How to Make an Acoustic Guitar Electric (or Acoustic-Electric)

Updated on by Dedrich Schafer | There may be affiliate links on this page.

Many guitarists, at some point, start their performing careers by playing solo acoustic shows at bars or restaurants.

But to do this, you need an acoustic that’s louder than bedroom volume. And buying a new instrument isn’t really an option at the moment.

There are fortunately many ways to turn an acoustic into an acoustic-electric.

We can either use attachable pickups that we can easily remove again if we need to, or install one permanently. Let’s go over our ‘temporary’ options first.

Soundhole Pickups

The easiest way of turning an acoustic into an electro-acoustic is with a soundhole pickup. They are also quite cheap like this Fishman Neo-D, for example.

Placed just behind the strings in the soundhole, they’re very easy to install.

They function much the same as electric guitar pickups, using magnets to convert the vibrations of the strings into an electric signal.

This also means that soundhole pickups produce a similar sound, making them perfect for a more aggressive and ‘electric’ sound.

Under-Saddle Pickups

Placed under the bridge saddle, these pickups sense the string vibrations through the bridge.

These are ideal for fingerstyle players because they don’t produce a lot of feedback.

Much like soundhole pickups, under-saddle pickups are easy to install. The only downside is that they are a bit more expensive.

The Fishman Matrix Infinity has both volume and tone control though, making it a good choice if you want versatility.

Soundboard Transducers

These pickups are a great option if you need something small and easy to install and remove.

They can be placed either on the outside of the guitar, just behind the bridge, or inside if you don’t want the pickup to be visible. They are also a great budget option and the Dean Markley 3001 would be a good choice.

The biggest downside is that they don’t really produce a ton of sound. This means that you won’t be rocking out any venues larger than a cafe, unfortunately.

Internal Microphones

Of all the ‘temporary’ solutions, internal microphones are possibly the best when it comes to sound quality.

They’re mounted on the inside of the guitar body and as a result, pick up the widest range of frequencies. This is because they pick up vibrations from a large area of the instrument compared to other pickup types.

They are, however, the most expensive option. You might also need to do extra mounting work with internal microphones.

This LR Baggs Lyric doesn’t have an output jack that you can just attach to the guitar’s body. You will need to remove the strap hook at the bottom of the guitar and route the output jack through there.

Even though internal jacks are more expensive and trickier to mount, they are the best choice when it comes to sound.

Preamps

This brings us to the ‘permanent’ option, preamps.

Preamps allow you to have better control over the volume and EQ of your guitar.

For this same reason, they are also great when combined with one of the pickup types. With a preamp, you can get even more out of the sound of the pickup you’re using.

Preamps are, however, much more expensive and difficult to install.

To do this, you’ll also have to cut a hole into the body at the top of the guitar. We need this hole to be able to reach the controls on the preamp.

Let’s go over how to mount a preamp.

What You’ll Need

The first thing you’ll need is, of course, a preamp.

There are many types of preamps, with varying features and controls. I like this Fishman Presys+ because it’s nice and small and has a built-in tuner.

Tools

To make the mounting hole in the guitar body you’ll need:

  • Dremel or similar cutting tool
  • Drill with 1/16-inch drill bit
  • Masking tape
  • Sandpaper or small file
  • Marker
  • Phillips head screw driver

Now that we have our tools, let’s go through the steps for making the holes. Remember to take your time and work carefully.

Step 1

The first step is to attach the piezo element of the preamp to the underside of the saddle.

You’ll need to drill a small hole at the end of the saddle trench to be able to fit the element through.

Make sure to file the saddle down about 1-2mm as the element will raise it about as much. This is to ensure that your guitar’s action isn’t affected.

Step 2

The best place for the preamp is at the top (or left side when facing the front) of the guitar. As close to where the body curves toward the neck as possible.

This will put it in a comfortable spot while playing.

You can also cut a small hole at the bottom of the guitar for the output jack if you want it in a separate spot from the strap hook.

Place some masking tape over the areas you’re going to cut. This is to protect the wood while drilling and cutting.

Step 3

Mark out the size and shape of the area to cut using the preamp as a template.

Make sure that your template is narrower than the actual preamp or else you won’t be able to mount it to the body.

Do the same if you’re making a hole for the output jack as well.

Step 4

Using the Dremel or saw you’re using, cut out the template.

After you’ve made a hole, try placing the preamp into the body from the outside.

You might notice that won’t fit completely. Use some sandpaper or a file to slowly file away the inside of the hole to make it wider.

Keep checking the fit of the preamp while filing the hole. We want the preamp to sit snuggly to prevent it from moving around or falling in.

We also want to leave enough wood as we still need to drill holes for our mounting screws.

Step 5

With the preamp still sitting in the hole, mark out the placement for each of the mounting screws.

Remove the preamp and drill the holes for the screws.

Step 6

Before installing the preamp, make sure all of the wires are connected and that the preamp is working.

Step 7

Now we can feed the output jack and the preamp through the hole into the guitar.

Fasten the mounting screws, making sure the preamp is sitting nice and tight.

Guide the output jack to its hole and fasten it.

Step 8

Now that the preamp is installed, we can test it again to make sure everything is working.

In Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve now transformed your acoustic into an acoustic-electric.

Converting your guitar shouldn’t take more than a few hours and can be quite rewarding.

If DIY isn’t your thing or it seems a bit scary, remember that there are other options, including taking your guitar to a pro, that can easily reduce your headache.

About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitarist, sound engineer and writer. He grew up on classic 90’s and 2000’s rock and punk like Nirvana and Blink-182, but can never resist a good acoustic ballad or a catchy hip hop tune.

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