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I play acoustic guitar (with a magnetic pickup through an acoustic amp) in a band that also has drums, bass and an electric guitar.

I mostly keep the rhythm with chords (I am an amateur in guitar, but I write the songs of classic rock/folk genre) and I want to try (in some cases) to do something more, playing as lead guitar (an intro or a solo for example) while the electric guitar will play the chords. However the member that plays it says that it won't sound good, that el. guitar will be too loud for the acoustic to be heard and stuff like that.

Is there any truth in this?

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    One obvious answer is to play electric guitar on songs which you lead, and switch between them like you see in many bands. But it doesn't answer your question so I'll leave it as a comment only. – Mr. Boy Jan 21 '15 at 10:05
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It's partly about the volume but also about the range of frequencies the guitars cover.

An electric guitar (if distorted) covers from quite low - almost bass up to higher middle ('harsh') - quite a broad range and can be a piercing sound if one string is played at a time.

An acoustic guitar covers a broader upper range (you probably notice the "tinkly" higher end of the acoustic over the electric, which is often the magic of an acoustic & electric playing together :-D ), but acoustic overpowers things is it's too loud in the mix so tends to sit little lower in volume.

So while your friend has a point, it's possible to get around it. The "normal chord playing" part sounds like it's well in control already - no need for change there, I assume.

For solos, consider having an effects box, as Rockin Cowboy suggests. However I'd go a bit beyond just a volume boost. You might find these pedal effects useful:

  • A compressor : Keeps the sound clean, but fills it out by making quiter parts louder so that the overall sound is nice and even. This will help a lot when playing a solo on an acoustic as it also helps with sustain, which some acoustic guitars lack. Be careful though - too much compression will cause the guitar to feed back through its body, as it tries to make "any" signal louder.

  • Distortion/Overdrive - if you can't beat 'em join 'em ! Distortion works quite well on an acoustic for solos, if that's a sound you're after. Possible further issues with feedback though.

  • Most importantly: Graphic equaliser. This could do lots of jobs for you:

1) You can normally set them so that the overall volume is a bit higher than when switched off, so it could help boost the sound for solos

2) You might find as you turn up for a solo, the guitar wants to feed back, normally at the same frequency depending on amp position/room size etc. You can use the graphic eq to turn that feedback frequency down a touch, thus muting the feedback.

3) It'll enable you to choose a goot 'voice' for the guitar while you're soloing. Eg if your electric friend is chugging away on a distorted guitar, you'll possibly need a bit more middle range to help the acoustic punch through a bit.

If it's a question of straight volume, let the amps do that part (or a boost pedal) - I've found the worst thing is to try to project the sound by playing the guitar harder. It normally sounds awful and disappointing, and is much harder to play like that than in your usual comfort zone.

I'd say if you can afford the outlay, try a compressor (mild) and graphic eq. If not, go with Rockin Cowboy's suggestion & just boost the sound a bit.

The alternative is to have everyone else pipe down a bit while you solo - this is a great effect once or twice but it's a bit weird if you do it too often. The song may lose its mojo unintentially.

  • Good suggestion about a Graphic EQ pedal if it's in the budget. I might have to try that one myself. I'm not a big fan of heavy distortion on an acoustic. Prefer to leave that to the electrics. But it could work if that's what you are after. Might not be used often enough to justify being part of an acoustic pedal board. If it is - then why not just use an electric guitar and ditch the acoustic? – Rockin Cowboy Jan 21 '15 at 19:20
  • @RockinCowboy Yeah I agree - distortion is kind of defeating the object a bit although I could see that having it clean for rhythm/strumminess and distorted (as appropriate) for solos might work ok. Re the sound of distorted acoustic: I've had mixed results. Normally it sounds a bit kind of buzzy but I switched it on for a laugh at a gig once (to join in with a comical heavy rock ending) and that one time it sounded amazing. Wish I'd done it sooner lol – user2808054 Jan 22 '15 at 11:02
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It is true that an electric guitar CAN overpower an acoustic guitar and will in most stage settings. But there are things you can do to compensate for this. I would suggest a simple "Boost" stomp box that you can run your acoustic through which will give you the ability to add a 10 - 20 db boost (depending on which box) by simply stepping on the foot switch during your solo or intro. Also, the electric guitar player can switch to a clean signal, different pickup or use a volume pedal (or even the volume control on the guitar) to tone down the electric when you are playing the lead and he is playing the rhythm. You run your guitar cable into the box and then a second cable from the box to the PA or amplifier.

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    One other thing to note is that if your acoustic guitar has a magnetic pickup, you will lose volume if you use acoustic strings because the non- magnetic bronze winding will shield the steel core and diminish the magnetic pick up's ability to pick up the steel core. Switching to nickle wound electric strings will give you more volume on your wound strings but will not sound as much like an acoustic guitar. Some magnetic pickups made for acoustics have adjustable poles so you can compensate between the wound and unwound strings by lowering the poles on the steel unwound e and b string. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 21 '15 at 1:59
  • The pickup I use is the Seymour Duncan SA-3HC, which has a soft material underneath that does make the gap between the pickup and the strings adjustable. So I guess I should place the bronze winding strings side closer to them for a more balanced tone. – 8odoros Jan 21 '15 at 16:14
  • You can also try adjusting the angle of that pickup in the sound hole to see if that changes the balance of volume between the bass and treble strings. If you have acoustic strings on your guitar & play a scale that works it's way from the wound strings to the plain steel strings, you will probably notice a marked change in volume when you get to the plain steel strings. Fishman Matrix Infinity under saddle pickup will solve this issue if you want to spend money on it in the future. You might experiment with nickel Flat wound strings. They sound more acoustic than normal electric strings. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 21 '15 at 19:40
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Just bring the volume of everything right down. It can happen gradually or suddenly. It is quite a dramatic effect, and often gets the crowd actually listening again. Electric guitars can be played well quietly - prove to your guitarist that it can happen! Drums may change to brushes,rutes or even hands, or just play gently, perhaps using cymbals.If the situations in which you play are always very noisy affairs, then this may not be the best plan, but in most other situations, I've seen it work really well.Otherwise, it'll be join the fray and try to beat the volume of everyone else - the oft-seen battle of noise!

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Here are a couple of suggestions to address your question.

If you and your band mates can agree on always "making room" for whatever instrument is taking a solo, that is bound to help.

Many electric guitar players ( and I am one) believe a certain level of volume is essential to producing a desired tone. Making that principle secondary to the one above could help you a lot. Another way of saying it: Make it more important to serve the purposes of the song as rendered by the whole band than it is to serve the purposes of the individual playing his/her instrument.

While making room for the soloist can clearly be helped by lowering volume, that is probably the least interesting method. Choosing to refrain from playing every beat of the measure, and in the case of an accompanying guitar, other than all six strings at any one time will do even more to take the mud out of your arrangement.

A final consideration: If you ever listened to the great Leo Kottke, you know the potential impact of a well-amplified acoustic guitar. However, if your sound set up does not get you to the level of intensity you are seeking, again to serve the song, perhaps another instrument should take the solo. But get everyone else to back off at least one time before you decide this.

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