Acoustic Guitar is not too often thought of as an instrument for flashy solos, but if played right can be an incredible sound in any genre of music. Think about it, the majority of acoustic songs are one guitar on its own anyway, so there needs to be a full sound to carry it through – why not spice it up a little with some lead work?
The question is how to play lead guitar on an acoustic? Pretty much the same as you would with basic electric solo playing. The main differences are the extremes of the electric guitar such as the tremolo tricks and the big bends that you won’t generally find on acoustic, and you may want to think about playing a mix of rhythm with your solos to give a full natural sound.
You can use fast scale runs, hammer ons or pull offs and a lot of the usual techniques, but there is one advantage – the acoustic sound. There are natural wood tones that give the acoustic sound that can’t be recreated on the electric, and you may as well make the most of them.
Try these the next time you’re wondering how to play lead guitar – unplugged:
Harmonics – You may want to steer clear of the pinch harmonics for now, but try adding some of the natural ones to spice up the sound as there’s just something so captivating about mixing in the high ‘chime like’ sounds with some other deep notes. Adding a few harmonics into a scale section in the solo can make one guitar sound more like two, which brings us to the next step.
Dual Sound – In essence, this is making a solo guitar sound like two guitars by adding a fullness of rhythm with everything you play. If you’re playing a solo section then think about throwing a few chord shapes intermittently with it to constantly bring the piece back to the progression (Nuno Bettencourt is a great example of this).
Percussive Noises – There are so many places on acoustic guitars that you can tap to get a drum like sound, even smacking the strings over the body or picking the strings over the headstock, there are some great sounds that can be produced so play around with it. If you’re playing semi acoustic try these with delay, you won’t regret it! (Tommy Emmanuel is a great example of this).
Picking Hand Placement – because of the range of tones, try picking from different areas over the body. If you pick more towards the neck you’ll get a soft tone, but picking next to the bridge gives a much more raspy tone and can sound great for accents.
With electric guitars there is a wide variety of movements and effects to produce great sounds in the solos, but with acoustic the difference is in the natural range of tones produced all over the instrument, and not just in the strings. Play around with some of these and see what you can come up with!