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Best acoustic electric guitars 2021: electro-acoustics for all levels of player

Included in this guide:

Best acoustic electric guitars 2021: electro-acoustics for all levels of player
(Image credit: Taylor/Martin/PRS/Fender)

An acoustic guitar can be a lifelong friend for a player - a go-to instrument at home for relaxing, practice, songwriting, recording. A take-anywhere guitar for travelling too. The best acoustic electric guitars enable you to take all that great potential and go even further; to the live stage. And there’s a bewildering range of options out there to confuse you. We’ve curated the very best here.

We’ve looked at two essential areas in our choices. A great electro acoustic guitar has to be a great guitar, first and foremost. Playability, build quality and comfort all play a vital role in that recipe. The guitar’s pickup and preamp system then help to transfer the character of the guitar through an amp or PA.

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 (hit the link above to head straight there), but all our selections in this guide perform well in their fields for plugged-in experience.

Best acoustic electric guitars: Guitar World's choice

The combination of solid woods which inspires performance and offers great value makes the Martin Junior Series DJR-10E our top all round pick. It’s a superb performer from an iconic name and would make an excellent first acoustic-electric or all-rounder for anyone.

Our pro-level favourite is the Taylor American Dream AD17E Blacktop; a USA-made Taylor that balances features and price very well indeed. It even uses sustainably sourced woods, and with Taylor’s Expression System 2 and V-Class bracing, represents a great investment for stage, recording and home that’s also the company’s most reasonably-priced USA acoustic to date.

Best acoustic electric guitars: Product guide

Best acoustic electric guitars: Martin Junior Series DJR-10E

(Image credit: Martin )

1. Martin Junior Series DJR-10E

The best all-round acoustic electric guitar

Specifications
Price: $599/£619
Type: Dreadnought with 000 body depth
Top: Solid Sitka spruce top
Back and sides: Solid sapele
Neck: Select hardwood
Fingerboard: Richlite
Scale: 24"
Frets: 20
Electronics: Fishman Sonitone
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Satin
Case: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great value for money +Excellent combo of dreadnought, 000 and shorter scale +Solid wood build  
Reasons to avoid
-Despite the cutting edge tech it’s pricey for an acoustic without solid back and sides  

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

Best acoustic electric guitars: Taylor American Dream AD17E Blacktop

(Image credit: Taylor )

The best solid wood electro-acoustic all-rounder

Specifications
Price: $1,699/£1,599
Scale length: 25.5”
Top: Solid Sitka spruce
Back and sides: solid ovangkol
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Eucalyptus
Frets: 20
Electronics: Taylor ES-2
Finish: Matte black
Bag included: Aerocase
Reasons to buy
+A USA Taylor without the eye-watering price+ Vintage character with superb V-Class sustain +The Expression System 2 delivers the goods again 
Reasons to avoid
-The Blacktop look won’t please everyone  

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

Best acoustic electric guitars: Fender American Acoustasonic Jazzmaster

(Image credit: Fender )

The best hybrid of electric and acoustic guitar

Specifications
Price: $1,999/£1,749
Scale length: 25.5”
Top: Mahogany
Back and sides: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 22
Electronics: Fishman under-saddle transducer and bridge plate body sensor, Fender Acoustasonic Shawbucker
Finish: Ocean Turquoise, Natural, Tobacco Sunburst, Tungsten (pictured) and Arctic White
Bag included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Wide range of acoustic and electric tones+Electric playability+You can play it unplugged 
Reasons to avoid
-We’re not as keen on the Arctic White finish as the other options 

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

Best acoustic electric guitars: Yamaha A5R ARE

(Image credit: Yamaha)

4. Yamaha A5R ARE

The best preamp performance for an acoustic electric guitar

Specifications
Price: $1,399/£1,560
Type: Western body cutaway electro-acoustic
Top: Solid Sitka spruce with A.R.E treatment
Back & sides: Solid rosewood
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 20
Tuners: Gotoh open gear
Electronics: Yamaha SRT2
Left-handed: No
Finish: Vintage Natural
Reasons to buy
+Superb Yamaha Japan build and spec+Vintage looks+Excels with its unplugged and electro tones  
Reasons to avoid
-We’d really like to see a non cutaway option 

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.

Best acoustic electric guitars: Taylor Academy Series 12e

(Image credit: Taylor)

5. Taylor Academy Series 12e

The best dreadnought acoustic electric guitar

Specifications
Price: $699/£659
Scale length: 24.6”
Top: Solid Sitka spruce top
Back and sides: layered sapele
Neck: Hard rock maple
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 20
Electronics: Taylor ES-B
Finish: Natural
Bag included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Accessible playability for all levels +More compact dimensions for smaller hands +More compact dimensions for smaller hands 
Reasons to avoid
-No bass control on ES-B may be an issue for some 

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 

Best acoustic electric guitars: Cort Little CJ Walnut OP

(Image credit: Cort)

6. Cort Little CJ Walnut OP

One of the best value travel acoustic electric guitars

Specifications
Price: $599/£369
Type: ¾-size jumbo
Scale length: 23.5”
Top: Solid Sitka spruce top
Back and sides: Laminate walnut back and sides
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ovangkol
Frets: 20
Electronics: Fishman Presys II
Finish: Open pore
Bag included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Superb performance for the price+Fishman preamp offers EQ and a tuner+Cort’s build quality is consistently impressive 
Reasons to avoid
-No left-handed option 

