The Best Acoustic Electric Guitars - Up to $500

Acoustic-Electric Guitars

Original photograph by Justin Higuchi, modified by Jason Horton and available under Creative Commons license.

Anyone who has ever gigged with an acoustic guitar can tell you what a lifesaver acoustic pickups are. The days where guitarists had to carefully positions their instrument in front of a microphone are long gone, because acoustic guitars have become plug and play instruments. Though, there are still a few things you’re going to want to know if you want the best acoustic electric guitar for your situation.

Contents

The Best Acoustic Electric Guitars - Arranged by Price

The Best Acoustic Electric Guitars Under $300

Yamaha APX500III

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Yamaha APX500III 6 String Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Yamaha is known in guitar playing circles as a manufacturer of so many different products (ranking 3rd on a recent list of top selling brands), but a lesser known fact about the company is that it actually began as an organ manufacturer. Though they’ve moved into other products they’ve never forgotten their legacy, hence the three interlocking tuning forks that make up their logo.

The Yamaha APX500III, while definitely an entry-level guitar, is a solid investment if you’re looking for a no-frills stage instrument. It continues to get high review ratings from experts who recommend it for its overall performance and value for money. It is equipped with a piezo pickup and an onboard preamp, both of which give you the flexibility needed to dial in a very useable acoustic tone. With its feedback resistant thin profile body, the APX500III is meant for live performance, able to handle higher volume levels when compared to conventional shapes.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: APX Thinline
  • Top: Non-solid Spruce
  • Body: Nato / Okume back & sides
  • Finish: Natural
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Nato
  • Neck Profile: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 400 mm
  • Number of Frets: 22
  • Scale Length: 25"
  • Nut Width: 1 11/16" (43 mm)
  • Electronics: Yamaha System 66

On the flip side, this thinner body limits the guitar's acoustic volume, making it less viable for unplugged jams. The use of laminated spruce and nato wood also doesn’t compare favorably to the more traditional spruce and mahogany pairing.

In summation, the Yamaha APX500II is a great fit for those of you looking for a cheap gigging or open mic guitar. If playing unplugged is an important consideration then you may want to go with a different option.

Ibanez AW54CEOPN

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Ibanez AW54CEOPN 6 String Acoustic-Electric Guitar

While generally associated with rock and metal, Ibanez has always had a great lineup of acoustic instruments.

A notable line produced by Ibanez is the Artwood series, which has combined old world craftsmanship with modern manufacturing to create some pretty solid entry-level guitars; a great example of which is the AW54CEOPN. While the Ibanez AW54CEOPN is an acoustic-electric guitar, the main focus of its design was its acoustic tone.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: Dreadnought with Cutaway
  • Top: Solid Mahogany
  • Body: Laminated Mahogany
  • Finish: Natural Open Pore
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 400 mm
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Scale Length: 25.62"
  • Nut Width: 1 11/16"
  • Electronics: Ibanez AEQ-SP2

The guitar utilizes an open pore finish, which is intended to allow the guitar to resonate more freely by minimizing the amount of finish applied to it. It’s hard to say how effective this is in practice due to the guitar’s laminated back in sides, though there doesn’t seem to be any widespread complaints about the guitar’s tone.

The Ibanez AW54CEOPN sports an active Fishman preamp and pickup system, which performs admirably for a guitar in this price tier. It’s not mind blowing by any means, but it’s definitely serviceable for small gigs and open mics. The pickup sports controls for bass, treble, and volume as well as a tuner.

Ibanez AEG10II

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 40+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Ibanez AEG10II Acoustic-Electric Guitar

The Ibanez AEG10II is a thin-bodied acoustic-electric guitar, designed with a focus on live performance as opposed to amateur recording or practice.

Thin bodied guitars, while more resistant to feedback than their larger counterparts, don’t have the breadth of tone or the volume of a full sized acoustic guitar. The cool thing about this guitar is that, like the Yamaha above, it’s one of the cheapest ways for beginning musicians to get a solid gigging instrument.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: AEG (thin)
  • Top: Laminated Spruce
  • Body: Laminated Mahogany
  • Finish: Gloss
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 400 mm
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Scale Length: 24.96”
  • Nut Width: 1 11/16" (43 mm)
  • Electronics: Ibanez AEQ-SP1 Preamp and Fishman Sonicore Pickup

When you’re just starting out you generally play in less than ideal conditions and your soundman, if one is present at all, isn’t going to be as well versed in his/her craft as someone who works in larger venues. Because the guitar is resistant to feedback and gives you the option to sculpt your tone without having to rely on a console, it will prove to be a valuable asset.

