Switching Between Acoustic and Electric - 124

Did you know that you are really learning two different instruments and both require a very different approach?

"Wait, I didn't sign up for this! I thought I was learning to play the guitar."
And even if you have a strong feeling one way or the other, there's a close to 100% chance that you will have to be able to perform on the other one at some point.
Most likely, you've already tried this and it didn't take long to realize there is a whole new learning curve ahead of you.

Today, I will go over the main points that cause frustration and learn the best way to approach them to make the switch between acoustic and electric as painless as possible.

Their Physical Differences

Let's start with how these two instruments are similar
The musical design is the same, 6 strings with over 19 frets. The tuners, strings, and bridge function the same way. They are tuned the same so you would think that it would be easy to move from one to the other. Her is where the problem starts.

The size of the guitar

Once you get familiar with your first instrument, it can be jarring to try and accomplish what you have worked so hard on on a guitar of a different shape.
The first hurdle that we have to cross is how wide the guitars are and how different that is between the two styles.

Acoustic guitars can be very wide. An acoustic player is used to a greater angle of the picking and fretting arm. This greater angle effects your posture and the way your muscles move when playing

When your arms are farther out, the amount you have to bend your wrists to play cleanly is greater.

This is the opposite for most electric guitars. The electric guitar tends to be thin, so your picking and fretting arms are bent more at the elbows and wrists don't have to bend as much.

Neither of these are necessarily bad, just what the player is used to. Drastic changes to your playing form can be tough to take on quickly.


The acoustic guitar tends to be a longer instrument than most electric guitars. Even if the scale length of the strings is the same, you will find that the body of the guitar extends further than the electric, and the headstocks can be longer as well.
This means for us that you may have to reach further with your fretting hand to play open position chords and scales.

This transition from electric to acoustic can be tough because of this extended reach and the changes to playing form that come from it.


The height of the acoustic guitar tends to be bigger than the electric as well.
When seated this is a big difference between guitars. You may find that you have to sit up straighter that when playing an acoustic. Some like to lean on the top of the acoustic and I will go into why you might not want to do that later in the show.

The next physical difference between the two guitars is the strings

The acoustic tends to have thicker strings and also generally has a higher action (the distance between the strings and the tops of the frets).

Because we are pushing a lot of air with these strings, players tend to have a heavier touch with the acoustic guitar. Because of that, the strings vibrate wider. This make it important to add more relief (curvature of the neck, bow) so that the wider vibrating strings don't buzz on the frets.

Because the heavier strings are tuned just as high as the electric guitar, we get a lot more tension in the string.

This, in turn, creates the need for more force from both the fretting and picking hands.

Another big change between the two is how wide the neck is. 

 The electric guitar tends to have a much narrower neck than an acoustic. This seems to be more comfortable to players with smaller hands, but it's not too difficult to get used to the width of an acoustic neck. 

Most players may not even notice the difference, but just feel that something is not the same as their usual instrument.

The biggest shock comes from electric players who try to learn to play classical guitar. The nylon string guitar tends to have a very wide neck. Of course, this is something that, in time most players get used to.

The nature of the two instruments

Sustain, how long the note lasts after you pluck it, is very different between the two instruments.

The electric is built for sustain. High tension strings on a solid block of wood is a great recipe for long lasting notes.

The acoustic, on the other hand, with it's big hollow body, generally has a sharp drop off in volume after a note is plucked. Although, it's metal strings help give it a bit of sustain.

The nylon stringed classical guitar has the least amount of sustain of the three and can be a big change from someone who is used to playing electric guitar.
The tonal spectrum (The highs, mids and lows of the instruments sound) are dramatically different between these instruments as well.

The electric guitar has a lot of mid-range. Just plug a guitar in direct to a mixing board some time to hear this in action. Many guitar amplifiers are designed to either enhance the mids or scoop them out, giving variety to the tonal options available.
The acoustic is generally bright with big lows and not much mid range. The nylon stringed guitar gives a less bright, warmer sound.

After getting used to the tone of your first instrument, it could be hard to get used to a new sound. Experimenting with your picking placement can give you some control over the EQ of your tone to make up for some differences.

The last big difference in the very nature of these two instruments is that they are geared towards either standing or sitting.

In my opinion, the acoustic guitar is designed for sitting. Even though it can be used either way, the build and design of the guitar makes it very comfortable to play seated.

Because of the great width, when standing, the angle of your picking arm is extended even more than normal, which can be uncomfortable.

The electric guitar, with its thinner body feels very comfortable when standing. If you get your strap length correct, it can feel so easy to play. Like the acoustic, it can be used either way, but the build and design, to me, lean towards standing and playing.
One problem that owners of jumbo or very big acoustic guitars is that its easy to lean and rest over the top of the guitar. In most of my guitars, I can hear and feel the difference if I sit up straight as opposed to leaning over it. I get a much brighter less muffled sound with more sustain.

Unfortunately, if it is super wide or tall, you cant avoid it. Just be conscious of how much weight you are putting on the body of the guitar.

Best practices for the switch

The majority of these differences are easily overcome over time. Here are some tips to speed up your transition between the acoustic and electric. Over time, these differences won't bother you at all.

The first is to keep them both out.

To me, the guitar case should only be used to transport guitars from one place to the other. Once the arrive at their destination, they need to be seen.

Not having enough time with each instrument, and not being used to their differences is usually caused by lack of time with one or the other.

When you keep the favored instrument out and lock away the other. you are just making it harder for yourself in the long run.

Then when it comes time to play, you are uncomfortable.

Keep both of the guitars in rotation. Make sure you make time for both
You could keep them out, in different rooms, and play them at different times of the day. (one by the couch, and one in your practice space).

Experiment to make it easier

Make sure to get your acoustic guitar set up by someone who understands how to adjust an acoustic guitar (It's much harder to set up than an electric) Getting those strings closer to the fret-board is key to making an acoustic play easier.

Also, try experimenting with your string gauge. Lighter strings for acoustics (I use 11's) an heavier string for electrics can bridge the big gap between the two.

Don't leave this one out. Ask other guitar players if you could play their guitars for a few minutes. If you are struggling to make the switch, see what works for others. It's a great learning experience, knowing how a guitar feels to someone you like to listen to. Then you have a reference point for what may be the problem with your "other" guitar.

It may be something that time with remedy, or it may be something a setup will fix, or it may be that you might want to switch guitars completely.

My last tip is about bending and sliding notes.

Coming from electric, bending notes can be easy. Especially if you have very light strings. The first time an electric player tries to bend a string on the acoustic, you usually hear the word "ouch".

It can be very tough to bend strings on the acoustic when you haven't built the hand strength up yet.

The trick is to replace bends with slides. Think ahead before you bend. Find the note that you would want the bent note to reach, start from the note you would normally bend, and slide between the two. It's not the same, but it is a very effective way of adding interest to your licks without tearing your fingertips off :)

One of the biggest problems with transitioning from electric to acoustic is playing chords without buzzes and dead notes.

I'd love to help you make this transition much easier. I have a free gift for you.

It's my guide to clear sounding chords. This guide has helped so many guitarists get past this so that they can get back to the fun stuff.

It's over at :


Your information is kept safe. It's never shared with third parties.