How To Make An Electric Guitar Sound Like Acoustic

Published Categorized as Tuning Restringing & Maintenance

There will no doubt come a time in every guitarist’s career where one needs to make their electric guitar sound like acoustic. Perhaps you are on a budget and can only afford the one guitar, and thus want to make your low budget stretch as far as possible by effectively turning one guitar into two.

Or perhaps there is that one song in your setlist that is normally played on an acoustic guitar. This can be cumbersome, especially if you are on tour with a band of other musicians. Space is tight, money is scant, and refuge is few and far between, so bringing another guitar seems more and more out of the question. Thus, getting the most mileage out of just the one guitar, making an electric guitar sound like acoustic seems like the logical way to go.

You might even be in the studio wanting to layer an acoustic guitar part into a recording, but only have electric guitars to hand. Whatever the reasoning at root, if you are seeking to get your electric guitar to sound like acoustic then you have come to the right place, for this is precisely what we are going to address today!

Why Doesn’t Electric Guitar Sound Like Acoustic?

No matter what angle you are coming at the problem from, surely one thing is undoubtable: the electric guitar does not sound like an acoustic guitar. Aside from obvious cosmetic and aesthetic differences, they function in more or less the same way, no? Both the electric guitar and acoustic guitar have strings stretched across their lengths, the same hardware to keep these things in check, tuning pegs, nuts, saddles etc. Why do they not sound the same?

Well, for both the electric guitar and the acoustic guitar (as well as a whole bunch of other instruments of any variety you can imagine), the body of the guitar is a resonant filter that interacts with and greatly affects the timbral and tonal quality of the end result. This is an issue that gets to the very heart of what makes sound tick in the first place, so it is very vital knowledge.

Thus, following this logic, we can see that an electric guitar, which is more often than not formed with a solid body, does not have the same tonal characteristics as an acoustic guitar, which is more traditionally made from a hollow body. Since the electric guitar is powered with electricity and externally amplified, it makes sense that it is less common for it to be made with a hollow body. An acoustic guitar, on the other hand, relies on this hollow body in order to be heard and, unless electro acoustic in style, this is its only means of projection into the world.

Acoustic guitars also tend to use thicker strings that generate a louder overall output, not to mention the fact that these strings are made from different materials than those typically found on electric guitars. While this only has a certain effect on the tonal qualities, and is in fact more of an influence on the way that the guitarist plays the guitar in question, it is definitely worth considering.

How to Make Your Electric Guitar Sound Acoustic

So, needless to say, an electric guitar does not sound like an acoustic, the tonal characteristics being entirely different (to even the most untrained ear) when fed through the usually very different body shapes, sizes, types and materials of electric and acoustic guitars respectively.

Bearing this fact in mind, you are likely going to want to make your electric guitar sound acoustic, at least for those easy electric guitar songs. As already elucidated, there can be various reasons for this, certainly not limited to those already mentioned. As the corresponding technology becomes more and more advanced, it becomes more and more convenient and apposite to apply such technological methods in converting sound and making your electric guitar sound acoustic.

Western society is very much a way of living based on things, so if you can in any way cut down on the amount of things that you have just for the sake of it, then you would, in my opinion, be doing a good thing.

Thus, preventing the need to own an acoustic guitar and, instead, emulating an acoustic guitar with an electric guitar that you already own just makes sense: why lug around an extra instrument when there are perfectly able pieces of technology that can do the job just fine? Very often a listening audience will not be actively listening out for the various minute tonal differences between an electric guitar as fed through an acoustic emulator, and an acoustic guitar.

Many, in fact, might not even know the difference visually between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar, so what are you waiting for?! Get amongst it!

Experiment with Amp Settings

Often, the solution to having your electric guitar sound acoustic lies under your nose all along. Simply adjusting the amp’s settings and experimenting until you reach a happy middle ground between electric and acoustic synergy can save you a whole lot of money, perfect for those operating on more of a budget.

