well indeed to deliver sounds that cut through while retaining organic acoustic character.
A parlor-size acoustic model was a surprise from PRS in 2020, as was a small body shape that will always conjure a 1930s aesthetic. But the company’s take on tradition is another testament to the build standard and flair PRS brings to the SE catalogue.
We like the understated satin finish here and the finish options of Vintage Mahogany, Black Top and Tobacco Sunburst are all appealing, coupled with classic herringbone binding and ivory butterbean tuner buttons on the unmistakable PRS headstock.
PRS SEs are up there with the best in terms of consistent factory finish quality in the middle of the market and this adds to that reputation. The hybrid of classical and X bracing, bone nut and saddle with Wide Fat neck are also a smart combo for getting enhanced projection from this light and compact guitar. It’s great for blues, fingerstyle and singer/songwriter inspiration. The Sonicore-based Fishman GT1 also offers simple but effective electro features at this pricepoint.
Yamaha approached the Storia series in a similar way to Taylor with its Academy; how to make the acoustic experience more accessible for beginners. The result is something all players can benefit from, and arguably the best value acoustic electric guitar in our list of strong contenders.
The look is clean and contemporary, with classy and unusual touches like the color inside the soundhole matching the bridge pin dots. The slim neck, 000-esque dimensions and bright resonance make it a joy to play with some superb shimmer in the top end and response to the gentle touch that sounds like a more expensive guitar.
The piezo here is Yamaha’s passive SRT so there’s no onboard preamp. You’ll need to change EQ via external sources but the advantage is there’s a less compressed source tone from the guitar to do that with.
Best acoustic electric guitars: Buying advice
Why should I buy an acoustic electric guitar?
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Before technology allowed us to install pickups in acoustic guitars, players would place a ribbon, dynamic or condenser microphone in front of their guitar for live performance. While this is still the preferable way to record an acoustic guitar, live performance requires some practical compromise.
Venues are often loud, busy, hectic environments, and you may wish to move around while playing – meaning that plugging your guitar in to an amp or PA system is the most reliable option out there for performers.
Types of electro acoustic guitar pickup
Acoustic electric guitars can have a few different types of pickups. It's useful to know which one you want or which one your guitar has, as this can significantly influence the plugged-in tone of your guitar.
Undersaddle piezo - By far the most common acoustic pickup is a piezo pickup seated underneath the acoustic guitar’s bridge saddle. This pickup detects the string vibrations and then transfers them throught the saddle into electric current. It’s very different to a magnetic electric guitar pickup or soundhole pickup, and thankfully there’s no hum involved.
Instead, these pickups tend to possess a more compressed audio quality thanks to the active circuitry involved. This can be part of an already installed system – with a preamp to boost the signal and add a tasteful EQ to it. These pickup arrangements are usually active and will therefore need onboard battery power. Passive piezos don’t require this power, though they tend to be lower output as a result.
Mic blend - For some players, the ideal scenario to remedy the harsh brightness from a piezo pickup is to have two sources to capture the sound in your guitar. Often, this is a small internal mic that players can then blend with the sound of their guitar. The only downside is that capturing sound from within the body isn't as reliable, neither is the signal as strong as capturing vibrations from the guitar's top. Used judiciously though, alongside a piezo pickup, you can create some beautiful sounds.
Transducer - This is a sensor that’s placed inside the guitar to pick up body vibrations – these will be strongest around the immediate area of the body above where the transducer is fitted. It’s great for percussive players who physically tap their guitar’s body for beats to mix with their string work. Transducer pickups tend to work alongside a piezo or soundhole pickup as a secondary source.
Magnetic - These tend to be an aftermarket option rather than something that ships with an electro acoustic guitar. It’s the same principle as an electric guitar pickup but you can fit it across your acoustic guitar’s soundhole to pick up the vibrations of the strings via a magnetic field. Magnetic soundhole pickups can be active (include a small preamp onboard) or passive, humbucker or single-coil and tend to have more of a metallic quality to the sound character by their very nature. Some active soundhole pickups by brands including LR Baggs also combine specific magnetic soundhole pickups with a body sensor for a smoother tonality.
What about preamps?
Many of the best acoustic electric guitars we have chosen above have onboard preamps. The features of these can vary but all will require battery power that is replaceable and usually has a relatively long life. Most will have a volume control with at least some EQ parameters; varying from the ability to change the higher frequencies (treble rolloff) to three-band EQ with bass and mids as well.
Even if your preamp doesn’t have a mid control, Taylor Guitars’ type for its Expression System is worth keeping in mind; “Turning both the bass and treble up past the center detent will automatically create a dipped midrange. Turning both the bass and treble down and increasing the volume control will boost the midrange.”
Other features on an acoustic electric guitar’s preamp can include onboard chromatic tuners and a phase button to reverse the polarity of your signal; this should be used as a last defence for tackling low frequency feedback issues when playing in a live situation through a PA or guitar amp. Being in phase will often have a warmer sound and pressing the switch to go out of phase can help kill pass to cease feedback.
Using an aftermarket soundhole cover when playing live can also help reduce feedback issues – but remember to take it off when you want to play unplugged as it helps to reduce the volume.
Find out more about how we make our recommendations and how we test each of the products in our buyer's guides.
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