The only real selling point that the AEG10II has over the Yamaha above is that the guitar is made with a combination of laminated spruce and mahogany. It gives the guitar a slightly more traditional tone, though it will be quieter and thinner than a similarly priced dreadnought.

The Best Acoustic Electric Guitars Under $500

Epiphone Hummingbird PRO

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Epiphone Hummingbird PRO

The Gibson Hummingbird is a widely used high-end guitar, and the Epiphone is a budget minded equivalent. While the guitar is a reasonable option in its price range, if you go in with the expectation of getting a Gibson at an Epiphone price you’re going to be disappointed.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Top: Laminated Spruce
  • Body: Laminated Mahogany
  • Finish: Gloss- Faded Cherry Burst
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Slim Taper
  • Fingerboard: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard Radius: 304mm
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Nut Width: 1.68"
  • Electronics: Shadow ePerformer Preamp and Nano Flex Pickup

However, looking at the guitar on its own merits it’s really not a bad instrument. It has a bright presence with a strog bass representation, though it would likely benefit from the addition of a bone saddle and nut (according to Epiphone’s website the guitar ships with imitation bone).

The Hummingbird PRO’s electronics feature an interesting control in the form of a “Dynamics” slider. The Dynamic slider is similar to a mid-shift control in that it makes a large sweeping change while the bass and treble controls allow more subtle adjustments. The PRO’s preamp does lack a tuner, though with the wide availability of clip on tuners this isn’t a huge issue.

Epiphone Dove Pro

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Epiphone Dove Pro Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Like the Hummingbird, the Epiphone Dove Pro is a reproduction of a classic Gibson guitar. Again like the Hummingbird, don't expect to get high-end tone at an entry-level price, but do expect good tones that satisfied many - which you can enjoy without breaking the bank.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Top: Solid Spruce
  • Body: Select Maple back & sides
  • Finish: Gloss - Violin Burst
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Hard Maple
  • Neck Profile: SlimTaper "D" profile
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12"
  • Number of Frets: 20
  • Scale Length: 25.5"
  • Nut Width: 1.68"
  • Electronics: Fishman Sonicore pickup and Fishman Sonitone sound-hole preamp

Since the Hummingbird directly proceeded the Dove on this list, and because they’re so similar in price and construction, it’s worth taking the time to compare the two instruments. The main difference between the two guitars is that the Dove is a combination of maple and spruce while the Hummingbird is constructed with mahogany and spruce. Since the sides are made from laminated wood (both guitars have solid wood tops) the differences aren’t as extreme as they are in solid wood instruments. However, the Dove is noticeably brighter than the Hummingbird though not quite as full.

Another feature that separates the two instruments are the electronics. The electronics on the Dove are simpler, featuring an inner tone and volume control. You could make the case that because the preamp is less invasive it improves the Dove’s tone, though the difference isn’t noticeable.

Ovation Celebrity Elite CE44

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$469
Ovation Celebrity Elite CE44 Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Ovation guitars are interesting instruments. They abandon convention, and as such have been met with mixed results.

The guitars are generally topped with spruce, and feature bowled bodies made from a combination of glass and a proprietary resin.

Specifications:

  • Top: Solid Spruce
  • Body: Lyrachord - a proprietary material comprising interwoven layers of glass filament and bonding resin
  • Finish: Gloss Black
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Nato
  • Neck Profile: Not specified
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 10"
  • Number of Frets: 20 accessible, 24 on high E
  • Scale Length: 25.25"
  • Nut Width: 1 11/16" (43 mm)
  • Electronics: Ovation OP-4BT preamp with three-band EQ, volume/gain control, onboard tuner and low-battery light and Ovation Slim line pickup

Unplugged, Ovations have a very bright and present tone. This makes the guitars perfect for playing in an ensemble because they’re excellent for cutting through a mix. Though to be fair, they lack depth when compared to a traditional acoustic guitar. There are subtleties in the tone of this guitar that are hard to describe. It’s never going to sound like a traditional acoustic guitar, but at the same time it’s not going to sound any worse.

