An acoustic/electric, or amplified acoustic, guitar is almost required by law for anyone playing acoustic music in public.
Acoustics with onboard pickups and preamps have been widely available since the 1970s and are now the easiest and most common way to get your acoustic tone louder and better defined.
Long gone are the days of standing dead still in front of a microphone pointed at your soundhole like Bob Dylan, hoping you don’t get a blast of feedback or bump into the stupid thing.
Microphones are still crucial to recording your acoustic guitar but, for live performance, the under-saddle pickup that lets you plug directly into an amp or PA system is king.
Its ease of use is the main reason for this.
Today, our meetup is all about shopping for one of these beasts and taking a look at just what you get for your money.
Like everything else, acoustic/electrics are produced at every price point and have some fundamental differences in how they’re built and who they’re intended to please.
Ready to get an education on the best acoustic electric guitar for the money?
Let’s get busy!
Quick Top Acoustic Electric Guitars for the Money:
Keep reading for the full reviews!
The Best Acoustic Electric Guitar for the Money
- Body Body type: Grand Auditorium Cutaway: Single...
- The X Series GPCX2AE Macassar Grand Performance...
- A great guitar for studio or stage
You can't discuss any acoustic guitar without talking about the Martin brand.
In operation since 1847, Martin is a Holy Grail name to many pickers and a tradition of which they would like to be part.
The Martin GPCX2AE Macassar is an affordable acoustic/electric model suitable for anyone looking for a cool flattop for recording, performing or recreational playing.
It’s a Grand Auditorium-sized instrument, which makes a bit more compact and a bit less of an armload than a Dreadnought or Jumbo.
The body features a single treble-side cutaway and a top made from solid Sapele wood.
The rest of the box is comprised of a Macassar-patterned high-pressure laminate (HPL) back and sides.
This means it’s not made of wood but from a synthetic material.
This is much more common these days than it was in decades past, as guitar makers struggle to find sustainable material to make into guitars due to the declining availability of classic tonewoods.
Don’t be thrown off-balance by the thought of playing a non-wood guitar, however.
The GPCX2AE is still every inch a Martin.
It’s just one built from more modern design ideas than your great-uncle’s old D-28.
The neck is crafted from laminated Birchwood and has a high-performance shape and feel to it that will appeal to many players.
The fingerboard is made from Richlite, which is another synthetic.
Electric capabilities are handled nicely by a Fishman Sonitone electronics setup.
Fishman is one of the best names in acoustic pickups getting one right from the factory is a huge bonus for gigging players.
The use of synthetic substances and laminated wood are effective methods of making a quality guitar while still keeping costs down.
This is especially true for guitars that are meant for the stage because, when plugged in, all you’re hearing are the electronics, anyway.
The Martin GPCX2AE is a cool pick for players looking for a guitar with which to bring the power to the people, so to speak, and does its job well enough that it deserves a minute or two of your guitar-hunting time.
The Taylor 414ce Grand Auditorium is a more mid-level take on the GA style of guitar.
Taylor is well-known for making fine and luxurious guitars, and the 414ce is one of the company's most popular models.
The big difference between this instrument and the Martin discussed above is that this Taylor is constructed from true solid woods, not any sort of HPL.
The top is solid Sitka Spruce, and the back and sides are solid Ovangkol, which sounds a lot like Indian Rosewood.
The neck is made from Tropical Magohany and the fingerboard from West African Ebony.
Solid woods such as these put the 414 in a different class than any HPL guitar and are one of the reasons it costs what it does.
The 414ce also comes stock with Taylor's Expression System 2, a three-pickup-and preamp configuration that's one of the most natural-sounding pickups in the industry.
It puts out a low impedance signal, which your sound engineer will love, and is distortion-free at any volume level.
Acoustically, the 414 isn't a bluegrass canon regarding volume, but it isn't meant to be.
If unplugged volume is what you desire, you need a bigger guitar, plain and simple.
The Grand Auditorium style is an outstanding choice for fingerpickers and singer/songwriters with a less-than-brutal strumming approach.
It delivers a warm and bell-like sound with less volume and bass than a Dreadnought but with a little more zip in the high end.
In other words, it’s an extremely versatile guitar that hits the target it’s aimed at dead-on.
Taylor is also most definitely an upscale status guitar brand and, as a Taylor owner, you will receive nods of approval from the hardcore guitar folks who like to think about those sorts of things.
The Taylor 414ce Grand Auditorium is an excellent pick for serious players and aficionados of fine acoustic guitars.
While it may be the most expensive guitar on this list by far, it's price tag still warrants it the title of the best acoustic electric guitar for the money!
For some, it’s a short list of one.
Watch this quick demo and see if you feel like a future Taylor owner!
Epiphone has long been the go-to brand for those seeking a Gibson-style guitar that doesn’t come complete with a Gibson-sized price tag.
The Epiphone EJ-200SCE is a fine keeper of that tradition.
