There was a reason we invented the electric guitar.
Sometimes the volume and tone of an acoustic guitar just don’t make the grade.
There’s something about the versatility and depth an electric guitar can provide that an acoustic can’t compete with.
You’ve come here because there’s an issue with your electric guitar sound. It’s sounding more like an acoustic guitar than an electric?
You’ve come to the right place.
I will explain why electric guitars sometimes sound like acoustic guitars, and what you can do to fix the issue.
If it’s time to upgrade your guitar, check out our post about the best electric guitars!
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If not, what are you waiting for?
Table of Contents
- The reason behind the problem
- Why does your electric guitar sound acoustic?
- Fix the issue – how to make electric guitars not sound like an acoustic guitar
Why does my electric guitar sound acoustic? – The reason behind the problem:
If your electric guitar sounds like an acoustic, it’s because something is making it sound overly bright, thin, or resonant. Acoustic guitars are essentially bound to the tone they create due to their construction. Because of its hollow body, each acoustic has its own sounding tone, yet they have a pretty consistent sound. Acoustic guitars sound very different from electric guitars.
Before we look at the actual mechanics of what makes it sound acoustic, we should understand the tone differences between electric and acoustic guitars.
Generally, acoustic guitars have a very different tone to electrics. If you compare the sound of an amplified electric with an acoustic guitar, the differences are very obvious.
Why does your electric guitar sound acoustic?
Primarily, the main differences are versatility and color. Due to their design, an acoustic guitar is pretty much locked to the tone it produces. Unless you start using microphones, effects, and production tricks, an acoustic guitar will sound like an acoustic guitar. Each acoustic has a unique sounding tone thanks to its hollow body, but they have a relatively fixed sound. An acoustic guitar sounds completely different to the electric sound
An electric guitar is much more versatile in terms of tone range. The raw sound of an electric guitar is only the basic building block of the resulting guitar tone. Players can easily create a vast amount of different sounds with an electric guitar thanks to the additional stages of the signal chain.
Primarily the onboard volume control and tone control allow players to change the basic, raw sound of the guitar. But guitarists can also use guitar pedals and amps to change the sound of an electric guitar.
There are a lot of areas where the sound of a guitar can be changed. From the type of string you use to the pickups and amps you have, and even the way you play it. More info on this in a bit.
So, how do I know if my electric sounds acoustic?
Let’s compare the sound of acoustic and electric guitars.
Acoustic guitars are usually characterized by a brighter, thinner sound than electric guitars.
They tend to have a much higher concentration of harmonic overtones, thanks to using a brighter metal for the strings. Their hollow body also increases sound projection.
Acoustic guitars have more high frequencies, as they need to have a full, clear, and detailed sound from the get-go. An electric guitar can use duller strings because the sound is brightened with amplification. Acoustic guitars need to cover the full frequency range from the start.
It’s hard to be specific, as each guitar model is different. Some acoustics will be darker than electrics, and vice versa. However, the traditional sound of an acoustic guitar is bright, jangly, and resonant.
Electric guitars usually have a much broader range of tones. Electric instruments can be a lot darker and warmer than acoustic. At the same time, an electric could also be much brighter and thinner, it all depends on the pickups, strings, pedals, and amplifier settings.
Acoustic guitars also tend to have a longer sustain and decay than electrics. Thanks to their resonant body, the sound energy takes longer to fully leave the guitar. Electric guitars have shorter sustains due to their solid construction.
If you think your electric guitar sounds like an acoustic, the chances are – something is making it sound too bright, thin, or too resonant.
The next section looks at areas of the guitar where these issues arise, and how you can correct them.
Fix the issue – how to make electric guitars not sound like an acoustic guitar
If your electric guitar is plagued by an acoustic sound, don’t worry, I have some good news – there are several solutions for fixing the sound of your guitar.
This section looks at techniques you can use to make your electric guitar sound electric again!
If you’re not happy with your electric sound, one area to investigate would be the strings currently used on your guitar. The guitar string is the main source of the instrument’s sound.
The type of guitar strings you use has a huge effect on the overall tone of a guitar. From the material to the winding type, to the gauge – changing the style of your strings is an easy way to fine-tune the tone of a guitar.
Not every string set will be a good choice though. Generally, cheap, or thin guitar strings can make an electric guitar sound more acoustic. Thin strings in particular run the risk of creating a more acoustic tone.
A quick way of fattening up a guitar tone is using strings with a heavier gauge. Heavier strings have more bass, a percussive attack, and a shorter decay – all of which make a guitar sound less acoustic-sounding. One of my favorite string ranges for this purpose is the D’Addario NYXL Series. These have a warm, fat tone, with a lot of punch, making these nickel-plated guitar strings perfect for electric guitars.
For more information on choosing strings for your electric guitar, see our post on the best electric guitar strings. Changing strings is a great way to make your electric not sound like an acoustic guitar.
Another key component of an electric guitar sound is the amplifier. The impact of amplification cannot be understated when constructing a guitar tone.
Players will need to consider both the model of the amp and the settings used, as both of these affect the sound.
The nuances of amplification are beyond the scope of this article, but there are some basic points that will get you in the right direction.
First, let’s talk about amp brands, styles, and models. Changing the amplifier you use when playing guitar is a highly effective way of changing the sound.
There are two components here: amplifiers (heads), and amp cabinets.
The amp head is the electronic system that applies gain, distortion, and tone-shaping to a guitar signal. The cabinet is the section of the amp that contains the actual speaker cones.
Both cabs and heads can change the sound of a guitar. Smaller cabs and combo amps have a sound that is closer to an acoustic when played. If you want to beef up your tone, try a cabinet with more speakers, or an amp head which provides more gain (and knobs).
