A Guide to Hybrid Guitars: Making Electric Guitars Acoustic

Instruments using a “hybrid” concept can be traced back as far as the early 1900s when our DIY forefathers starting dropping telephone transducers into violins and banjos. In recent years, however, a new generation of hybrid guitars has emerged that offer full–tilt electric power and high–quality acoustic sounds all at the flip of a switch or turn of a pot.

Hybrid guitars are instruments that combine magnetic pickups with onboard systems made to amplify the instrument’s natural vibrations. Hybrid refers to the ability to switch between a traditional electric guitar sound and an amplified acoustic tone.

The acoustic amplification is most often achieved using piezo pickups housed in the saddle, but some hybrids use soundboard sensors and onboard mics as well. Sure, a hybrid guitar’s acoustic tone is never going to stack up against a vintage D–15, but these guitars can offer a few advantages of over electrified acoustics or acoustic emulation pedals.

Key Uses of Hybrid Guitars

First and foremost, hybrids can allow players to switch between electric and acoustic sounds without changing instruments. This is great for the live gig where you need to catch fast transitions between the two sounds during the course of a song, or switch to a brief acoustic passage in the middle of a song where you mostly need electric.

Hybrids can also offer significant tonal advantages over emulation pedals, which often rely on digital processing as opposed to actual vibrations. On the subject of tone, most hybrid guitars have multiple routing and blending options between electric and acoustic pickups. This means the instrument’s various tones can be combined and tweaked in many combinations.

A starting point may be sending the electric pickups through pedals and into your amp while the acoustic sound gets DI’d into the PA system. Want to create a lush, dreamy electric pad through your amp while you finger pick through the front of house? Sure, just add tape delay to the electric sound. How about using the acoustic pickup for rhythm strumming while adding in some steely volume pedal swells with the electric sound?

And hey, why not blend both signals through an amp for a little extra sparkle in your crunch tone? With some creativity, a hybrid can add nearly as much sonic texture as another guitarist.

The Best Hybrid Guitars

If you’re looking to get a hybrid guitar, you can install a hybrid system onto an electric. With that said, there are some really solid hybrid options on the market already.

Acoustic Looks: Taylor T5

Taylor T5 Classic

The Taylor T5 represents the upper price points of the hybrid market and has all of Taylor’s signature quality. Coming in four different models — Classic, Standard, Pro, and Custom — the T5 offers a range of premium woods and finishes.

Each model features a bridge humbucker, concealed neck humbucker, and an acoustic soundboard sensor. All of those pickups are controlled with a 5–way switch.

Aesthetically, these guitars feel more like their fully acoustic brethren, but pump all the snarl you’d expect from two humbuckers.

More hybrids with explicit hollowbody or semihollow stylings are the Michael Kelly Hybrid Special and the Dean Colt FM.

Electric Looks: Italia Mondial Classic

Italia Mondial Classic

Italia’s Mondial Classic is a hybrid that falls more in line with Airlines and Danelectros than any hollow–body electric.

These guitars feature two so–called “vintage voiced” Wilkinson Alnico V humbuckers along with a piezo pickup in the guitar’s wooden bridge. It has a bolt–on neck and the semi–hollow mahogany body with a proprietary AcoustiGlass top allowing for some unique, retro tones.

The acoustic and electric pickups each have a dedicated output jack for simple routing and can be combined using a Y-adaptor. This guitar comes in a number of finishes including black, white, surf green and a limited edition purple sparkle.

Epiphone offers a solidbody–styled hybrid with less pizzazz, the Les Paul Ultra III.

DIY: GraphTech Ghost Modular Pickup System

GraphTech Ghost Tune-O-Matic Bridge

There are also several options on the market for those wishing to add acoustic tones to a standard electric guitar.

One highly versatile option is the Ghost Modular Pickup System from GraphTech. This system couples a range of piezo–enable bridges with GraphTech’s Acousti–Phonic preamp. Together, these bring dependable acoustic sound to just about any electric guitar or bass.

GraphTech offers Strat, Tele and Gibson style bridges, all of which use piezo crystals below the surface of their signature graphite saddles. Pickup selection between the electric and acoustic types is handled primarily with a mini toggle switch and both signals are sent to a single stereo output jack.

This modular system has tons of options including their “HexaPander” MIDI preamp and a 13–pin jack for controlling MIDI devices.

Installing the Ghost system is doable for high–level tinkerers, but GraphTech recommends using a professional to ensure proper installation. This complete Ghost kit includes a bridge, both Acousti–Phonic and Hexpander preamps and all needed components. L.R. Baggs also offer the X–Bridge and T–Bridge aftermarket hybrid systems.

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