It’s an offshore, affordably-made and modernized version of the Gibson J-200, one of the company’s most famous acoustics that’s been seen in the hands of countless country music stars.
The Epi is a true Jumbo-sized acoustic and will be a lot to hold if you’ve never played anything bigger than a Dreadnought before.
The payoff to adapting to its size is that you get all that extra volume and bass that Jumbos were designed to give you.
The EJ-200SCE is a great value in a performing guitar.
It has a solid Spruce top and solid Maple back, and sides, as well as a solid Maple neck with a SlimTaper D-shaped, carve that's an instant comfort zone.
The fretboard is made from Pau Ferro.
Tuners are Grover® Rotomatics with an 18:1 ratio.
The electronics onboard are the new Shadow eSonic-II Stereo system, which features pickups under both the fingerboard and saddle made for true stereo sound and natural acoustic tone, no matter what you plug into.
Controls are available on the side for Master Volume, Chromatic Tuner with On/Off Button (Output Mute when in On position), NanoMag (fingerboard pickup) EQ, NanoFlex (under-saddle pickup) EQ, Phase and a Low Battery LED Indicator.
The EJ is also one of the most visually-appealing guitars in its price range, giving you the slicked-up cowboy styling of its Gibson cousin.
It wears a beautiful Vintage Sunburst finish, along with gold hardware, fancy pickguard and a Gibson-esque mustache bridge, which is inlaid, of course.
It’s a well-executed modern retelling of one of the most iconic acoustic guitars ever produced that’s equipped for modern performing situations and is affordable enough for fearless gigging.
For some players, only the power and boom of a Jumbo will do.
If that's you, an Epiphone EJ-200SCE might be in your future.
Dean started as a strictly electric guitar company back in the 1970s, but a lot has changed since then.
Now, Dean acoustic/electrics are a common sight on stages everywhere, and they are popular with a lot of guitarists seeking a gig-worthy acoustic instrument at a super-friendly price.
The Dean AXS Exotic Cutaway is an excellent example of how much value Dean brings to the acoustic table.
The most noticeable aspect of the AXS is its striking Koa wood top, one of the most beautiful tonewoods ever used.
The body shape is Dean's Exotica design and has a Mahogany back and sides.
The company's website doesn’t mention if the woods are solid or laminated but, at this price, they are most likely the latter.
The neck is Mahogany, too, with a Balsamo fingerboard and a C-shaped carve to it.
Balsamo is also used for the bridge.
Amplification is handled by Dean’s DMT SL-3 electronic system with 3-band EQ and a built-in tuner to help you keep everything harmonious.
The Dean AXS Exotic Cutaway is aimed squarely at anyone who needs an inexpensive-yet-capable acoustic/electric instrument that punches above its weight.
Tone and playability are both surprisingly good here, and it's obvious that Dean has spent a lot of time working on this end of its line.
The AXS is an ax you can take anywhere, play all night long and feel good about doing it.
Don’t overlook these Deans in your quest for a new ride.
They might not have the cultural cache of a Martin or Taylor but will get the gig done for a lot of you out there in Guitarland.
- Classic mid-depth Lyrachord cutaway body with a solid...
- Remarkable new scalloped "X" bracing design that...
- Together, body, top and sound holes create the classic...
Ovation is one of the primordial makers of modern acoustic/electric guitars, with a heritage going back to the company's Glenn Campbell models of the late 1960s.
Ovation is also one of the first companies to employ synthetic materials to make its guitar bodies and the only maker that has ever used a rounded back, a polarizing feature that players either love or hate.
The new Ovation CE44-5 Acoustic/Electric Guitar is a killer modern flattop that was engineered to make you sound and look your best onstage.
The heart of it is a mid-depth Lyrachord cutaway body with a solid Spruce top and Ovation’s unique multi-soundhole design.
This combination gives users crystalline highs and snappy, responsive bass.
The CE44-5 also uses a cool new scalloped "X" bracing design that adds much to the unplugged tone of it.
The neck is made of Nato with a Rosewood fingerboard.
Rosewood is also used for the bridge.
All of these things working together create the classic Ovation sound, which is loud but balanced, clear and complex.
The electronics are the Ovation Slimline pickup and OP-4BT preamp system with three-band EQ, volume/gain control, onboard tuner and low-battery light.
Ovation was the first company to design acoustic guitars specifically for amplified stage use, and its pickups and preamps are still standard-bearers in the guitar business to this day, so you know the CE is ready to perform for as long as you are.
Styling is full-on classic Ovation, too, with a beautiful gloss black finish, multi-wood epaulets overlaying the soundholes and black body binding.
Like some of the other instruments discussed today, the CE44-5 is a real looker and will grant you large amounts of rockstar swag under the lights.
If getting noticed matters to you, one of these should be a serious consideration.
Here’s a quick video preview to whet your appetite!
Acoustic/Electric vs. Acoustic
The decision to buy an acoustic/electric or an unamplified acoustic guitar is largely personal and depends upon a handful of factors.
