Can acoustic guitars be plugged into amps? To answer that question, we first need to establish what is meant by the term "amps." In the context that we're working with (and I believe the context of most who ask this question), "amps" refers to acoustic amplifiers, PA systems, and mixing consoles. If that's what you're plugging into, the answer is yes - you can plug acoustic guitars into amps, provided your acoustic guitar fits one of the following criteria:
- Contains an onboard pickup and preamp
- Contains a built-in microphone with an instrument jack
- Is equipped with a sound hole pickup
- Is properly mic'd with a condenser or dynamic instrument microphone
In order for an acoustic guitar to be amplified in any capacity, one of these four scenarios must be met. An acoustic guitar without its own pickup and preamp system must have some kind of an external mechanism setup to pickup the vibrations of the strings. This is usually a microphone or a sound hole pickup of some kind. If your acoustic doesn't have any of these things, it cannot be amplified, simply because it cannot be plugged in.
Read more: Best acoustic guitars overall
How to Tell
The simplest way to tell is to look at the specs sheet provided by the manufacturer. If an acoustic guitar has a pickup and preamp system, it'll be listed as a primary feature and they'll likely list the guitar as "acoustic-electric." You should also be able to see pictures of the preamp or control knobs on the outside of the acoustic guitar's body, like on my Taylor 114ce below:
The instrument jack is often harder to see, but will frequently show up in the same spot where you attach the guitar strap, near the bottom of the guitar. By locating one of either the preamp or the instrument jack, you can confirm that the acoustic guitar can be plugged in.
What if I already have an acoustic without these connections?
If you've already got an acoustic guitar on hand that isn't equipped with any kind of pickup or preamp, you can still set it up to be plugged in. You'll just need to spend some money on it. In this scenario you're left with two options:
- An external microphone
- A removable sound hole pickup
While these activities are outside the scope of this article, here are a couple of resources I'd recommend if you're interested in either of the two approaches:
Can you plug an acoustic guitar into an electric guitar amp?
I've noticed a handful of websites that claim you can plug an acoustic guitar into an electric amp. While this is technically true, I've found - by personal experience - that it's rarely a good idea. The problem is that electric guitar amps, even when played clean, tend to push an acoustic signal way too hard, even when turned down.
You'll have too much gain which will really easily create feedback and unwanted noise. Overall, it makes for a volatile setup.
Using a soundhole cover on your acoustic can help. Still, an electric guitar amp is not something I would advise for an acoustic guitar. Acoustic amps are a vastly better option because they have tools that allow you to control noise like notch filters, noise gates, and anti-feedback dials.
As you would expect, they're a more functional and better-sounding amp pairing for your acoustic guitar. To summarize my answer, acoustic guitars can definitely be plugged into amps provided one of the following criteria have been met:
- An onboard preamp and pickup
- An installed soundhole pickup
- Proper acoustic mic setup
Then, the term "amp" could refer to any of the following:
- An acoustic amp
- PA system
- Mixing board
In order to amplify an acoustic guitar, it pays to have the right technology in place, regardless of which method you go with. Once you do have the right setup, an amplified acoustic provides a ton of flexibility and variety that you wouldn't have otherwise.
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