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Can you tell playing an unplugged electric how it will likely sound amped?

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  • Can you tell playing an unplugged electric how it will likely sound amped?

    Strumming along the rack at the local store I was stuck by the question "How much can I actually tell about an electric guitars tone whilst playing it unplugged?" I don't mean the intonation and action but the actual tone.
    In a quiet store they do sound different to each other in frequencies accentuated but does that correlate to 'plugged in' tone? Maybe like running a pick across the strings of a grand piano it isn't telling you much, Or maybe it is a good representation the amped guitars characteristics but highly attenuated.
    Putting a guitar back because it sounds "tinny" or seems to "lack sustain" unplugged could be a mistake.
    Last edited by Chordite; 01-25-2018, 07:55 AM.
    .

  • #2
    Robin Trower has said , if a guitar does not sound good unplugged it will never really sound great plugged in.

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    • #3
      Most Fenders are setup with low spanky action so yes, unplugged could indeed be a mistake.
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      • #4
        Originally posted by Chordite View Post
        Strumming along the rack at the local store I was stuck by the question "How much can I actually tell about an electric guitars tone whilst playing it unplugged?" I don't mean the intonation and action but the actual tone.
        In a quiet store they do sound different to each other in frequencies accentuated but does that correlate to 'plugged in' tone? Maybe like running a pick across the strings of a grand piano it isn't telling you much, Or maybe it is a good representation the amped guitars characteristics but highly attenuated.
        Putting a guitar back because it sounds "tinny" or seems to "lack sustain" unplugged could be a mistake.
        Yes. It could be a mistake as long as tuning, intonation are correct.

        Originally posted by gardo View Post
        Robin Trower has said , if a guitar does not sound good unplugged it will never really sound great plugged in.
        Was he speaking of acoustics or electrics?
        Last edited by Etienne Rambert; 01-21-2018, 09:47 AM.
        He has escaped! Youtube , ​Murika , France

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        • gardo
          gardo commented
          Editing a comment
          He was speaking of Strats

      • #5
        I am a believer that if a guitar has good bones acoustically, it will sound great plugged in. Case in point:
        While in a vintage store, a guy was playing a 64 Tele acoustically. Each note, each strum was bell like. You could hear it across the room, crystal clear and clean. When he plugged into a Twin Reverb, it was the same, but amplified. Sweetest sounding tele ever! He then did the same with a 77 Tele. Sounded dull in caparison, and even the mighty Twin, couldn't give it the same life as the 64.
        I always choose my guitar on how they sound without an amp. Well, after how they feel of course.
        My Music: www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=440762
        Some of my guitars: 64 or so Domino Beatle bass; 73 Ibanez 2398; 79 Epiphone Genesis; 79 Manoman; 99 Ric 330; 78 Gibson L6S; 95 Ibanez JS-700; 04 Samick Lasalle JZ3: 05 Ibanez AS73; 81 Paul Custom, 07 Gary Kramer Simulator T and about 50 others.

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        • #6
          I've got to play Devil's Advocate here - for the sake of argument, let's say Guitar Center has a Custom Les Paul on the used rack, 5A top, the epitome of perfection, but the previous owner removed the Burstbucker Pros and installed ArcTec pickups in it. I guarantee this guitar will resonate well unplugged, but it's no longer going to sound like a $3500+ guitar plugged in.
          pickups account for the majority of an electric' s sound. I'm not saying wood doesn't matter, I believe it does, just not as much.
          my Evo Dragster resonates like crazy unplugged, but does not sound great plugged in, at least dirty. Single note runs sound good, but chords lose the mids, they mud up and don't ring through well.
          I guess if unplugged one sounded like hitting a brick against a 2x4, I may keep looking, other than that....
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          • onelife
            onelife commented
            Editing a comment
            I'll play Devil's Advocate to your Devil's Advocate and say that bad pickups can make a good guitar sound bad but good pickups won't make a bad guitar sound good.

          • sammyreynolds01
            sammyreynolds01 commented
            Editing a comment
            Agreed. If a guitar is a dud, a guitar is a dud. No pickups will save it.

          • brucebennett
            brucebennett commented
            Editing a comment
            side note to that idea:
            Most Builders know all you have to do is slap some EMGs in a "bad" build... they can make even a 2x4 sound good.

        • #7
          I think we have to remove the grade of the pickups from the equation because we all know they make a big difference to the sound. Same with set-up and action.

