Choosing Between Acoustic and Acoustic Electric Ukuleles

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Anyone who plays an acoustic instrument has come across the curious “acoustic electric” model at least once. These models might seem like an oxymoron (how can it be acoustic and electric at the same time?) but are actually an incredibly interesting variant that brings a lot of unique advantages to any musician. When it comes to ukuleles, you might be wondering if an acoustic electric is the right choice for you. If so, read on to learn more about what the name actually means, as well as a few additional points to consider to help you figure out if it’s really the right instrument for your needs.

Understanding the Difference

An acoustic ukulele can refer to any of the several different styles of ukuleles, from soprano to baritone, since it simply means that it relies only on its own construction to amplify the sound. Acoustic ukuleles, just like acoustic guitars, have a hollow body and a sound hole that captures the vibrations of the strings in order to project the sound outward. The original ukuleles were acoustic instruments, which is why you almost never see the term “acoustic ukulele” used to describe a model.

An acoustic electric ukulele is an acoustic ukulele with a built-in electronic component, called the electronics, that allows it connect to an external amplifier to project the sound. It’s called an “acoustic electric” instrument because you can still play it without an amplifier (usually shortened to “amp”) and still hear its sound perfectly fine. There are several unique benefits to having the electronics built into the body of the instrument, but in most cases they apply to specific situations. In almost every case, you’re not going to experience any difference in overall sound between an acoustic and an acoustic electric ukulele.

Live Performance

One of the biggest benefits of owning an acoustic electric ukulele comes up for anyone that plays live, whether it’s a simple coffee shop performance or on stage at a fully-equipped venue. When you play live, you need a way to capture the sounds of your instrument so that you can project them into the room and allow everyone to hear. Electric instruments plug right into amps, making it a very simple process. Acoustic instruments are more complicated.

The traditional way to capture the sound of an acoustic instrument is through a process known as miking, which involves placing a microphone right in front of the ukulele. This setup doesn’t always work for musicians, as it can limit your ability to move around the stage; as well, it can pick up all kinds of extra background noise that muddles the sound of the ukulele. An acoustic electric ukulele has the electronic components to connect to an amp built in, so all you need to do is plug a cable from the ukulele the amp and you can capture the sound without any extra fuss.

Studio Recording

Many musicians also turn to acoustic electric ukuleles for studio recording. The same electronics that allow you to plug the ukulele into an amp also allow you to plug it directly into a recording device, which includes computers. Since you can run an uninterrupted line straight from the ukulele to the recording device, you can capture a clear sound that is free of background noise and ambient static or feedback. It’s also possible to run a line from the amp to the recording device, so you can capture the amp’s tone and effects as well.

And acoustic electric ukulele is also useful for in-home recording because the direct line means you don’t have to set up a microphone in front of the ukulele to capture the sound, and so can avoid picking up background noise just like with a stage performance. Most home studios don’t have the same soundproofing that professional studios have, which means that microphones can also pick up unnecessary echoes and reverberations that will make the final recording sound hollow and unclear, or cause other issues.

Cost and Other Factors

Even though an acoustic electric ukulele can provide a lot of benefits for musicians during a live performance or recording session, there are also some other important aspects to take into account. The presence of the electronics is going to increase the cost of the ukulele, with different models ranging pretty significantly compared to full acoustic instruments. These ukuleles are also going to be heavier, which can make it harder to adjust to playing if you’re used to using an acoustic model.

Another factor to consider is that an acoustic electric model is going to cost more to repair if the electronics malfunction. If you’re still learning how to play the ukulele, or relatively new to music, the tone controls on the body can also become confusing and make it harder to focus on the basics as you learn.

The Final Decision

Making the call on which style of ukulele to purchase is really going to come down to how you plan on using it. If you’re going to do a lot of recording or performing, then an acoustic electric can save you a lot of time, work, and trouble. You won’t have to deal with external miking, and you’ll have more options when it comes to creating your final sound. However, if you don’t plan on playing live or making your own recordings, then it’s definitely not a necessity. Take a look at your budget and think about how you plan to play, and you’ll be able to figure out if an acoustic electric is right for you.