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I have been playing the acoustic guitar for a couple of years now. I started off with guitar because of metal but I went into other genres along the way. I can play considerably good leads on the acoustic and some classical finger style but I find it very difficult to switch over to an electric guitar. I am unable to gain any sort of control over the notes I play and I want to know if there is something I am doing wrong. The electric guitar I use now has 8 gauge strings on now so would switching over to thicker strings do the trick or do I just need more practice?

Edit: It's been one year since I'd asked this question. It seems that the real factor that prevented me from achieving the level of comfort I had with the acoustic on an electric was practice and clean technique. I worked extremely hard with a metronome, and worked through a lot of etudes and worked on my sense of rhythm and I find myself shifting between the two instruments comfortably.

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    I found switching from electric to acoustic very hard because of the action being higher and the strings being thicker (and the neck on my acoustic is wider). 8s are very light strings and I couldn't bear to play on them myself. You might get a setup with a new set of 10s from a nearby store or tech and see if that makes it more comfortable. The truss rod will have to be adjusted which is why I recommended a setup, but if you are DIY on truss rods then you can do that. I've run 12s on an electric before so if you really want thicker strings go for it. – Todd Wilcox Sep 9 '15 at 18:36
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    A great help to answer this would be to know what each guitar actually is. I use 008s, on both electric and acoustic, with no problems - have done for 30 yrs. However, there's a lot of difference between acoustics, and a lot between electrics, so comparing one to another is impossible without further knowledge. – Tim Sep 9 '15 at 22:27
  • This is an interesting question - I've never had issues switching back and forth between electric and acoustic, and my acoustic is a 12-string. I never thought it was an issue for people. – jjmusicnotes Sep 10 '15 at 1:48
  • "I am unable to gain any sort of control over the notes I play" - not sure exactly what this means, but for me the necks of electrics are (sometimes) narrower, the strings are close to the pickups or body and the lighter gauge means there's less dynamics (different volumes) in the sound. These things are all a case of getting used to when switching instruments. – Andy Sep 10 '15 at 9:30
  • Thank you for your answers. I think my main issue here is that being a guitarist who plays entirely by ear, I find it odd to find the source of the sound disconnected from my instrument. I have spent reasonable amounts of time working on my technique with the acoustic guitar and the piano with considerable success in both but it all starts to falter when there is an external sound source involved. I realize that this is different from the question I initially posted, but is there something you would know about rectifying this? – semiprime Sep 10 '15 at 11:11
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It does require an adjustment to go from acoustic to electric. Most electrics are set up with lower action and lighter strings (easier to bend) and often have very tight string spacing to better accommodate playing lead using individual notes and sometimes double stops. You have become used to the stiffer action and string tension of the acoustic.

Some electrics are more like acoustics in that they have wider nuts and wider string spacing. Of course if the nut slots will allow, you might find it easier to play your electric if you add heavier strings. Medium to heavy electric sets will come with a wound G string (like your acoustic) vs. a plain steel G string.

My first recommendation might be to trade in your current electric with one that is configured more like an acoustic with a similar nut width and string spacing and that is set up for heavier strings.

If you must play your current electric - try heavier strings, and perhaps raise the action by raising the bridge height and/or adjusting the truss rod. Raising the action and using heavier strings will stiffen things up a bit and feel more like your acoustic than your current set up.

As you get used to playing the electric, you might be able to go back to lighter strings and lower action if you like.

Here is a video about adjusting the action and intonation on an electric guitar. Adjusting the action and intonation on electric guitar YouTube

