Can An Electric Guitar Sound Like An Acoustic?

acoustic guitar | Sandy Music Lab

If you play the guitar long enough, you’ll eventually run into a situation where you have the wrong guitar for the occasion. Sometimes you may have to play an acoustic-style song—but you only have an electric guitar with you. In these scenarios, is it possible to make your electric guitar sound like an acoustic?

An electric guitar can be made to sound like an acoustic by fixing your guitar and amplifier’s settings to block out distortions. You can also buy pedals that will adjust the sound. However, electrics will never sound exactly like an acoustic, so it’s always better to use an acoustic if you can.

This article will help you learn how to make your electric sound as much like an acoustic as possible. A few tricks and tools will help you take your “wrong” guitar in a pinch and make it the “right” guitar.

Why Do Electric Guitars Sound Different Than Acoustics?

Electric and acoustic guitars are fundamentally different instruments. After all, one relies on electricity, and one doesn’t! This is despite the fact that they look very similar, and knowing how to play one usually means you can play the other.

So, why do electric and acoustic guitars sound so different? The answer lies in how they project the vibrations of their strings and the source of their sound.

This is the difference between how electric and acoustic guitars work:

How Electric Guitars Work

Electric guitars make noise only because of their pickups. Pickups are magnetic transducers that translate the strings’ vibrations into an electrical current, which then travel to the amplifier to produce sound.

So, the electric guitar’s sound system works mostly with the pickups and strings. The guitar’s body will have a minor effect on it as well, but ultimately, those effects won’t make much of a difference.

Because of this, the electric won’t make noise unless it’s plugged in, other than a faint one. When plugged into an amp, the electric sounds sharp, bright, and crisp. It can also be modified with pedals and effects, often in a way that distorts the sound.

How Acoustic Guitars Work

Acoustics, on the other hand, work with their hollow bodies to produce sound. When looking at an acoustic, you’ll notice a large soundhole in the center of the body. The soundhole leads to the hollow body or chamber of the guitar.

The strings on an acoustic guitar vibrate, and those vibrations then resonate in the guitar’s chamber. These vibrations swell within the chamber, bouncing off the back and ringing out the soundhole to create the acoustic’s sound.

Since the acoustic guitar works with a resonant chamber instead of pickups and amplifiers, its sound is much more warm and natural. This is why it’s so difficult to imitate an acoustic’s sound with an electric guitar.

How To Make Your Electric Guitar Sound Acoustic

Fortunately, there are ways to adjust your electric guitar settings to sound much more like an acoustic. It takes a little bit of testing but knowing the tonal qualities of acoustics is a good place to start.

Acoustic guitars typically have higher bass and lower treble than electrics. There are several adjustments you can make on your guitar itself, and on the amp you’re playing out of to imitate this.

Adjust the Guitar Settings

First, take the settings on your guitar and adjust them so that it has a clearer tone. This will take some trial and error, but a few rules of thumb will help you.

When you want your guitar to sound like an acoustic, set the guitar’s pickup selector to a neck pickup. The pickup selector is a switch somewhere on the lower half of the body. Neck pickups will increase the bass and lower the treble, contributing to a more acoustic-sounding electric.  

There should also be some tone control knobs on your guitar. Go ahead and roll them all down to zero. This should make the tones as clear as they can be.

Adjust the Amp Settings

Even more important than changing the guitar settings, changing your amplifier’s settings will help you transform your electric’s tone.

First, set the guitar to a clean channel. A channel typically offers varying levels of distortion. Most amps have two to four channels, some with distortion and others without any. Make sure you’re using a channel that has no distortion.

Next, set the amplifier’s frequencies to match that of an acoustic’s. An amp will have controls for the treble frequencies, middle frequencies, and bass frequencies. These control the high, middle, and low frequencies, respectively.

You should set the middle and frequency quite low on your amp when trying to imitate an acoustic. The bass should be set somewhere in the middle (though not too high to prevent it from sounding unnatural).

If you’d like to imitate a guitar with more “twang,” then experiment with different levels of treble. The treble shouldn’t be too high either, however.

The best way to get the sound right is to test it out along with a regular acoustic guitar. Experiment with the different sounds!

Pedals To Make an Electric Guitar Sound Acoustic

Luckily, manufacturers have anticipated this exact problem as well! To take your electric one step further to an acoustic sound, you can always invest in an acoustic simulator pedal. Guitar pedals usually distort the sound, but these pedals will sound softer and more resonant:

These effects pedals can drastically help warm your tone and fool listeners into thinking you’re playing an acoustic.

When To Invest in an Acoustic Guitar

If you find this adjustment problem happening to you frequently, you may just want to buy an acoustic guitar.

The fact is that an electric guitar will never have quite the same resonance as an acoustic guitar. The natural sound of the vibrations on the wood is impossible to replicate perfectly. Acoustic effects pedals will help you achieve a sound that is much like an acoustic but never come as close to the real thing as you’d like.

If you’d like to buy an acoustic but don’t want to break the bank, the Fender Squier Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar is under two hundred dollars and is made by one of the most renowned guitar brands.

Of course, there are times when playing with an acoustic effects pedal may be the best option, or you may not have access to your acoustic. This is why it’s best to be prepared for any possibilities.

Final Thoughts

An electric guitar can sound more like an acoustic with a few minor adjustments. By fixing the amplifier and guitar’s tone settings to match an acoustic’s musical profile or even investing in an acoustic tone pedal, you should be able to play an acoustic-style song with an electric. Ultimately, it may be worth it to own both an acoustic and electric guitar if you find yourself using this method often.  

That said, versatility is one of the most useful skills in guitarists. Learning how to play an electric acoustically can help improve your playing!

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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