Can I Play Classical Music on an Electric Guitar?

A lot of beginners, as well as intermediate guitarists, ask me, “Can I play classical music on an electric guitar?”. It is totally understandable because classical music and the electric guitar seem like a unique combination.

Here is the straightforward answer,

Of course, you can play classical music on an electric guitar whether playing it raw or using effect pedals/plugins. Although you might not get the exact tone that a classical piece might have, you can definitely have a tone that would fulfill your fancy.

In fact, using an electric guitar, you would have the option to produce a range of amazing tones with the help of tone simulator pedals, digital effects, or VST plugins. An electric guitar is a type of guitar that is capable of emulating other types of guitars and instruments.

How to Play Classical / Baroque Music on an Electric Guitar

If you didn’t know already, early classical guitar music is also referred to as Baroque music (or Baroque pieces) and early classical guitars could be called baroque guitars as well; so, don’t get confused by that.

There is no significant challenge you’d face to become a classical guitarist using your electric guitar. In fact, you might love the unique combination and so will your audience. So, to play a classical piece on your electric guitar, you could revamp your playing style that is compatible with classical style composing, such as, playing guitar solos or fingerstyle playing.

A quick glance at the comparison between classical and modern music (where electric guitars are widely used) would help you adopt classical music on your electric guitar better.

CriteriaClassical MusicModern Music (Containing Electric Guitars)
Usage of instrumentsMostly acoustic instruments are usedMostly electric instruments are used, Acoustic percussion may be used
LengthCan range from a few minutes to several hoursUsually several minutes (2- 10 mins)
StyleDynamic: volume and tempo frequently changeSteady: volume and tempo remain constant
CompositionMeticulously crafted, putting emphasis on instrumentsProfessional/casually composed, putting emphasis on both instruments and lyrics (except for instrumentals)
PurposeEliciting emotion and intellectual interpretationEntertainment and recreational purpose
MoodDeep, complex, and thoughtfulLively and straightforward

First, I would suggest you not worry about the tone. Just plug in your electric guitar directly into your amplifier and start practicing with the raw tone. Assuming that, you have some experience in playing guitar, here are the steps you can follow.

Electric Guitar Type

Our first concern is about the type of electric guitar because some type of electric guitar might be better suited for classical music. Some electric guitar body is hollow, some have solid wood with single-coil pickups and maple fretboard. All of these can produce a bright sound that is well suited for classical pieces.

On the other hand, electric guitars with, laminated body, rosewood fretboard, and humbuckers, and active pickups create a type of electrical signal that results in a heavy and darker tone.

So, if you already have one of these types of electric guitar, chances are that you’d have to work on the tone more for the later type than the first one. But if you are planning to buy one and put emphasis on classical playing, then I’d suggest you go for the hollow of semi-hollow bodied electric guitar although they are a bit expensive instrument.

Try with an Easier Classical Piece

As a rule of thumb, it is safe to start with popular music that is easier if you are trying to play something new. The same goes with learning a classical piece, especially on an electrical guitar. Although these songs have been played mostly on piano or baroque guitars, you just emulate the notes on your electric guitar.

Pieces such as Andantino in G by Ferdinando Carulli or Ode to Joy by Beethoven are two of the most beautiful and easiest classical pieces that could be easily learned even by a beginner.

Choose a Playing Style

Classical guitars are mostly played by fingerstyle playing. So, if you are interested in playing classical music on your electric guitar, practicing playing through fingerstyle could be a good option.

The electric guitar has steel strings that are arranged quite closely compared to classical guitars where the nylon strings have wider spaces in-between them. This makes the nylon string guitars convenient to play by fingerstyle. Also, steel strings are not as easy for finger-picking style for beginners.

Nevertheless, there are tons of modern guitarists who play their electrical guitars using fingerstyle: Rock guitarist Mark Knofler, Chet Atkins, jazz guitarists like Joe Pass, Pat Metheny are some of the most iconic ones.

You can even come up with your own technique or adopt a hybrid picking technique. The hybrid picking technique allows you to play your electric guitar using both guitar pick and fingers.

Practice Dynamic Playing

To understand dynamic playing, listen to some of the classical pieces carefully and eventually you will notice a variation in volume throughout the music. This is done through dynamic playing.

When playing an acoustic guitar, or a flamenco guitar, you will have control over the dynamic range of sound and volume by picking the strings softly or roughly. Acoustic-electric guitars also have this option. The same goes when you play an electric guitar with a clean tone on plugging raw into an amplifier.

And if you plug in your guitar to an amp through several effect pedals, that might lower the dynamic control. In that case, a volume control pedal would be really handy to control the volume, tone, or attack while you play a classical piece.

Put Emotion Within Your Playing Techniques

While playing style and technique is essential, it is important to focus on emotional components while playing classical music on your steel-string guitars. If you look at a classical performance closely, you will find that there is a great number of works that elicit “feel” rather than strictly following the techniques and timing.

This sort of creativity is achieved through practice, so you are encouraged to do so. Initially, practice playing with a metronome to master the timing, then put work on playing with “emotions” & “feeling” to perfect it.

Follow 20th – 21st Century Guitarists with Classical Style Playing

There are many modern guitarists who are influenced by classical guitarists and you can find classical flavor in their original music as well. Yngwie Malmsteen is one of the prominent names in this area. Also, around the end of the 20th century, Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, Lindsey Buckingham were seen playing classical-style music on electric or acoustic guitars.

