Acoustic vs Electro Acoustic Guitar: 5 Main Differences

There are many different types of guitars. 

The most popular ones you can play are electric, acoustic, or electro-acoustic. 

Naturally, each type has its unique characteristics. 

Depending on where we place the focal point, these characteristics will be either advantages or disadvantages. 

Of course, these depend on the context and the player’s expectations. 

Now, most people clearly identify the differences between an electric guitar and an acoustic one. 

But, does everyone know the difference between an acoustic and an electro-acoustic guitar? 

The main difference between an acoustic and an electro-acoustic guitar is that the latter can be plugged into an amp to modify its tone and volume. Also, electro-acoustics tend to be more expensive than acoustics. All in all, electro-acoustics are more suitable for live performances as well. 

These are merely the tip of the iceberg. 

There are more differences (and similarities) between these two guitar types. 

Let’s find them all out!

1. Amplification 

One of the focal points regarding acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars is the way they’re amplified. 

To be more precise, electro-acoustics are called that way because, as the name implies, they can be connected through an electrical amplifier. 

Their structure includes a jack output to plug a guitar cable into, (then plug it again into the amp) and pickups that absorb the guitar string’s vibrations.  

That way, you get an acoustic sound, but amplified and boosted with a speaker. 

Not to mention, you also can modify the settings to achieve other results that you wouldn’t get on a regular acoustic (or an unplugged electro-acoustic). 

On the other hand, a standard acoustic guitar cannot be amplified directly into an amplifier, since it lacks both an output and the pickups. 

However, it can be amplified through a microphone pointing directly into the soundhole. 

You may also use a wireless preamp, a click-on pickup, or even install regular pickups into the acoustic. 

As you have noticed, trying to amplify an acoustic guitar is quite a challenge, and you need to invest extra money to achieve the desired results. 

2. Price 

Unsurprisingly, acoustics are cheaper than electro-acoustics. 

In general lines, acoustic guitars cost between $130-$150 (entry-level), while electro-acoustic costs $150-$200 approximately. 

Bear in mind that prices vary drastically when considering the brand, model, and other significant factors, such as whether the guitar is used or brand new, or the time you’re reading this article (prices could either decrease or increase). 

And don’t forget, if you buy an electro-acoustic with the idea of taking advantage of its function, then you’ll also need the amp. 

You may already have an amp at home or any program that emulates one on your PC or cellphone. 

But, in case you don’t, you’ll need to spend even more money on an amplifier if you intend on playing loud. 

Overall, this detail makes electro-acoustics even more expensive. 

3. Shape 

Both guitars have the same shape. 

Of course, there are always dozens of variations regarding size, but these have nothing to do with the fact that they are acoustic or electro-acoustic. 

You may find two acoustics with a relevant difference in size, and that change occurs because of the manufacturer. 

To sum it up, no guitar is bigger or smaller than the other by nature. 

These changes have to do only with the guitar model or developer company, not with the type of guitar

However, there is a relevant feature that makes size a factor to consider: sound. 

To be more precise, the size of an acoustic guitar affects the tone. That is to say, the bigger the size of an acoustic, the louder it will sound. 

This logic applies to electro-acoustic as well. 

Nonetheless, this only occurs when you play it unplugged. 

Once you plug the guitar into the amp, you can modify its sound and tone with the amplifier’s settings. 

So, we could say here that the difference regarding shape or size is more important for acoustics than for electro-acoustics. 

Otherwise, it’s impossible to boost the acoustic sound without extra gear. 

4. Sound 

You might think that both guitars have the same sound. 

After all, an unplugged electro-acoustic is nothing but an acoustic in the end. 

Well, this is, of course, true. 

However, the story is different when you plug in an electro-acoustic. 

The pickups will modify the electro-acoustic tone and volume when coming out through the speaker. 

Now, when you place a microphone in front of a regular acoustic, you cannot expect it to sound exactly like an electro-acoustic. 

Believe it or not, an acoustic in front of a microphone can actually sound “better” than an electro-acoustic. 

The reason is that the microphone perceives the entire range of frequencies, thus, generating a fuller tone. 

This is not the same as saying that an electro-acoustic has a worse sound than a regular acoustic. 

It’s just different and slightly thinner than on a standard acoustic.

This trade-off is, however, a matter of convenience.

You see, electro-acoustic pickups are designed to avoid feedback and bleed from other sound sources, while a regular microphone will just amplify everything it picks up.

5. Live Performances 

For live performances, electro-acoustic guitars will always be the go-to choice. 

Unless you have an acoustic with a wireless pre-amp, or a pickup previously installed in it, the electro-acoustic will sound better, since musicians have sharper control over its tone.  

A regular acoustic will only work out for really small venues and “unplugged” sets. There’s no chance of hearing it over a drum set, for instance.

Summary

Not only have we described the differences thoroughly, but we also created a chart with the main differences for you to remember them faster. 

FeatureAcousticElectro-Acoustic
Amplification Needs extra gear (microphone; wireless pre-amp; installed pickups)Direct connection
Sound (unplugged)Natural; rich; brightNatural; rich; bright
Sound (plugged)Bright; rich (only with a microphone), feedback and bleed issuesLouder
VersatilityNot versatile; regularQuite versatile; more control over settings 
Live PerformancesNot very suitableHighly suitable
PriceCheaper More expensive 

Similarities between acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars 

As we previously mentioned, one of the key similarities between these two types is their size. 

There is no significant difference regarding their shape and proportions. These changes occur only in regard to the model, and the manufacturer. 

Another similarity is related to their sound. When unplugged, both guitars will sound the same. 

Naturally, changes will have to do, once again, with the size, the model, and the quality of the instrument.

Other than that, both guitars sound like acoustic guitars when there is no extra gear involved. 

What’s more, acoustic and electro-acoustic arguably share playability similarities. To be more precise, one is not more difficult to handle than the other. 

In conclusion, the main similarities are: 

  • Size 
  • Sound (when not plugged in) 
  • Playability 

Which is best for beginners?

First of all, it’s worth stating that both guitars will work for beginners. 

So, if you have, let’s say, an electro-acoustic at home, there’s no need to go buy an acoustic just because it will be more suitable for starters. 

With that said, it’s recommended to begin with a regular acoustic, rather than an electro-acoustic. 

Acoustics are cheaper (especially if it’s a used instrument), and can later be converted into electro-acoustics if needed. 

Not to mention, paying more money for the characteristics of an electro-acoustic (pickups, jack output) is futile for those who are barely starting to learn guitar

For more information on this topic, we encourage you to check this article we did some time ago, where we thoroughly discuss the points mentioned before. 

Can an acoustic guitar be converted into an electro-acoustic? 

One major benefit of acoustic guitars is that they can be turned into electro-acoustics. 

Of course, this transformation requires extra money. 

However, it could be cheaper than buying an electro-acoustic. 

Turning an acoustic into an electro-acoustic requires installing some pickups to absorb the string’s vibration and convert it into a signal. 

Nonetheless, you can achieve similar results by using a wireless pre-amp. 

This is even simpler since there’s no need to modify the instrument at all.