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So I was going to get a new acoustic. I really want to start getting into acoustics but I don't want to lose the ability to jam with friends who are on drums/bass, and have their own electrics plugged in. Does it make sense to get an acoustic/electric?

I've never played one before plugged in. I know they sound okay unplugged but do they sound good plugged in as well?

P.S. I was looking at this one: http://guitars.musiciansfriend.com/product/Ibanez-Exotic-Wood-EW20QMEBBD-Cutaway-AcousticElectric-Guitar?sku=512210

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Only tangentially related, but I would recommend against that guitar. Anything "pretty" for less than a grand is generally junk. Particularly the Ibanez. While the guitars look beautiful, they tend to sound dead. I'd recommend something from fender or yamaha at the cheaper end of things. –  yossarian Feb 8 '11 at 22:31
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And it's a shame to say, but $450 is the cheaper end of things. –  yossarian Feb 8 '11 at 22:35
    
@yossarian: I have an electric/acoustic (Weird name, it's an acoustic with a mic in it) that I bought for around a 100 bucks (quite a long time ago, but it was dirt cheap even then) including a soft case. Is it a good guitar? No. Is it good enough? Heck yeah! Do I use it? No, not since I bough a $500 Yamaha five years ago, because it's better. –  Lennart Regebro May 31 '11 at 8:35
    
I bought a Turner electro-acoustic for about £300 two or three years ago. It has a great sound and although I've had a few problems with the pickup system I'd say that it was well worth the initial layout and the £50 or so repair bills I've paid. Far, far better than the Takamine I paid three times as much for and which, although a beautifully made instrument, has an awful tinny sound as do so many of the other small bodied electro acoustics. Give Turner a look. –  user5588 Jan 18 '13 at 14:38
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6 Answers

IMHO, it's generally not a good idea to buy an acoustic/electric that lists for anything less than $1000. Why? Because no matter how much the guitar costs, some of what you're paying for in an acoustic/electric are the pickups and electronics. In other words, a $500 acoustic guitar is a $500 acoustic guitar, but a $500 acoustic/electric is really a $400 acoustic guitar with $100 or so worth of electronics. At that price point, there's a real difference in quality between a $500 acoustic and a $400 acoustic.

At some price point, the guitars get good enough where the $100 or so dedicated to the electronics doesn't make a huge difference in the quality of the instrument. In other words, a $1000 acoustic guitar is still a $1000 acoustic guitar while a $1000 acoustic/electric might be a $900 acoustic + $100 of electronics. At that price point, though, the difference between a $1000 and a $900 guitar isn't too much---it's not as big a difference as between the $500 and the $400 guitars. Both the $1000 and the $900 guitars are decent quality, and so a $1000 acoustic/electric is probably a pretty good guitar.

So my advice? Buy the best-quality purely acoustic guitar you can afford. If that's around $500, great---there are plenty of decent-quality acoustic guitars at that price. If later you decide that you want to plug it in, that's the time to buy a good acoustic pickup system. That way, you spread out the cost over a longer period of time, and you can always upgrade the pickup later without throwing away the guitar, and vice-versa.

p.s. That Ibanez is pretty, but at $450 including the electronics, there's absolutely no way it's made of solid wood. That's a plywood instrument with quilted maple veneer. Don't get sucked in by its looks. For ~$500, you can get a well-made acoustic guitar with a solid-wood top from your choice of a variety of different builders.

Update

It seems the argument I made above is more controversial than I had expected. Let me try to clarify it a bit.

Suppose you're a guitar maker looking to introduce a new acoustic/electric model to your line. You pick one of your existing acoustic models and decide to add a pickup and electronics to it. The Stew Mac catalog offers a variety of acoustic guitar pickups and electronics systems. The cheapest complete package (acoustic pickup, preamp, endpin jack, wiring) they offer is the L.R. Baggs iBeam Active Pickup System, at $139. Add in the additional labor to install this system in your guitars, plus the markup, and it'll come to a $200 premium. Maybe $150 if you're a huge company and can buy enormous volumes.