  • Thank you. This makes a lot of sense. I find it impossible to play on 9 gauge strings that my friend has on his Schecter Omen 6. Because it had been described by everyone around me as "insanely playable", I was sure it was something I was doing wrong. Right now, I am in the process of selling my electric (a Yamaha EG 112c) so that I can take the time and choose something I am comfortable with. Could you list a guitar or two that is 'configured more like an acoustic' so that I may compare and purchase something similar? – semiprime Sep 10 '15 at 11:20
  • @semiprime Take a look at the Epiphone Les Paul copies. They are lower priced guitars and might have a wider neck than your Yamaha. Godin makes very "acoustic like" electric guitars. Semi Hollow body electrics made by Epiphone are more acoustic like and can even be played without an amp. If you take your Yamaha to a guitar retailer, you can use it to compare nut width with other guitars. Hold the two nuts together and look for guitars with wider string spacing. I like the Parker Guitars with the piezo acoustic pickup that sound very acoustic but are comfortable to play. Good luck. – Rockin Cowboy Sep 10 '15 at 15:08
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I started playing classical guitar at the age of 11 and picked up electric guitar at the age of 21. I noticed loads of things that make it hard and made me doubt if I could ever be able to switch between both. The following things make electric playing very different (perhaps more difficult early on) from acoustic (thus makes it hard to switch):

  • Pick: playing with a pick without having a reference on where the actual strings are. You have to learn where strings are located without using your fingers.
  • String gage / action: having a lighter string gage + action will make you play out of tune more often. Try to play lightly and make sure to move the string vertically in case you intend not to bend :P.
  • Vibrato: vibrato's are often done through bending and pivoting around the reference pitch, which is less common with acoustic guitar playing.
  • Bending: you have a way wider range to bend to (you can bend a few steps up).
  • Distortion / Overdrive: This one is truly counter-intuitive to a classical guitar player. It is best practice on classical guitar to keep your fingers on frets being played so that they ring out or/and so you can play the same pitch a measure later. With electrical guitar when playing with overdrive or distortion, this ringing out or keeping fingers pressed often causes problems as you are playing one lead melody/line. Lifting fingers up every time after playing a note was hard for me to adapt to.
  • Hammer-on/pull-off: Due to string gage, it often feels lighter on electric guitar, making you have to adjust your technique to the instrument.
  • Muting: Another thing that distortion makes harder; to mute pitches you often have to use your right hand as well as your left hand. On acoustic its often simply just lifting your fretting hand to stop the string from ringing.
  • String spacing: Playing finger picked pieces can sometimes feel a bit odd as an acoustic player, you are more used to the space between strings being played. Same goes for picking but to me that feels like less of a change.
  • Specific techniques: tapping, sweep picking, alternate picking, artifical harmonics etc need to be added to your technical vocabulary :)

You will also notice that both instruments have loads in common and that learning something on one instrument will inherently benefit you on the other, eventhough you won't see the relation instantly.

  • Thank you for your time. I guess a fundamental issue of mine is the distortion. Being accustomed to playing leads on the acoustic guitar, moving over to the electric is hard for some of the reasons you mentioned. As almost everything I play is by ear, do you feel that getting a better tone would make a difference? By now, I've realized that I can barely fret using a crunchy tone, get all messed up whilst using reverb and get a lot of hum using a metal lead tone. A lot of this has to do with my perception of the tone and how conductive it is towards playing the next set of notes in my head. – semiprime Sep 10 '15 at 11:32
  • Reverb and distortion require muting skills on both hands. On acoustic that is used less often. Tone is indeed in your fingers, but as a classical player, I can tell that with electric guitar its more in your equipment than anything else. I play a lot of prog/shred; something to look out for is using too much distortion; having solid technique makes it sound more aggressive (e.g. picking angle/force you pick with). A tubescreamer in front of my amp got me way closer to the tone I was initially trying to mimic myself. It is common to use noise suppressors too (although try to practice without) – abort Sep 10 '15 at 15:04
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Mate only thing you need to know is that you gotta learn palm muting technique. Because the sound of any note persists in electric guitar. So when you change notes, you have to mute the other strings and play, bend or vibrate your intended note.

  • Welcome to Music.SE, and thanks for joining the community! To help other users who come across your post, could you elaborate a bit more on the technique you're describing, and perhaps how to practice it? semiprime also mentioned an issue about using thicker strings. To give a complete answer, could you address this too? Thanks for sharing your expertise! – jdjazz Jul 6 '17 at 0:34

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