While the unplugged tone is polarizing, there are few musicians who have any concerns with the instruments amplified tone. Ovation has always been regarded as a quality performance guitar, and their plugged in tone has been a selling point since the brand’s inception.

However, Ovation’s do have a tendency to not hold up well over the years. The reason for this is that the wood top and the body tend to contract at different rates, which can cause the instruments top to crack. So long as you humidify the instrument you shouldn’t run into this problem, though the possibility does exist.

Seagull Entourage Rustic CW QIT

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$499
Seagull Entourage Rustic CW QIT

Seagull is considered to be one of the best manufacturers in its price range, consistently producing guitars that are of a significantly better quality than what their price point would suggest. They’re also one of the more innovative lines currently in production.

Seagull guitars are distinct from other brands both in design and materials. The guitars are slightly arched on the top, increasing their strength (which helps to prevent the top from bowling in). The trademark Seagull headstock actually serves a functional purpose by putting all of strings in line with the nut (which helps to increase tuning stability). The brand also makes an effort to use Canadian wood, mainly wild cherry and silver leaf maple.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: Dreadnought
  • Top: Solid Cedar
  • Body: Wild Cherry Back and Silver Leaf Maple Sides
  • Finish: Semi-Gloss
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Hard Maple
  • Neck Profile: Seagull Slim
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: Not Specified
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Scale Length: 24.84"
  • Nut Width: 1.72"
  • Electronics: Godin QIT

The general consensus on the tone of Seagull guitars is that they’re very warm. They have a tonality that somewhat straddles the line between a classical and steel string guitar, with the warmth of the former but the punch of the latter.

The only part of the guitar that’s underwhelming is the pickup system, which unlike the rest of the guitar is reflective of its price point. It’s not bad by any means, and the inclusion of volume, treble, and bass controls make it just as flexible as any other preamp you’d find on a guitar in this price range. It is also active, which those of you who gig regularly will appreciate.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some extra options that didn't rate highly enough to be included in the main sections above but which our Editor Jason Horton thought some of you might like to know about.

Washburn WCG18CE

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Washburn WCG18CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar

A part of Washburn’s Comfort series, the Washburn WCG18CE is unique in that the guitar has a strong focus on ergonomics.

It’s a niche that hasn’t really been serviced before when it comes to acoustic guitars, making the instrument worth a look for those of you who find standard instruments a tad uncomfortable.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: Grand Auditorium
  • Top: Laminated Spruce
  • Body: Laminated Mahogany
  • Finish: Gloss- Natural
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Not Specified
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: Not Specified
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Nut Width: 1.68"
  • Electronics: Fishman Isys+

When it comes to its unplugged tone, the Washburn WCG18CE is pretty representative of what you’d expect from a Grand Auditorium guitar. The tone is thin when compared to a dreadnought, but still relatively warm and full. The guitar features a top and belly curve, which likely lessens the volume somewhat. Though while the curves probably don’t help the tone, they don’t seem to have a huge impact.

The Fishman Isys+ (the pickup system in the guitar) seems to be relatively well received. The system features both a preamp as well as a piezo pickup, and performance wise it seems to compare favorably to any other piezo-based system.

Epiphone AJ-100CE

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
Epiphone AJ-100CE

The Epiphone AJ series is ubiquitous, and while the guitars aren’t regarded to be the best sounding instruments around, the reputation they’ve gotten isn’t reflective of their overall quality. Due to the brand’s close association with Gibson (and its own legacy) musicians compare the guitars they make to high-end instruments instead of other entry-level guitars.

Specifications:

  • Body Shape: Advanced Jumbo
  • Top: Laminated Spruce
  • Body: Laminated Mahogany
  • Finish: Gloss- Natural
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Neck Profile: Slim Taper
  • Fingerboard: Not Specified (Likely Rosewood)
  • Fingerboard Radius: Not Specified
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Nut Width: 1 11/16" (43 mm)
  • Electronics: NanoFlex Pickup

The Epiphone AJ-100CE, one of the most affordable guitars produced by the brand, is an advanced jumbo. The advanced jumbo body style is a bit bigger than a dreadnought, which gives the AJ-100CE a bit more volume and bass representation than a similarly built dreadnought.

