In this Guide
On this page, we’ve put together in-depth reviews of three great acoustic-electric guitars that we think you’ll love! We compared dozens of models from all the top guitar makers. We consulted expert reviews in Acoustic Guitar magazine, Guitar Player magazine, and others. Plus, we took the time to read hundreds of reviews from fellow players who have spent time getting to know these guitars long-term.
We’ve also put together a guide to shopping for an acoustic-electric guitar, to help you figure out which model is right for you. We’ll walk you through all the important features to look for, and help you get a sense of what to spend your money on, and what to avoid in the acoustic-electric guitar market.
Before we get started, here’s a look at our three favorite acoustic-electric guitars:
Why play an acoustic-electric guitar?
They combine a great acoustic guitar with onboard pickup and preamp systems. They allow players to match the warm unplugged sound of an acoustic guitar with amplifiers, for live performances and direct recording!
These guitars often sound better than acoustic guitars with aftermarket pickups, because their equipment has been specially chosen to suit the guitar.
Acoustic-electric guitars are ideal for gigging or recording musicians. The best acoustic-electric guitars are made by reputable top guitar makers, and have pickups and electronics that complement and match the tone of the guitar unplugged.
However, many acoustic-electric guitars are lackluster, and will let you down on one or both settings. Lots of acoustic-electric guitars sound great unplugged, but become harsh and compressed plugged in. Likewise, there are some guitars which sound rich and full plugged in, but are weak and tinny unplugged.
How do you know which acoustic-electric guitars are really worth your money? To really compare, you have to know the differences between pickups, preamps, and all sorts of other technical jargon. It can be time-consuming and confusing, even for experienced guitarists.
This guide will answer all your questions and get you on the right track! So, let’s have a look at some of our favorites!
Acoustic Electric Guitar Reviews
1. Yamaha FGX700SC
The FG series combines the playability of a folk style guitar with the tone and projection of a larger guitar. This model is a variation on one of our favorite straight acoustics of all time, the FG700s!
This cutaway model provides excellent playability for guitarists, with lots of access to the top of the fretboard for soloing and playing up on the scale. We think it’s one of the best inexpensive acoustic-electrics on the market!
It’s extremely playable. The shorter neck and lower action make the Yamaha an ideal choice for new players and experts alike.
The cutaway design allows for fancier fretwork up at the top of the guitar’s range. You’ll have uninhibited access to upper-range frets which can be hard to reach on traditional acoustic guitars.
We also like the rounded neck joint, which makes playing at the top end of the guitar’s range comfortable and easy.
Non-scalloped bracing on the inside helps shape the tone of the guitar, while maintaining structural support.
The result is a rich, full sound, which suits lots of styles of playing. The FG is a good choice for strumming as well as fingerpicking.
The ultra-thin finish allows wood to breathe and resonate more naturally. This complements the solid spruce top, which will become more responsive and warm-sounding the more you play it.
It’s a sturdy guitar, built for the road. The guitars in Yamaha’s FG series are all designed to be low-maintenance and rugged. Previous buyers said this model stays in tune very well, and feels well-built.
It’s available in a few different finishes. The Yamaha comes in a bright natural finish, or a vibrant sunburst. You can choose the look that best suits your own style.
It’s extremely inexpensive. This model is priced in the budget range, but features solid tone woods and excellent build quality that would ordinarily cost $100+ more.
Yamaha’s quality control is a lot better than other factory-made guitars, especially at this price. Previous buyers complimented the fit and finish at great length. They said it both looks and feels durable and sturdy, with a simple elegance. We also found that on the whole, there were far fewer complaints about sound out of the box than other models at this price.
The electronics system features a piezo pickup, which gives you sound directly from the bridge of the guitar. Piezo pickups have a clearer, more defined sound than soundhole-mounted equipment. You can adjust your sound with an onboard EQ. Another added bonus is the built-in tuner. It has a mute feature for tuning live without the audience hearing you over the speakers.
There’s no strap pin on the neck. If you want to play standing up, you’ll have to install another pin yourself or add a clip.
Some previous buyers were disappointed by buzzing or intonation issues out of the box. We found that this was a pretty isolated issue. We always stress that you’ll probably have to have any new guitar set up at a local shop. Given the bargains you’ll find online, it’s worth spending $20 extra when you get the guitar, to make sure it hasn’t been knocked out of whack in the shipping process.