It should go without saying that amps more used to dealing with clean tones are better suited to this sort of thing, unless you attempting to emulate an acoustic filled with sandpaper or scourers of course! Most amps by Fender, particularly those of a tweed variety designed to function well at high volumes while still maintaining crystalline clean tones, are perfectly suited to the job. Guitar amps more inclined towards distortion are to be avoided as much as possible, if you are attempting to most accurately emulate the tones of an acoustic guitar pure and simple.

The success you will have in this experimentation will depend almost entirely on the amp that you are using and the electric guitar you are feeding into it. Some lend themselves far better to this sort of thing than others, so if it does not work out for you, do not be down hearted. There are plenty of other ways for you to make your electric guitar sound acoustic, many of which do not cost very much at all.

(Speaking of amps, can you use an acoustic guitar thru an electric amp? Find out on the blog).

Experiment with Guitar Settings

Before this, however, it is worth working by the same logic to see whether experimenting with the settings on the electric guitar itself might help it to sound more like an acoustic guitar. Following the same logic as that elucidated above, it is not hard to see how experimenting in this vein could be most fruitful in having the electric guitar sound acoustic.

The electric guitar is more often than not equipped with at least two knobs, one for volume and one for the tone. These ought to be fiddled with delicately to find a sweet spot for the acoustic sound.

Usually the tone control will simply stay on full, though it would be best to back off the settings a little as this can help the sounds blend into each other more, the way they might on an acoustic guitar. The same very much goes for the volume pedal: rolling back just a little on the dial will reduce the bite of the electric guitar, offering forth some of the signature warmth of an acoustic guitar. You don’t have to sacrifice overall volume, however, for simply turning up your amp’s volume control will help make your guitar sound loud but without losing the acoustic sound.

Bearing in mind your use of the pickups can be a vital way to make your guitar sound electric without paying a single penny. The neck pickup or a combination of pickups will be more helpful in achieving a sound similar to an acoustic guitar, the pickup closest to the bridge simply offering too much of a calcified bite to mimic the tones of the acoustic.

Add Reverb to the Electric Guitar

This can be a very aspect of making your electric guitar sound acoustic. Inherent in the tonal qualities of an acoustic guitar is the way that the strings resonate through the sound hole and outwards. This extra space built within most acoustic guitar is just that: a specialised acoustical space that harbours the sound and projects it outwards, helping the resonation of the strings to reach new heights.

As with most acoustic spaces besides those which are specifically designed otherwise, the one inside the acoustic guitar has an ambience, a reverb, an echo of the sound played, that follows each note. Listen out for it next time you are around an acoustic guitar and you will know exactly what this means. The way an acoustic guitar resonates, the specific way that the vibrations are transmitted through the body, circulating around the sound hole and out in the world, is best mimicked by adding reverb onto the electric guitar in question.

Reverb is the sound of a sound echoing off of a surface, so the specific qualities of a reverb will be specific to each room. This is rendered consumable as a guitar effect which takes the input signal and processes it as though it has been played inside the space that you compute it to replicate. There are of course hierarchies to the quality of a reverb, but if the amount is only going to be slight, any will usually do to help replicate these acoustic resonances on an electric guitar.

Your amp might even be equipped with a reverb. However rudimentary, it will no doubt do the job of adding some depth and detail to the guitar and amp settings you have already come to, to make the electric guitar sound acoustic. With the addition of the reverb, some of these fine tuned settings might need a little more tweaking, so do not be afraid to take a moment to do so as this will make all the difference.

Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Neo Reverb pedal

Changing the Strings of the Guitar

Another reasonably cheap and easy method to make the electric guitar sound acoustic is to change the strings on the electric so that they are more aligned with those of an acoustic. It is easy to neglect such minor details as these, though they really do make all the difference.