Those factors are your playing level, what you intend to do with your new guitar and, of course, your budget.
The first big thing to realize is that no amplified acoustic is a true entry-level guitar.
You don't need an onboard pickup and preamp to slog out the first year or two of your guitar career.
If guitar playing is something new to you, so new that you might not be sure if you’ll still be doing it a year from now, spending the extra money to get an acoustic/electric probably isn’t necessary.
You’ll do better investing that cash in lessons, study materials and concert tickets.
A real starter acoustic is nothing but six strings and a box of air.
If you're a newbie and want to get going in a low-pressure kind of way, a straightforward acoustic guitar will be more than fine.
Pick Ups Take The Guitar Up a Notch
An acoustic/electric guitar is a step up from a beginner’s model because it assumes you’re thinking about performing already.
A pickup and preamp outfit makes little sense anywhere but the stage.
It isn’t needed for home playing and practicing, nor is it the preferred way to record an acoustic guitar.
When you’ve done a few gigs, you’ll appreciate what a properly-equipped acoustic/electric adds to your life.
The ability to control your volume and equalization is huge, particularly for those who might be more accustomed to gigging on electric guitar, and the onboard tuner that many of these guitars now include in the preamp eliminates having to carry around a separate one.
If you’re already playing and performing, a solid acoustic/electric is an important part of your working collection.
You should have at least one.
Test the Guitar Unplugged and Plugged in!
When shopping, make it a point to plug each guitar into an acoustic amp and evaluate the electronics.
This is the sound your audience is going to hear, and it's a good idea to get the best-sounding pickup system you can.
Better pickup systems will give you a more natural and clear amplified sound and the ability to tailor your tone to the situation at hand.
Lesser pickups will make the dreaded piezo “quack” a permanent part of your tone and won’t give you the natural sound you want.
This, for many of us, is where budgetary concerns rear their often-ugly heads.
When shopping, you have to compare guitars in the same price range.
Sure the $3000 Taylor sounds better than the $300 Epiphone.
It’s supposed to.
There are concrete differences in materials, construction, country of origin and electronics in those instruments that make this an apples-and-oranges comparison.
The only valid comparisons are between similarly-priced guitars because each is the other’s direct competition for your dollar.
Figure out your budget first, then hunt guitars that fit it and split hairs to your heart’s content.
Do your best to determine if your new instrument will be a stage partner, a knockabout campfire guitar, a practicing device or a studio worker and use that information to end up with the proper guitar for you.
Non-Electric Acoustics Aren't Always Beginner Guitars
You should also know that all non-electrified acoustic guitars are not meant for beginners.
Higher-end acoustic guitars are amazing things, guitars made with the purest and the recording studio in mind.
They’re miracles of math, physics, and woodworking skills, guitars that create beautiful music from a pile of wood and some wire and are spiritual kin to fine orchestral instruments like violins and cellos.
You'll never get a better-recorded tone than putting one of these exemplary guitars in front of the proper microphones and giving it all you've got.
One of these can also transform a couple hours of free time and a cup of coffee into a peak experience.
Expensive, handmade and non-amplified guitars aren't for everyone, and they certainly aren't intended to be your companion at Open Mic Night or on a punk rock tour.
Think of them as fine wines meant for fine situations and you’ll begin to understand their appeal.
More Expensive Doesn't Always Equal Better
A solid bit of general advice about buying guitars is that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The best guitar is the one that feels best to you, and that sounds the way you want it to sound.
It’s very easy to end up fantasizing about elaborate inlay work, exotic woods and limited editions but none of that will make a guitar play or sound better.
Those things are about ornamentation, status and collectibility.
Your goal as a guitarist isn’t to own the most costly guitar ever made.
It's to find an instrument or two that you connect with, guitars that feel like extensions of your hands, and to make music with them, for others or just for yourself.
Yes, sometimes those may be pricey guitars, but they're just as often guitars of more modest stature.
We're living in a new Golden Era of guitar making, and the amount of quality instruments available at all price points has never been greater.
No matter what you want to spend, you’ll find a guitar to fall in love with if you keep looking.
Go for the ones that make you smile right away when you start playing them.
Those are always the ones you end up keeping for years and years, even as other guitars come and go.
You’ll know when you find the ones where playing becomes effortless and uplifting.
Those are the guitars we’re all looking for and trying to keep.
Buying guitars actually to play, not to collect, requires using your brain and heart in equal measure.
You want an ax that lights you up, but that also fits the playing scenarios you find yourself in most frequently.
Your guitar should sound good, play well and make you feel cool when you play it.
Any guitar that can do all of that is a bargain at any price.
I hope you learned a lot about acoustic/electric guitars from our discussion today on the best acoustic electric guitar for the money!
Hopefully, now have a better idea of which one is right for you than you did before we hung out.
Get yourself the best instrument you can afford, have a pro setup done to dial it in and start making music.
Never lose sight of the fact that your playing is what counts, not what guitar you’re using.
See you again soon with another article and more advice about becoming the best guitarist you can be.