          When you play an electric unplugged I think you can get a good idea of how it'll sound amplified. Some guitars have more or less sustain by design, so that's not the big tell. It's the strength and sound of each note.

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          • #8
            Originally posted by hellion_213 View Post
            I've got to play Devil's Advocate here - for the sake of argument, let's say Guitar Center has a Custom Les Paul on the used rack, 5A top, the epitome of perfection, but the previous owner removed the Burstbucker Pros and installed ArcTec pickups in it. I guarantee this guitar will resonate well unplugged, but it's no longer going to sound like a $3500+ guitar plugged in.
            pickups account for the majority of an electric' s sound. I'm not saying wood doesn't matter, I believe it does, just not as much.
            my Evo Dragster resonates like crazy unplugged, but does not sound great plugged in, at least dirty. Single note runs sound good, but chords lose the mids, they mud up and don't ring through well.
            I guess if unplugged one sounded like hitting a brick against a 2x4, I may keep looking, other than that....
            You can build a great looking house on a weak foundation but its weakness are only hidden from the eyes.

            Same thing for an electric instrument. Good acoustic tone (in my 53 years of experience playing) is the foundation for good electric tone.

            If an instrument has good acoustical tone then it has the "potential" to sound good amplified, its not a given because the electronics, pickups amp and speaker still have to facilitate its amplification.

            Bad pickups can of course mask good acoustic tone by simply failing to reproduce it. So will a bad amp or speaker.

            Good pickups by themselves cant invent frequencies that don't exist.

            Its no different then sticking a bad singer in front of a great mic. If the source of frequencies is flawed, then its not much different then having a good singer in back of a bad mic. Both will fail to sound as good as they could if the best of two is combined.

            Maybe a better analogy would be to place a low end acoustic guitar in front of a great mic compared to a high end acoustic in front of a bad mic when played by the same performer. Good string tones never existed to begin with by the first, and the great string tones of the second are masked by the poor mic.

            If you want to rule out the movement of air as being a factor simply use a magnetic sound hole pickup. I guarantee you the high end instrument will still sound better given all other factors being equal.

            Even primitive logic would tell you the best mic combined with the best acoustic tone is going to give you the best results. Just because an inductive transducer is used instead of a mic has no bearing at all when it comes to generating a signal. It simply removes the air from the process.

            An electric can generate a signal in a vacuum. So can an acoustic guitar when a magnetic pickup is used.

            If you want the best electric tone possible tone you simply match the best acoustic tone to the best pickups. The problem is purely what you may define as being the best.

            We know an electric, especially a solid body isn't designed to move air, but that doesn't mean it isn't putting body/neck tone back into the strings. Just put your ear against the body and its wood tone is clear as day. Wood has a filtering effect on the vibrations that pass through it.

            Some instruments bodies/necks tend to absorb more bass frequencies and allow treble tones to pass back into the strings and sound brighter then others, like Fenders. Others tens to absorb more highs and pass more bass like say a Mahogany or Rosewood Gibson.

            Whether that filtering effect is judged to be good or bad is the real question. You can debate that issue all day long and never come to a consensus because its in the ear of the beholder.

            It doesn't change the fact string tones are mechanically EQed by the woods ability to resonate certain frequencies back into the strings better then others. Its what makes a Strat sound like a Strat and an LP sound like an LP. (Before they are plugged in)

            The instruments vibration can also be felt in the hands and rested against your body. A player tends to feel the vibrations and transients when he picks the strings.

            Once amplification is added (which includes the Pickups, Amp, Speakers and any pedals used) then tone is a matter of how well that amplification chain, does or doesn't amplify.

            This is the point where most electric guitarist's judgment becomes bass ackwards. They know what high fidelity is and they know distortion is considered low fidelity, but they don't agree one what "good" low fidelity actually is and tend to get emotionally involved instead of understanding what's being achieved by driving an instrument into saturated levels which strips it of its high fidelity.

            Before driven guitar was popular, a speaker cab was the substitute for an acoustic guitars chambered body which moves air. The goal in the early days was to make the amplifier produce high fidelity tones which sounded very acoustic like. Les Paul fooled many with his first solid body by strapping sides on it that made it look like a Jazz Guitar, which only tells you how easy it is to fool peoples ears.

            Once the first drive tones were added to an electric then the judgment of how "good" an electric is became impaired. Playability was still important, but many questioned body tone as even being a factor. The more drive you add to an instrument the fewer overtones survive to tell the ears just how good the instrument is acoustically. You can also add the pickups, pedals, amp speakers ability to EQ and drive the signal into saturation levels.