It is even easy to forget just how different the strings on each of these types of guitar can be, the materials from which they are made, and the subsequent effect these small details can have on the overall tone. Acoustic guitars tend to use bronze plated strings with a steel base beneath, which inherently produce a more mellow and warm tone, while simultaneously offering a metallic and bright clarity. Electric guitars, by contrast, tend towards steel strings, which sound far brighter usually.

The thickness of the strings can have a real impact too, however. Acoustic guitars, for example, tend more towards thicker strings, especially since traditionally there are far less bends in acoustic driven music, perhaps owing to the lack of sustain on such instruments. An electric guitar, on the other hand, tends towards thinner strings for very similar reasons, to enable users to bend as far as they like, to their heart’s content, offering more control in this regard.

Thicker strings are louder and tend to resonate for longer, enabling, ironically, more sustain, whereas thinner strings offer precisely the inverse effect. Perhaps going from a set of 9 or 10 gauge strings to something a bit higher, like an 11 or 12 gauge set, is just what your electric guitar needs to sound more like an acoustic guitar. Remember, some guitars lend themselves far better to these drastic increases in tension than others, and often such drastic changes without incremental implementation can wreak havoc on the truss rod, so consult a specialist before making any false moves.

Use an Acoustic Simulator Pedal

The simplest method to make your electric guitar sound acoustic is simply to acquire a guitar pedal that attempts to simulate the sounds that might emanate from an acoustic guitar. The hardest part of the process is acquiring the pedal in the first place, which in itself is not at all difficult. Just chuck it onto the guitar’s signal chain, whether alone or alongside all of your other pedals, and away you go. At the click of a footswitch you will be able to instantly sound more or less like you are playing an acoustic guitar even when you are playing an electric guitar.

The real problem with this kind of method is that a lot of the acoustic simulators offered by big brands like BOSS do not sound enough like an acoustic guitar. This is certainly a problem for someone with less funds, as they will certainly be wanting to get their money’s worth. I am not entirely sure about other versions of this kind of pedal, but the BOSS version certainly is not going to make your electric guitar sound as much like an acoustic guitar as some people might want.

However, there are benefits to using this particular pedal, and they come in the form of various small conveniences that make a touring musician’s life just that much easier. This will of course be of utmost importance to those guitarists who are using the acoustic guitar for only one or two songs in their setlist, or maybe those even who are only using the acoustic on certain parts of certain songs. Since there is both a line out and an amp out on the pedal, this means that the signal can be redirected to an amp and PA output, especially important for those seeking audiophilia amidst the folds of convenience.

BOSS Acoustic Simulator Guitar Pedal (AC-3)

Use a MIDI Guitar Pedal

BOSS offer an alternative to this previous solution in the form of a MIDI guitar pedal. Where the acoustic simulator pedal aforementioned takes the actual sound of the electric guitar and filters it in such a way as to attempt to mimic the tonal qualities of an acoustic guitar, this MIDI pedal works a little differently.

For those unfamiliar, MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This is a way of understanding the concept of converting data into music and vice versa. What this means for a guitar is the idea that the notes one plays on the electric or acoustic guitar can be converted into data and then back to sound, the data triggering certain samples so that, in effect, the guitar can be made to sound like almost any instrument imaginable, or even just sounds and samples of sound effects.

This is an incredibly powerful tool, and BOSS puts it right at your fingertips. This is one of the more permanent ways to make your electric guitar sound acoustic, however, as you will have to install a special kind of pickup onto the guitar in question that is able to pick up the sounds of the individual strings and turn them into data. The power that is being delivered with such a tool ought to be enough answer as to whether it is worth it, but you must of course respect yourself and your circumstances and make the right decision for you.

Though miles ahead of where it once was, this is still pretty experimental technology and can sound rather glitchy if the guitar is played in a messy way. Some guitars simply are not made for such retrofitting, so it would be best to discuss these matters with your local guitar store or guitar technician before proceeding.

