Why Does My Electric Guitar Sound Acoustic?

Songs with a prominent acoustic guitar melody are mostly soft romantic songs, but when you think of electric guitars, the song could be anything from a pop song to a death metal song. “Air guitar” and other guitar showmanship gesticulations exhibit the infectious energy of electric guitars and guitar solos.

But what if your electric guitar doesn’t sound like you have heard it being played by others or your favorite band? This article will discuss a specific case where an electric sounds more like an acoustic guitar. I have nothing against acoustic guitars; I love them, but I surely don’t want that sound from my electric guitars!

Did you buy a new guitar and feel like it sounded more like an acoustic guitar when you hooked it up with an amp to play some riffs?

Don’t worry.

Electric guitars are versatile instruments, and in “default” settings (in both the amp and, to a lesser extent, onboard guitar controls), an electric guitar may not produce what you probably consider an “electric guitar sound.”

What makes the sound of an electric guitar unique is the effects like distortion and reverb. Most songs and bands use these and other effects to color the guitar’s tone.

If this is the case, I’ll provide the necessary settings for the guitar and amp controls to hopefully make it sound more like how you intend to.

If your electric guitar used to sound alright but is now having this issue, then the cause might be something else like an effects pedal or the amp or something else. Don’t worry. We’ll first go step–by–step to isolate the issue and then hopefully fix it.

But first, let us try to understand how exactly an acoustic guitar and electric guitar sound so that we are all on the same page.

Electric Guitar vs Acoustic Guitar: Tone Difference

When we talk about the sound of an electric guitar, we are not talking about the versatility of tone the electric guitar can produce. Or how different it could be shaped or altered with effects pedals but rather a relatively natural sound of an electric guitar with just the amp.

The sound of an acoustic guitar has more natural reverb and overtones. The tone is fuller, more resonant, and generally brighter. On the other hand, electric guitars have a thinner sound with less reverb (unless added by the amp or effect pedals). This tone is considered suitable for electric guitars because, unlike acoustic guitars, for the most part, you can significantly change and shape the tone of electric guitars by using amp settings and effect pedals besides other gears.

You can even make an otherwise “electric sounding” electric guitar sound like an acoustic by using amp settings and effect pedals. In fact, some electric guitar players do this to play acoustic songs. But I digress.

However, the sound of an electric guitar you often hear in songs or live performances is almost always altered or shaped by either effect pedals, the amp, DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software, or a combination of these.

Most rock songs with a growling, gritty tone would, at the very least, use an overdrive effect. In the simplest terms, distortion is overdrive taken to an extreme so that the frequencies start clipping, which is used prominently in the metal genre.

How to Make Your New Electric Guitar Sound More Electric

Electric guitars, when played in the Clean channel of the amp without any effects, would sound very clean, bright, and like an acoustic guitar. This tone is their natural sound, and while it may differ between guitars, they would still sound very neutral. What makes them remarkable is that we are not tied to this one sound. A lot of tone shaping is possible with electric guitars.

What a typical person considers the “sound of an electric guitar” is a tone with some overdrive. It is what makes the electric guitar have the “growling” tone, which we often hear in rock, blues, and other genres. The growling tone is significantly more evident in guitar solos.

If not set for overdrive, a new amp might be in the clean channel, making your electric guitar sound more “acoustic” or rather without any kind of tone shaping.

Let’s see how we can get some decent distortion out of it with just the amp.

Step 1: Guitar Amp Control Positions

Step 1: Almost all guitar amps have two channels — a Clean channel and an Overdrive (OD) channel. Check your amp’s user manual and set it to use the Overdrive channel. Set the Volume, Gain, and Reverb knobs to 0. Set all other EQ knobs (such as Treble, Mid, and Bass) to 5 or a 6 o’clock position. However, if your amp has a Tone knob instead of these 3 EQ knobs, set it to 5 or a 6 o’clock position.

Step 2: Set the guitar knobs like Volume and Tone to a mid–way position. If your guitar has a pickup selector switch, set it to use the neck and middle pickup or the neck pickup.

Step 2: Guitar Amp Control Positions

Step 3: Now turn the Gain knob on the amp to 5 or a 6 o’clock position and roll the volume just a bit. Play the guitar and check how it sounds. Increase or decrease the Gain to however you like it. These settings should make your electric guitar sound better for most people who want an overdriven sound.

Step 4: Now, turn the volume up slowly to what you’re comfortable with.

Step 3: Guitar Amp Control Positions

Step 5: Play with the other settings like Treble, Mid, and Bass to your liking (or the Tone knob in case your amp has that instead). Also, try different pickups to see which sounds best to you.

