How Does An Acoustic-electric Guitar Work?

Imagine strumming a guitar under the starry night sky, the sound of the strings resonating through the air. But have you ever wondered how an acoustic-electric guitar works? This fascinating instrument combines the classic beauty of an acoustic guitar with the versatility of electric amplification. At its core, an acoustic-electric guitar works by utilizing a built-in pickup system to capture the vibrations of the strings and convert them into electrical signals, which can then be amplified to produce a richer, louder sound. In this article, we will explore the inner workings of an acoustic-electric guitar, uncovering the secrets behind its enchanting sound and versatile nature.

Overview of Acoustic-Electric Guitars

acoustic-electric guitars are versatile instruments that combine the traditional acoustic sound with the functionality of an electric guitar. They are designed to be played both unplugged, like a regular acoustic guitar, and plugged into an amplifier or PA system to produce a louder sound. These guitars have become increasingly popular among musicians due to their ability to be used in various settings, from small intimate performances to large stages.

Difference between acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars

The main difference between an acoustic guitar and an acoustic-electric guitar lies in their capability to produce sound. An acoustic guitar relies solely on its acoustic abilities to project sound, while an acoustic-electric guitar has the added feature of being able to produce sound using a built-in pickup and preamp system. This allows the acoustic-electric guitar to be connected to an amplifier or sound system for amplification, making it suitable for live performances or recording situations.

Purpose and benefits of acoustic-electric guitars

Acoustic-electric guitars serve a specific purpose for musicians who require the sound projection of an acoustic guitar mixed with the amplified versatility of an electric guitar. The primary benefit of an acoustic-electric guitar is its ability to be played in various environments without sacrificing volume or tone quality. Whether you are a solo performer, a street musician, or playing in a band, an acoustic-electric guitar offers the flexibility to adapt to different settings and deliver your desired sound.

Components of an Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Understanding the components of an acoustic-electric guitar can help you appreciate how this instrument functions and how to optimize its performance.


The body of an acoustic-electric guitar is typically made of various tonewoods, such as spruce, mahogany, or rosewood. It is the main structure that houses all the other components, including the soundboard, pickups, and electronics. The body shape and size can vary, offering different tonal characteristics and comfort levels for players.


The soundboard, also known as the top, is one of the most critical components of an acoustic-electric guitar. Usually made of spruce, cedar, or mahogany, it is responsible for projecting and resonating the vibrations produced by the strings. The quality and choice of wood for the soundboard greatly influence the overall tone and projection of the guitar.


The pickup is a crucial component of an acoustic-electric guitar as it converts the mechanical vibrations of the strings into electrical signals. These signals can then be amplified and shaped to achieve the desired sound. There are different types of pickups, including piezo pickups, magnetic pickups, and microphone-like pickups, each offering a unique tonal character.


The preamp is the control center of an acoustic-electric guitar. It amplifies the electrical signals generated by the pickup and allows adjustment of volume, tone, and other sound-shaping functions. The preamp may feature various controls, such as equalizers, phase switches, and built-in tuners, providing the guitarist with greater control over their sound.

Output jack

The output jack is the interface between the guitar and the amplifier or sound system. It allows the electrical signals from the pickup and preamp to be sent to external devices for amplification. The output jack is typically located on the body of the guitar, often on the lower bout or side.

Working Principle of an Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Understanding how the various components of an acoustic-electric guitar work together is essential to grasp its overall functioning.

Conversion of string vibrations into electrical signals

When you pluck or strum the strings of an acoustic-electric guitar, the vibrations produced are transmitted to the soundboard through the bridge, which transfers the energy to the top wood of the guitar. The soundboard resonates and amplifies these vibrations, creating audible sound waves. Simultaneously, the pickup, usually located under the saddle or within the body, captures the vibrations and converts them into electrical signals.

Amplification and tone shaping

Once the electrical signals are generated by the pickup, they pass through the preamp, where they are amplified and adjusted according to the player’s preferences. The preamp allows for adjustments in volume, tone, and other parameters to shape the sound. The processed signals are then sent to the output jack, which serves as the connection point for external amplification or recording equipment.

1. Difference between acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars

Construction and design

The construction and design of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars differ primarily in the inclusion of electronic components in the latter. Acoustic guitars are designed solely for acoustic sound projection and typically lack pickups and preamps. On the other hand, acoustic-electric guitars are built with additional features to facilitate amplification and integration with audio equipment.

Sound production

An acoustic guitar relies on the hollow body and soundboard to resonate and amplify string vibrations. The sound produced is projected outward, allowing it to be heard without amplification. In contrast, an acoustic-electric guitar produces sound in a similar manner but allows for the electric amplification of the sound, making it louder and suitable for larger venues or performances.

Amplification capabilities

The primary distinction between acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars lies in their amplification capabilities. While an acoustic guitar produces sound exclusively acoustically, an acoustic-electric guitar can project sound both acoustically and electronically. By connecting an acoustic-electric guitar to an amplifier or sound system, the player can achieve greater volume and control over their sound, making it ideal for live performances or studio recordings.

