A Guide to Hybrid Guitars: Making Electric Guitars


Instruments using a “hybrid” concept date back to the early 1900s, when our DIY ancestors began inserting telephone transducers into violins and banjos. In recent years, however, a new generation of hybrid guitars has emerged, offering full-tilt electric power and high-quality acoustic tones, all at the flick of a switch or the turn of a pot.

Hybrid guitars are instruments that combine magnetic pickups with on-board systems designed to amplify the natural vibrations of the instrument. Hybrid refers to the ability to switch between a traditional electric guitar sound and an amplified acoustic sound.

Acoustic amplification is most often accomplished using piezo pickups housed in the saddle, but some hybrids also use soundboard pickups and built-in pickups. Of course, the acoustic sound of a hybrid guitar will never compare to that of a vintage D-15, but these guitars can offer a few advantages over electrified acoustics or acoustic emulation pedals.

Main uses of hybrid guitars

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

Hybrids can also offer significant sonic advantages over emulation pedals, which often rely on digital processing as opposed to actual vibration. When it comes to sound, most hybrid guitars have multiple routing and blending options between electric and acoustic pickups. This means that the different tones of the instrument can be combined and changed in many combinations.

A starting point might be to send the electric pickups through the pedals and into your amp while the acoustic sound is sent by DI into the PA system. Want to create a lush, dreamy electric pad through your amp as you choose the front of the house? Of course, just add a tape delay to the electric sound. How about using the acoustic pickup to strum the beat while adding steely volume pedal swells with the electric sound?

And hey, why not mix the two signals through an amp for a bit more sparkle in your crunch sound? With a little creativity, a hybrid can add almost as much sonic texture as another guitarist.

If you are looking to get a hybrid guitar, you can install a hybrid system over an electric one. 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 highest prices in the hybrid market and has all the signature Taylor quality. Available in four different models – Classic, Standard, Pro and Custom – the T5 offers a range of premium woods and finishes.

Each model includes a bridge humbucker, concealed neck humbucker and acoustic soundboard pickup. All of these pickups are controlled by a 5 way switch.

Aesthetically, these guitars are more like their all-acoustic brethren, but pump out all the growl you’d expect from two humbuckers.

More hybrids with explicit hollow or semi-hollow body styles are the Michael Kelly Hybrid Special and the Dean Colt FM.

Electric Looks: Italia Mondial Classic

Italy World Classic

Italy’s Mondial Classic is a hybrid that’s more akin to Airlines and Danelectros than any hollowbody electric.

These guitars are equipped with two vintage-voiced Wilkinson Alnico V humbuckers as well as a piezo pickup in the wooden bridge of the guitar. It has a bolt-on neck and a semi-hollow mahogany body with an exclusive AcoustiGlass top allowing for unique retro tones.

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

Epiphone offers a solidbody-style hybrid with less pizzazz, the Les Paul Ultra III.

DIY: GraphTech Ghost Modular Microphone System

GraphTech Ghost Tune-O-Matic Bridge

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

A very versatile option is GraphTech’s Ghost Modular Pickup System. This system couples a range of piezo-activated bridges with GraphTech’s Acousti-Phonic preamp. Together they bring reliable acoustic sound to almost any electric guitar or bass.

GraphTech offers Strat, Tele and Gibson style bridges, all of which use piezo crystals under the surface of their signature graphite saddles. Pickup selection between 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 advanced DIYers, but GraphTech recommends hiring a professional to ensure proper installation. This complete Ghost kit includes a bridge, Acousti-Phonic and Heexpander preamps, and all necessary components. LR Baggs also offers the X-Bridge and T-Bridge aftermarket hybrid systems.


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