Are you sick and tired of your boring old acoustic? Can acoustic guitar sound like electric? How do you do it? Can you do it with anything around the house or do you need specialist equipment?
All this and more today as we explore the conundrum of trying to make an acoustic guitar sound electric!
You can indeed make an acoustic sound like an electric guitar and there are two central ways to do this. One is more mechanical and involves such solutions as sticking pieces of paper in between the strings, the other is more electrical and involves using the same sort of technology that you would otherwise use with an electric guitar.
There are also places in the middle of these two routes which attempt to fuse the two, all of which we will be discussing henceforth. You’ve seen us turn the sound of an electric into an acoustic, now watch and marvel at the reverse.
Turning Your Acoustic into an Electro-Acoustic
The most permanent way to convert your acoustic guitar into an electric guitar is to fuse the two and convert it into an electro-acoustic. This can be as simple or as complicated as you like, depending on how much effort, time, and money you are willing to this enterprise.
The easiest way to go about this conversion is to use a clip-on pickup that you can easily take on or off at a moment’s notice, but you can also permanently or semi-permanently install a pickup to get that electric guitar sound on a regular basis.
The Clip-on Pickup
This is likely the cheapest and least committed method by which to make your acoustic guitar sound like an electric guitar. Otherwise known as microphone pickups or contact microphones, these devices provide an easy and quick way of amplifying your acoustic guitar without the commitment of installing a whole electro-acoustic system.
There are of course better versions of this device than the one pictured below, though this is included here because it is an incredibly affordable way for anyone to make acoustic guitar sound electric without fully investing in an electro-acoustic preamp installation or buying a new acoustic-electric guitar altogether.
Some do say, though, that these are perhaps more trouble than they’re worth, especially because of how annoying the wires can be when they’re in your way.
Vibration Response Preamp
Thankfully, there are such devices as this that seek to take all of the conveniences that are offered by a non-committal clip-on pickup and elevate them to the next level. That’s right, devices such as these can take your search for acoustic-electric guitars up a notch. Heck, at this point those without a discerning ear will scarcely be able to tell the difference between acoustic and electric guitars.
This device will be especially appealing to those for whom the wires of the clip-on pickup were an insurmountable frustration, for here the wires are done away with altogether, though never at the expense of a clip-on pickup’s inherent simplicity:
Simply place the transmitter directly behind the bridge of the acoustic guitar, plug a receiver into your interface (if plugging into a computer) or PA system, then switch on and begin terrorizing.
Here, while it is not extensive, there is at least some flexibility in tone thanks to the one dedicated tone control. If this is perceived as something of a lack, it is more than made up for with wireless transmission that works up to 30 meters (100 feet), a battery life of up to 6 hours (with a 2-hour recharge time), and a transmitter that simply sticks onto the guitar and comes with a spare so you don’t need to drill any holes.
Installing a Pickup
Arguably the method for converting an acoustic guitar’s sound to that of an electric that is the most consumptive of time, money, and effort, this method will also require you to drill holes into the guitar itself.
Though there are many, many different varieties of acoustic guitar pickup (not including single coil or humbuckers), they fall into two main factions: piezo (pictured above) and soundhole (below). While there are manifold differences the deeper you get into it, piezo pickups are more complicated to install but ultimately produce less feedback, while soundhole pickups are easier to install and sound warmer.
Getting the Tone Right
It’s all well and good installing a whole new pickup and PA system into your acoustic guitar, but if you don’t get the tone right acoustic guitars sound like themselves or worse.
No, you simply cannot go on without getting the tone right, especially since there are a whole bunch of other technical things to consider when trying to amplify an acoustic guitar.
Electro-acoustic guitars, for example, suffer more from feedback than electric guitars due to the gaping soundhole – they also have a warmer tone than electric guitars as well as more resonance and sustain simply because they are, at heart, acoustic instruments.
Plugging it into an electric guitar amp, you will want to adjust the EQ to favor high-range frequencies because of the inherent acoustic warmth. Consider using a sound-hole cover or noise-gate pedal to reduce the feedback and add some reverb and compression to give the tone more liveliness.
Small touches like this might not seem like much but they can make a whole world of difference in the tone of the instrument alone as well as how it sits with other instruments in a mix.
1. Using an Electric Guitar Amplifier
If you are inherently looking for your electro-acoustic to sound more like the former half of its namesake, then you are far better off using an actual electric guitar amplifier instead of an acoustic or, indeed, even an electro-acoustic amplifier.