2. Purpose and benefits of acoustic-electric guitars

Versatility for live performances

One of the key purposes of an acoustic-electric guitar is to provide versatility for live performances. By having the option to connect to an amplifier or PA system, acoustic-electric guitars allow musicians to be heard clearly in larger venues or outdoor settings. This versatility enables guitarists to adapt their sound to different performance environments without compromising on volume or tone quality.

Easy integration with audio equipment

Another significant benefit of acoustic-electric guitars is their seamless integration with audio equipment. By having built-in pickups and preamps, these guitars can be directly connected to amplifiers, effects pedals, or recording equipment, eliminating the need for additional microphones or bulky setups. This ease of integration streamlines the setup process for musicians, both in live performances and recording sessions.

3. Body

Materials and design

The body of an acoustic-electric guitar is crafted using different tonewoods, each affecting the instrument’s tone and projection. Common tonewoods used for the body include spruce, mahogany, rosewood, and maple. These woods are chosen for their specific tonal characteristics, such as warmth, brightness, or depth. The body design can also vary, with popular options including dreadnought, concert, and jumbo shapes, each offering unique tonal profiles and comfort for players.

Sound projection

The body of an acoustic-electric guitar plays a crucial role in projecting the sound produced by the strings. The resonance and vibrations created within the body contribute to the guitar’s overall tonal qualities and volume. The size, shape, and choice of tonewoods impact the instrument’s projection, allowing for a wide range of sonic possibilities and tonal versatility.

4. Soundboard

Top wood choices

The soundboard, commonly referred to as the top, directly influences the tonal qualities of an acoustic-electric guitar. Spruce is frequently used for its balanced and dynamic sound, offering clarity, responsiveness, and projection. Other popular top wood choices include cedar, which produces warmer tones, and mahogany, known for its increased mid-range emphasis. The selection of the soundboard wood contributes to the instrument’s overall sonic character.

Soundboard vibrations

When the strings are plucked or strummed, the vibrations travel through the bridge to the soundboard. The soundboard then resonates and vibrates, amplifying the acoustic sound produced by the strings. The vibrations are then transferred to the air, resulting in audible sound waves. The specific characteristics and quality of the soundboard greatly impact the tone, projection, and responsiveness of the acoustic-electric guitar.

5. Pickup

Types of pickups

Acoustic-electric guitars incorporate different types of pickups to capture the vibrations produced by the strings. Piezo pickups are commonly used and are placed under the saddle or within the body. They rely on pressure-sensitive crystals to convert the mechanical vibrations into electrical signals. Another type is the magnetic pickup, which uses magnets to sense the vibrations and generate electrical signals. Additionally, some acoustic-electric guitars feature microphone-like pickups for a more natural and transparent sound reproduction.

Placement and installation

The placement of the pickup within an acoustic-electric guitar is crucial to capture the desired sound accurately. Piezo pickups are often located under the saddle, allowing them to directly pick up the vibrations transmitted through the bridge. Magnetic pickups, on the other hand, are usually placed near the soundboard or in the soundhole of the guitar. It is essential to install the pickups properly to ensure optimal sound reproduction and minimize any interference or feedback issues.

6. Preamp

Importance of preamp

The preamp serves as the control center for an acoustic-electric guitar. It amplifies the electrical signals generated by the pickup and provides various sound-shaping controls. The preamp plays a significant role in shaping the overall tone, volume, and other sound parameters of the guitar. It also allows for easy adjustment of the guitar’s output level and tonal characteristics, making it an essential component for live performances and recordings.

Signal conditioning and control

The preamp conditions the electrical signals captured by the pickup, ensuring they are at an appropriate level and providing control over various tonal aspects. It typically includes equalization controls, usually in the form of bass, midrange, and treble knobs or sliders. Additional features such as phase switches, built-in tuners, and onboard effects may also be present on more advanced preamp systems. These controls allow musicians to fine-tune their sound and adapt it to different playing styles and performance environments.

10. Maintenance and care of acoustic-electric guitars

Cleaning and protecting the guitar

Proper maintenance and care are essential to keep an acoustic-electric guitar in optimal condition. Regular cleaning using a soft cloth or microfiber cloth can help remove dust and fingerprints from the body, ensuring the guitar remains visually appealing. Using appropriate guitar polish or wax can help protect the finish and restore its shine. It is also important to keep the strings clean by wiping them down after each use to prevent buildup of dirt, oils, and sweat.

Preventing electronic issues

To maintain the electronic components of an acoustic-electric guitar, it is crucial to handle the instrument with care and avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures, humidity, or moisture. Excessive exposure to harsh environmental conditions can damage the pickups, preamp, and wiring. Using a padded gig bag or hardshell case for storage and transportation can provide additional protection against accidental bumps or impacts. Regularly checking and tightening any loose connections or screws can also prevent potential electronic issues and ensure optimal performance.