Electric guitars and acoustic guitars have very different sounds, but songs originally written for and recorded with electrics can be played on acoustics with no problem. The two types of guitars are extremely similar in how they’re played, which allows for this transfer to happen easily.
In the rest of the article, we’re going to look at how electric guitar music is often played on acoustic guitars, how you can do this yourself, and whether electric guitar chords transfer over to acoustic guitar.
- Can You Play Electric Guitar Music On Acoustic?
- Can I Play Electric Songs On Acoustic?
- Do Electric Guitar Chords Transfer To Acoustic?
Can You Play Electric Guitar Music On Acoustic?
Musicians have been making acoustic versions of electric guitar songs for a long time, and they have been well received. A lot of artists will play acoustic renditions of their older songs at live shows without the traditional distortion or release entire “unplugged” albums. Another way that artists do this is to take electric guitar songs and rearrange them for a different genre more suited to acoustic.
Unplugged Albums and Shows
MTV launched the series Unplugged in 1989. In these shows, artists would perform acoustic renditions of their existing material that would normally be played on electric guitars. The show was popular throughout the 1990s and spawned a number of albums from artists such as Nirvana, Rod Stewart, and Alice in Chains.
This trend continued strongly with new albums going into the 2000s, but it also appeared in a different trend. A lot of artists took the intimate format of the MTV Unplugged stage and brought it to wider audiences with whole acoustic live shows of their originally electric material.
The increasing prevalence of YouTube and other video and audio hosting platforms allowed creators without studio backing to share their own content. One trend that has emerged is that of musicians creating arrangements of songs originally recorded with electric guitars in genres where the acoustics are typically used. For example, a heavy metal song may be arranged into the country genre, or a punk song arranged into folk style.
Around the Campfire
Long before YouTube existed or MTV Unplugged was a cultural phenomenon, people have been playing electric songs on acoustic guitars. Whether you’re out camping without electricity or simply only own an acoustic and want to entertain yourself and others, strumming out your favorite song on an acoustic guitar is a time-honored tradition.
The informal nature of this approach has left it less prominent than the others, but it’s no less valid. To a large extent, a lot of singer-songwriters and a big part of the indie genre are a result of this impromptu style of guitar playing, giving much validity to the practice.
Can I Play Electric Songs On Acoustic?
If you want to play electric songs on acoustic guitar yourself, it’s a lot easier to pick up than you think. Electric guitars and acoustic guitars are similar enough that whether you have experience or not, you can copy the way the original song is played. Alternatively, you can use music theory to adapt the songs to acoustic guitar in a way that makes aesthetic sense.
The main mechanical difference between acoustic and electric guitars is that acoustics have a higher action. This means that the distance between the strings and the fretboard is greater in acoustic guitars. If you’re used to playing these songs on an electric guitar, it will feel different on an acoustic, but this is normal.
Playing Songs the Same Way
Acoustic guitars can be tuned the same as electric guitars and will usually have the same number of strings. For this reason, the simplest way to play electric songs on acoustic guitar is to just play them the same way as the original artist. This can sound very different, depending on how much distortion was used in the original recording but is still playable.
Incorporating Music Theory
You can learn some basic chord theory and use this to adapt the chords from the electric songs to sound more natural on an acoustic guitar. For example, if the electric song you’re playing uses a lot of power chords, you can identify the missing thirds and recreate these chords as full triads. The song will sound different from the original but match the acoustic guitar sound better.
Improvisation is the most advanced method of playing electric songs on an acoustic guitar. Once you get fully comfortable with the sounds and style of your acoustic, you can add your own flourishes indicative of acoustic guitar music while playing songs originally made for electric guitar. The final result will sound very different to the original, but this is a great way to improve your creativity.
Do Electric Guitar Chords Transfer To Acoustic?
If you play a chord on an acoustic guitar, it will always sound different to the same chord played on an electric, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t transfer over. If you can accept the very different sounds of the two instruments, any chord that’s played on an electric guitar in the original recording can be recreated on an acoustic, albeit with a different aesthetic.
The chord shape most frequently associated with electric guitars, especially with heavy distortion, is the power chord. Because of this association, a lot of guitarists assume that it would transfer over poorly to acoustic guitars, but plenty of musicians do this very well. Southern rock is a subgenre that very frequently uses power chords on clean electrics and acoustic guitars.
When full chords are played on electric guitars, they’re usually played with little or no distortion. This makes them transfer over to acoustic guitars very easily. When these chords are played on electric guitars with distortion, it’s usually a very specific sound that the artists are going for, and while this may be lost in the transfer to acoustic, it will usually sound more natural when transferred over.
We’ve learned that you can play songs written for electric guitars on acoustic guitars. You might need to adjust your style, or you could play them exactly as the original instead and enjoy the different aesthetic, but ultimately, the creative choice is yours to make.