So now you have a choice: you can either add $150 to the cost of your guitar, or you can try to find $150 worth of corners to cut from your existing model.

Well, if your existing model is around $1000, it's a lot easier to cut $150 worth of corners and still have a great instrument than it is if your existing model is $450. If you're looking to cut $150 off of a $1000 model, maybe you use A-grade solid wood instead of (prettier but sonically irrelevant) AA-grade. Maybe you stick with a AA-grade solid top, but go with plywood back and sides. Maybe you use cheaper tuners and abandon fancy binding. Either way, you'll cut some corners and still end up with a pretty good guitar. But if you're cutting $150 off of a $450 model, you were already using pretty cheap tuners, and now you're abandoning solid wood entirely and going with plywood throughout.

So now imagine you're the customer, and you're looking at a $450 acoustic/electric. Of that $450, you know that $150 is electronics, so you're really looking at a $300 guitar with a pickup tacked on. The difference in quality between a $300 instrument and a $450 is way way bigger than the difference between a $900 instrument and a $1050 instrument. It's a 50% difference vs. a 15% difference.

I'm emphatically not saying you've got to buy a $1000 guitar to be happy. I'm saying, if you've got $450 to spend on a guitar, buy a purely acoustic one with no electronics at all. Then you know all the money you'll spend has gone into making the best guitar $450 can make. Later, if you decide you simply need to plug it in, you can save up for a great acoustic pickup that you can use to amplify your $450 guitar.

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Well thought out I really appreciate it. Thanks! What acoustic only brands do you recommend? I've been hearing you can't go wrong with Martin or Taylor. But I've found some nice Fenders and Ibanez for the price as well. –  Anonymous Feb 7 '11 at 18:13
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Eh, I think you are going a bit too far here! I bought a low end Ibanez AE acoustic with the electronics and built in tuner, and it would be fine for jamming with friends, or really anything. Used, it was only like $150. I will admit, however, to hating the way it sounds amplified. –  Anonymous Feb 7 '11 at 18:19
    
Couldn't agree more. –  DRL Feb 7 '11 at 18:32
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@slandau: Personally, I'm partial to Seagull. It's a Canadian maker with very well-built, solid-top instruments at reasonable prices. But there are certainly others that are well worth looking at. At that price point, though, don't settle for anything less than a solid-top instrument. –  Alex Basson Feb 7 '11 at 19:03
    
@slandau; Lag also do some excellent less expensive but high quality acoustics –  DRL Feb 7 '11 at 19:38
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I have an A/E guitar. A Fender cutaway dreadnought. I'm largely happy with it, but here are some words of wisdom.

1) Dreads and other big guitars are big guitars so they can project in acoustic environments. If you're going to be plugging in, you don't need the big fat guitar. Same thing with heavy strings. If you have something backing you up, no need to go fat with strings.

2) Not every dime you can spend on a guitar comes out the soundhole. And with CNC systems, the cost of perfectly-good guitars is dropping. Yeah, you can get a fantastic guitar for $1000, but you can also get a gold-plated dog for that cost. Don't stress about not getting the perfect thing at $450, but rather get the best your $450 can buy, and build up a list of things you want your next guitar to have.

3) Current onboard pre-amps have built-in tuners. You want that. And, upon following the link, I see you have that.

4) A solid top is good, probably what you want, but solid back and sides are less essential. Laminate parts will be more resistant to the damages of heat and humidity fluctuation than real wood, but you'll never get the aging process that can make solid wood guitars sound wonderful.

5) In a full rock band, the acoustic guitar is a chording snare drum. Trying to get beyond that means that EVERYONE must drop out, or you goose your juice and tempt the feedback gods.

Good luck.

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Love #5. +1 for it :D –  Jduv Feb 11 '11 at 5:23
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Some of the low-end guitars can be surprising... Depends what you're looking for. I bought a decidedly-low-end Yamaha (APX500) for 300 bucks a couple of years ago.
An inexpensive guitar to be sure, I bought it mostly because that's what I could afford and it had a small body so it didn't hurt my aging shoulders.