            For me there's more then just good tone delivered by an instruments acoustic build. Dynamics and Sustain are linked to the quality of the wood, but even more importantly is how the body resonates when its placed in front of loud speakers. When the body vibrates from loud speakers, the strings become self sustaining and an instrument either does this well or it doesn't.

            In my experience the strings of a guitar that sound good acoustically will regenerate self staining tones that are musical and harmonic (Think Hendrix and Santana tones when gained up) If the body lacks good resonance the self sustaining resonance may be unpredictable or non existent. While this may not be an inhibiting factor for players who don't use sympathetic string vibrations when they play loud, I can insure you it would be a major handicap trying to use those tones to your benefit.

            Drive guitar has in fact become its own art form built upon an instrument that has acoustic tone in its strings. Of course you can take it even a step farther and convert acoustic vibrations to midi and take acoustic tone completely out of the picture if you want. Its what they've done to Keyboards after all. I think most guitarists value a guitar that can produce both clean tones and driven tones well.

            When the clean tones are dialed up you simply hear acoustic tone from the speaker best. When its driven it becomes a very different instrument. We just don't realize it because we grew up listening to those drive tones and considerer them to be normal, not a loss of fidelity.
            Last edited by WRGKMC; 01-22-2018, 08:41 AM.

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            • #9
              Originally posted by WRGKMC View Post
              . . . If you want to rule out the movement of air as being a factor simply use a magnetic sound hole pickup. I guarantee you the high end instrument will still sound better given all other factors being equal. . . .
              No it won't. That's why amplified acoustic guitars normally tend to sound generic. The pickup, magnetic, piezo, etc., only picks up the vibration of the strings. Those strings can be attached to a guitar or a cinder block and they'll sound essentially the same.
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              • #10
                Oh dear, the dreaded cinder block has arrived
                Lest we drift into a standard tonewood discussion the question was whether the sound of an unplugged electric represents the plugged guitar. I'll try to put the question in one line.

                Are frequencies that are less audible 'from the body' actually still there at the string/pups just out of phase resonance with the surface of the body but still circulating 'within' the core of the guitar with less energy lost making audible sound.

                .

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                • 1001gear
                  1001gear commented
                  Editing a comment
                  do they pot reverbs?

              • #11
                Originally posted by Chordite View Post
                Oh dear, the dreaded cinder block has arrived . . .
                Yes, and here it is now:

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                • hellion_213
                  hellion_213 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I thought about posting it, almost did. Great video

                • mrbrown49
                  mrbrown49 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  What's the point of that video? It's almost impossible to tell how it sounds since the quality is so bad.

              • #12
                I spent decades playing steel-string acoustic flat-tops. I’d hear players and luthiers argue tone woods make little or no difference to an ACOUSTIC guitar’s sound. I’m really surprised the argument continues among so many players of solid-body electric guitars.

                To my ears, solid-body electrics don’t really have an acoustic tone I can discern outside of strings, tuning, intonation. I guess it all depends on what one considers an acoustic tone.
                Last edited by Etienne Rambert; 01-24-2018, 12:35 PM.
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                • #13
                  Originally posted by WRGKMC View Post

                  You can build a great looking house on a weak foundation but its weakness are only hidden from the eyes.
                  True, but there are many forms of Foundation - block on footers, slab-built, piers, reinforced wall, etc. Electrics are no different, alter body/maple neck/rosewood board, mahogany body/walnut neck/ebony board, and then the various forms of plywood, generally frowned upon, though i do recall a whole line of Gibbys from plywood.

                  Same thing for an electric instrument. Good acoustic tone (in my 53 years of experience playing) is the foundation for good electric tone.
                  not saying it doesn't, just that the effects are, at best, minimal
                  If an instrument has good acoustical tone then it has the "potential" to sound good amplified, its not a given because the electronics, pickups amp and speaker still have to facilitate its amplification.
                  Exactly, and ones choice here makes all the difference in the world. Cable choice as well.
                  Bad pickups can of course mask good acoustic tone by simply failing to reproduce it. So will a bad amp or speaker.

                  Good pickups by themselves cant invent frequencies that don't exist.
                  No, but the majority of the tones we hear are from the hardware, and our choice of strings. Phosphor bronze would probably give better acoustic tone, but suck plugged in with magnetic pickups.
                  Its no different then sticking a bad singer in front of a great mic. If the source of frequencies is flawed, then its not much different then having a good singer in back of a bad mic. Both will fail to sound as good as they could if the best of two is combined.