If you follow their style of playing or their rendition of classical music, then you will have a clear idea about how to play classical music on modern instruments. Eventually, playing classical music on modern instruments needs some sort of adaptation. And you’ll get the idea of how it is done by following these artists and their rendition of classical playing.

Learning to Read Musical Notations for Advanced Playing

If you want to play classical music on your electric guitar just for fun and experiments, you can skip this part if you want. But if you are serious about becoming an expert in “Classical Electric guitarist” then you should learn to read the musical notations.

There are several advantages of this learning.

First, the notations of the classical music pieces are available; so, you can get one and play it according to your style. So many beautiful music pieces are written in the 19th century, 18th century, even in the 16th century; you could get the notations of those musical pieces and play them on modern guitars. Check out classical players such as Fernando Sor (19th-century guitar player), Mauro Giuliani (18th-century Italian guitarist), and give yourself a try.

Secondly, you can do “sight-reading” while playing this piece live. You can use a guitar tab, but unfortunately, guitar tabs take about 3 times more space in a sheet than the musical notations. And usually, a classical piece is quite long, which would render 4-5 sheets of guitar tab; this would be really inconvenient to play live.

Third, learning to read musical notations will enable you to play anything on any modern instrument whatever the musical styles might be. So you can create your own rendition of classical music with ease; even create a guitar tab out of it.

The Tone for Playing a Classical Piece

Usually, we’ve heard the classical pieces played on a piano, violin, clavichord, Spanish guitar, or other common types of vintage instruments. Therefore, the modern guitar adaptation of these classical pieces doesn’t need to be of exact sound or tone as the original one. Keep the keys, notes, scales, modes, and pitch range intact like the original. Of course, the tone of your electric guitar should be acceptable and relevant to the classic flavor.

Use the Raw Sound of An Electric Guitar

You should start with the raw tone of your electric guitar, as I’ve already mentioned before. You can obviously tweak the tone control of your guitar as well as the guitar amplifier your guitar is plugged into.

Depending on the type of your electric guitar (single-coil pickups or humbucker), dial those knobs into an acceptable tone and you should be good to go.

Use Effect Pedals

The biggest advantage of an electric guitar player is that he can use such effect pedals that could even give you vintage sounds. There are numerous effect pedals to choose from. My suggestion would be to start with a conventional guitar (acoustic/classical) simulating the stomp-effect pedal.

Using this type of effect pedal, practice your favorite classical piece whether by reading the original notation or guitar tabs you find on the internet. There are tons of youtube tutorial videos that you can watch and follow their styles.

Next, I’d suggest you use an effect pedal that simulates orchestra/symphony, pipe organ, or violin-type sounds. Obviously, your electric guitar will not sound exactly like a violin or orchestra, but you can create a classical flavored sound using these effect pedals.

It would be a smart choice for you to use a volume pedal along with other effect pedals. As I said, it would give you dynamic control over your playing. A guitar processor of an average price range can fulfill all these purposes, so you can also consider that as well.

Use VST Plugins

You can use these plugins the same way an effect pedal is used to create unique sounds. However, no dynamic control will be achieved, since this is a fully digital process.

But the good news is, there are a plethora of VST plugins and some of those will make your electric guitar sound almost like the piano Beethoven used to compose his masterpiece. And there are also options for adding a percussion instrument, cello pieces, or a similar acoustic instrument that would help you create a killer background track.

Fusion with Different Style of Music Genre

Some of the classical pieces are well suited for modern adaptation, therefore a lot of modern guitarists fuse those classical pieces with a different style of music genres such as rock, blues, or metal. It sounds amazing if you do it right.

There are several rock renditions of these classics. Among them, my favorites are moonlight sonata, Canon – D (Rock), Vivaldi’s Seasons, Beethoven’s fur-Elise, and so on. You should definitely check those out.

FAQs

Can I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Like an Acoustic Guitar?

Yes, I already mentioned using the effect pedal or VST plugins for this purpose. These pedals or plugins work really well; sometimes you might not even be able to distinguish their sounds from original acoustic guitars.

What Makes an Electric Guitar Sound Good?

Proper amp setting, pedal dialing, and playing style make the guitar sound great. Remember, your playing style can have a significant impact on the sounds of your electric guitar. Even if you play your electric guitar only with an amp, you can create a good enough sound from your electric guitar through advanced guitar techniques such as bending, legato, run, vibrato, natural & artificial harmonics, etc.

What Type of Music Can I Play with an Electric Guitar?

Almost any type of music is possible to play with an electric guitar if you have the right settings, such as effect pedal, plugins, and amp settings. The specialty of an electric guitar is in a wide range of music genres starting from rock, jazz, blues, heavy metal, pop, punk and so much more.

In most cases, a background track with a percussion instrument might be required to play the music optimally. Since electric guitars are mostly associated with playing in a band, so this sort of arrangement is often necessary during playing individually.

Some of the genres such as hip-hop, techno, DJ, etc. might not be playable with an electric guitar. But never say never; you can check out Tom Morello from “Rage Against the Machine” and see how he uses his guitar for techno-type music.

Conclusion

There you go, the answer to your question in a most elaborate way. As you can see, there is no barrier to playing classical music on an electric guitar. Rather, it is pretty flexible and achievable if you follow the right approach. Hopefully, you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly and enjoy playing the desired classical pieces on your electric guitar.

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