Can You Play an Electric Guitar Like an Acoustic Guitar? Yes, you can play the electric guitar like an acoustic guitar. They are virtually the same, except for the method by which they produce sounds. This means that the chords and notes on an electric guitar would be the same in an acoustic guitar. However, there would be noticeable differences in their tones, feels, and effects.
So, you’re quite confident with your acoustic guitar-playing skills, and now you might be wondering whether you can transition to an electric guitar. Or maybe you wish to learn how to play the guitar, and you’re unsure whether an electric or an acoustic guitar is the best option.
Well, we’ll try to clarify your assumptions and misconceptions about these two guitars in this article. Ultimately, we’ll find out whether or not you can play an electric guitar like an acoustic guitar.
The Differences in Playing an Electric and Acoustic Guitar
For us to understand whether an electric guitar can be played like an acoustic guitar, we need to understand the differences between these two. While there are a ton of similarities between these two instruments, the differences are also worth noting.
Here’s what you’ll notice when playing each of these instruments.
The first notable difference in playing an electric and acoustic guitar is the size. Sure, you can play an electric guitar using the same chords and notes as an acoustic one, but the size will matter in your manner of playing.
Acoustic guitars are generally bigger and bulkier than electrics because of their hollow bodies that cause the sounds of the strings to resonate. Because of this, you’ll find that in acoustic guitars, you’d usually hug the instrument.
On the other hand, electric guitars are slimmer, so your arms can move more freely. The fretboard in an electric guitar is also thinner but longer. This means you are more likely to reach the farthest end of the frets in an electric guitar compared to an acoustic.
Another thing you should know before choosing between an electric and acoustic guitar is playing convenience. No, we’re not talking about how they feel in your arms when playing them. What we’re saying is the preparation each of them requires.
In acoustic guitars, you can simply place them on a stand when not in use and grab them if you feel like playing. You don’t need any other equipment because an acoustic guitar will produce sounds through the hollow body.
On the other hand, you can’t get this convenience if you wish to play an electric guitar. Yes, the chords and notes are the same, but their methods of producing sounds are different. If you play an electric guitar like an acoustic guitar, meaning you don’t use cables, headphones, or an amplifier, the electric guitar would be very quiet.
Because of this, an acoustic guitar is generally louder than an unplugged electric guitar.
Another difference you’d notice when playing an electric guitar compared to an acoustic one is the lap comfort. Electric guitars are slimmer, so you can hold them easily with your hands. However, they are heavier than acoustic guitars.
While this may not be a problem with adults who have physically matured bodies, children might find this bothersome. That’s because the weight of an electric guitar will push down on their thighs and may eventually lead to discomfort.
The Feel of the Strings
You would also feel a huge difference in the feel of the strings on your fingers when switching from an acoustic to electric guitar. First, the slimmer fretboard equates to closer frets. This means you can easily span your fingers across three to four frets with an electric guitar.
Additionally, the strings of an electric guitar are also close to each other compared to an acoustic one. Combined with this is the lower tension on the strings, which means you don’t need too much pressure on your fingers to press on them. This makes finger placement relatively easier on an electric guitar.
However, the strings of an acoustic guitar, especially one that uses nylon strings, are somewhat softer than electric guitars. Because of this, you might feel some pain after playing an electric guitar for extended periods. Don’t worry. You’ll eventually get used to it as the tips of your fingers harden.
This is perhaps the greatest difference between playing an electric and an acoustic guitar. Note retention refers to the length at which each note can sustain itself without losing too much volume or power.
An acoustic guitar uses its hollow body to prolong a note from the strings. However, the retention on the notes often depends on how hard you strum or pluck the strings. So, plucking it harder will result in a longer note. Despite that, it will quickly die down as the vibration on the strings decreases.
On the other hand, an electric guitar uses a series of pickups that gathers (or picks up) the vibration on the strings. So, even if there’s little vibration on the strings, thanks to the pickups’ sensitivity, you will still be able to produce a wide range of sounds.
Ergo, if you pluck or strum the strings of an electric guitar harder, you are more likely to sustain its notes compared to when you do it in an acoustic guitar.
Does it Mean that Electric Guitars Are Better than Acoustic Ones?
While you can play an electric guitar like an acoustic guitar, nobody can deny that the former is a bit more versatile. That’s because you can include various effects to its tone when you play in an electric guitar, something you just wouldn’t easily get in an acoustic one.
However, does this mean that electric guitars are better than acoustic guitars? Should we all just perform using electric guitars? If you’re only starting out, should you practice on an electric guitar instead of an acoustic guitar?
Well, that’s not necessarily the case. The thing is, both of these guitars have their own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if you wish to play casually at home with your friends or family, the acoustic guitar is a great choice. That’s because you don’t need to prepare other equipment and accessories just to play it.
Additionally, acoustic guitars also produce a unique, natural sound that you wouldn’t get from an electric one. That’s why you’d still see professional musicians playing them in concerts, especially if it’s a slow or personal song.
On the other hand, electric guitars excel in versatility. While they may not sound natural like an acoustic guitar, they will otherwise provide you with effects that you wouldn’t get without amplifiers, pickups, and effects pedals.
There are huge differences between an electric and an acoustic guitar. However, by principle, yes, you can play an electric guitar the same way you do with an acoustic one. It’s just a matter of whether or not it would be the best option for your current predicament.
Simply put, there are songs and instances when an acoustic guitar would be a better fit, but there are also times when an electric guitar would enhance your sound and performance. So, while you can play these two guitars the same way, it would still be beneficial if you knew their differences to help you decide which one to choose.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.