An acoustic-electric guitar has the sound of an acoustic guitar, but with amplification. After that basic description, the sky is the limit. Some acoustic-electrics are literally acoustic guitars with a microphone on them. Others involve piezoelectric pickups (which require a pre-amplifier). Still others are more like electric guitars with some sort of sound chamber within the body of the guitar. There are several acoustic-electric guitars considered excellent that represent a variety of styles and price ranges.
Paul Reed Smith Tonare Grand - Street Price: $5000
Paul Reed Smith (also known as PRS) is one of the country's premiere boutique guitar makers. One notable endorser of PRS guitars, according to the company, is Carlos Santana. Others include Al Di Meola, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Mark Tremonti, Orianthi and Dave Navarro.
The PRS Tonare Grand is simply one of the best guitars made. At $5000 (minimum street price), this instrument is not for the casual player or beginner. Bestcovery, which rated the Paul Reed Smith Tonare Grand acoustic guitar the "Best High End Acoustic Electric," said, "This is a serious instrument, meant for serious players."
As with all high-end instruments, the thing that sets the Tonare Grand apart is the depth and quality of its tone. It does not suffer from distortion and has a balanced sound throughout its range. Acoustic artist and Grammy award winner Ricky Skaggs along with luthier Steve Fischer spent four years developing the Tonare Grand which features an Adirondack spruce top, Cocobola back and sides, and a Cocobola fretboard, typically found on high-end guitars. The neck is constructed from Peruvian mahogany with tuners designed exclusively for PRS by Keith Robson.
Doug Young, contributing editor with Acoustic Guitar magazine, posted an informative in-depth video review of this model when it first came out in 2009. The review includes Young playing the Tonare Grand with a flat pick, strumming, and in finger picking style - demonstrating that the instrument is as musically versatile as it is beautiful.
Paul Reed Smith SE Angelus Custom - Street Price: $800
The PRS SE Angelus Custom, priced at less than one-sixth the cost of the PRS Tonare Grand, is marketed as an "affordable alternative" to pricier U.S. made PRS guitars. At $800 (average street price), the Angelus Custom is still very much a professional level guitar. Guitarist and reviewer Mick Taylor of Music Radar raved at length about the unique hybrid bracing which combines standard steel-string X-bracing with fan bracing as you see in nylon-string classical guitars.
The SE Angelus Custom features a solid Sitka spruce top, rosewood back, rosewood sides, and an ebony fingerboard. These are all components of a top end guitar. The instrument, like others in the PRS line, is well-known for its strong volume, clear bass, and balanced sound.
In addition to other features of the Tonare Grand, the SE Angelus Custom also includes hand-tooled Keith Robson tuners. In short, it is difficult to tell the difference between the Tonare Grand and the Angelus Custom. One distinction is "country of origin." The Tonare Grand is hand crafted in the U.S. The Angelus Custom is made in Korea, a difference that does matter to the most discerning of musicians.
Composer/songwriter, Paul Glover's review below provides an excellent opportunity to hear this instrument as well as a great discussion of its many strengths.
LÂG Tramontane T200ACE - Street Price: $600
Moving a little further down the pricing scale, the Lâg Tramontane T200ACE is still an exceptional musical instrument. Due to its strong, almost brash sound, however, the T200 ACE may not be suitable for smooth jazz or guitar players who prefer a more subdued sound.
The instrument is light and has a very playable neck that is easy and comfortable to hold. Sound-wise the T200ACE has great projection. Going from loud to soft can be accomplished by easing up on pick or finger attack although, as mentioned above, a truly muted or soft sound is not part of the T200's package.
Some players may not be thrilled with the factory pre-sets on the included STUDIOLÂG preamp but, in general, they are probably what most musicians would prefer anyway.
Guitar World's video review describes the instrument as a "high quality mid-level acoustic entry," another way of saying the LAG Tramontaine T200ACE represents a great buy for the money.
Gretsch G5022CE Rancher - Street Price: $500
The Gretsch G5022CE Rancher is a Jumbo style guitar and, as such, requires some getting used to compared with smaller instruments. The enhanced sound, however, especially for under $500, may make it all worthwhile.
Despite its Jumbo size, the G5022CE's cut-away style enables the player to access the higher frets surprisingly well. The instrument has a high quality Fishman Isys+ preamp and produces balanced sound throughout its range, especially when played with a pick.
Among major musicians who favor (or favored) Gretsch acoustic electrics are Brian Setzer, Reverend Horton Heat, and the late Chet Atkins.
The following video review provides an in-depth look at this mid-level instrument, including an opportunity to hear the big sound a true Jumbo acoustic electric makes.
Ibanez Performance PF28ECE - Street Price: $300
The Ibanez Performance PF28ECE is proof positive, according to Guitar Player Magazine, that a guitar made from laminated woods can sound great. This cutaway dreadnought has a street price of under $300, making it a steal among better sounding instruments.
The magazine gave the guitar an "Editors' Pick Award" for its quality construction, big and clear sound, and surprisingly professional-sounding SST preamp and Fishman Sonicore pickup. In addition, the unique Shape slider allows for precision control of the instrument's midrange and helps eliminate feedback or distorted sound.
The SST preamp also features phase reverse for feedback reduction. A balanced XLR jack, in addition to the standard 1/4" output allows for direct connection to a PA system and is a unique feature.
Steve Vai, an accomplished professional solo player is an Ibanez player and even has his own line, including an acoustic model. Other Ibanez musician celebrities include Joe Satriani, Andy Timmons, Terry Balsamo, Adam Blackstone, and Mike DeWolf.
Ovation Applause AE128-RR - Street Price: $200
Bestcovery rated the Applause AE128-RR Acoustic Electric Guitar by Ovation as the "Best Budget Acoustic Electric Guitar," and for good reason. Ovation is a solid name in guitars and the Applause model just might be the perfect entry guitar for a beginner.
It features a natural finish that looks great and produces excellent sound. The guitar is easy to handle and play. It comes with an OP-4B preamp, which includes a three-band EQ (+/- up to 12 dB). One important note - the instrument features treble, bass, and mid-range controls. Most low-cost models only have bass and treble.
Finally, the AE128-RR even has a status light for the battery. This video review features the guitar being put through its paces and clearly demonstrates the instrument's quality sound. This is an exceptional musical instrument for the price.
Due to the vast variety in construction styles and price ranges for acoustic electric guitars, personal taste will ultimately be a major deciding factor. The instruments listed here have been evaluated by professionals and deemed award winners. That does not mean each of them would be perfect for you. If the adage "try before you buy" ever had meaning, it does when considering the purchase of a musical instrument - and that includes an acoustic electric guitar.