Some more experienced players weren’t as impressed with the tone, and said that the Yamaha is better suited to beginners or experienced players who want a second, beater guitar.
2. Epiphone Hummingbird PRO
The Hummingbird PRO is Epiphone’s pluggable version of a classic acoustic guitar.
The Hummingbird is the axe of choice for many singer-songwriters, and has a tone which is ideally suited to the vocal range. That’s also what makes it one of our favorite options for live playing, whether unplugged or amplified! The Epiphone is an extremely affordable option for people who play a variety of styles, and want something that complements singers.
It has great tone, thanks to a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides. The Hummingbird was specifically designed to accompany the human vocal range. It has bright, clear definition without sounding too chime-y. Solid spruce actually sounds better the more you play it, as the wood loosens and breathes.
Previous buyers said they quickly fell in love with the tone, and said it was remarkably good for a factory-built guitar. It has a nice booming projection, but it also has a crisp definition which makes it really sing out. The lows and highs are balanced without becoming muddy. The Hummingbird also has a bright, distinctive twang which you’ll recognize from lots of old country records in particular.
The Hummingbird PRO is also solidly built, with better tuners and pins than you’d expect at this price. Grover tuners help the Hummingbird stay in tune longer than the in-house, budget equipment you’d normally find on sub-$500 guitars.
It has a professional-grade pickup system. The Shadow NanoFlex pickup and preamp system provides excellent sound plugged in. The Hummingbird also has plenty of controls for tailoring your sound, including volume, EQ, mute, and dynamics.
It looks fantastic. With the tortoiseshell pickguard, parallelogram inlays, and bright sunburst finish, the Hummingbird PRO stands out in any setting. It also looks like a much more expensive guitar than it actually is.
It has a long legacy of professional players behind it. Keith Richards, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, and Jimmy Page are just some of the greats who have played Hummingbirds onstage and in the studio.
Epiphone stands by their guitars with a lifetime warranty. The coverage really comes in handy when you first receive the guitar, since any new guitar will require setup out of the box. Any Epiphone-authorized dealer will setup and tweak your guitar, and the company will foot the bill.
It doesn’t have a built-in tuner.
It takes a bit of breaking in. You’re likely to have to adjust the action somewhat, and make sure the intonation is on. However, we found that many players were pleased with the guitar’s sound right out of the box.
We also found that some previous buyers said it sounded a bit “bright” out of the box, but mellowed nicely over time. That’s the spruce top beginning to breathe and loosen up.
See the Hummingbird in action here:
3. Seagull S6 QI
The QI is an acoustic-electric version of Seagull’s most popular acoustic guitar, the S6.
Solid cedar wood gives this guitar a truly unique tonal quality and aesthetic. It’s less susceptible to humidity and temperature changes, and doesn’t have the overly bright tone of spruce. This makes it ideal for fingerpicking, folk, or more traditional acoustic music. Plus, the QI electronics are the same equipment used on Godin’s more expensive guitars!
A solid cedar top paired with wild cherry back and sides provides a unique tone that stands out from traditional acoustic guitars. The cedar provides some of the depth and mellow tones of mahogany, while the cherry lends definition and clarity, like you’d hear from maple woods. It’s better suited to fingerpicking or soft strumming. The finish is also extra-thin, which allows the wood to breathe and resonate more naturally.
Previous buyers described the sound as warm with a mellow tone They complimented the difference from the bright, irrepressibly cheery tones of most dreadnoughts. It’s a rich, full spectrum which suits jazz, folk, and other less rock-y genres. The cedar top has excellent resonance and projection without getting into too much of a bright area.
The Seagull gets a more complex tone than traditional dreadnought acoustics, which allows you to branch out into more musical styles, and blend in with other instruments more cohesively.
Cedar wood is also more resistant to changes in humidity and air pressure than spruce or pine. That means you’ll have fewer intonation issues, and a more consistent tone, no matter the weather. The simple aesthetic accentuates and emphasizes the natural beauty of the wood.
The QI electronics are perfect for playing plugged in, whether live or recording. It has a crisp, clear sound that complements the S6’s natural tone. It doesn’t sound as boomy or chiming as other dreadnoughts.
Since it’s built in North America, there’s much better quality control than on other acoustic-electric guitars built overseas. Previous buyers were overwhelmingly impressed by the quality of the finish, appointments, and setup.
Previous buyers also complimented Seagull/Godin’s customer service, and said that questions about the QI system or adjusting intonation were answered helpfully and promptly.
