acoustic-electric guitar

Contextual Associations

The acoustic-electric classical guitar, an electro-acoustic instrument, is a plucked box-lute chordophone designed and manufactured by the Japanese company Takamine. It is basically a classical guitar, which is of European origin (see classical guitar entry for a description of and background information about the acoustic component of the instrument pictured on this page), with a fully integrated pickup system that allows for electronic amplification and some degree of sound equalization. Unplugged, this guitar is a fully functional acoustic classical guitar. The aim of the pressure sensitive piezoelectric pickup system is high fidelity reproduction of the acoustic sound of the instrument rather than significant transformation of it (as would be the aim on a solid body electric guitar). An amplifier is pictured with the guitar to underscore that what a listener (and the performer as well) hears when this instrument is plugged in is not the direct sound of its strings, but the vibrating membranes of a speaker that is producing a very faithful imitation of the original acoustical source at a higher volume and with equalization. This instrument is not associated with a specific musical genre, but is an option available to acoustic guitarists playing in settings where the sound of an acoustic guitar would not be in balance with other performance forces or when playing in a space that is too large or includes too high a level of background noise for the acoustic instrument to be heard clearly.


The acoustic electric guitar pictured here is basically a classical guitar with a variant resonator shape. Its sides, back, and fingerboard are made from rosewood and its soundboard from cedar. It uses six nylon strings, the bottom three wound with fine wire. The Takamine company’s website provides the following technical description of its pickup system: “Using six individually shielded piezoelectric elements, one for each string, the Palathetic pickup is not just a UST (under-saddle pickup). In fact the Takamine design employs twelve times the element mass of the typical under-saddle pickup. The six elements penetrate the bridge plate, soundboard and bridge to make direct contact with the saddle creating a sonic linkage with the string. The pickup casing is mechanically attached to the guitar's top and bridge creating a sonic linkage with the soundboard. The result of this design is a signal that possesses the articulation of an isolated string signal and the rich harmonic content delivered by the resonating soundboard for a full, complete and accurate acoustic guitar tone at high sound pressure levels.” (Takamine website) The pickup transduces the mechanical vibrations of the bridge and soundboard into an electrical signal, which passes through a preamp on the upward-facing side of the resonator (see detail photo) and then through a cable to an external amplifier and speaker.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

This guitar can be played either by a seated of standing performer (in the latter manner with the aid of a shoulder strap) and held horizontally or with its pegbox end raised up to about a 45-degree angle, the soundboard facing outwards. The player can either pluck the strings with the thumb and index and middle fingers of the right hand or strum the strings with or without the aid of a pick, the former technique used for playing polyphonic music, the latter for homophonic music. For both techniques the strings are stopped against the fretted fingerboard with the fingertips of the left hand. Trills and other ornaments, articulations, figurations, and vibrato are a part of the music created for and performed on this instrument. Harmonics can be produced on the strings by lightly touching them with the left hand fingers (but not pressing them against the frets) at acoustically appropriate places. The standard tuning for the classical guitar is: E2 - A2 - D3 - G3 - B3 - E4 (interval pattern of P4 - P4 - P4 - M3 - P4). The basic range of the guitar (without taking into consideration harmonics) is about three-and-one-half octaves, from E2 - B5, and the instrument is fully chromatic over this span. Notation for the modern classical guitar is written in the treble clef an octave higher than pitch. The acoustic instrument has a modest dynamic range, which can be greatly expanded with the electric pickup system.


The Takamine guitar company was founded in Japan in 1959, manufacturing acoustic guitars for the Japanese market. In the late 1970s the company’s guitars started to be marketed worldwide. The under-saddle palathetic™ system was designed in 1978 and the first acoustic-electric model came out in 1979.

Bibliographic Citations

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Takamine. Palthetic Pickup, accessed September 26, 2014:


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: Japan

Formation: cosmopolitan

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

513 electrophone--electro-acoustic chordophones: musical instrument that has tensioned strings the vibrations of which are transduced into an analogue fluctuation of an electric current that can be electronically modified before being passed through a loudspeaker to deliver sound

Design and Playing Features

Category: electrophone

Type of electrophone: electro-acoustic

Type of oscillator: vibrating string + transducer

Type of pickup: piezoelectric

Number of voices: partially polyphonic

Primary pitch controller: chordophone; pressure stopping of vibrating strings against fretted fingerboard

MIDI compatible: no

Signal processing devices: analogue


38.6 in. length 14.6 in. greatest width 3.9 in. height of ribs

Primary Materials

string - synthetic
string - wire-wound synthetic
pickups - piezoelectric





Entry Author

Roger Vetter