                  Maybe a better analogy would be to place a low end acoustic guitar in front of a great mic compared to a high end acoustic in front of a bad mic when played by the same performer. Good string tones never existed to begin with by the first, and the great string tones of the second are masked by the poor mic.

                  If you want to rule out the movement of air as being a factor simply use a magnetic sound hole pickup. I guarantee you the high end instrument will still sound better given all other factors being equal.

                  Even primitive logic would tell you the best mic combined with the best acoustic tone is going to give you the best results. Just because an inductive transducer is used instead of a mic has no bearing at all when it comes to generating a signal. It simply removes the air from the process.

                  An electric can generate a signal in a vacuum. So can an acoustic guitar when a magnetic pickup is used.

                  If you want the best electric tone possible tone you simply match the best acoustic tone to the best pickups. The problem is purely what you may define as being the best.
                  Now we have to define best - SM57, 58, maybe a Blu vocal mic, cardiod.....
                  We know an electric, especially a solid body isn't designed to move air, but that doesn't mean it isn't putting body/neck tone back into the strings. Just put your ear against the body and its wood tone is clear as day. Wood has a filtering effect on the vibrations that pass through it.
                  and that acoustic wood tone Might be picked up were you to Mic the unplugged instrument very closely. Once plugged up, it's coloration, with subtle undertones at best.

                  Some instruments bodies/necks tend to absorb more bass frequencies and allow treble tones to pass back into the strings and sound brighter then others, like Fenders. Others tens to absorb more highs and pass more bass like say a Mahogany or Rosewood Gibson.
                  Agreed, though routing and weight relief/lack thereof probably plays a part here as well
                  Whether that filtering effect is judged to be good or bad is the real question. You can debate that issue all day long and never come to a consensus because its in the ear of the beholder.

                  It doesn't change the fact string tones are mechanically EQed by the woods ability to resonate certain frequencies back into the strings better then others. Its what makes a Strat sound like a Strat and an LP sound like an LP. (Before they are plugged in)
                  which has a minimal effect, if any, other than darker/brighter
                  The instruments vibration can also be felt in the hands and rested against your body. A player tends to feel the vibrations and transients when he picks the strings.

                  Once amplification is added (which includes the Pickups, Amp, Speakers and any pedals used) then tone is a matter of how well that amplification chain, does or doesn't amplify.
                  Also the point at which acoustic unplugged characteristics no longer matter, for anything more than coloration
                  This is the point where most electric guitarist's judgment becomes bass ackwards. They know what high fidelity is and they know distortion is considered low fidelity, but they don't agree one what "good" low fidelity actually is and tend to get emotionally involved instead of understanding what's being achieved by driving an instrument into saturated levels which strips it of its high fidelity.

                  Before driven guitar was popular, a speaker cab was the substitute for an acoustic guitars chambered body which moves air. The goal in the early days was to make the amplifier produce high fidelity tones which sounded very acoustic like. Les Paul fooled many with his first solid body by strapping sides on it that made it look like a Jazz Guitar, which only tells you how easy it is to fool peoples ears.

                  Once the first drive tones were added to an electric then the judgment of how "good" an electric is became impaired. Playability was still important, but many questioned body tone as even being a factor. The more drive you add to an instrument the fewer overtones survive to tell the ears just how good the instrument is acoustically. You can also add the pickups, pedals, amp speakers ability to EQ and drive the signal into saturation levels.

                  For me there's more then just good tone delivered by an instruments acoustic build. Dynamics and Sustain are linked to the quality of the wood, but even more importantly is how the body resonates when its placed in front of loud speakers. When the body vibrates from loud speakers, the strings become self sustaining and an instrument either does this well or it doesn't.
                  In my experience, hardware and pickups play a much larger role in dynamics and sustain. obviously, a hollow body has a different response and sound than a solid. Solid bodied electrics are, by nature, minimally influenced by such things, again, other than coloration, or EQing as you put it.

                  In my experience the strings of a guitar that sound good acoustically will regenerate self staining tones that are musical and harmonic (Think Hendrix and Santana tones when gained up) If the body lacks good resonance the self sustaining resonance may be unpredictable or non existent. While this may not be an inhibiting factor for players who don't use sympathetic string vibrations when they play loud, I can insure you it would be a major handicap trying to use those tones to your benefit.

