I was wondering if it is possible to get an electric guitar (used with, say an overdrive pedal) sound with an acoustic-type guitar without the use of an amp.

Similar to how resonator guitars sound very different to standard acoustic guitars, is it possible to make an electric-sounding guitar (or, more to the point, does one already exist)?

  • To manipulate a signal with an effect such as overdrive or distortion, you must first have an electronic signal that can be manipulated. You need a way to convert the vibration of the strings and/or the top of the guitar into an electrical signal. There are many acoustic guitar pickups that can do that and with certain type acoustic pickups and pre-amps you can use an overdrive pedal and other similar effects. But you will ultimately need a way to output the sound (like an amplifier). You can't use an effects pedal to alter the purely acoustic sound of a guitar that I am aware of. May 22 '16 at 4:02
  • Do you literally mean 'without an amp', or are you interested in whether it can be done acoustically without any electronics? I assume you mean the latter but am just checking, 'cos there are loads of ways of getting an amp like-sound with an electric guitar without an actual amp (at least the power amp and cab bit).
    – topo morto
    May 22 '16 at 9:19

You can approximate electric guitar sustain by playing a fiddle bow on the unwound strings. You need to apply resin to the fiddle bow to get it to sound and you need to clean the resin off of your guitar after you play or it may affect the finish.

You can also approximate some electric guitar like sounds by playing with a slide or bottleneck on the unwound strings.

You can approximate an electric guitar crunchy overdrive tone by playing power chords while strumming the lower-pitched strings so hard that they bounce off the frets and produce fret buzz. The other strings have to be muted for this to work.

For example this A5 power chord:


or this D5 power chord:


If you're playing into a PA, you can get electric guitar-like feedback and sustain by getting close to the monitors or facing into the main speakers until your guitar signal starts to feed back. The trick with this is muting all of your open strings and partially muting the strings you play so that the feedback doesn't get out of control.


Distortion and overdrive is done by clipping the signal. So there really isn't a way to recreate this exact sound without some kind of electronic device altering the sound. This article shows some simple wave forms and what distortion looks like.


Resonator guitars still sound very similar to regular acoustic guitars. The way they resonate is a little different which changes the sound slightly, but not nearly enough to be confused with an over driven guitar.

Banjos essentially have a snare drum as the body and having snare wires would add a bit of a 'raspy' and 'buzzy' sound, but still not the same as clipping the actual guitar signal.

About the closest thing I could think of to actually distort the guitar's signal naturally would be to set the action so low on the guitar that the strings 'buzz' against the frets...but again, this sounds nothing like a overdriven electric guitar and just sounds horrible! lol

What goal are you trying to achieve? Is there a reason why you either don't want to or can't use an amp? If this is for a campfire/outdoor setting where you don't have access to electricity, there are small battery powered amps. However, I've never used one or heard one so I can't speak to their quality (I would imagine they're not great).

  • I have a small battery powered amp: they're fun but sound absolutely rubbish compared to a real amp. Most of the time, the amp itself rambles and resonates because of its own sound, which produces a sound sometimes even as loud as the amplified guitar signal. It's more a gimmick or toy than a real amp.
    – mbauwens
    May 24 '16 at 18:06

I highly doubt that you can ever get a sound that was close to indistinguishable from an overdriven electric guitar. For playing power chords, I find that a nylon strung guitar struck hard gives a closer sound to an electric than an acoustic.

If you are recording it, then instead of trying to make the guitar distort, you could aim to make the microphone distort by using a low quality diaphragm microphone up close to the guitar.

Finally, this is very speculative and it isn't any experimentation I care to try out. Dave Davies of The Kinks supposedly slashed his speaker cones to get the guitar sound for You Really got me. The soundboard of an acoustic guitar is the equivalent of a speaker cone. If you don't mind destroying a guitar (for something that may not even work) you could cut away a large area of the soundboard, ensuring not to cut away any bracing and stretch some sort of membrane across it like paper or foil and then experiment with cutting slashes in it.


Try weaving strips of aluminium foil or paper through the strings. Another way would be to manipulate the bridge to make the guitar sound buzzy like a sitar or tamboura, see here for inspiration.

I've also been able to get a compressed and almost overdriven tone from an acoustic by playing really hard.

  • Hey, I'm over a year late, but do you have any images/videos which demonstrate this?
    – Beta Decay
    Oct 8 '17 at 13:24

The thought that comes to mind is to record the acoustic guitar using basically any music recording software (like Cubase) and add distortion (or whatever effect) in the actual program.

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