Sound was surprisingly good. The Yamaha electrics in this APX line are pretty decent, more advanced than many you see in this price range. As for the guitar's acoustic sound... Not stellar but credible. I jam with a Folk-school sort of weekend jam group and this little instrument held up well both in terms of volume and tone. So don't be entirely dismissive of the under-a-grand models... Just have realistic expectations and make sure you play 'em first! Plugging in and modeling your volume and tone from the guitar is definitely handy.

Of course, you can always buy a non-electrified acoustic and just add an after-market pickup....

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+1 for the surprisingly underrepresented advice to go out there and play it first. –  overslacked May 31 '11 at 4:15
    
And +1 for cheap Yamahas. I think they make guitars like you make bikes: Mass production with precision parts. Result: Boring guitars, but very well worth the price. I got a Yamaha acoustic that was the only one I tried in it's price range that didn't have "dead" notes. –  Lennart Regebro May 31 '11 at 8:38
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The most important thing is to try the guitar before you buy. Only you know how you want it to feel, and how you want it to sound. Never buy a guitar you haven't played. Online prices may seem attractive - but it's worth paying $50 extra to know what you're getting.

Go to a reputable shop, on a weekday, when the shopkeeper has time to advise you, and the shop's quiet, and give yourself time to try out a few guitars. Try them both plugged in and unplugged. To give you an idea of the level of service you should expect from a guitar shop - when I bought my modestly priced acoustic, I spent forty minutes unattended, free to try out the range he'd picked.

A good shop will have a budget range they can get behind, as well as more expensive high-end brands. The best guitar dealer local to me recommends Cort acoustics, for example.

Bear in mind that electric-acoustics, plugged in, will only sound their best through acoustic amps - or PA amps with appropriate EQ. Using an amp intended for a solid body guitar won't get the best from the instrument. If you have a small amp you intend to use, take it to the shop. If you don't / can't, make sure you use something similar in the shop to what you'll use when the guitar's yours.

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This is a really important point. If you don't have the right EQ then your guitar will sound like a crummy version of an electric guitar. But with an acoustic amp or properly equalized PA, you can get good sound. I tried a bunch of Martins and Taylors and really would have left with one of the least expensive Taylors but I made my fatal mistake: I tried the one in the glass case. Oh, sigh. But if you stay away from the guitars high on the wall or behind glass, I think you could find a Fender, Taylor or even Ovation you'd like. Just save a bit extra for the right amp. –  Steve Ross Jan 19 '13 at 23:47
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That's a nice looking guitar.

It depends on the type of music you and your friends are jamming and the type of gear your all using. You may find that you are drowned out by the other instrument if there is a full drum kit and the other guitars/bass are all electric and going through pretty powerful amps.

The other instruments have to be at a certain volume to meet the drums; electro-acoustics sound good amplified; but in my experience lower end models don't sound very well at high volume.

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It's also much harder to control feedback as the volume goes up and you're in a small space. And acoustic guitar feedback is generally not the good kind. –  yossarian Feb 8 '11 at 22:35
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These answers have really focused on quality vs cost but I think there's an entirely separate issue here.

You asked

I know they sound okay unplugged but do they sound good plugged in as well?

I would say they can sound good plugged in, but they will almost definitely not sound like they do acoustically. There is a significant market for pickups for acoustic guitars, a ton of options, and a long signal chain from pickup to pre-amp to effects & eq to an amp or mixer. Some people spend years trying to get the perfect sound they desire. Yes, generally speaking, more expensive acoustic-electrics sound better, but I almost guarantee they will not sound the SAME acoustically as they do plugged in.

My advice would be to go a music store and ask to try out some acoustic-electric guitars, both acoustically and through an acoustic guitar amp (or some other setup). That will really give you an idea of the sound differences between the two, even if you're not playing models you intend to buy.

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protected by Matthew Read Jan 18 '13 at 18:17

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