Did you hear someone play an acoustic guitar, and you liked the warm and fuller tone that they produced? If you’re like many people who only have an electric guitar, you might have wondered if you could make yours sound like an acoustic guitar.
Luckily, it is possible to make an electric guitar sound like an acoustic, and in this beginner’s guide, we’ll discuss all the possible ways to accomplish this.
But first and foremost, it is necessary to point out that even though there are many ways to do this, and some would sound better than others, it is not possible to completely replicate the sound along with the subtleness and nuances of a different instrument (the acoustic guitar).
Related article: Electric vs Semi-Acoustic vs Acoustic-Electric Guitars
The sound will be pretty close and, in some cases (like using a good VST plugin in a DAW), even indistinguishable for many people but not 100% the same.
With that out of the way, let’s get started!
The most optimal way to make an electric guitar sound acoustic is to use an acoustic simulator effects pedal. These pedals change the tone by shaping the frequencies of the electric guitar into something more akin to the frequency shape of an acoustic guitar. Other things like the amp settings, the pickups and the strings being used will also play a role. Depending on your guitar and overall configuration, a combination of these can make your electric guitar sound like an acoustic guitar so that you play acoustic songs on it.
Even when played unplugged, electric guitars have a remarkably different tone than acoustic guitars. To mimic or replicate the sound of an acoustic guitar, let us first understand why electric and acoustic guitars sound different in the first place.
How Electric Guitars Produce Sound?
Electric guitars are mostly solid-body guitars, meaning there is no sound hole (and sound box) and hence no or very little resonance. Electric guitars also have magnetic pickups that convert the strings’ vibration into electric signals.
The crucial point here is that unless you have a semi-acoustic guitar, the sound from strings is not converted into sound. Instead, the pickups convert the string’s vibration directly into an electrical signal which is then amplified by the amp. Of course, the real-world working of an electric guitar is far more complex than this, and even the body, though subtly, plays a role in how the guitar sounds.
Some musicians use semi-acoustic guitars, which have a hollow body (though not as big) and mostly have piezoelectric pickups. These guitars have a warmer acoustic guitar-like sound with a natural resonant tone thanks to the sound chamber and the piezo pickups that catch the sound waves rather than just the vibrational energy. If you own this type of guitar, you can get a pretty good acoustic sound without an acoustic simulator pedal by just tuning the amp. We’ll get to the settings in a little while.
How Acoustic Guitars Produce Sound?
Acoustic guitars have a hollow body that acts as a soundbox with a hole on top just beneath the strings. The top portion is called the soundboard, and the air inside the sound chamber starts to vibrate when the strings are strummed. It is important to note that no “amplification” is being done. Rather the soundboard increases the surface area of the vibration compared to just the strings vibrating. The sound chamber or the soundbox “traps” this vibrational energy and produces audible sound through careful “acoustic” design.
The complex process of vibration and resonance makes for a unique timbre (tone quality) that we perceive as the sound of an acoustic guitar. These guitars also have comparatively thicker strings to be able to increase the vibrational energy and need more force to fret and strum. The combination of all these factors makes the sound of acoustic guitars have a clean, resonant and fuller tone compared to electric guitars.
How To Make Your Electric Guitar Sound Like an Acoustic Guitar
Now, we understand how an acoustic guitar produces its sound and what it sounds like. We have a general idea that to make an electric guitar sound like an acoustic, we need to have a clean sound output. This means setting the amp to use the clean channel and refraining from using amp settings like gain etc. We should also be using as few effects pedals as possible, preferably just one – the acoustic simulator pedal. With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the methods with which you can make your electric guitar sound acoustic and will hopefully be able to play acoustic guitar songs with it.
Electric guitar sounding like an acoustic is not always desired. If this is the case, see this article.
Method 1: Using an Acoustic Simulator Pedal
The most straightforward method to make your electric guitar sound like an acoustic is to use a simulator pedal. This small device hooks up to your guitar and then to your amp, changing the sound output of your electric guitar to match an acoustic. One of the best and most well-known pedals is the Boss AC-3 Acoustic Simulator Pedal. With many settings onboard, this pedal gives you a lot of flexibility in shaping the sound to exactly how you like, including reverb. Using it intelligently can give you the hint of natural reverb or resonance that acoustic guitars have.