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 

Best acoustic electric guitars: Martin SC-13E

(Image credit: Martin )

7. Martin SC-13E

A great option when it comes to playability

Specifications
Price: $1,499/£1,599
Type: 13-fret offset cutaway
Top: Solid Sitka spruce
Back and sides: Koa fine veneer back and sides
Neck: Select hardwood
Fingerboard: Ebony
Scale: 25.4"
Frets: 20
Electronics: Fishman MX-T w/Sonicore under-saddle transducer
Finish: All gloss natural with satin neck back
Case: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Low action and speedy neck+Great upper fret access+A good all-rounder 
Reasons to avoid
-Onboard tuner response is a little slow  

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 

Best acoustic electric guitars: Guild F-2512E Archback 12-string

(Image credit: Guild)

8. Guild F-2512E Archback 12-string

The best value 12-string acoustic electric guitar

Specifications
Price: $499/£436
Type: Jumbo
Top: Solid Sitka spruce
Back and sides: Laminated maple back and sides
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25.5”
Fingerboard: Pau ferro
Frets: 20
Electronics/Pickups: Guild/Fishman GT-1
Finish: Natural
Case: No
Reasons to buy
+An affordable 12-string+Jumbo shape makes the most of those strings+Bone nut and saddle improve sustain 
Reasons to avoid
-Limited EQ options from the preamp 

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.

Best acoustic electric guitars: Martin 000-28E Modern Deluxe

(Image credit: Martin)

9. Martin 000-28E Modern Deluxe

A great option if you’re looking for something more high-end

Specifications
Price: $4,699/£4,349
Type: 000
Top: Solid VTS Sitka spruce top
Back and sides: Solid East Indian rosewood
Neck: Select hardwood
Scale: 24.9”
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 20
Electronics/Pickups: 1
Finish: Natural gloss
Case: Molded hardshell
Reasons to buy
+A superb update of a classic+New features that audibly enhance volume and projection+One of the very best preamp systems  
Reasons to avoid
-Some traditionalists may not like the blingier touches here  

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 

Best acoustic electric guitars: PRS Parlor SE P20E

(Image credit: PRS)

10. PRS Parlor SE P20E

Fantastic value for a parlor electro-acoustic

Specifications
Price: $579/£499
Type: Parlor
Top: Solid mahogany
Back and sides: Laminate mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.72”
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 20
Electronics: Fishman GT-1
Finish: Vintage Mahogany, Tobacco Sunburst, Black Top
Case: No
Reasons to buy
+SE build quality is consistently high+Excellent playability and punchy tone+A contemporary take on the classic parlor shape 
Reasons to avoid
-The PRS headstock on a parlor shape guitar may divide opinion 

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. 

Best acoustic electric guitars: Yamaha Storia II

(Image credit: Yamaha)

11. Yamaha Storia II

A great value model with a passive pickup

Specifications
Price: $429/£354
Type: Concert electro-acoustic
Top: Solid mahogany
Back & sides: Mahogany laminate
Neck: Nato
Scale: 25"
Fingerboard: Walnut
Frets: 20
Tuners: Open gear Champagne-Gold
Electronics: Yamaha passive undersaddle piezo pickups
Left-handed: No
Finish: Natural with Ultramarine
Reasons to buy
+Contemporary looks+Superb sound and playability for the money +There are advantages to a passive piezo 
Reasons to avoid
-You can’t shape EQ from the guitar 

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

Martin 000 on a wooden background

(Image credit: Future)

Why buy an acoustic electric guitar? 

Back in the old days before pickups that could be installed in acoustic guitars were invented, players would place a condenser, ribbon or dynamic microphone for live performance. This is still the preferable way to record, and some players even use this method live; in a quiet recording environment, a condenser mic is hard to beat for the detail it will capture from your acoustic guitar’s sound. But live performance requires some practical compromise because venues are often loud, and guitarists often need to stand and move around – neither are suited to a mic placed in front of the guitar. That’s why an electric acoustic guitar is such a great investment. 

Types of electro acoustic guitar pickup 

There are different types of ways to pickup your guitar’s sound from inside the guitar; and all have their advantages and downsides. Let’s take a look at the main types: 

Undersaddle piezo - By far the most common preinstalled pickup type is placing a piezo pickup underneath the acoustic guitar’s bridge saddle. That then detects and transfers string vibrations through the saddle into electric current. It’s very different to a magnetic electric guitar pickup or soundhole pickup and there’s no hum involved. 

Instead they tend to have a more compressed quality according to the active circuitry involved - this can be part of a preinstalled system with a preamp to boost the signal and shape it with EQ. These will require onboard battery power. But 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 ‘quack’ that can result from piezos becoming overloaded with vibrations from harder playing (though external EQ and compression and passive DI boxes with high headroom can help a lot with this) is to have two sources to capture the sound in your guitar; sometimes this can be a small internal mic that players can then blend with the sound of their guitar. The downside is capturing sound from within the guitar isn’t as good as the sound vibrating from the top, and mics can often be subject to feedback issues. But used judiciously, they can really add a more natural quality to your plugged-in acoustic tone.

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.