People should not plug acoustic guitars into amps. I know, sometimes it sounds OK. Maybe Willie Nelson makes it work. Maybe Nirvana unplugged isn’t that bad. But these are rare instances of professionals with highly paid sound technicians making it sound OK. If you’re the guy I saw at the mall today, you really should have just bought an electric guitar and plugged it in. Electric guitars just sound so much better amplified. And I’m not talking about loud distorted guitars; just plain old amplified electric guitars sound great. They usually make players sound better than they actually are.
I thought long and hard about why this is the case.
Most electric guitar amplifiers look like this in the back:
They’re powered by vacuum tubes. You’d have to get an electrical engineer or someone of that sort to explain why, but these give the guitar a fuller sound, flatter sound. They smooth out some of the highs and lows a bit. And a different sound than you hear if you just listen to the guitar unplugged. This sound also changes as you turn the volume up, so a louder amp gets more distorted.
On the other hand, acoustic guitar amplifiers are generally powered by electronic circuits and strive to replicate the exact sound of the guitar, only louder. Ideally, the tone and texture of the sound don’t change no matter how loud the amp is turned.
But this to me is like the problem with HD TV. You’re seeing things better than your own eyes alone would actually see them, and at some point, you’re seeing too much. With a loud turned up acoustic guitar, you’re hearing too much. You’re hearing more than you would if you were sitting right next to someone playing an unplugged acoustic. Every little extra note hit by accident, thumping on the body of the guitar, the sound of fingers sliding up and down the strings- you hear it all. It’s harsh. It might just be me, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone who sounds better this way.
Of course, it’s impractical to have a guy playing an unplugged guitar in the mall- no one would hear it. Especially if that guys is right next to a woman belting a song out. Oh well. That guy should pick up playing the piano.
It also gives the guitar too big of a range of sound. When I’m playing with the band, I’m trying to stick squarely in the narrow band between our bass player and keyboard player. Plugged in acoustics have too much bass and too much treble, and when people try to get fancy- switching back and forth between the upper and lower notes on every other strum, it just bugs me. I might just be anal retentive.
I thought I had more random thoughts. But it occurs to me that’s pretty much it.