Playing acoustic songs on an electric guitar is possible. With minor tweaks like using a clean amp, removing distortion and using neck pickup – you can get your electric to sound as acoustic as possible.
I remember I had this question when I was first learning guitar. I started directly with an electric guitar but also wanted to play acoustic and fingerpicking songs.
To my surprise, playing acoustic songs on electric guitar actually worked pretty well! Of course I had to make some adjustments and use the correct settings.
In this article, I will cover playing acoustic songs using electric guitar in detail – things like:
- How to make electric guitar sounds like acoustic
- Difference between electric and acoustic guitar
- Should you use an electric guitar to play acoustic songs or buy a new acoustic?
- Converting regular acoustic guitars into electric acoustic
Excited? I sure am. Let’s go.
How To Make Electric Guitar Sound Like Acoustic
In its simplest form, electric guitars and acoustic guitars are played the same way. They use the same notes, chords and techniques.
Which means, it’s definitely possible to just play an acoustic song with an electric guitar. But without adjustments, they won’t sound the same (maybe not even close).
Here is a list of things you can do to make your electric guitar sound as close as possible to an acoustic guitar:
1. Use clean amp settings
To sound as close to acoustic as possible, you need to change your amp settings to play clean sounds. This means no distortion, no overdrive, no gain, higher bass and less treble.
If you don’t already know, distortion (or drive or gain) are effects produced by your guitar amp to give the guitar that dirty ‘rock’ sound.
Every cool electric guitar solos probably use distortion. It sounds great for rock songs but not for acoustic!
You can disable distortion and overdrive by simply adjusting the distortion or overdrive knob in your guitar amp. You want lower distortion / overdrive for a clean sound and play acoustic songs.
You should also increase the bass a bit and reduce treble to give you the warmer acoustic sound. Treble that’s too high will produce a sound that’s sharp – we don’t want this during acoustic songs.
Here’s a YouTube video which explains the amp settings (including distortion)
Depending on your amp, you may or may not have all the knobs. Just keep an eye on what I mentioned earlier:
- No distortion / overdrive / gain
- Lesser treble
- Higher bass
These settings should help you create a cleaner acoustic sound from your electric guitar.
2. Use neck pickup
Using the neck pickup in an electric guitar can give you a warmer sound – that’s more suitable for acoustic songs. Switch to use neck pickup by pushing the pickup switch up on your guitar.
Pickup is the component in your electric guitar that ‘picks up’ the sound from your guitar strings and transfers them into the amp.
Generally, electric guitars have multiple pickups. The neck pickup is the pickup that’s closest to the guitar neck – and they are great for producing warmer sound (required for acoustic songs)
Whereas the bridge pickup produces a more sharper sound. Anybody can instantly tell that a sound is produced by an electric guitar when using a bridge pickup.
You don’t want to use the bridge pickup when playing acoustic songs.
This is the best YouTube video I have found that explains about pickups and showing you the difference in sound.
3. Adjust your playing technique
To play acoustic songs on your electric guitar, use your finger as much as possible. Strumming or plucking with fingers produce a warmer and ‘toned down’ sound as compared to using pick.
This is going a little extreme. If you are more comfortable with using pick – go ahead and play with your pick.
But if you can play with both, playing acoustic songs on your finger is better in creating the softer sound – that’s more suitable in acoustic songs.
If you are interested in learning fingerpicking, now is also a great time. Many great acoustic songs are played with finger picking and they sound great.
4. Get clean headphone amplifier
Get a clean headphone amplifier if you want to play acoustic songs on your electric guitar while using the headphones.
A headphone amplifier is a small device that allows you to connect your headphone to your guitar. This means you can play the electric guitar quietly – without the bulky amp.
A headphone amplifier does not have as many settings as an amp. So if you want to buy a headphone amplifier to play acoustic songs, you need to pick the right one.
I personally use the Vox Am Plug (Clean version) to play acoustic songs on my electric guitar. They are extremely handy and I love playing guitar through my headphones (nobody will be disturbed)
A clean headphone amplifier is a great investment if you know you are going to play a lot of acoustic songs with your electric guitar.
5. Playing unplugged
Playing the electric guitar while unplugged is the easiest way to simulate acoustic sound from your electric guitar.
If you don’t bother much about the sound and just want to practice acoustic songs, then this could be your solution.
Playing unplugged is not as bad as people say. You can still hear the note you are picking – just not as loud.
I personally have practiced many acoustic songs with the guitar unplugged. Especially true when I connect my electric guitar directly to my phone and play along with backing tracks from Yousician.
Difference Between Electric & Acoustic Guitar
As of now, we know that playing acoustic songs on an electric guitar is possible. Now the question becomes ‘what’s the difference between electric and acoustic?’
If an electric guitar can play rock, metal, jazz and even acoustic songs – why should anybody buy an acoustic guitar?
Well, here are 4 differences between electric and acoustic (in terms of sound, design and playing style).
(I am focusing on the electric guitar because that’s what you probably have.)
- Electric guitar is less forgiving. With any regular amp, a soft touch to the string can produce unwanted sound. This is why the electric guitar is less forgiving when making mistakes. You need to make sure unwanted strings are muted.
- Electric guitar has less spacing on the fretboard. Electric guitars are designed to be played with pick – where sharp sounds are produced. Which is why electric guitars have narrow necks – great for picks but not for fingers. It’s easier to form chords with a narrow neck though.
- Electric guitars can achieve higher notes easily. With the help of an amp, electric guitars can play out high notes very easily – to the point where it’s too high for acoustic songs.
- Electric guitar is easier to press. It doesn’t take much pressure to press the string and produce the right chord or note sounds. This could be great for you if you absolutely hate the blisters. (You will still have blisters but not as bad)
Should You Use Electric Guitar To Play Acoustic Songs? (Or Buy New)
You should use an electric guitar to play acoustic songs if you are just playing for yourself and you only have an electric guitar.
As discussed, You are not required to buy an acoustic guitar just to play acoustic songs.
However, if you are playing with the intention to perform. Or if you know that you are going to play a lot of acoustic songs, then you should invest in an acoustic guitar.
It’s very common for guitarists to have at least 1 electric guitar and 1 acoustic guitar. If you don’t buy now, you will most likely buy an acoustic later anyway – when you have played long enough.
If you still haven’t bought any guitar yet and are still considering it, well… I recommend you buy the guitar that correlates with your favorite songs.
If you like more rock songs, then definitely go for an electric guitar first. If you like more pop songs or acoustic songs then definitely go for an acoustic guitar first.
Both acoustic and electric guitar are good options for beginners. Here’s an article I wrote about starting out with electric guitar (without learning acoustic first)