Acoustic guitars are known for their warm, organic sound which is synonymous with many of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. Back in the early days of artists such as Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, acoustic guitars were always played into a microphone for live performances.
Although electric guitars were common by this point, and there were acoustic-electric guitars too, they weren’t so commonly used as they are today. This was also before the days of in-ear monitors, high-end PA systems, and technical multitrack mixers, and there weren’t many better options for live sound.
Today, we have acoustic guitars that are fitted with a microphone or a magnetic pickup. This makes it possible for the guitar to be plugged into an amplifier or played through a PA system.
The advantages of using an acoustic electric guitar include the fact that you can amplify your instrument without the need for an external microphone.
In addition, the use of an internal pickup or microphone gives you a consistent tone, whether you’re plugged into an amplifier or a mixing console. This makes playing in a live setting much more convenient and controllable, as most acoustic electric guitars have in-build controls to manage feedback, volume, and tone.
Should I Buy An Acoustic Electric Guitar?
Most acoustic guitars that are on the market today are also equipped with a pickup in the bridge. This sort of below-bridge pickup is called a piezoelectric pickup.
If you’re playing live performances often, it is often necessary to use the acoustic guitar’s in-built pickup system rather than a microphone. If you are touring, for instance, you may not have much time to set up and calibrate an external microphone before the show.
When using a microphone, there are many factors to consider, such as the type of microphone (condenser, ribbon, or dynamic), the polar pattern of the microphone, and the positioning of the microphone or microphones if using a stereo pair.
Also, if the guitarist moves only slightly this can greatly affect the sound when using a microphone. The freedom to move around onstage is one of the biggest advantages of using an acoustic guitar with an in-built pickup or microphone system.
The use of internal pickups when playing acoustic guitar live will allow you to use higher gain before getting feedback. This can be extremely useful in a live setting, especially when playing as part of a band.
Additionally, using an in-built pickup system eliminates the possibility of getting bleed from other instruments. This happens when using a microphone and playing alongside other musicians, as the microphone can pick up and amplify the sounds surrounding it.
If you’ve played any live performances with an acoustic guitar, surely you’ve come across one or all of these issues attributed to playing guitar into a microphone. Although you may be able to achieve a better, more naturalistic sound using a pair of microphones, as you would in the studio, it is far too impractical and difficult to achieve this in a live setting, especially night after night on tour.
What Types Of Pickup Systems Are There For Acoustic Guitars?
The three main ways to amplify an acoustic guitar without the use of an external microphone are a piezo-electric pickup, a magnetic bar-shaped pickup, or an in-built condenser microphone.
A piezo pickup or a piezo-electric transducer is situated underneath the saddle at the bridge of the guitar, where the strings meet the body. Typically, a guitar with this type of pickup will need a power source, usually from a 9V battery. In addition, this type of acoustic electric guitar will also feature an onboard preamp.
A magnetic bar-shaped pickup is very similar to the type of pickup you’d typically find on an electric guitar. With an acoustic guitar, this pickup is placed in the soundhole underneath the strings. This type of pickup can easily be installed on any acoustic guitar and requires no drilling or alteration to the guitar itself.
The third type of amplification system for an acoustic guitar is a small inbuilt condenser microphone. Some acoustic guitar manufacturers such as the Maton AP-5 Pro offer guitars with a combination of an internal microphone and a piezo under-saddle pickup. Some players even customize their guitars to have two or even all three of these amplification systems in order to blend multiple signals together.
What Are Some Potential Issues Associated With Acoustic Electric Guitars?
As mentioned above, acoustic guitars with a piezo pickup will also contain an inbuilt preamp system that will also require power from a 9V battery, typically.
Because of this, especially in a live setting, you should definitely carry a spare 9V battery with you, otherwise, if you run out of juice your guitar will no longer be amplified. The battery won’t need replacing too often, but you can’t be too careful. This could save you some embarrassment.
Another issue associated with acoustic guitars that feature a piezo pickup is that the natural tone of your acoustic guitar will be somewhat compromised. This is considered a small price to pay for the practicality that an inbuilt pickup system affords you.
When playing at louder volumes, feedback can be an issue whether you’re using a piezo pickup, magnetic soundhole pickup, or an inbuilt microphone. One easy fix that many people do for this issue is to plug the soundhole with a rubber “feedback buster”.
Essentially, this plugs the soundhole, making the guitar less resonant and responsive to certain frequencies, making feedback less likely to occur.
One Last Thing…
Hopefully, you now have a clearer understanding of the varieties of acoustic guitars and the different ways in which they can be amplified. It’s important to do your research in order to find the guitar and the sound that’s right for you.
There are plenty of demonstration videos to be found online that will give you the opportunity to hear what these different amplification systems sound like, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Whatever sound you’re looking for, there’s a guitar out there that’s perfect for you and your artistic vision. Keep on playing and good luck on your musical journey!