Stuck with just an acoustic guitar but want to get that electric sound as well? It might sound near impossible, but there are actually several ways to make your acoustic or acoustic-electric guitar, sound like a pure electric guitar, and it’s not all that complicated either!
The Quick Answer
You can make an acoustic guitar sound like an electric guitar by using a clip-on pickup fed into an electric guitar amp. Adjust the EQ to favour high-range frequencies and use a sound-hole cover to to limit feedback which will produce a more electric sound from your acoustic guitar.
Make an Acoustic into an Electro-Acoustic
To make an acoustic guitar sound electric, the first step is to turn it into an acoustic-electric. The easiest way to do this is to use a clip-on pickup or wireless vibration response preamp. Alternatively, you can install a pickup into your acoustic guitar.
Clip on Pickup
Using a clip on pickup is the cheapest way to turn your acoustic guitar into an electric-acoustic guitar. These are commonly referred to as microphone pickups which are very cheap and quick to install. However, the wires can get in the way for some players who will prefer a wireless system.
Check out this Monoprice Clip On Acoustic Guitar Pickup from Amazon.
Vibration Response Preamp e.g. UFO-7
This is a wireless option, however, it is more expensive than the clip-on pickup method.
The instructions are very straightforward:
- Place the transmitter just behind the bridge on the acoustic guitar
- Plug a receiver (works with Belcat receivers) into your interface or PA system
- Switch everything on and start playing!
Some cool features include:
- Wireless transmission works up to 30 meters (100 foot)
- The battery life is 6 hours, with a 2 hour recharge time
- The transmitter simply sticks onto the guitar and comes with a spare so you don’t need to drill any holes
- It has separate volume and tone controls to give you more adjustability over your tone
Here is a video showing the system in action.
Installing a Pickup
This is the most time-consuming option and will require you to drill and modify your acoustic guitar. There are two main types of acoustic guitar pickups, soundhole and piezo. Piezo pickups are the most complicated to install but produce less feedback. Soundhole pickups are very easy to install and sound warmer.
Check out my comparison of piezo and soundhole pickups to learn about all the pros and cons.
Acoustic-Electric to Electric Guitar Tone
Once you’re dealing with an acoustic-electric guitar, the next thing you’ll need to do is dial in the tone. There are several main differences between the sound of an acoustic-electric guitar and an electric guitar, which need to be addressed:
- Acoustic-electric guitars suffer more from feedback than electric guitars
- Acoustic-electric guitars have a warmer tone than electric guitars
- Acoustic-electric guitars have more resonance and sustain than electric guitars
To make an electric-acoustic guitar sound like an electric guitar, plug it into an electric guitar amp and adjust the EQ to favour high-range frequencies. Consider using a sound-hole cover or noise-gate pedal to reduce the feedback and add some reverb and compression to give the tone more liveliness.
Here are some quick tips on how to make your electric-acoustic guitar sound more electric:
- Use an electric guitar amplifier
- Adjust the EQ to favour treble rather than bass
- Add reverb and compression, and sometimes delay
- Avoid using overdrive, fuzz and distortion
- Put a piece of paper under the fretboard to provide a crunchier tone
- Opt for piezo pickups instead of microphonic or sound-hole pickups
- Use a sound-hole cover to limit feedback
- Consider using a noise-gate pedal
Now let’s take a look at each tip and explain exactly how to use them.
1. Use an Electric Guitar Amplifier
When trying to make your electric-acoustic guitar sound like an electric guitar, your best bet is to choose an electric guitar amplifier, rather an one designed for electric-acoustics. These are designed to amplify the frequencies produced by electric models, so will help your electric-acoustic emulate this tone.
If possible, aim for a clean amp, preferable a tube (valve) amplifier with lots of headroom (allows you to turn the volume up high without distorting the tone). You can choose a solid-state amp, if that’s all you have to hand, but make sure you are using the clean setting.
2. Adjust the EQ on the Amplifier
Acoustic/ acoustic-electric guitars have a warmer more mellow tone than electric guitars which sound a bit brighter and sharper. Adjusting the EQ on your amplifier to favour treble rather than bass is a free and quick way of making your guitar sound more electrc.
Some amps have an EQ setting whereas some have separate bass, mids and treble controls, here’s how to use them.
- EQ – turn the control up to favour higher-range frequencies and produce a more defined and brighter tone.
- Bass – turn this down to reduce the “boomy” tone.
- Mids – keep these neutral for now and adjust after you’ve tweaked the rest of the settings.
- Treble – turn this up to make the tone sharper and crisp.
3. Add Some Delay, Reverb and Compression
Adding some effects will also help you to emulate an electric guitar tone. The best effects for acoustic-electric guitars are reverb, delay and compression, depending on the tone you’re going for. Compression in particular will make the biggest difference in making your tone sound more electric.
You can use effects pedals, or if your amp has built-in effects, feel free to make the most of them.
- Compression: this is good at “smoothing out” the sound of your guitar. It does this by decreasing the volume of strings plucked aggressively, and increasing the volume of strings plucked very lightly.
- Reverb: this creates an ambience which makes the tone sound livelier and helps to give it some more depth and character.
- Delay: this makes it sound like the note is being played repeatedly. Slap-back and doubling are the best types of delay to use here.
4. Crunch, Distortion and Fuzz Sounds Will Suffer
Since acoustic-electric guitars have a hollow body, and electric guitars have a solid body, acoustic-electrics tend to suffer more from feedback when plugged into an amplifier. This is because the sound resonates in the sound-hole, which isn’t really an advantage in terms of the overall audio quality, as it does create feedback issues.
Feedback is less of an issue with clean tones, however if you try and use any overdrive, distortion and fuzz in particular, it can become quite unbearable.
Try to use as little distortion as possible to get the desired volume on your amp. Ways to combat this include:
- Using an amp with a lot of headroom which allows you to turn the volume up high before distorting the tone.
- Use a volume pedal to help achieve the desired volume.
5. Put a Piece of Paper Under the Fretboard
If you are looking for a distorted tone, but struggling with feedback on an acoustic-electric, a great trick is to put a piece of paper under the fretboard. This was frequently used by Johnny Cash. This works well with playing cards and cash notes as well.
It won’t give you a heavy metal tone, granted, but it can add some crunch. Check out this video of Johnny Cash playing here with paper under the fretboard.
6. Sound-Hole Cover to Limit Feedback
One way to combat the increased feedback when using an acoustic-electric guitar, is to use a sound-hole cover. As I mentioned earlier, the hollowness of the guitar is what contributes to the feedback, so covering this can be a great, inexpensive option to try.
Here is a link to the sleek D’Addario Acoustic Soundhole Cover on Amazon. Considering how cheap it is, it is definitely worth considering if you are suffering with excessive feedback.
7. Noise-Gate Pedals
Investing in a noise-gate pedal if you don’t already own one, is another brilliant way of using feedback. This is a more expensive option compared to a sound-hole cover, however it does give you more control over the tone of your guitar.
You can put one in your pedal chain to remove any unwanted buzzing and noise from your signal, so it is eliminated before it reaches your amplifier.
8. Change the strings
Acoustic and electric guitars usually have different string types as standard.
- Acoustic guitars usually have either brass or bronze plated strings with a steel base. Brass strings sound bright, whilst bronze strings have a warmer tone.
- Electric guitars usually have either steel or nickel strings.
Switching to brass plated, or steel strings is a good way to brighten the tone or your acoustic/ acoustic-electric guitar to give it a more electric sounding tone.
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