Parent article: Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners
Updated by Bobby
Recently updated on December 15th, 2020
Removed Ibanez AEG12IINT since it is no longer available. Also updated acoustic guitar links to Sweetwater.
BEST ACOUSTIC GUITAR with a Pickup: Our Top Pick
Martin LX1E Little Martin with Fishman Sonitone Pickup
Even without electronics, the Little Martin is an excellent mid-range acoustic. With the pickup and preamp installed, it's a high-value choice that's perfect for performance and recording.
Before we get into specific recommendations, I think it's important to talk about what we mean (and don't mean) by a "pickup" in the context of an acoustic-electric guitar.
We aren't talking about a sound hole pickup.
Those are typically not included with an acoustic guitar and must be purchased separately. What I am talking about is a preinstalled pickup in the interior of the acoustic guitar's body.
These pickups are coupled with a preamp and allow you to plug your acoustic guitar in with an instrument cable.
A preinstalled pickup in the interior of the acoustic guitar's body.
This is what we call an acoustic-electric guitar.
The nicest acoustic guitars with a pickup system should have them already in place and ready to go, out of the box. These guitars should include at least the following components:
- TRS output jack (instrument cable connection)
- Onboard Preamp (usually with a gain and three-band EQ controls)
- Pickup installed inside the acoustic guitar's body
Most pre-installed acoustic guitar pickups that are paired with a preamp will require a 9V battery to run.
These can usually be installed just inside the sound hole.
Other spots are next to the external cable attachment, like we see in my Taylor 114 in the following photo:
To make selections for this roundup, we avoided all acoustic guitars that did not have an electric system in place.
We also targeted popular models that were high value and avoided more expensive acoustic guitars, instead aiming for those that were mid to upper-tier and provided a solid pickup and preamp.
If you don't want to limit yourself to acoustics with a pickup installed, checkout our best overall acoustic guitar list with reviews and ratings.
Here are the guitars we ended up recommending for this roundup:
Best Acoustic Guitars with a Pickup Preinstalled: Our Top 5 Choices
In this table we've listed five recommendations for this article, and linked to our partner Sweetwater to provide access to great musical instruments at no extra cost to you.
We recommend them because we ourselves shop there, but if you use our orange buttons to buy your gear we may earn a commission that helps keep our site guitar.
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Martin LX1E (with Fishman Sonitone System)
Taylor 214ce Grand Auditorium
Ovation Applause Acoustic Electric (AE44II)
Yamaha APXT2 3/4
Martin LX1E Little Martin with Fishman Sonitone Pickup
For a while now - and before I knew Ed Sheeran played one - I've been a fan of these small Martins.
They sound great and are easy to play, perfect for jamming or bedroom practice.
But, since the LX1E adds a Fishman Sonitone pickup system, it's also a great solution for performing. I'm currently considering picking one up for leading worship at my church, since the Taylor 114ce, my current acoustic guitar, just feels bulky at times.
Here's a diagram of how the Fishman Sonitone pickup system is set up:
Volume and tone knobs are directly inside the soundhole.
If you want the smaller feel of these Martins, the Fishman pickup is a solid choice for interior electronics.
It will let you plug into a PA system or mixer for whatever performing or recording you might be tasked with.
Here's a closer look at the controls:
It's also a great price point for a mid to high-level acoustic-electric guitar.
Per the Martin style, there's a decent amount of thickness and bass in the natural EQ of this guitar. It definitely gets brighter and more crisp on the higher frets, but handles well as either a treble-focused melodic acoustic or a strumming, rhythm-friendly option.
The solid piece of Sitka Spruce used for the guitar's top helps maintain a warmer tone profile as well.
IDEAL FOR: Recording, performance, and simple practice. The whole deal.
Taylor 214ce Acoustic-Electric
I've owned the Taylor 114ce for over five years (at the time of writing this), which is similar to the 214 model. In the 214 you have a piezo pickup system via the Taylor ES-2 Expression System.
This is Taylor's own patented take on the piezo pickup, which uses an under-the-saddle pickup system to absorb the natural vibrations of the guitar (more on piezo pickups later).
This signal can then be controlled at the preamp stage with the following knobs:
- Overall volume (gain)
It's a simple preamp, but an easy out-of-the-box acoustic pickup solution. The only thing you'll need to do is change the battery every once in a while. Note that there's no battery life indicator, which is a little inconvenient.
You just have to guess as to when it needs changed, or wait for it to stop working when plugged in.
But, overall, it's a fantastic guitar.
Not unlike other Taylor acoustics, the 214ce is pricey, but well worth the investment if you're looking for a high-end acoustic guitar with a pickup already installed.
The concert style body types on Taylor acoustics are going to have a brighter tone response that makes it less of a strumming acoustic. They're kind of the opposite of what you get with Martins, which tend to have a warmer, more full-bodied tone.
Most Taylor's are going to be best-suited for melodic playing styles and what would be considered "lead" acoustic guitar.
IDEAL FOR: Performance, recording, and melodic styles
This model from Yamaha has a few different variations to consider. First, there are two different body types to choose from:
Then, you have an acoustic and an acoustic-electric version:
- Acoustic only (FS800)
- Acoustic-electric (FSX800C)
If the preamp and pickup system is what's important to you, make sure you target the FSX800C as opposed to the FS800. This has the pickup installed and the System 66 preamp with a piezo pickup and three-band EQ. For an acoustic guitar that doesn't break $300, it's a rich feature list and stellar pickup system.
There's also a tuner built into the preamp.
From a tone perspective, these play similar to the Taylor 214s, especially the concert body type.
Like the Taylors, you'll get a bit more of a crisp tone response, though the dreadnought Yamaha bodies tend to sound a bit warmer than the Taylor dreadnoughts. It also boasts the same solid Sitka Spruce top that we see on the 214 Taylors.