Step 6: Enjoy!

Why Doesn’t My Guitar Sound Electric?

If your guitar used to sound better before, but now you can’t get it to sound that way. The above adjustments may not help because the issue may be somewhere else.

Let me outline a method to isolate the issue and hopefully fix it without having to go to a repair shop.

Step 1: Isolate the Guitar and Amp

Removing everything from the chain and directly connecting the guitar to the amp would be wise if you’re using one or more effect pedals or a pedalboard. This reduces the point of failure (or issue) to just the amp and the guitar.

Does it solve the problem?

If yes, something or some settings in your pedal(s) may be causing this. Try connecting one pedal at a time and changing the settings on the pedal to find where the issue lies. If not, try step 2.

Step 2: If you’re using the amp with your effect pedals, it might be set to the Clean channel. Try selecting the Overdrive channel and make adjustments as outlined in the above section.

Step 3: Did you restring your guitar recently? A different gauge or string type may also cause this issue of your electric guitar sounding off. Check your older strings or take them to a guitar store to get something similar and try putting these new strings on. Strings are relatively cheap, so you can have a few sets lying around.

Also, new strings may produce a brighter, tinny sound until they “break in” if that’s the case, your only bet is to keep playing until then patiently. This process should take several days. Otherwise, you can restring your guitar with a set of strings with a heavier gauge which have some kind of coating. Thicker and coated strings are generally known to sound more mellow.

Step 4: Try playing the guitar and turning the knobs on the guitar all the up and down. Though rare, a bad pot may be causing the issue, in which case the guitar would start sounding off in certain positions of the pot and better in others. If this is indeed the case, you would need to take your guitar to a repair shop. If you have some DIY experience and are comfortable using a soldering iron, you might be able to change it yourself.

A pot is short for a potentiometer, essentially a variable resistance whose value changes with the position of the knob. Most guitars either use a 250K or 500K pot. Your pot may be labeled at the back with the value.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, proceed to step 4.

Step 5: Check your cable jack to see if it has oxidized. Try taking out the jack, inserting it repeatedly, and rotating it while it is inside. An oxidized jack may cause uneven contact with the connectors inside the guitar, causing the issue of your guitar sounding bad.

Try checking and repeating the process at both ends — the guitar side and the amp side of the cable. Also, remember you should need a fair bit of force to insert and remove the jack, which makes a “clicking” sound. If the jack goes freely inside the connector, the connector itself might be the cause of the issue with its pins wearing out.

Changing the output jack may require taking it to a technician. You might be able to replace it if it’s at the guitar side and you’re a DIY person with soldering experience. But, I wouldn’t recommend opening the amp if the culprit output jack is, unfortunately, there.

Step 6: If the above doesn’t solve your problem, you might want to try a new cable just in case. Though a cable is usually not the cause most of the time, it is worth checking out.

Step 7: If nothing above solves your problem, I recommend hooking your guitar up with a different amp. You can ask your friends or a guitar shop to let you do this. A bad amp would produce a bad sound output, not necessarily resembling an acoustic guitar but just plain bad sound. The chances of having a bad amp are pretty slim, in my opinion. But, in the unlikely case your amp is indeed faulty, you would need to buy a new one if it was relatively inexpensive.

You can also try having it repaired but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Step 8: If nothing above solves your problem, you’re only left with one option: take your guitar to a repair shop, preferably with your amp. There are several components which may be the cause of the issue. It might be the pickups, wiring inside, or other electronics. Checking and replacing these are something better left to the professionals.

Final Thoughts

Electric guitars are versatile instruments and can be made to sound like acoustic guitars. This tone may not be desirable when it is not intentional. If you play genres more suitable for electric guitars, chances are you want the gritty, crunchy tone that cuts through the sound of the other instruments and makes its place known.

A guitar on a Clean channel is supposed to sound bright, neutral and almost like an acoustic guitar. Some basic adjustments requiring just the amp can make it sound more like how you often hear them being played.

In the unfortunate case when your older guitar starts to sound off, the issue could be with many components. A new set of strings could be the issue or your effect pedals. Your best bet would be to isolate the guitar and the amp, which is also an excellent first step for rectifying many other sound issues.

Travis Whiteley (Guitarist) - Profile Picture

Travis Whiteley

Guitar Player/Teacher

Travis is a self-taught guitarist, musician, and father of an 8-year-old. He has settled in his hometown and gives free guitar lessons to kids on Sundays. His current hobbies include sharing his experiences and knowledge through this website.