Can an acoustic stringed instrument be built that sounds like (or close to) an electric guitar? I’m thinking some mutant cross between a sitar and a banjo might be close.
Imitate an electric guitar? Sure.
Imitate an electric guitar hooked up to an amp that’s turned on? Nope.
A really buzzy resonator?
It’s going to be difficult. The majority of the “electric” sounds of your typical electrical guitar is caused by intentionally clipping the acoustic waveform, which tends to square up the wave and increase the higher order harmonics. I can’t think of an easy way to do that through purely acoustic means.
A really buzzy resonator is going to introduce a lot of the higher order harmonics but it’s not going to be quite the same thing. I can’t think of anything closer though.
An electric guitar sound is typified by sustain due to what is usually a solid or semi-solid body, plus harmonic distortion due to the characteristics of the pickup and amplifier. I don’t know how you could reproduce the distortion aspect from a purely acoustic instrument. There might be mechanical techniques to get distortion but I suspect it would sound more like a kazoo than an electric guitar.
A banjo works by rapidly converting energy from the string onto the banjo head. This gives it a lot of loud attack in the front end of the envelope but the string vibration decays faster. That’s the opposite of trying to sound like an electric guitar. I don’t know much about sitars except what they sound like. They have a good amount of sustain but use sympathetic strings to get their unique sound.
You could play a solid body electric and mic it. If you do that you might as well plug it into an amp, and now you’re back where you started.
A bowed instrument has tone based upon a sawtooth wave, whereas a distorting electric guitar is more based upon a square wave. There is a lot of harmonic commonality here, so you can get a resemblance. However there is a such a variation in tone when you look at all the different guitar amps and the variation possible with the tone controls - let alone the various distortion and overdrive pedals that exist - there is probably more variation between electric guitar tones than between some electric guitar and a cello.
Let’s move this to Cafe Society.
General Questions Moderator
Well, an electric, if I am understanding your OP correctly, sounds distorted - that’s what you are going for, right?
Hmm, in my experience, an old blues guitar - an old acoustic, typically a cheap Stella, Kay, or Harmony or Regal from the 30s, with a mahogany body and a top that may be “ladder braced” (vs. X braced like most modern flattops). With those old guitars, if they are a little buzzy (loose braces, etc.) and you drive them hard, they have a natural distortion that sounds a bit like an electric. This shouldn’t be surprising since electric blues and rock guitar tones evolved out of this type of tone…
Other than than, per DCnDC - a resonator guitar can sound this way, too - and the metallic ring of the body and cone can add to that tone…
I know someone that used to play a round-back Ovation Applause through fuzz pedals and a valve amp. It sounded like a nasty sixties electric, very trashy, which is the sound he was after.
You can turn any acoustic into an electric by attaching a pickup and running it through an amp. That’s exactly what they did with archtop acoustics at the dawn of the electric guitar era, long before Leo Fender. Traditionalist jazz guitarists still use that exact setup.
You can buy a magnetic soundhole pickup and fit it into any flat-top acoustic and run it through an amp. It’ll feed back if you get too loud, but it’ll work, and people have been doing that for decades. The problem (apart from feedback) is that they sound too much like an electric for most people’s tastes, not that they don’t sound enough like an electric.
Use an Ebow or a Gizmotron.
Oh, gawds, I gotta post this - Cello Wars!
Sorry for the slight hijack, but totally worth it!