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Acoustics were the first guitars. Electric guitars have been with us for almost a century already. The acoustic electric guitar is a truly modern instrument that combines the best of both worlds. In talking about the electro acoustic guitar, we are not referring to a semi-acoustic – or hollow-body – guitar, such as the Gibson ES-355, which actually possess very modest acoustic properties and inadequate volume for live performances.
Most if not all acoustic guitar manufacturers make electro-acoustic guitars. It is just a matter of modifying the body by adding the appropriate pick-up, and plugging it in.
The modern electric acoustic guitar looks like a traditional acoustic guitar but they have some form of electronic or magnetic pickup for amplification and direct recording. They have been a godsend for guitarists who like to use acoustic guitars in concert.
Evolution of the Electric Acoustic Guitar
Ovation guitars were fitted with Piezo-electric pickups in the 1970s, but it was the development of the Palathetic® pickup – an improved Piezo type – by Takamine, in 1978, that really revolutionized the electric acoustic guitar. Shortly thereafter, Takamine introduced on-board, solid-state pre-amps that opened up a whole new world of sonic possibilities for acoustic guitarists.
Piezo (pronounced “pea-ETZ-oh”) refers to the properties of some substances, such as quartz crystal, to produce an electronic signal in response to pressure changes. Interference from external electrical sources, such as 60-cycle mains hum, is thereby eliminated, as is amplifier feedback. Piezo pickups offer a wider frequency response than magnetic pickups, which in turn gives a more natural “string” sound.
In 2001, guitar maker L. R. Baggs introduced a new type of pickup for acoustic guitars: the iBeam. Consisting of extremely light-weight film sensors, the iBeam is attached to the underside of the string saddle and has minimal effect on the soundboard’s resonance from which it picks up vibrations and outputs them to either an on-board pre-amp or an external one. The iBeam pickup is relatively easy to mount to an acoustic guitar and offers a sound that is very responsive to all parts of the guitar.
If you are looking for your first acoustic-electric, take your time and play as many as you can find. Most guitar manufacturers offer them now and the differences in tone and playability and cost are considerable.