Do Electric Guitars Sound Good for Strumming?

In the 1960s when folk music was a powerhouse in the music industry, there was controversy when Bob Dylan added an electric band to his recordings and live shows. 

Some of his fans couldn’t believe it and booed him at live shows with one person even yelling “Judas” at him. 

It sounds pretty ridiculous today but if you close your eyes can you always tell an electric from an acoustic instrument?

Most strumming patterns will work just fine on an electric guitar but not all. And if you are trying to emulate an acoustic sound you will probably have to adjust the volume on your guitar to avoid the muddiness that can happen with too much gain and sustain.

A lot of guitarists learned to play on acoustic guitars, probably because it was a cheaper option to start playing, or that’s what their friends or family had. 

And while acoustic guitars can produce a beautiful natural tone when they are strummed, things will sound different if you try it on an electric instrument without tweaking some things first. 

But I think you can get pretty close for most styles of music.

Are electric guitars intended for strumming?

Every guitar manufactured now is definitely not intended for strumming, especially shred guitars like Ibanez or Schecter models. 

But I think that when electric guitars were conceived they were not meant to be played that differently than acoustic guitars. 

The pickups were often not as hot as most of the ones popular today. 

For example, artists like Buddy Holly, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Beatles made it big strumming electric guitars, even if Elvis Presley was mostly seen playing an acoustic guitar.

Would an electric guitar sound good for strumming?

Electric guitars are fine for strumming but they may never sound exactly like an acoustic would. 

There are effects and modeling amps that have acoustic simulators but it’s just not the same and they don’t sound very convincing with single-coil pickups to my ear. 

If you have your heart set on strumming your electric I think the trick is to turn up your amplifier volume and turn the guitar volume way down. 

Then gradually bring up the guitar’s volume until you get a suitable tone that doesn’t sustain for too long or overdrive the amp if you hit the strings hard. 

And I should mention that setting the guitar’s action a bit higher and using heavier string gauges will probably be advantageous for strumming.

How would strumming a distorted electric guitar sound?

Strumming with distortion is a thing of its own. That doesn’t mean it’s bad though either and tons of bands use it to craft their songs. 

This style is often referred to as creating a wall of sound, meaning acoustic strumming is what, a fence of sound? 

Jokes aside, using distortion while strumming can sound great but some of the nuances of the strumming rhythm can be lost in the noise and greater sustain of the amplified sound. 

I’m sure a good drummer can keep things interesting though.

Can you play the same strumming patterns on electric and acoustic?

Looking at the situation from the other side reveals some bigger differences as a lot of hard rock, metal, or djent type music doesn’t translate well from electric to acoustic guitars. 

MTV’s famous Unplugged series of concerts illustrate this pretty clearly. 

A lot of bands that you wouldn’t think could even play acoustic instruments can actually make them sing but they have to carefully choose which of their songs will sound decently unplugged.

One of the best-known performances is Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York and they had to add quite a few cover songs and bring in a cellist to round out the sound. 

But to get back to the transition from acoustic to electric, I believe there are two strumming styles that won’t work well on an electric guitar. 

The first is the Spanish Flamenco style which uses the fingers to strum. 

Because the style often uses three fingers to strike the strings in quick succession, I think the increased sustain of electric instruments muddies the sound. 

In addition, those players are hitting the strings hard and most electric strings are not heavy enough to take that kind of beating and still sound good. 

The other style that won’t go over well on an electric is a percussive element that has become very popular for solo acoustic performers and I’m sure you’ve seen it on Youtube or other video sites. 

These players slap the hollow guitar body with the side of their thumb between strumming to create a rhythm but it sounds like garbage if you do it on an electric guitar. 

So for Flamenco and percussion, I’m afraid you are limited to acoustic instruments.

Is it common to strum on an electric guitar?

Strumming on an electric guitar is more common than you might think and it’s not just for funk music or bands from the 1950s and 1960s. 

A lot of genres of music that are not even guitar-oriented use rhythm guitar strumming to beef up the sound and you may not even distinguish it as guitar. 

I have seen many live performances with an electric guitar player strumming that are mixed so it is not prominent to your ears, or at least not to mine. 

It isn’t really glamorous and I think a lot of guitar players tend to focus on the famous musicians who don’t let you forget that they are the stars for one minute. 

But the strumming rhythm player is part of the mix and they are getting paid so someone must think it is an important element of the sound.

Debunking the myth that you can’t play all strings at once on electric guitars

Playing chords with only three or four strings on electric guitars is really popular and they are usually called power or “5” chords. 

Sometimes that’s all you really need for rock music, especially punk and metal. 

Or you can alternate the lower and higher strings of a chord to get some cool sounds. At least a couple of Jimi Hendrix’s most famous songs were built around this concept. 

Now one of the skills that I think is crucial to take your playing to the next level is to mute unwanted strings with the fingers or even thumb of your fretting hand. 

This will give you a better sound and you can use it to create “color” chords. If you have ever learned to play AC/DC songs you may have learned to mute the 5th string when playing a G chord and the 6th string when playing a D chord. 

This changes the sound of the chords and it is part of their style. 

But you absolutely can play all the strings at once on an electric guitar if you want a big, full sound. 

And sometimes a band that you think is just using power chords is playing all the strings. I remember reading that The Ramones tried to mainly use full barre-chords to create their trademark “buzz saw” style. 

So you can play however you want to achieve the sound you’re going for, and if you find that your tone is too muddy when you strum, just dial your guitar’s volume pot down a little and try again.