Ever wanted to get an acoustic guitar sound, but only had an electric guitar? Or even just out of curiosity? You are not alone, my friend. Many guitar players reach that point in their lives when the same old electric sound is not enough anymore. Blah. No matter how many tonal variations you managed to be able to come up with. No matter how many pedals, rack effects and voodoo chants you gathered. The limited electric guitar tone gets boring. That’s when you start craving the acoustic sound. Can you have the best of both worlds, and gain absolute versatility with your electric guitar?
The short answer is, yes, you can. You just won’t be able to sound exactly like an acoustic guitar. But you can get pretty close to it!
Distortion – the unwanted fuzz
First of all, you need to get rid of distortion. A touch of it is still manageable, but the dynamics are simply different if you have even a “hair” going on. Pristine clean is your best bet, and most solid state amps shine in that regard.
The second step towards the acoustic-like sound is to open up the frequency range of your amplification and monitoring. Wide range speakers, two- or even three-way systems will work really well.
Wider range – open up
Going down this path, you’ll likely realize that your pickups are not ideal. Some of them will be way too noisy, others will not have enough top end. Actually, none of the regular pickups will have the required top end extension. Unless you either go with unusual, low impedance pickups, or go active. The low impedance stuff might be vaguely familiar, if not from anywhere else, but from Les Paul’s own favorite guitar, the Gibson Les Paul Recording model. A good winder will be able to make you such pickups as well. For active stuff, you need to do it the smart way, cause most active guitar pickups are designed to sound like passive electric pickups, or at least pretty close to those. Ever heard of Tuck Andress? He uses a Bartolini, paired with a preamp in his battered Gibson L5. It’s different from what most EMGs have with their impedance modeling, to make them sound like a passive pickup.
Don’t forget that your low impedance pickups will also need clean pre-amplification, just to get a passable signal level. If it’s a mic preamp, so be it. That’s pretty much what Anthony Jackson does with his Fodera bass.
Once you have the right amp, the right speakers and cabs, the right pickup and the right preamp in your guitar, you can dive deep into the world of equalization. Why? Because you’re gonna need to EQ the living shit out of your system for it to work. While the high treble is now there, it needs some serious enhancement (i.e. boost) to get close to what an acoustic guitar is capable of. You’ll probably also need to get rid some of the obtrusive high mids.
Piezo – the last resort
If fighting the magnetic pickup world the above way turns out to be a dead end (and you run out of money that you spent on useless things that didn’t work at all), you can turn to piezo bridges. Let me point out right away that these things suck. Don’t feel too bad about it; they suck in acoustic-electric guitars, too. No matter how hard you tweak them, the shrillness will remain. They have the sought after treble, but their attack is way different from anything an acoustic instrument would do.
In the end, you’ll end up with something that oozes a usable wide range tone! It just sounds nothing you couldn’t easily beat with even the cheapest, most awful sounding acoustic guitar. Was it worth it?