How Acoustic Simulator Pedals Work
When connected between the electric guitar and the amp, these pedals change and shape the sound frequencies of the signal coming from the guitar into the shape closest to what an acoustic guitar would produce. Various knobs on the pedal let you control how the sound is transformed. Many pedals will have one knob for the type of guitar and pickups to simulate, like standard, jumbo, piezo-equipped etc.
Another set of typical knobs you’ll find on many of these pedals are the Top and Body knobs that let you set the degree of virtual resonance that is added while emulating the resonant characteristics of an acoustic guitar. Some pedals also have more knobs, like one for reverb setting that tries to emulate acoustic guitars’ natural reverbing sound thanks to the sound box. You can think of these pedals as a very complex graphic equalizer, and much like an EQ, they shape the sound but in a much more advanced manner.
How to Setup the Pedal
It is straightforward to set up the acoustic simulator pedal. Just plug your guitar into the pedal and your pedal into the amp. The pedal acts as a bridge between your guitar and the amp. Most pedals require external power, and you can use an AC adapter or batteries.
If you are trying to use multiple pedals together (one connects to the other to form a ‘chain’ of pedals), the cabling, including the power supply wires, can quickly get messy. For such setups, it would be wise to use a pedal board. Just remember to use the acoustic simulator pedal at the front (which means it is closest or, more preferably, the first to connect to the guitar). We recommend using the acoustic simulator pedal alone for the cleanest acoustic sound.
Guitar and Amp Settings
Acoustic guitars have a clean sound, and since we are using a simulator, it would be best to feed the simulator pedal a clean signal and keep the output of the pedal as clean as possible through the amp.
The optimal way to get a clean signal from the guitar would be to use a single pickup in isolation. If your guitar has a pickup selector, test the sound from all the pickups one by one individually and see which one sounds better. Typically the neck pickup should sound the best, but by all means, try it yourself.
As for the other knobs, set the Tone to a 12 o’clock position to start with and have the Volume knob at low (2-4). After having selected the best pickup, you can continue to fine-tune the Tone knob for a sound that suits your taste but, for the most part, keep the Volume knob low.
As far as the amp is concerned, set the Gain to 0 and set all the other EQ knobs, like Bass, Mids and Treble, to a neutral position and only adjust if necessary after adjusting everything else, including the pedal itself.
Remember, we’re using the simulator pedal to generate the acoustic sound, and too much frequency modification in the amp stage might make the sound more artificial. One other setting that some amps have is the Presence knob which can help you make the sound fuller and brighter which are the characteristics of an acoustic guitar. You can play with this setting if it makes the sound better. If your amp has a Reverb knob, it would be advisable to set it to 0 if your pedal has a setting for adding reverb. The pedal would do a far better job creating a subtle reverb reminiscent of acoustic guitars.
The Benefits of Using an Acoustic Simulator Pedal
- First and foremost – no need to buy an acoustic guitar
- Much easier to amplify on a gig level where higher sound output is needed. For an acoustic guitar to be used in this manner would require you to fit it with a piezoelectric pickup or have a mic setup.
- Easier to record – again, because the setup can easily be hooked up to a computer, and there is no need for a soundproofed room which is a necessity for a clean recording, as far as acoustic guitars are concerned.
Acoustic Simulator Pedal vs Real Acoustic Guitar
Acoustic simulators provide an effective and easy way to make your electric guitar sound like an acoustic, but it is apparent that the sound produced will not be 100% authentic. From our short discussion on how acoustic guitars produce their sound, we understand the complexity involved in the process.
Everything from the string thickness to the size and the type of wood plays a role in the sound production, which lends to the unique tone. It is very challenging for a piece of electronics to perfectly mimic the quality and characteristics.
However, with the advancement in technology, today’s simulators are very capable of producing a tone very close to the original acoustic guitar tone. Their convenience in terms of money and time saved may outweigh the need for total authenticity for many use cases.
Recommended Acoustic Simulator Pedals
BOSS Acoustic Simulator Guitar Pedal (around $100)
This is the pedal that pros use. It has modes to simulate the different acoustic guitars – standard acoustic, electro-acoustic and bigger body guitars (with more bass and resonance).
