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April 1, 2011 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Going from acoustic to electric guitar.

I have played acoustic guitar for about 10 years and feel I'm pretty accomplished on it. I have decided I would like to start branching out to electric guitar, but when I play a friend's, I find myself flubbing all over the place and seem perplexed as to how to get the sounds I want out of it. It's a much different instrument than I thought. Is there anyone else that's gone through the same transition and can offer some advice for making the switch?
posted by ExitPursuedByBear to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It really is a different instrument than the acoustic. Generally, the strings are lighter, the action's lower, the body's thinner and heavier, the neck is longer, the sound and sustain are adjustable (which makes it harder to find the "right" settings) ...

I've never found much that really transfers. But, IMO, good acoustic playing really takes better technique so you should progress faster on the electric.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:10 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe some one will have something more practical to say, but just stick with it. You're MUCH better off transitioning from acoustic to electric as a lower action and thinner strings should make it easier to play.

You might also just try a couple of different electrics until you find one that feels better, obviously a Fender feels very different than a Gibson etc.
posted by Heminator at 9:12 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It just takes time. The physical properties of the instrument are different, so your ingrained motor patterns will have to adjust. I learned to play on a strat, and the first time I picked up an SG I fumbled around a lot because of how differently the strings, pickups, and bridge are arranged. Just stick with it and you'll be fine.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 9:19 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Spend a couple of hours in your favorite music store (or Guitar Center if that's all you can find) and try different guitars, different amps, effects pedals. Ask questions of the sales staff. There are so many different kinds of electric guitars, and amps, and effects. You already know how to play. You just need to familiarize yourself with all the new options available to you when you go electric.
posted by monospace at 9:22 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Glad to hear it's not just in my head. I was thinking maybe those big hollow bodies might be an easier transfer.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 9:26 AM on April 1, 2011

Yes, hollow bodies are a nice in-between. The Gretsch Electromatic is very affordable and sound and feels great.
posted by monospace at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

One challenge for a lot of players moving from steel string acoustic to electric is that the intonation of chords and tuning of fretted notes in general is trickier on electric because of the lighter strings, which tend to get bent out of tune or tonality or whatever much easier than an acoustic guitar. You have to teach yourself and your muscle memory to play with a more precise and, to some extent, delicate touch so that you don't knock chords out of tune when you play them. One way to train yourself to do that is by playing at pretty high volume, which trains you not to strum hard.

As far as what guitars are best for the transition, there are pros and cons to all options. A Strat or Tele will have the advantage of a longer scale length, which stiffens the strings and makes you less likely to sound out of tune if your attack isn't quite nuanced enough. You can beat the hell out of a strat or tele before it will sound "off." But the Fenders have a narrow fretboard most of the time, and that takes some getting used to. A shorter scale length, like a Les Paul or other Gibson, tends to play faster and have a wide fretboard, but you'll also notice that it feels "looser" and it's less forgiving than a Strat or Tele in terms of intonation of chords and strumming/plucking intensity. I played a lot on a Gibson ES-175 (a big hollowbody) when I was first learning, and it plays a lot like an acoustic. But they also cost a king's ransom, so maybe not the best choice. I have an Epiphone Dot that I do like quite a bit but that mostly stays in the closet because the touch on it is so light that chords fly out of tune if you strum it even a little bit too hard - the guitar stays in tune, but the intonation of the chords is variable with hard strumming due to the short scale length and light strings. My acoustic guitar playing friends always want to play that one because they think it will be more like an acoustic, but then they always sound horrible on it.

Really, just stick with it and practice. And practice with the guitar plugged in and pretty loud. An unplugged electric is fun to play, but practicing that way will train you totally wrong and doesn't translate over to plugged-in playing.
posted by The World Famous at 10:46 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's plenty of good ideas here, and I can think of only a couple of things to add. When you get a guitar, get one with a long scale, like a Strat or a Tele, and string it with .12s. Heavier strings sound better to my ears, in any case, and your technique is already adjusted to that kind of playing.

Also, make sure to practise both your left- and right-hand muting technique. I've found that guitarists that primarily play acoustics get used to the limited sustain, so their electric playing sounds slushy. It's a bit like switching from harpsichord to piano, that way.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 11:54 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely look at the width of the neck. Most acoustics have a much wider neck than most electrics, and that makes the fingering much easier. On the other hand you can get much higher up the fretboard on an electric because the body isn't in the way, and the action is lower.

You can get electrics with a relatively wide neck, but you have to look for them.
posted by musofire at 3:02 PM on April 1, 2011

What guitar you get should also depend on what style of music you are playing and what you want it to sound like. A hollow body electric will not sound like your "typical" electric guitar.

My suggestion for an all around guitar will always be a strat with a humbucker in the bridge position that can be toggled to a single coil. That will give you probably 75% of the standard electric guitar sounds out there to one degree or another. It gets you the famous strat "quack" of two single coils, the funky clean sound of one single coil, and the beefier rhythm that you get from a humbucker in the bridge. What you won't get are the thick lead sounds that you would get from a neck humbucker, so if you want to mainly be playing melodic metal, than a les paul may be a better choice in terms of tone.

Electric guitars are easy to upgrade in terms of the electronics, so always buy one that feels good and has a good action/intonation/etc., because you can always upgrade or change the pickups later to get some different tones out of it.
posted by markblasco at 11:35 PM on April 1, 2011

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