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I've once got a very cheap acoustic guitar when I was very young, I later replaced it by an electrical guitar because I disliked it's quality and I don't know what I was doing when I was young.

Can acoustic music or classical music be played with an electric guitar with similar sound?

Are there guitarists that are actively doing this?

If not, I'll probably have to look for music to fit my guitar. Or buy an acoustic guitar or perhaps a piano...

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1  
Interesting question. I suspect that replicating the sound of a good quality classical guitar is just not possible using any digital/electronic means, but hopefully an expert an reply here. –  Noldorin May 9 '11 at 1:02
    
@Noldorin The fact that a good quality classical guitar can recorded well enough that a human can't distinguish it on playback is actual enough to prove that replicating the sound is possible. Producing the sounds on demand, rather than from a recording, is obviously more difficult. Converting the sound of one guitar into the sound of another is even more difficult. But still, all very possible. –  Matthew Read May 9 '11 at 4:24
    
The technology exists, certainly. But I think you'd be better-off following the advice below and taking advantage of the sounds your guitar can make well, reinterpreting classical sounds with your electric. You can get yourself a nice classical guitar down the road. –  neilfein May 9 '11 at 4:51
    
@Matthew: Of course, replicating it possible. As a physicist and programmer, these things are apparent, but it is also obvious that the computational tractability is very low at the moment! The fidelity, complexity, range of pure digital music synthesis is simply not up to scratch at present. –  Noldorin May 11 '11 at 0:10
    
@Noldorin Agreed ... but it's getting very close. –  Matthew Read May 11 '11 at 0:11

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Well, it's got all the same notes, right?

People have been updating the timbres of classic works for centuries. Take Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, for example. That was originally intended to be played on well-tempered clavichords and harpsichords, but nowadays keyboardists perform it on equal-tempered (not the same thing!) harpsichords, pianos, and even synthesizers.

It is possible, of course, to use electronics to approximate the sounds of an acoustic or classical guitar on an electric (piezoelectric pickups appear to be best at this, and then there's always MIDI), but of course it's never going to be exact, and you don't have a resonating chamber to drum on, and you've got closely spaced steel strings instead of widely spaced nylons, but again, those differences are no bigger than those between a clavichord and a piano.

If you want to perform seriously as a classical guitarist, then yes, eventually you would need to purchase a classical guitar (and not just an acoustic guitar like you had, either). But there's absolutely no harm done in grabbing your electric, dialing in a clean tone, and going to town.

I think you'd be doing yourself more justice as a musician to just approach the classic repertoire using the instrument you have, especially if you're interested in continuing to play electric guitar. Don't let equipment get in the way of your own growth as a musician.

Oh, also: Paganini's 5th Caprice (performed by Steve Vai for the film 'Crossroads'), and Yngwie Malmsteen is very fond of performing Bach.

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Couldn't resist: youtube.com/watch?v=dJXUXCQb97I&feature=related –  Jduv Jun 2 '11 at 17:00
    
@Jduv Le groan... That's his own composition, yes? You'd think he could resist rushing past the orchestra all over the place. –  NReilingh Jun 3 '11 at 3:44
    
That I agree with. He's terrible at playing with an orchestra :P. –  Jduv Jun 3 '11 at 15:10
    
@Juv Interestingly, the studio version is a related video, and it is indeed at the faster tempo. It's the classic "the way you practiced it isn't necessarily the tempo we're playing at" problem. –  NReilingh Jun 3 '11 at 15:33
    
FWIW, I learned guitar in a classical guitar class. I've since jumped to electric. One of my warmups to get the blood flowing, I like to play pieces from that class. While messing around on the electric, I also found that one song sounds FANTASTIC with a bit of flanger, and another sounds really good with a little distorted wah. Just play whatever on whatever. It develops you as a musician. –  Pulsehead Aug 5 '11 at 12:26

Short answer: Yes

Long answer:
Yes, you can. I do it a lot, when I want to play some classical for a slight(?) change from heavy metal riffs without switching guitars.
I'm using a Line 6 Spyder IV 15 amp, and the 'Clean' preset sounds just like my classical guitar.
Other amps may vary, but even if it only has overdrive settings, if you turn the drive all the way down you should get a good clean guitar sound.

One thing about this: There is a difference between electric steel string and classical nylon stringed guitars; on a classical, the strings are spaced a lot farther apart than on a steel string, so playing will feel a little different than what you're used to if you don't play on a steel string regularly. But, if you're used to playing on an electric, only the musical style (and sound) will change

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It certainly is possible to do so, with some minor technique modification. One of the worlds best classical guitarists, John Williams famously did this during his period with the band 'Sky' back in the early 80's. If you get the chance, check out his album 'Sky2' where he plays several classical pieces with an electric.

To get them to sound the same, you will have to use some form of hardware or software modeller. For instance, I use an Axe-FX, and I found presets that can make my electric sound like a classical, an acoustic or even a sitar!

Bear in mind that your picking style will have to be slightly different with a light tensioned electric as compared to a nylon stringed guitar, i.e. your right hand fingernails will have to be shorter etc.

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This is interesting, I'm going to look into Guitar Processing software to see what it can do. –  Tom Wijsman May 11 '11 at 10:47

The other answers (so far) seem to be focused on the sound you'd produce: whether you can replicate the sound of a classical guitar with an electric and whether it's even necessary to do so. I think these are interesting questions, but miss an important point: playing technique.

A classical guitar uses nylon strings with an extremely wide string spacing. They are designed to played fingerstyle, with a well-developed orthodox thumb-and-three-fingers technique. Much of the classical repertoire involves playing multiple parts (e.g. bass and treble) simultaneously. Electric guitars use steel strings, and most use a much narrower string spacing. They are designed to be played with a plectrum (pick), using a combination of strumming and single-note picking.

These techniques are vastly different from each other, and it's not easy to play music written for one type of guitar on the other. I don't mean to suggest you can't play a classical guitar with a pick or that you can't play an electric guitar fingerstyle---you can, and some famous players have. Mark Knopfler, Lindsey Buckingham, Chet Atkins---these guys all play(ed) fingerstyle on electric guitars to great effect. It's worth pointing out, though, that none of them were playing classical music on electrics; they adapted their style to fit the electric's idiosyncrasies and wrote original music of their own.

My point is: the physical differences between the instruments contributes to the very different playing techniques used on each. Even if you play a nylon-string classical guitar with a pick, you won't be able to bend notes nearly as well as you can on an electric, and if you play fingerstyle on an electric, you'll soon find the low string tension and tight string spacing to be serious inconveniences.

You can try to apply the playing techniques of one to the other, but you'll find it difficult to pull off successfully. I don't really recommend it.

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Except for your final sentence, I think this is a great answer. What is art but struggle against limitations? –  neilfein May 11 '11 at 1:51

I agree with NReilingh's assertion that you really need the right guitar to play a particular style or song well. That said, it's certainly possible to produce nearly identical sounds with a combination of guitars and effects. Just to add in my personal experience, I have an effects pedal for my electric guitar that has a very good acoustic guitar effect. You can tell the difference from a real acoustic guitar, but as technology advances the gap will grow ever smaller.

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