                  Again, hardware issue more than tonewood

                  Drive guitar has in fact become its own art form built upon an instrument that has acoustic tone in its strings. Of course you can take it even a step farther and convert acoustic vibrations to midi and take acoustic tone completely out of the picture if you want. Its what they've done to Keyboards after all. I think most guitarists value a guitar that can produce both clean tones and driven tones well.

                  When the clean tones are dialed up you simply hear acoustic tone from the speaker best. When its driven it becomes a very different instrument. We just don't realize it because we grew up listening to those drive tones and considerer them to be normal, not a loss of fidelity.
                  Last edited by hellion_213; 01-23-2018, 06:33 PM.
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                  Originally Posted by J-E-M
                  Use a wah pedal so you can fully express the cry-baby inside

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                  • #14
                    Originally posted by DeepEnd View Post
                    No it won't. That's why amplified acoustic guitars normally tend to sound generic. The pickup, magnetic, piezo, etc., only picks up the vibration of the strings. Those strings can be attached to a guitar or a cinder block and they'll sound essentially the same.

                    Are you serious? Come on man, Even I give you more credit for being more intelligent then that, even if you haven't used them before.

                    A pickup for an acoustic is no different then having one on an electric, except the acoustic can move air.

                    Would you also say a guitar like an Epiphone Dot sounds the same as a Gibson ES335? You're going to tell me they both sound Generically the same if you have the same pickups in both? Ridiculous.

                    There's absolutely no differences between an acoustic and electric when using a magnetic pickup. The tone comes from the strings and the strings get their tone from what they are connected to, the body and neck.

                    Vibrations don't begin and end at the bridge and nut, they pass into the body and back into the strings just like sound being conducted through water, in fact sound moves faster through solids then they do through the air. If electrics can sound better or worse depending on the quality of the build, then so do acoustics.

                    Back when I first started playing they hadn't developed Piezo pickups/or on board preamps and mics for acoustics yet. The best you might have is a crude stick on transducer which sounded like garbage, a mic or a sound hole pickup. If you want to call those stick on transducers generic sounding, I'd agree. The fidelity you got from them was quite horrid, and that's mainly because they didn't make the miniaturized preamps needed for them yet. That technology didn't start kicking in till the 70's when Barcus Berry became a leader in acoustic amplification.

                    Acoustic players who needed to compete with electric players typically used sound hole pickups because they produced the least amount of feedback and got them loud enough to compete with electric guitars. PA's for micing acoustics for most bands sucked beyond belief too. Ever try and mic an acoustic with a Shure Vocal master before and no monitors? I have, its like playing air guitar with an electric band. You had to use sound hole pickups just to be heard.

                    The most popular magnetic pickups were the DeArmond which were actually balanced quite well and to compensated for the acoustic strings used. The frequency response could get well up into the vocal ranges of 7K and the bass was quite full and rich.

                    Click image for larger version

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                    You found many similar removable pickups on arch tops. (I suppose that all sound generically the same too by your logic).

                    They weren't nearly as good as a Piezo transducers used today, but you'd truly have to have tin ears to not recognize it was connected to an acoustic guitar, and if you think a quality instrument didn't produce better tones, then I can only assume you lack the experience to even know what you're talking about.

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                    • #15
                      Originally posted by WRGKMC View Post
                      Are you serious? . . .

                      . . . There's absolutely no differences between an acoustic and electric when using a magnetic pickup. The tone comes from the strings and the strings get their tone from what they are connected to, the body and neck. . . .

                      . . . Ever try and mic an acoustic with a Shure Vocal master before and no monitors? I have, its like playing air guitar with an electric band. You had to use sound hole pickups just to be heard. . . .
                      I'm at least as serious as you are. The lack of difference is part of the problem. A magnetic pickup only responds to the magnetic part of the string, in the case of acoustic strings the core. To a listener phosphor bronze and 80/20 strings sound different. To a magnetic pickup they don't because the pickup can't "hear" the bronze part. That means a generic sound. A listener can hear the difference between, say, a parlor guitar and a big dreadnought. A magnetic pickup can't so you get a generic sound. There are magnetic pickups like the Fishman Rare Earth Blend with its built in mike and the Baggs M1 that supposedly "senses" the vibration of the top but most are straight up magnetic. I'm not saying the guitar's body/wood/neck/ doesn't contribute at all but the contribution is much more minimal than you seem to think.
                      And as it happens I have miked an acoustic. It used to be SOP back in the 70's and it actually worked much better than you seem to remember.
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