Since these amps (like the one pictured above) are inherently designed to amplify the frequencies produced by electric guitars, this will more easily represent such tones when interpreting the frequencies coming from your electro-acoustic and the pickup it has been kitted out with.
2. Adjusting the EQ
Since acoustic instruments inherently have a different tone to their electric counterparts – the former often more mellow – you will also have to make adjustments to the tone as amplified, whether that be through the onboard mixer or indeed through the amplifier itself.
If your amplifier only has one tone knob, then you will likely want to turn it up to favor those higher frequencies that are more readily prevalent on an electric guitar.
Some amps, though, will have more involved tone controls, sometimes featuring a dedicated treble and bass knob, sometimes going as far as having a knob for the mid-range frequencies too. If so, reduce the booming bass, turn up the treble, and adjust the mids and the rest to taste.
Tones can sound radically different depending on the space you’re in, so don’t expect the same settings to work in each and every room you play in.
3. Adding Effects
The use of effects on the guitar can also help you to emulate the tone of an electric guitar, whether you are working with a semi-acoustic guitar or even a fully acoustic guitar.
Reverb, delay, compression, and EQ pedals are all great with acoustic guitar because they don’t inherently increase the gain and/or volume of the signal, thus ensuring that you don’t have to deal with more feedback in your signal chain.
Compression is especially good at ironing out any creases in the sound of the instrument by increasing the volume of lighter picking and decreasing the volume of harsher attacks. Reverb (below), meanwhile, creates more of an ambiance and provides a livelier basis for sound, setting it in a particular atmosphere. Finally, delay repeats the signal in certain chunks for certain amounts of time.
4. Gainier Sounds
The hollow body of acoustic guitars means that they tend to suffer from the perils of feedback, especially when plugged into an amplifier – the sound resonates into the sound hole and echoes out infinitely.
With clean tones, this isn’t really an issue, but introducing any gainier sounds could spell trouble if you’re not into surfing feedback like Frank Black from Pixies. If you are amplifying your guitar (and prefer not to experience this feedback), then try to use an amp with plenty of clean headroom alongside a volume pedal if you want to be more precise.
5. Paper Under the Fretboard
Of course, if you are looking to achieve something of a distorted tone but either don’t want to amplify your acoustic or don’t want to drive your signal with or without effects, then help is at hand.
Frequently used by Johnny Cash, a vastly underrated rhythm guitar player, this method involves placing paper under the fretboard, something that can provide some crunch to the guitar without all the faff of effects.
6. Using a Sound Hole Cover
A rather ingenious way of combatting overwhelming quantities of feedback is to use a soundhole cover to prevent the sound from bouncing to and fro between the inner walls of the guitar’s chambers. Though this will inherently deaden the tone of the guitar, it is an affordable and simple solution to what can be a pesky and infuriating problem.
7. Using a Noise Gate Pedal
Investing in your own noise gate pedal (if you don’t already own one, of course) is another brilliant way of using feedback to your advantage and taming it as your own. This is, of course, the more expensive option compared to a sound hole cover, though it does inherently give you more control over the resulting tone of your guitar.
Including one in your pedal chain can remove any unwanted buzzing and noise from your signal as well as taming any feedback you might be beholden to, both of which are eliminated before they reach your amplifier.
8. Changing Strings
The strings for acoustic and electric guitars are inherently different too. Acoustic guitars usually have either brass or bronze-plated strings with a steel base, the former sounding bright, the latter bearing a warmer tone. Electric guitars, on the other hand, usually have either steel or nickel strings.
Thus, switching to brass-plated or steel strings is a good way to brighten the tone of your acoustic/aelectro-acoustic guitar to give it a more electric-sounding tone.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to take your miserable, worthless acoustic guitar and get it sounding more like a pert, spunky electric guitar.
FAQs Can Acoustic Guitar Sound like Electric
Indeed, there are plenty of adjustments both large (installing a pickup and plugging into an amplifier) and small (placing paper under the fretboard) that you can make to convert your guitar into more of an electric sound.
In almost every way, yes, and there are even such instruments that attempt to more literally bridge this divide, such as the semi-acoustic/hollow body electric or the electro-acoustic.
A good electro-acoustic will sound just like an acoustic when it is not plugged in and as much like an acoustic as it can muster when it is unless you fiddle with the settings on the preamp or amplifier the wrong way.
There are plenty of ways to replicate the sound of an electric guitar with an acoustic guitar, but the only real way to replicate the feeling is to use steel or nickel-plated strings, i.e. those that would otherwise be used on an electric.