It also has an additional knob for adjusting the reverb to the amount you like.
Vivlex LEF-320 Acoustic Guitar Simulator Pedal (around $30)
It is the most affordable pedal that provides the best bang for your buck. It has all the settings like the above pedal except the reverb knob. It adds the natural reverb of an acoustic guitar, just that you cannot control it.
Method 2: Using a Digital Audio Workstation
Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW for short, is one of the most versatile and revolutionary methods of adding effects besides its plethora of uses. Though Windows-based DAWs have been around since the early 1990s, the improvements in the capabilities of computers have made these softwares more capable and thus mainstream in the last decade.
The DAWs require the guitar to be hooked up to the computer through an audio interface and provide extensive features to record, edit, play and produce sound files. The capabilities of these DAWs in terms of adding effects and simulating the sound signature of high-end amps are virtually limitless through plugins.
Needless to say, DAWs are a perfect fit for a job like this, where the signal coming from the guitar needs to be shaped, changed and all-around fine-tuned to match the sound signature of another type of guitar.
There are three things you’ll need (besides the electric guitar) to use this digital method of making your electric guitar emulate the sound of an acoustic guitar.
These small and affordable devices allow you to connect your guitar to your computer optimally. Many audio interfaces will let you connect your guitar to various systems, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS etc., making them a very functional and helpful device.
Most of these interfaces will connect to your computer’s USB port and will have a jack to hook your guitar into it.
You will run the DAW on the computer. Even though you can connect to the audio interface to mobile phones and the mobile DAWs are capable in their own right, they wouldn’t nearly have as many options and capabilities as full-fledged computer DAWs.
DAW Software with an Acoustic Guitar Simulator Plugin
You have a lot of choices in terms of the software to use. Many of the professional ones are paid though there are great free and open-source options as well. One of the best and most liked DAW is the renowned FL Studio ($99). Another well-known free and still full-featured is Cakewalk by BandLab.
Among the free DAWs, one that comes with an acoustic simulator plugin is AMR ReValver which has several impressive and professional-level modeling features such as amp cabinet modeling, instrument modeling, amp cloning etc. The base software, along with several plugins for effects and amp simulation, is free and other plugins are available for an impressive price, often as low as $5.
Do note that these are studio-level professional software and will need some getting used to due to their complex nature.
For the VST plugin, we recommend getting either the Blue Cat’s Re-Guitar plugin ($99) or the one from ReValver – they offer a full DAW and a separate VST plugin that you can use with your favorite DAW.
Be sure to read the documentation of the DAW software and the plugin you decide to use to understand the several options and settings they provide. After having the basic knowledge of how these work, you’ll be able to experiment with the various options to get the sound you want.
The Benefits of Using a DAW Software
- No need to buy an acoustic guitar
- No need to buy a specific-purpose effects pedal
- Best acoustic guitar simulation as far as sound quality and timbre are concerned
- Much easier than any other option to record, edit and finally produce the sound files or the song
- Gives you the flexibility to not only emulate an acoustic guitar but also the sound signature of expensive boutique amps, pickup modeling to simulate the sound of the top-of-the-line pickups and much more.
Software DAW vs Real Acoustic Guitar
DAWs can produce a sound closest to an acoustic guitar with proper equipment and configuration. And the sound output should be virtually indistinguishable from a real acoustic guitar. Still, the best guitar players will be able to tell the difference. In the recording, sometimes it is said that DAWs sound more acoustic than acoustic guitars themselves! Which is to say they are too perfect sometimes, even for their own good.
Also, some DAWs and plugins can cost a lot of money as many software creators sell plugins separately, which can quickly add up. Also, there is the issue of the learning curve. On the other hand, you can pick up an acoustic guitar and start playing it, given that you know how to play!
Still, if you’re an experienced musician and know DAWs or are technologically savvy, this should be a good option. The ease this method offers in terms of recording your guitar is unmatched.
