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The characteristics and dispersion of the distinct surface acoustic waves (SAWs) propagating in ZnO/GaAs heterostructures have been studied experimentally and theoretically. Besides the Rayleigh mode, strong Sezawa modes, which propagate confined in the overlayer, arise due to the smaller sound velocity in ZnO than in the substrate. The design parameters of the structure providing the strongest piezoelectric field at a given depth within the layered system for the different modes have been determined. The piezoelectric field of the Rayleigh mode is shown to be more than 10 times stronger at the interface region of the tailored ZnO/GaAs structure than at the surface region of the bulk GaAs, whereas the same comparison for the first Sezawa mode yields a factor of 2. This enhancement, together with the capacity of selecting waves with different piezoelectric and strain field depth profiles, will facilitate the development of SAW-modulated optoelectronic applications in GaAs-based systems.