Next, let’s look at the amplifier settings. If the amp settings are not configured properly, the tone of your guitar will not be ideal. An unconfigured amp can often be the cause of an unpleasant, or acoustic-sounding guitar tone.
A key element to check here is the tone section of the amp settings, particularly the Treble control.
An over-boosted treble control can make a guitar sound acoustic, as the excess of high frequencies is similar to the natural sound of acoustic guitars. Rolling down the treble controls can help to remove some of these unwanted high frequencies. Guitarists should change amp settings until they find the right balance between the Bass, Mid, and Treble controls of their amp (if it has them).
Adjusting the gain and distortion also helps. Using a clean channel can result in a more acoustic-sounding tone. Using a clean tone can be ok, but might not always be what you need. Switching to a more overdriven channel will make an electric guitar sound like it is supposed to!
Pickups & Tone Controls
The pickups of the guitar also have a huge effect on the sound.
Changing the pickups installed in a guitar is a great way to upgrade its sound.
Single coil pickups are usually brighter and thinner than humbucker pickups.
If you find the tone of your guitar isn’t warm enough, swapping the pickups out for humbuckers could make the right improvement. This is quite a long task though, and there are easier ways of making your electric not sound like an acoustic.
The pickup selector switch is also a good place to look at for making quick and easy tone adjustments. If your guitar allows, switch to the neck pickup. These have a warmer, more balanced tone, compared to the piercing, twangy sound of a bridge pickup.
Generally, the bridge pickup has more of an acoustic tone than the neck pickup.
The tone control of your guitar acts almost as a steering wheel for the guitar’s tone. Sometimes rolling off the high end with the tone knob can make a guitar sound less acoustic, although these controls often only make a minor difference. Also, not every guitar has a tone knob, so you might have to look for a different solution.
The tone control and pickup selector will only get you so far though, and there are better ways to get your electric tone less like an acoustic than the onboard guitar settings.
Guitar pedals are one of the most powerful tools for changing the sound of a guitar.
Using combinations of guitar effects, guitarists can make their electric guitar sound like any other instrument. Pedals open up a huge amount of different guitar settings
Many styles of effects pedals can help to stop making your electric guitar sound like an acoustic guitar.
Pedals are inserted into the signal chain to color and process a sound. Multiple guitar pedals can be plugged together, which can make some crazy tones when you’re playing guitar.
Distortion, gain, and overdrive pedals can help to make your tone crunchier and heavier.
Fuzz pedals are also a good choice for creating a far, distorted tone. Using a distortion pedal can also increase the volume quite a bit, so make sure you’re careful with the knobs! I’d recommend turning the distortion pedal up a little bit, play the guitar to hear the difference, then tweak the settings. When you’ve found a sound you like, take note of the setting.
Modulation pedals like phasers, choruses, and flangers can create a more psychedelic, abstract tone, breaking away from a traditional acoustic sound.
Reverb pedals can help, but they can also make the problem worse if you’re not careful.
Reverb extends the resonance of the guitar and adds a spatial effect.
This can work in your favor, making the guitar sound washier, and less acoustic. Alternatively, it could enhance the acoustic-sounding properties, so be careful how you dial it in.
When it comes to effects pedals, I think the more the merrier. The more pedals a guitar player has on their pedal board, the more creative choices they have available. This lets guitarists create an even broader array of tones.
For a decent guitar pedal setup, I’d recommend using a pedalboard and an external power supply, this makes the whole process a lot easier.
And hey, if you want to make your guitar sound even more acoustic, you could try out an acoustic simulator pedal – these things can be a lot of fun. Some acoustic simulator pedal models also have reduction settings, which might be able to reduce problem areas of the sound.
Cheap Guitars & woods:
Cheaper Guitars tend to be made from lower-quality materials. With electric guitars, they often use cheap components in the electronic circuits and pickups. The result of this is that the guitar sounds weak, thin, or has an acoustic tone when plugged into an amplifier.
Lighter woods can also sound more like acoustic guitars thanks to the characteristics of their resonance.
Unfortunately, the wood of a guitar can’t really be changed. If the wood makes your electric guitar sound like an acoustic, either look for a new guitar or experiment with other parts of your guitar setup.
Often overlooked, playing technique can drastically alter the sound of your guitar.
How you articulate your musical ideas, and the physical way you play the instrument dictates the sound produced.
Playing with picks can create a brighter, more acoustic sound sometimes. If you play the string in a certain way, you can hear some more acoustic sounding overtones in the guitar. Playing too close to the bridge of a guitar can also make the strings sound nasal and more acoustic.
The room you are in – acoustic.
Even the acoustic environment you play in can have a large effect on the sound of your guitar. The natural reverb of the space you’re in will impart the room’s characteristics as a sonic signature on the sound of your guitar and the music you play.
This isn’t something you always hear, but some rooms resonate at frequencies that make a guitar sound more like an acoustic. The reflections and resonant properties of a room can ruin the sound of your guitar to some extent.
If your room sounds bad, there are a few solutions to this issue.
The first being, play in a different room, if possible. Check each room you have available to you and work out which one you like the sound of best.
Move your amp in there and test it out.
An alternative solution would be acoustic treatment. There are many styles of acoustic treatment available, from acoustic foam to bass traps. If you’re on a small budget you could even fill your room with pillows and duvets to dampen the reflections.
Electric guitars are incredibly versatile instruments. There are so many elements that go into the final tone, and changing each one can make a big difference. From the strings to chord choices, to the room you play it in, you should explore each stage of the guitar’s sound to isolate problems.
Now, when you play music or songs on a guitar you should be able to identify areas of the sound that from you are not happy with and address them with the advice above.
Maybe you want to have a go at building your own electric guitar? You should check out our guide on building electric guitars from scratch.
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