Can An Electric Guitar Be Played Like An Acoustic?
Acoustic guitars and electric guitars each have distinct features that explain why they sound different. Acoustic guitars have hollow bodies that essentially amplify the sound through their soundhole, whereas electric guitars (usually solid bodies in construction, although some exceptions do exist) need an external amplifier for the sound that is literally picked up by the electronic pickups to be heard. This gives the acoustic guitar a naturally warmer and more resonant tone than an electric guitar by default.
Can You Play An Electric Guitar Like An Acoustic?
Yes, an electric guitar can be played like an acoustic, whether that means without plugging into an amplifier or trying to re-create the sound of an acoustic guitar through guitar and gear settings.
When you play an electric guitar without plugging it into an amplifier, you will obviously notice that the volume is much lower, and if you are used to acoustic guitars, will notice the electric guitar is not producing a deep, warm tone the way an acoustic guitar does by simply strumming it. However, there are ways to increase the volume of an electric guitar and mimic the sound created by an acoustic guitar.
Unplugged Electric Guitar
There is nothing holding you back from just playing an electric guitar on the couch without plugging it into anything. It will never be loud enough for a concert, even a very small event, without being plugged in to an amplifier, but you can certainly practice an electric guitar acoustically. Sometimes this is a good idea so you can focus on the exercises you are doing without worrying about muting strings and controlling for the excess noise of an amplifier.
The sound level will be much lower than if you were playing an acoustic guitar, and you will not experience the various tones you otherwise would with an acoustic, because the electric guitar is not designed to express its character, or tones, without being plugged in. The guitar’s pickups in this case are what brings it to life and give it a unique sound.
Simulating An Acoustic Sound With An Electric Guitar
If you are interested in actually making your guitar sound like an acoustic despite being electric, there are several ways to go about accomplishing this.
As noted above, the pickup configuration on an electric guitar is what determines its tone (other factors like the wood used in making the guitar matter, as well, but not nearly as much as it does for an acoustic guitar). With this in mind, you want to run a clean tone through an amplifier. If your amplifier will work without using any gain (which adds distortion), this is even better as it will reduce the amount of “buzz” in the sound.
Many amplifiers have settings for clean tones, although how to set it up will vary based on the particular amplifier being used.
To create the clean sound of an acoustic, the pickup selector can be set to the neck pickup as it provides a warmer, cleaner tone generally than the other positions. Of course, this also depends on the type of guitar you have and the switches/tone controls you have. Experiment with them to try to find the ideal location for the acoustic sound.
There are also effects pedals that are meant to simulate an acoustic guitar. Running one of these will help achieve the acoustic sound as well and will likely be even better when done in conjunction with the aforementioned tips on amplifier and pickup settings.
It is also important to acknowledge that acoustic guitars usually use thicker strings than electric guitars, and while it is not advised to bump up the thickness of an electric guitar’s strings by a lot, you can experiment with slightly increasing gauges and see how this impacts the overall tone of the guitar. Thicker strings can help emulate the warmer resonance often found on the acoustic guitar.
Fingerstyle On An Electric Guitar
Fingerstyle is a common style of playing an acoustic guitar, but it can be applied to the electric guitar as well.
If you have played fingerstyle on an acoustic guitar, be aware that the thinner strings of an electric guitar mean you need to be gentler when plucking strings as the same amount of force is not required as on an acoustic.
The sound of fingerstyle on an electric guitar is also different than that of an acoustic, meaning the same technique can actually produce unique sounds based on the type of guitar used. Of course, if sounding like an acoustic guitar is the goal, follow the steps in the above paragraphs to re-create the acoustic tone, but this is not mandatory by any means.
Conclusion – Can An Electric Guitar Be Played Like An Acoustic?
In sum, yes, an electric guitar can be played like an acoustic guitar, and this is true whether we mean simply playing an electric guitar without plugging into anything or to actually simulating the tones of an acoustic.
Playing an electric guitar without amplification is not something you would do for a performance or recording, but is something you might do at home, during lessons, and practicing generally.
If the goal is to sound like an acoustic guitar, the electric guitar should run clean tones through an amplifier, ideally without any gain. The neck pickup is often best for the acoustic tone, but controls and selector options vary by guitar so it is important to experiment with the electric guitar in hand to see what works. Furthermore, there are effects pedals designed to emulate the acoustic guitar, so hooking up to one of those can definitely get you closer to the acoustic sound for the electric guitar. Another option is to install thicker strings on the electric guitar.
Finally, the techniques used to play an acoustic guitar can be transferred to the electric guitar. Fingerstyle is a particularly popular form of playing an acoustic guitar, and while it will produce a different sound on an electric and requires a gentler touch, it is completely transferrable.
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