The Canadian build quality and superior customer service is a real bargain. Most other acoustics at this price are still built overseas.
It’s not the best choice for loud, hard playing.
Some people might not be impressed by the simple look of the guitar. It’s definitely not a flashy performer.
See the S6 QI in action here:
Which Acoustic-Electric Guitar is Right for You?
The Yamaha is our top choice for players on a budget, as well as people who want a cutaway model for soloing high up on the fretboard. It’s very affordable, provides solid-top tone, and has a very good reputation for quality. Its tone provides a wide range of sounds, and works for a variety of styles. However, in the hands of an experienced player, it doesn’t sound as good as the more expensive models.
The Hummingbird is our recommendation for singer-songwriters, and people who perform live more frequently. It’s designed specifically for vocal accompaniment, and has a distinctive look which stands out on any stage. We particularly like the higher-end electronics, which allow the Hummingbird to sound just as good plugged in as it does on its own. It’s ideal for any vocal-led style of music, from country to rock to bluegrass. The only downside is that it doesn’t have quite as rich a tone as the Seagull.
For the best quality in tone and build, we strongly recommend the Seagull. It’s one of the only guitars in its price bracket that’s built in North America, which assures you of a higher level of quality. The Seagull also has a more distinctive, soulful tone than the Yamaha or the Epiphone. However, if loud strumming is a big part of your repertoire, the cedar top might not be quite as satisfying to you.
How to Shop for the Best Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Look at the onboard equipment:
The onboard electronics are the most important feature to look for on an acoustic-electric guitar. They’re the whole reason you’re buying an A/E and not adding aftermarket pickups to a great acoustic. It’s important to have great acoustic tone, but A/Es are all about how they translate that sound to plugged-in setups. You want to look at the pickups, preamps, and tone adjustment features.
The most common types of pickups are piezo-mounted pickups, which are usually built into the bridge of the guitar, under the strings, or sound hole pickups, which are located inside the soundhole. Both provide great amplified tone.
Overall, piezo pickups are a bit sharper and more defined, while sound hole pickups translate some more of the warmth of an acoustic guitar. No matter which sort you get, you can adjust the tone with an EQ as you plug in.
You should also expect some basic adjustments on the guitar. Usually, you’ll have volume and tone adjustments, as well as a tuner. Some models have EQs and other features built in.
More adjustments aren’t always necessary, as you can always adjust things at the pedalboard or the amp. However, onboard adjustments do make playing live easier for people with a limited amplification setup.
Look for solid tonewoods:
While electronics are the defining feature of an acoustic-electric guitar, you want to be sure to avoid skimping on the tonewoods of your guitar.
You’ll want to look for the same things you’d expect of a plain acoustic–solid pieces of wood, from pine, spruce, mahogany, or other big resonators.
For clarity, look for maple, cherry, or spruce. For a more mellow, rich sound, try mahogany, koa, or cedar.
Solid woods have more cohesive tonalities than laminates. This not only provides better tone and resonance unplugged, but also allows a guitar’s sound to be magnified more effectively.
Cutaways vs. full bodies:
Cutaway neck designs are ideal for soloing. That becomes more important plugged in, when audiences can really hear your intricate fretwork. Cutaways are more common on A/E models, for that reason.
Of course, nothing beats a full body for projection and depth. If you’re a singer-songwriter, or a rhythm player, you’re probably going to be looking for a full-body model.
Decide on your budget:
Acoustic-electric guitars start at around $200, more often than not, and can cost well above $2,000. After $750 or so, most acoustic guitars are acoustic-electric as a matter of course.
We wouldn’t suggest spending below $250 or so, as cheaper models tend to be from off brands and have subpar electronics (defeating the whole point of an acoustic-electric).
The more you spend, the more solid pieces of wood you can expect to find on your guitar. More expensive models also have better onboard equipment, and fewer flaws in the fit and finish.
Avoid gimmicky crossover models:
There are a fair number of thinned-down acoustic guitars which are supposed to land somewhere between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar.
Many of them have the shape of common acoustic guitars, but add a bit of depth so you can play acoustically. While many of these guitars are certainly playable, they tend to sound disappointing unplugged. They don’t have the body size to give you proper resonance, especially if you’re playing with other instruments.
To see more guitars that are popular with fellow musicians, take a look at Amazon’s best-selling acoustic-electrics or visit our homepage here!