BOSS 6 String GP-10, Ambidextrous, (GP-10GK) (GP-10GK)

Use an Audio Plugin

This method of making your electric guitar sound acoustic will of course be more applicable to those who are working within more of a studio context, for there are less specialised audio plugins that can operate in real time than there are those which can. There are, however, plenty out there that, if you are working in more of a studio context, are going to offer you extensive methods through to control the sound of your electric guitar, and to manipulate it so that it sounds like an acoustic guitar.

There are several plugins, for example, which will attempt to match the EQ of the electric guitar that you input to the program with that of an acoustic guitar, whether from memory or from comparison with an acoustic of your own. This latter instance can make the plugin seem a little redundant: surely there would be no point having the plugin if you already had an acoustic guitar in the first place, no?

There are many that would argue such a case, and they would not be wrong. But I might inversely suggest that such plugins can find a variety of uses, especially in a studio context, whether manipulating the source input of an electric guitar or anything else.

Many might even suggest that the audio of an acoustic guitar ought to be manipulated in this way. The acoustic guitar, being acoustic and entirely undigital for the most part, can be unruly and some can even be riddled with undesirable and unflattering frequencies. Thus, the kinds of plugins which we talk about here can be of great use in taming these frequencies and moulding them into what is most desired at the time.

These are incredibly powerful tools, and their effect can be truly uncanny, so there is no doubt that, if you pick a good one, it will serve you will in your endeavours to make your electric guitar sound acoustic.

Final Tones

So, there you have it, an end to this comprehensive study of how to make your electric guitar sound acoustic, for there will no doubt come a time in every guitarist’s career where they need to make their electric guitar sound like an acoustic guitar, whether for budgetary reasons or otherwise. In an age of new technology, it can simply be far more convenient to take a small piece of tech on the road than having to lug around an acoustic guitar, clotted further by having to be carried around in a hard case to protect it from dings and scratches.

Thus, it would be best to respect your circumstances. If it seems more viable for you to keep taking an acoustic guitar wherever you go, and for you to surf the sometimes undesirable frequencies that it offers forth, then by all means do so. But if you feel as though one of these options might be more viable, for you to attempt to emulate in whatever fashion that things that give the acoustic guitar such a unique and singular timbral character, then also go ahead!

FAQs Electric Guitar Sound Like Acoustic

Why does my electric sound like an acoustic?

This will largely be because it is not plugged in. If an electric guitar is not plugged in then it is basically an acoustic guitar, without, of course, the added benefit of a sound hole of some kind to help project the sounds from the strings and outwards into the surrounding environment. If the guitar in question is plugged in and is still sounding like an acoustic, then this probably has something to do with the settings of the guitar or amp, adjusted as they are in such a way as to emphasise the specific tonal qualities that might make an acoustic guitar sound so much like itself.

What electric guitar sounds most like an acoustic?

Seeing as a large part of what provides the acoustic with its signature tonal qualities is the body itself, then it makes sense that those electric guitars bestowed at birth with hollow bodies are going to sound more like an acoustic guitar than solid body electric guitars do. In resonating from the strings to the inside of the guitar and then out, the guitar is provided with a specific timbral character that would otherwise be unable to appear on a solid body electric guitar, without some considerable tweaking of various settings on the amplifier or on the guitar itself of course.

How do I get my electric guitar to sound right?

This will certainly have everything to do with what ‘right’ means for each individual guitarist, for what some might call ‘right’ will undoubtedly be different to what others perceive as ‘right’. If you yourself are even unsure of what sounds right to you, then a prolonged and serious session of experimentation is in order, locking yourself away with your electric guitar and chosen amplifier until you have found precisely the tone you are looking for. Many professional guitarists have a go to guitar tone that acts like a catch all, filling out the sound in most potential scenarios. However, the most serious, those musicians who treat their craft as of the utmost importance, tend to adjust their settings for each individual scenario. Thus, what might be ‘right’ in one circumstance among certain other instruments and in certain other environments and spaces will of course be different to what feels ‘right’ in others.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)