The AJ-100CE features a passive Fishman pickup, which is marketed as being a piezo alternative that gives a better tone than your standard piezo. In practice, the difference is negligible. The pickup in the AJ-100CE performs just as well as any other passive pickup system, though keep in mind that amplifying your instrument becomes a bit more complicated when using a passive pickup.

Things to Consider When Buying an Acoustic Electric Guitar

If after reading through our recommendations you’re still not sure which guitar will work best for you, go ahead and read through the sections below.

Types of Acoustic Pickups

The main thing to remember about different types of acoustic guitar pickups is that none of them are inferior to the other, they just have different strengths and weaknesses. They’re all also available in different price tiers and levels of quality, so don’t discount any acoustic guitar pickup out of hand.

There are three types of acoustic guitar pickup: piezo, magnetic, and transducer. For ease of reading they’re laid out below.

Piezo

The term piezo refers to the use of piezoelectric crystals that transfer vibrations into a current. Piezo pickups are inexpensive to produce, and as such are the most commonly found pickup in acoustic-electric guitars. Piezo pickups generally have a bright tone and strong mid-range response, thankfully they are bundled with preamps that helps make it sound more like an unplugged acoustic guitar. While there's nothing better than a true miked acoustic tone, sound quality of piezo preamp system's have steadily been improving, which is good for both guitar players and manufacturers.

Magnetic

Contrary to popular belief, magnetic pickups are used on both acoustic guitars and electric guitars. These pickups sit in the sound hole of a guitar, so they don’t require any drilling or permanent modification. They’re also commonly an aftermarket addition (the John Lennon signature guitar is the only exception to this trend that springs to mind).

These pickups have a more metallic sound than either a piezo or a transducer pickup, though high-end models (in the neighborhood of $200 and up) generally produce a better approximation of an acoustic tone.

Transducer

Transducer pickups are considered to be the best option available if you’re looking for an authentic acoustic tone. They have a very rich and complex tone, and retain the general flavor of your guitar’s voice. The only flaw with this pickup type is that it produces more feedback than either piezo or magnetic pickups.

Active vs. Passive Pickups

Something to keep in mind when looking for pickups is that you’re going to have to choose between an active or passive pickup system. A passive system simply transfers the signal from your strings to whatever you’re using to amplify it, while an active pickup boosts your signal through the use of a battery.

A passive pickup doesn’t produce a very strong signal, which can result in a little amount of volume and an anemic tone. However, the signal can either be boosted at the p.a., your amp, or the most versatile option' via an Acoustic Preamp. Active pickups don’t require any external technology to boost, though they do require a battery, but some people still use acoustic preamps for the tone shaping and DI benefits..

Tonewoods

There’s a lot of debate surrounding tonewoods, so we’re just going to list the basic qualities of those you’re most likely to encounter.

Spruce

Spruce is the most commonly found top wood on a guitar (the side which faces out while you play). It has a bright tone that’s well suited to strumming or fingerpicking, especially when paired with mahogany.

Mahogany

Mahogany emphasizes bass and mid-range frequencies, and as a general rule has a fairly dark tone. Koa, another commonly found tonewood, is very similar to mahogany.

Rosewood

Rosewood is brighter than mahogany though not as bright as spruce. When paired with spruce the resulting tone is very bright and focused, making it well suited to lead and fingerpicking.

Cedar

Cedar is also used as a top wood, though it’s most commonly found on classical guitars. Cedar is great for mellow fingerpicking and strumming, though it’s not the best choice for more lively genres (blues and bluegrass).

Laminated vs. Solid Top

The difference between laminate and solid wood is that laminate is several thin sheets of wood glued together, while solid wood is a solid piece of wood. The glue that binds the pieces of laminate together reduces the amount that your guitar vibrates, which in turn lessens your volume and frequency production (tone). Solid wood resonates more efficiently, so instruments that use it are louder and sound better. On the flipside, laminated woods are cost effective, reliable and resilient to weather changes.

Methodology

We looked at all the acoustic-electric guitars available from major American online retailers and short--listed 73 of them for closer analysis. We then collated over 6,400 ratings and reviews from forums, videos, retailers, blogs and major music gear publications and processed those data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce a Gearank score of out 100 for each guitar. Finally we selected the highest rated guitars in the price brackets above, along with a couple of extras, to recommend above. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

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