You may have heard of certain players using electric guitar strings on an acoustic guitar. The result is usually a twangy, snappy sound that some guitarists like and some do not. But what about the reverse? Can you put acoustic strings on an electric guitar?
Yes, you can technically use acoustic guitar strings on an electric guitar, but personally, I do not recommend it. Acoustic strings’ reduced magnetic properties can result in an unbalanced sound on electric guitars. While some strings like high E and B) might work better than others, it’s advisable to use strings designed specifically for electric guitars to achieve the optimal tone and performance.
Differences Between Acoustic and Electric Guitar Strings
Are acoustic and electric guitar strings the same? Let’s look at some of the key differences between these string types.
Both acoustic and electric guitar strings usually have steel cores, but the material wound around the heavier strings on each is different. Electric guitars typically have steel, nickel, or cobalt windings. Acoustic guitar strings are usually wound with the more resonant phosphor bronze or brass.
On most acoustic guitars, only the first and second strings (high E and B strings) are unwound. But on most electrics, the first three strings are unwound. The extra unwound string makes the guitar faster and easier to play — ideal for fast solos and intricate runs.
The gauge of a string refers to how heavy it is. On average, acoustic guitars use heavier strings. Most electric guitars come from the factory with 0.009 or 0.010 gauge strings, while most acoustic guitars come with 0.012 gauge strings. Acoustic guitar strings produce sound by displacing air to create sound waves, so the slightly heavier strings help create a more powerful sound.
Strings for Acoustic Guitars
When it comes to acoustic guitars, the mechanism of sound production takes a distinct route. These guitars generate sound through the resonance of the strings, causing vibrations that travel through the body and produce the audible tones we hear.
In contrast to electric guitars, which depend on magnetic pickups, acoustic guitars don’t necessitate magnetically reactive strings. Instead, acoustic guitar strings are meticulously crafted with materials chosen for their acoustic properties and tonal characteristics. Bronze and phosphor bronze are popular choices for acoustic strings, renowned for their ability to deliver rich and warm tones. Alongside these, materials like silk, nylon, and even synthetic blends have found their own applications on acoustic guitars, offering a wide array of unique sound textures.
The focal point here lies in the acoustic properties of the strings themselves and how they harmonize with the guitar’s body to generate the desired sound. This distinction in string materials underscores the fundamental divergence in how acoustic guitars produce their distinctive and melodious tones.
Strings for Electric Guitars
An electric guitar produces sound by using a magnetic field. The pickups, whether they are single-coils, humbuckers, or P-90s, create a magnetic field that reaches upward. When that magnetic field is still, the guitar produces no sound.
However, if a material that can be magnetized (like steel) moves in a way that disturbs the field, you get a sound. This is a very simple explanation, but it gives you a general idea of how these guitars produce sound.
For that reason, electric guitars use strings that are made of magnetically reactive (ferromagnetic) materials. The strings usually have a steel core, and wrapped strings often use nickel wrapping. Cobalt is a less commonly used metal that tends to have a greater frequency response than either nickel or steel.
What Happens if You Put Acoustic Guitar Strings on an Electric Guitar?
In most sets of acoustic guitar strings, the other four strings are wrapped in bronze or another material that is not magnetically reactive. These strings do have a steel core, so they will disturb the magnetic field somewhat. But because they are wrapped, that disturbance will be minimal. The result is a quieter, less dynamic sound than the sound you get from the highest two strings.
So what happens if you put acoustic guitar strings on an electric guitar? You will get some sound. And depending on your tastes, you might find it interesting or even pleasant. The sound from the lower, more heavily wrapped strings is muted and a little thumpy, making the guitar sound a bit like a bass.
But the main problem is the uneven response. The all-steel first and second strings will give you a loud, clear sound with plenty of nuance. The wrapped strings will sound quieter and relatively flat.
Learn all the guitar string sizes for both acoustic and electric guitars.
You may also find that playability becomes compromised. Having four wound strings instead of three makes sliding and even fretting more difficult. You’re much better off sticking to electric guitar strings (and not wasting a perfectly good set of acoustic strings!).
Are Electric and Acoustic Strings Interchangeable?
You now know that strings for acoustic guitars and strings for electric guitars are very different — they are definitely not interchangeable. But you can use them creatively in some circumstances. As we mentioned above, electric guitar swings can give an acoustic a twangy, bluesy sound, but acoustic strings don’t work as well on electric guitars. Steel strings aren’t the only type of acoustic guitar strings out there, though. Here are a couple of other acoustic string types to consider.
Will Nylon Acoustic Guitar Strings work on an electric guitar?
Thus far, when talking about acoustic guitar strings, we’ve primarily been referencing strings for steel-string acoustic guitars. But can you put nylon acoustic strings on an electric guitar?
The answer to this one is no. All steel strings for acoustic guitars have a steel core, even if that core is wrapped in bronze or an alloy. The steel strings are magnetically reactive. Nylon strings contain no metal at all. So if you put a set on your electric guitar, they will not disturb the magnetic field around the pickups. If you strum something unplugged, you’ll probably hear some very slight acoustic sound. But if you try to play through an amplifier, you get no sound at all.
Will Acoustic-Electric Guitar Strings work on an electric guitar?
Now that you know how both types of strings interact with electric guitar pickups, you might be wondering about acoustic-electric guitar strings. After all, the best guitar strings for acoustic-electric guitars are acoustic guitar strings.
That’s because electric guitars and acoustic-electric guitars work in very different ways. Electric guitars use magnetic pickups, but most acoustic guitars use piezo pickups. These pickups sense vibration as opposed to an electromagnetic field. That’s why they can work with steel-string and nylon-string acoustic guitars.
Using Electric Strings on an Acoustic Guitar: What to Expect
While theoretically possible, using electric guitar strings on an acoustic guitar is not recommended. Electric strings are built for magnetic pickups and offer less resonance and volume compared to acoustic strings. This can result in lower volume output and potential fret buzzing on an acoustic guitar. Moreover, the differences in string gauge and tension can strain the neck and bridge. For optimal sound and playability, it’s advisable to stick to strings designed specifically for acoustic guitars.
However, it’s worth noting that while electric guitar strings might not be the conventional choice for acoustic guitars, they can impart a twangy, bluesy sound to the instrument. This can offer a unique sonic character, showcasing the versatility of the acoustic guitar when strung with electric strings.
Are acoustic and electric guitar strings the same? Not at all. Acoustic strings on an electric guitar create an interesting sound, but we don’t recommend stringing up your electric with acoustic strings. There’s so much volume and tonal difference between the wrapped and unwrapped strings that you’ll probably find that making the swap really isn’t worth it.
Yes, electric guitar strings can be used on acoustic guitars. However, I do not recommend it. Electric strings are typically thinner, which will impact the overall tone and playability of your acoustic instrument. This adjustment might require some acclimatization. Keep in mind that your acoustic guitar’s feel will be somewhat reminiscent of an electric guitar, which can be a preference for certain players.
In fact, acoustic and electric guitar strings are notably distinct, varying significantly in terms of their dimensions and composition. Acoustic strings tend to be thicker and feature wrapping materials such as bronze and brass that enhance acoustic resonance. Conversely, electric strings are often wrapped in steel, nickel, or chromium, contributing to their distinct tonal characteristics.
Another topic you may be curious about in relation to this: acoustic guitars on electric amps.