Getting any solid parts in a sub-$500 acoustic is great value.
If you aren't wanting to spend a ton of money, it gets you the pickup and preamp at a budget-friendly price, so we love this model for beginners and any situation where you want to plug in an acoustic without breaking the bank.
IDEAL FOR: Budgets, high-value
Ovation Applause (mid-range version - AE44II)
Unplugged, the Applause leans more towards a bright EQ with a crisp finish that emphasizes pick scraping.
But amplified, the onboard three-band EQ actually responds really well to tone shaping and varying settings. I especially like it in a recording context, because it seems to sound really nice and "correct" no matter what frequency you're emphasizing.
Parts and Build
While the top is made of Spruce, it's not a solid piece. Ovation calls it "layered" to avoid using the dreaded laminate buzzword.
But it's laminate all the same.
Considering the sub-$300 price tag, I wouldn't fault Ovation for this, but I'd love to see them pull it off since Yamaha manages a solid top in the FS800.
I love the aesthetics and the unique sound hole design, which is probably the most memorable part of this guitar. Your Ovation-brand pickup is installed underneath the bridge which feeds to the preamp system on top of the body. This gives you access to the following tools:
- Three-band EQ
- Battery indicator
As I mentioned, the EQ movement is exceptionally good, making the guitar better (in my opinion) on the plugged-in side.
I'd recommend it to those in search of a cheap acoustic recording companion, or perhaps someone who just wants to record basic acoustic tracks in a low-budget environment.
Getting that much versatility at this price is a treat, so it's hard not to like the Applause even if it is a mid to low-range acoustic.
IDEAL FOR: Pro-level recording
What's the difference between the pickup and preamp?
We're talking about two different components when dealing with acoustic-electric guitars and pre-installed acoustic pickups.
In this system, sound is captured by the pickup and amplified by the powered preamp.
Start to finish, this is the resulting path of your acoustic's signal:
- Vibrations originate in the body of the guitar
- These vibrations are picked up by an acoustic pickup or piezo pickup system
- Sound is processed by the preamp
- Resulting audio is outputted through the instrument (TRS) cable
When you look at it this way, it's actually the preamp that handles the biggest share of the workload as opposed to the pickup. However, both components need to be present.
What is a Piezo pickup?
I mentioned a couple of these guitars use what's called a "Piezo" pickup, sometimes under the acoustic guitar's saddle. These pickups differ from a traditional guitar pickup in the sense that they don't use magnets.
Instead, they're installed directly on the bridge and transmit vibrations directly from the physical movement of the guitar.
This is why the bridge is the best place for it.
It's also a particularly good option for acoustic guitars, since it's much harder to configure an acoustic with a traditional magnetic pickup.
For more information, I'd recommend checking out ESP Guitar's article on piezo pickups.
Do all acoustic guitar pickups need batteries?
As I mentioned earlier, if an acoustic guitar has an onboard preamp it's going to need a battery to work.
This is because you're essentially running a small guitar pedal that's built into your acoustic guitar's body. In other words, it's not just a pickup or a tone and volume control, but the preamp itself that requires power.
Piezo pickups don't require a battery unless they're run through a preamp, which they usually are. If not, you can use such an acoustic-electric without having to worry about a battery.
However, the problem then becomes controlling your sound.
Unlike electric guitars, acoustic-electrics have no way of controlling volume or output without a preamp.
It's a crucial part of the setup, which means most will need a battery to work.
What is the best acoustic guitar pickup?
If your acoustic guitar has no electronics in it, you can still set it up for amplification with a sound hole acoustic pickup. For my recommendations, checkout this roundup of best acoustic guitar pickup recommendations.
They're all easy install solutions that just fit into an acoustic guitar's sound hole, allowing you to easily plug your acoustic in.
Is it better to just mic my acoustic?
In my experience, mic'ing an acoustic guitar is never worth the effort. For professional sound and audio technicians, it can certainly be done. But it's an expensive option that's harder to get "right" for the average player.
I've also found that a microphone on an acoustic guitar doesn't sound quite as good as most pickup and preamp systems.
There's also the issue of moving around with your guitar when it needs to be near a mic.
It only really works in the studio when you're playing in a still, seated position. Even then, small movements can throw off the recording and the final result.
I've never advised it, at least not before a good acoustic-electric pickup system.
What about an acoustic guitar pedal preamp?
If you're in either of the following two situations:
- You have an onboard acoustic preamp but simply want more tone control
- You only have a sound hole or piezo pickup without any preamp
Adding a preamp in pedal form might be your most ideal option.
The best preamps for acoustic guitar almost always come in pedal form, particularly from L.R. Baggs and BBE. If you want to see the preamp I most often recommend, checkout my full L.R. Baggs Venue DI review.
The page linked above covers a fuller and more comprehensive list of acoustic preamp and pedal options.
I've recommended these acoustics based on the following factors:
- They have the primary feature that we're focusing on in this article (an onboard pickup and preamp system)
- They're reasonably budget friendly
- They're some of the best in terms of additional quality features, beyond just having a pickup and being affordable
Now, does this mean there are no other options worth looking at?
Of course not.
What I've listed gives you a high degree of value and a happy medium between cost and quality.
There are entire acoustic guitar brands - let alone specific models - that I could recommend in addition to what we've already seen here. I've yet to mention Guild, Breedlove, or Seagull, three excellent acoustic brands.
However, I'm willing to say that what I've listed gives you a high degree of value and a happy medium between cost and quality.
Your Questions and Comments
If you have questions about the acoustics listed here, preamps, or acoustic pickups, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I'll check it out.
Additionally, if you'd like to recommend other acoustic guitars with pickups included, share those as well.
I'll see you there.