If you learned to play on an acoustic guitar and are interested in making the transition to electric, you’re probably asking yourself: does acoustic guitar skills transfer to electric guitar?
The short answer is yes, they absolutely do. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to make certain adjustments to your playing, or that there aren’t new skills you’ll need to acquire in order to master your current guitar’s electric cousin.
If you’re considering switching from playing acoustic exclusively to trying your hand at the electric guitar, keep the following tips in mind to make the transition as seamless as possible.
How to Transfer your Acoustic Guitar Skill To Electric
MIND HOW HARD YOU FINGER NOTES AND CHORDS
One of the first things you’ll notice when you pick up that electric guitar is how thin the neck is in comparison to acoustics. It will probably take some time to adjust to fingering notes, chords, and scales on a smaller neck with slightly narrower frets.
Keep in mind, too, that electric guitar strings are generally thinner than acoustic guitar strings. Smaller gauge strings allow for a number of cool electric guitar tricks, including the bend, but they can beguile acoustic guitarists making the transition. Unintentionally bending notes and chords out of tune is an issue many have to overcome.
RESIST FLASHY EFFECTS (AT FIRST)
If you’re a rocker at heart looking to emulate Slash or a blues player with dreams of wailing like Joe Bonamassa, you’ll likely be tempted to drench your electric guitar sound in every effect you can get your hands on. This is natural, but you should avoid the temptation, at least until you’re comfortable on the electric guitar neck.
GO EASY ON THAT WHAMMY BAR
In general, the quality of beginner electric guitars has risen significantly over the last decade or two, and most are well worth the modest cost. Unfortunately, many beginner electric guitar sets come equipped with a modest (read that crappy) tremolo bridge system and tremolo arm, or “whammy bar.”
You know what a whammy bar is, even if you’ve never seen one. Think Jimi Hendrix’s legendary performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, or almost any late-eighties/early nineties rock ballad. Simply put, a whammy bar bends the guitar’s strings more than any player ever could with his or her fingers.
Unfortunately, inexpensive tremolo systems don’t have locking systems on the bridge. As a result, the beginner electric guitar student is always one awesome-sounding dive-bomb away from being hopelessly out of tune.
GET READY TO LEARN SOME NEW SKILLS
We started this article with the question: does acoustic guitar skills transfer to electric guitar? Clearly, they do. In order to improve as an electric guitarist, though, there are some new skills you’ll likely want to master. Following are a few of the most common.
Bending notes is necessary to play blues, rock, and even some folk and heavy metal. Notes can be bent a half or whole tone, depending on the song’s needs. It would be impossible to narrow down the guitarists who rely heavily on bends, but blues legend B.B. King comes to mind as a standout example of the technique.
A Unison Bend is when two stings are sounded while the lower note is bent one whole step. The higher note isn’t bent and acts as a root.
TAP AND PINCH HARMONICS
Producing a “tap” harmonic involves fingering a note relatively low on the fretboard (close to the guitar’s head) then tapping the same note an octave higher on the same string. Keep your fret hand fingering the original note as you use the tip of your finger to tap the harmonic. In order to achieve a clean-sounding harmonic, you’ll need to tap right above the fret marker, and not where you’d normally finger the note.
Countless songs have employed tap harmonics, but a stand-out example would be Van Halen’s “Top Jimmy,” off of their 1984 album. The entire intro is a lesson in the skill.
A “pinch” harmonic produces an entirely different sound. A sort of in-tune electric-guitar scream, pinch harmonics produce much higher-pitched notes with significantly more sustain than tap harmonics. Two prime examples of guitarists who’ve mastered the pinch harmonic are George Lynch of Dokken and Zakk Wylde, formerly of Ozzy Osbourne and currently fronting Black Label Society.
If hard-rock or heavy metal is your jam, you’ll likely eventually want to try your hand at sweep-picking. A relatively new style of speed-guitar playing, sweep picking involves playing a series of notes almost as one would an arpeggiated chord while using your palm to mute the strings you aren’t sounding. Sweep-picking isn’t easy and usually takes a good deal of practice to master.
Finger tapping, which reached the height of its popularity in the late-eighties/early nineties, is a technique generally attributed to late guitar legend Eddie Van Halen. While he was likely not the first to experiment with playing this way, he undoubtedly popularized the skill. Amazed and jealous guitarists everywhere began to incorporate tapping into their playing and practice regimens.
Though finger-tapping can be performed on an acoustic guitar, it can be difficult to master the technique on one. Electric guitars have lower actions (the amount of space between the strings and the fretboard) and thinner-gauged strings, making them far better for learning to finger-tap.
Transferring your acoustic guitar skills
So there you have it, your answer to the question: Does acoustic guitar skills transfer to electric? By approaching your new instrument mindful of the differences between it and your beloved acoustic, you’ll find you already know most of what you need to in order to make the transition.
With a little patience, regular practice, and an acceptance of the fact that they’ll have to master some new skills, most guitarists make the transition from acoustic to electric guitar with little or no difficulty.