Method 3: Using Just the Amp
Sometimes you just want to experiment and play an acoustic song that you like but don’t want much hassle. We have you covered as long as you have your expectations in check. This setup will not sound very ‘acoustic’. Let me get that out of the way unless you have a semi-acoustic guitar. We’ll discuss semi-acoustic next; for now, let us see what we can do with tuning just the amp to get somewhat of an acoustic guitar tone.
The primary prerequisite to having your electric guitar sound more like an acoustic is to clean the signal as much as possible. For this, remove any pedals you have in your setup, and use the guidelines mentioned to make your guitar signal and amp sound as clean as possible. If your amp has a Reverb setting, it would be helpful. Try setting it to something like 2-3 and go from there. Generally, you would want it below 4-5, where the artificialness of the reverb takes over, which is unsuitable for our use. You can also play with the Presence setting if your amp has this knob. This would make the tone brighter and livelier.
If done well, this setup can sound sufficiently good, and you’ll be able to play many acoustic guitar songs. If you’re not looking to buy new gear and possibly waste money on something that you might not even use much, this setup can prove quite valuable in the short term.
Method 4: Using a Semi-Acoustic Guitar
Semi-acoustic guitars are a special kind of hollow-body guitar with a unique sweet and funky tone and are popular among musicians of genres such as blues and funk. These guitars can produce a certain amount of characteristic hollow-body sound with natural resonance and reverb similar to acoustic guitars. If you have a semi-acoustic lying around, it would be your closest bet to sounding the most like an acoustic guitar with just the amp (with the setup mentioned above).
Method 5: Playing the Electric Guitar Unplugged with a Mic
This method requires having a decent microphone which you can place in front of your guitar while you play it unplugged. You’ll also need a microphone amplifier to produce sound at audible levels. Many people, especially those who sing, have a condenser microphone lying around, and you can use that as well. You can use your PC as an amp substitute by hooking the mic to it and either recording or playing it through some decent speakers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to put acoustic strings on my electric guitar?
You can put acoustic guitar strings on your electric guitar, but whether that would make them sound like an acoustic is another thing. The tone of acoustic guitars is primarily due to the ‘acoustics’ of the guitar, comprising the soundboard and the hollow body/sound chamber. Heavier gauge strings are typically used on acoustic guitars to transmit more energy in the form of vibration to generate an audible sound. Putting these thicker strings on an electric guitar may not be optimal, as electric guitars use strings made of specific metals that work together with the pickup to generate an electric signal. The magnetic pickups on electric guitars might not correctly pick up the vibration of a non-ferromagnetic string or alloy.
Furthermore, the structure of the electric guitar, including the bridge and especially the nut, might not be appropriate for thicker strings.
So the verdict is unless there is a specific reason to, for example, a string that sounds naturally brighter and fuller and matches your guitar’s specifications, don’t put acoustic guitar strings on your electric.
Can I make my electric guitar sound like a bass guitar?
Yes, if you’re using a DAW, plugins are available to do this – for example, an Octave Shifter. Since the bass guitar is tuned a whole octave below guitars, you can set the octave filter to one or more octaves lower. Obviously, the sound wouldn’t completely match an actual bass guitar, but you can get a pretty good tone with some fine-tuning and setting up the virtual amp correctly.
You can also use standalone octave pedals to do this. Set the pedal to shift the pitch down a full octave, and you can get a good enough tone. We recommend Donner Octave Guitar Pedal for this.
Can I play all acoustic songs with the above methods?
The methods described in this article will allow you to play acoustic guitar songs on your electric guitar. However, being an acoustic instrument, musicians use the percussive nature of guitars by using techniques such as slapping, which are not easy to emulate with electric guitars, no matter the simulator.
If you can take such parts out or are creative enough to modify those to suit something that can be done on electric guitars, then you can play most of the songs. Still, for the most part, songs that have heavy guitar percussive elements may not sound good when played using the setup described in this article.
Did you want to play acoustic songs on your electric guitar? With the knowledge obtained from this article, I’m sure you’ll be able to do that in the most time-efficient and optimal manner. Whether you use a simulator pedal or go the digital route is up to you and your preferences. If you wish to play a gig, go with the acoustic simulator pedal, while for recording, we recommend choosing the DAW method since it saves extra hassles and the need to buy pedals altogether.