Hybrid Guitar Guide (Acoustic-Electric, Nylon String Electric, & More)

In a performance setting, acoustic or classical guitarists can have a major problem: volume. If you’re playing a gig in a noisy environment like a street festival, you’ll definitely want to amplify your guitar somehow. This is when hybrid guitars, also called crossover guitars, are a great option!

You can also use external pickup devices or microphones to amplify your guitar. For instance, if you have a high-end classical guitar then using an external microphone will be your safest bet.

However, pickup devices and mics can be cumbersome, produce unwanted feedback, or in some cases even damage the finish of your guitar. That’s why you’re better off having an acoustic-electric or classical electric hybrid guitar for noisy situations.

This brief articles covers some of the frequently asked questions about hybrid guitars, what they are, and how they work. Along the way, I’ll also include some recommendations to help you choose the best crossover guitar for your needs!

Jonathan Richter playing an Alvarez hybrid nylon string electric guitar with white arrow pointing at the preamp settings on the side of the guitar
Jonathan Richter playing an Alvarez hybrid nylon string electric guitar

Acoustic-electric guitars

Steel-string acoustic electric hybrid guitars were the first crossover guitars to hit the market.

Today, they’re still a popular option for acoustic guitarists who play in a band or play outdoor gigs.

You can shop for some of the best steel string acoustic-electric hybrid guitars below.

Please note that prices are subject to change. Click on any item to see the current prices.

Martin

Taylor

Fender

Do acoustic-electric guitars make sound naturally?

Yes, you can play acoustic-electric guitars just like any other acoustic guitar and they’ll still project a natural sound through the soundhole. You don’t need an amp to hear the sound of your playing.

However, the difference is that you can also plug these crossover guitars into an amp. This is useful because you won’t need to play with a microphone or other external pickup device.

The ability to choose acoustic or electric is one of the main reasons why guitarists like hybrid guitars!

How does an acoustic-electric guitar work?

Acoustic-electric and classical-electric hybrid guitars have an additional electronic device called a transducer built into the body of the guitar that senses vibration energy moving across the soundboard.

The transducer converts the natural string vibration into measured voltage units. Next, those voltage frequencies are sent to the amplifier.

Hybrid guitars may have a passive pickup, active pickup, or internal microphone.

Passive pickups

Passive pickups are similar to internal mics in that they pick up the soundwaves and vibrations, which are then sent directly to the amp. They don’t offer a lot of additional controls or mixing options.

This means you won’t need a preamp in order for the guitar to plug into an amp. However, it also means you lose some creative and administrative control over the sound that’s produced when it’s plugged into the amp.

Active pickups

While passive pickups simply pass everything straight over to the amp, active pickups will give you more control over the quality of sound and volume. In this way, active pickups are essentially acting as the the preamp.

If having a higher level of sound control is important for you, then you might want to choose a hybrid guitar with an active pickup OR install a preamp separately.

Active pickups are usually powered by AA or 9V size batteries on the side of the guitar. The compartment that holds the batteries is often located on the side of the guitar. Near this compartment is where some the built-in preamp controls accessible.

Alvarez Nylon String Electric Crossover Guitar Active Pickup Controls
Alvarez Nylon String Electric Crossover Guitar Active Pickup Controls

Classical-electric guitars

Even though steel string guitar players use hybrid guitars more often than classical guitarists, nylon string electric crossover models are an option!

All of the same information above about active and passive pickups applies to nylon string electric hybrid guitars.

So if you’re looking to buy a classical-electric hybrid guitar, here’s the ones I recommend:

Córdoba

Córdoba Stage – “Nylon String Electric Guitar”

In July 2022 the guitar company Córdoba released a new Córdoba Stage “Nylon String Electric Guitar” that may prove to be a real game changer!

The Cordoba Stage is a little different from the more traditional classical-electric hybrid guitars.

Check out the video below to listen for yourself and learn more!

If you love the sound, you can buy the Córdoba Stage guitar here:

External pickups

What if you just want to amplify your regular acoustic guitar? If this is all you need then you can try using an external acoustic guitar pickups. Acoustic guitar soundhole pickups like Dean Markley or the Fishman Neo D are the most popular choice, and in my limited experience they’re also the most reliable.

However, keep in mind that external acoustic pickups don’t work well with classical guitar (nylon string) models. Magnetic pickups can only sense the vibrations from metal objects. Therefore, you’ll want to use a KNA NG-1 Piezo or transducer pickup for nylon string guitars instead.

Generally speaking, it’s better to purchase a crossover guitar that already has the electronics built in rather than using an external pickup.

Pros and Cons

Here’s a list of pros and cons to help you consider whether or not an acoustic guitar pickup is worth it:

Pros:

  • Removable – this flexibility makes them the best option to use on a higher end guitar
  • Cheaper – most pickups cost less than $100, and the majority are under $50
  • Portability – they’re typically small and easy to travel with
  • Light weight – hybrid guitars can be heavy with all of the internal electronics, so pickups will be a lighter weight option

Cons:

  • Limited – most pickups won’t work on nylon string guitars
  • Soundhole Misfit – the pickup won’t necessarily fit in your soundhole
  • Finish issues – some pickups attach directly onto the soundboard using puddy or some other adhesive. This can mess up your guitar finish over time.
  • Technical difficulties – if the pickup is flimsy and comes loose, that can ruin your performance

Conclusion

If you’re a guitarist who often plays with a band or performs a lot outdoors, then you should consider getting a hybrid guitar.

Even though I own several high-end classical guitars, I also have an Alvarez classical-electric guitar for amplification purposes. Today, it’s still my go-to choice when I’m playing a wedding or other loud outdoor gig.

Overall, hybrid guitars save time and effort when you need to amplify. Furthermore, it’s great to have the option of just using the hybrid guitar as a regular classical or acoustic.

We’re lucky to live in a time where you can have one guitar that’s so versatile!

If you have any questions or insights, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Published by Jonathan Richter

Classical guitarist, teacher and ethnomusicologist based in Atlanta, GA

2 thoughts on “Hybrid Guitar Guide (Acoustic-Electric, Nylon String Electric, & More)

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment and let know what you think.