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Electro Acoustic Guitars

The term 'electro acoustic guitar' refers to an acoustic guitar that has been fitted with a pickup, microphone or transducer to convert the vibration of the strings into an electrical signal that can be amplified.

The main appeal of electro acoustic guitars is that they can be amplified to concert hall levels while still retaining the characteristic sounds and tones of a traditional acoustic guitar. Another benefit of this type of guitar is its easy integration into a studio environment, enabling the sound of an acoustic guitar to be recorded without the need for an external microphone.


A brief history of the electro acoustic guitar

Yamaha APX900It could be said that electro acoustic guitars were the first type of electric guitar created. In the 1930s players and guitar makers experimented with placing magnetic pickups near the soundhole or necks joints of flat-top and arch-top acoustic guitars. This hybrid instrument was popular with big band and jazz musicians but its shortcomings were quickly realised, the amplified sound was not a true to the acoustic nature of the guitars and feedback was a major problem. These problems lead to the creation of the solid-body electric guitar, which had a more stable and consistent albeit non-acoustic sound. The solid-body electric guitar took off in popularity but the search for a way of successfully amplifying an acoustic guitar continued.

The major breakthrough came in the late 1960s with the introduction of the piezoelectric pickup by Ovation.

What is a piezoelectric pickup?

A piezoelectric pickup is a non-magnetic pickup constructed from a crystal like material that reacts to vibration. In a typical piezoelectric pickup a single crystal is located underneath each guitar string. Vibration of the strings causes the crystals to distort in shape, this creates a changing voltage that can be amplified and altered. The signal created by the piezoelectric pickup is very weak and needs a pre-amplified before being passed on to a normal amplifier. Guitars using this type of pickup come with a built-in pre-amp.

Piezoelectric pickups produce a pure sound with a natural acoustic tone; this is because the signal they produce for amplification comes directly from the soundboard and body of the guitar.

As piezoelectric pickups are non-magnetic they can be used with the nylon strings that are normally associated with classic style acoustic guitars.



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Buyers Guide

Pickups

Piezoelectric pickups aside, electro acoustic guitars can also be fitted with a microphone or magnetic pickup. Magnetic pickups are prone to feedback but are preferred by those that like to get a slightly un-traditional acoustic sound more suited to jazz and rock ad roll. Microphones are commonly placed inside the sound hole of an electro acoustic guitar, producing an authentic acoustic sound but still being susceptible to interference and feedback. Hybrid pickups that contain both a piezoelectric pickup and microphone are widely used, these are ideal for players with a picking style of play. Some electro acoustic guitars even feature a combination of magnetic and piezoelectric pickups.

Electronics

Electro acoustic guitars fitted with piezoelectric pickups come with built-in electronics, typically a pre-amp with equaliser. The equalisers (EQs) vary depending on price range, some provide control of up to six frequency bands (three is normal) or allow the guitar to be played with an acoustic or electronic sound. Other features you can expect to see include, master volume control, filter switch and noise control. These electronics need to be powered by battery; some players find this inconvenient.

Some piezoelectric electro acoustic guitars use a hexaphonic pickup. These produce an individual output signal for each string which can be easily modified for a wide range of different sounds and even be sent to a MIDI device to trigger voices in a sound bank device, allowing the guitar to replicate almost any instrument.

Materials

With regards to the materials they are constructed from, electro acoustic guitars are very similar to acoustic guitars. The importance and qualities of the materials used in the construction of acoustic and electro acoustic guitars is covered in the acoustic guitar section of this website.
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