If you’re just starting out on the guitar, and only have either an electric or acoustic guitar, it can be frustrating to feel like you’re stuck playing only one kind of music. The good news is that you can actually play acoustic guitar songs on the electric guitar, and vice versa: You can also play electric guitar songs on the acoustic.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the best strategies to transfer one kind of guitar playing onto the other: playing electric music on an acoustic guitar, or playing acoustic music on an electric guitar. Let’s first look at how you can play acoustic guitar songs on an electric instrument.
How to Play Acoustic Guitar Songs on Electric Guitar
Learning to play acoustic songs on electric guitar can be challenging. If you want to imitate the clean sound of the acoustic, a good place to start is by turning off all distortion on your amplifier. A little crunch could be fine on some tunes, but you’re often better starting off with a really clean sound, and slowly adding some crunch and distortion later on
I’d also recommend using the neck pick up of your electric guitar, to achieve a warm and rich sound. A little reverb is also a nice touch and certainly doesn’t hurt either. Here’s a video that shows how close you can get to an acoustic tone on your electric guitar if you take this approach:
Here’s one last thing to think about in my opinion: the way you strum and pick. This will depend on the song, but some sound better if you use the skin of your thumb rather than your fingernails or a pick. This is especially true for acoustic songs that were fingerpicked in my opinion.
How to Play Electric Guitar Songs on Acoustic Guitar
But what if you want to play electric guitar songs on your acoustic guitar? Well, this is still possible too. In fact, many rhythm guitar parts will transfer over to the acoustic pretty well without even changing them at all. Here’s a guitarist playing several popular electric songs and simply moving them onto the acoustic:
If you want to get fancy, there are even some things you can do to take advantage of the new acoustic environment. For example, you could move the chords of the song into open chords rather than barre chords or power chords. Open chords sound amazing on an acoustic, and you’ll get much richer fuller sounds from open chords than you will when trying to play barre chords or power chords on your acoustic guitar.
Playing Electric Guitar Songs on an Acoustic | Examples
If you’re looking for inspiration for translating your favorite electric songs onto the acoustic, I have two amazing albums to recommend:
- Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” :
2. Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged in New York” :
Why do i recommend these two albums? Well, both Clapton and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana are primarily known for playing electric music. And the songs they perform on each of these albums are almost all originally electric guitar songs, that they have transposed onto the acoustic guitar.
What you’ll find if you listen to these albums is that not only do the songs not lose anything when moved over to the acoustic guitar, they actually get a completely different sound, and you may find you even prefer the new style.
Are Acoustic Guitar Chords the Same As Electric Guitar Chords?
Some confusion might come up when trying to figure out what chords to play on the acoustic vs electric guitar. In general, chords work exactly the same way on both instruments. However, some chords will sound better on an acoustic than they will on an electric, and vice versa.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Power chords and barre chords sound much better on an electric guitar, and are also much easier to form and move around.
- Open chords sound better on an acoustic.
- You can use a capo on the acoustic to imitate barre chords, but still play open chords all over the neck in any given key.
However, with all that said, you can still play power chords on the acoustic guitar. Here’s some helpful resources to learn how to do so correctly:
Here’s a video of awesome helpful tips for how to play acoustic style chords on the electric guitar, and how to tweak them if you also want to add some distortion:
Ready to Get Better at Guitar, Faster?
Whenever you’re ready to take your guitar playing to the next level, check out my favorite resources below:
Elixir Nanoweb Acoustic Guitar Strings
- Unique polymer coating allows strings to last for months or years at a time, making for an exceptional value.
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- Beloved by everyone from Paul Simon to Gordon Lightfoot, the D-18 is one of Martin’s most legendary guitars ever.
- An excellent, premier quality acoustic guitar for bluegrass, country, folk, rock and more. This is what I play myself.
Chords, Tabs & Lessons for 100 Songs
- This free guide from Acoustic World gives you chords, tabs, and video lesson for the 100 best songs to learn on guitar.
- I spent hours putting this together all by myself to help you get better at guitar, faster!
Fingerpicking vs Flatpicking Guitar
- Learn which picking style is right for YOU by exploring examples, history, and popular players of each style.
- Discover essential techniques and pros and cons of each approach.