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...

  • 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

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.

  • 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
  • @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

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.

  • 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

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.


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


"With a similar sound", is a relative term. Do you mean in terms of tonal qualities, or in the perceived over-all ambiance?

As far as playing goes, listen to Chet Atkins and Roy Clark. They regularly played classical styles on Gretsch and Gibson hollow-body guitars, with outstanding results. So as far as technique goes, certainly it is doable. I play finger-style on electrics all the time, sometimes using Acoustic Modeling, or sometimes just using different EQ settings, mostly because I am too lazy to change guitars onstage. Some of the places I play have small stages, and there is no room for several guitars. I actually like a lot of the John Denver, James Taylor, and Jim Croce stuff I do better on my Gibson ES 135 or Fender Stratocaster better than on my Ovation Balladeer, or Martin.

Recreating the exact sounds is a little more complex. Acoustic guitars depend on many factors for their sound, starting with the way the wood on the sound board, and to a lesser degree, the rest of the body of the guitar, vibrates. Each type of wood has different tonal characteristics, with some being warm and soft, such as mahogany, cherry, and cedar, and others being sharp and pronounced, such as spruce. That's why a Martin sounds different than a Tacoma, or a Seagull. The side and back woods also contribute to the over-all sound, and it is common to mix them, such as using spruce for the soundboard, and tempering it a bit with mahogany on the sides and back. Also, the way the soundboard is braced effects the sound. And lastly, of course, the type and gauge of strings used. Recreating all of these factors digitally is difficult, however, Line 6 has done a fantastic job with their Variax Series of guitars. They do probably as good as it is possible a job in recreating the sounds of various guitars, including classical, and even banjo and sitar. With the flip of a switch, you can go from a Martin D-28, to a hand-made cedar-bodied Classical sound, then with another flip, to a Fender '65 Stratocaster.

So the answer is yes, at least with the right equipment. Of course, there is no need to duplicate the sounds exactly. With the huge range of tonal possibilities of a modern electric guitar using various EQ settings, amp models, and effects, you could create beautiful passages that a straight acoustic could never match. My advice is to press on, don't worry about exact duplications, and make the music your own. That's what it is all about...


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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