Distorted Acoustic Guitar On The Cheap

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Acoustic Guitar

I do a dual source thing with my acoustic guitar so I can distort it but I get a lot of folks asking me how to do the same thing without adding a second pickup to their acoustic and just use the one pickup.

Here’s some helpful hints on how to do just that and an inexpensive way to do a dual source system at the end.

Without getting all techno mumbo jumbo on you – piezo undersaddle pickups typically don’t like distortion pedals – they will get very harsh and very “quacky” very quickly. ¬†Additionally, sending a piezo signal into an electric guitar pedal will squash the tone of the pickup – the whole 10 meg input versus the 1 meg squash of the pedal..1See my post on Acoustic DI pedals for more on thisBut let’s jump in – you want to distort your acoustic guitar not read about why it’s a bad idea!

With a piezo equipped acoustic guitar (undersaddle pickup) you’re going to want an overdrive/distortion pedal that has a Mid frequency knob. Something like a typical Tube Screamer with it’s mid focused overdrive is going to be really harsh sounding. The mids get really pronounced and if you can scoop them out and dial in how much mid/mud you would like. Some ideal candidates are the Danelectro Daddy-O pedal with it’s high, mid, low tone control. I’m also a big fan of the Tech 21 signature series and I have used the Blonde and Liverpool pedals to great effect, they too have high, mid, low and an additional speaker simulator that is really helpful in creating the effect of playing through an amp. This next one I have never tried but I have heard of folks getting usable tones out of it – Boss Metal Zone. For real. It also has the high, mid, low control but understand that it has more gain than those other pedals.

Pedals that I really liked with my electric guitars but thought sounded really bad with acoustic: Fulltone Fulldrive 2, Boss Blues Driver, Bearfoot Honeybee, Tube Screamer, DOD 250 pre/amp, Visual Sound Route 66.

Now if you’re using a soundhole magnetic style pickup – you have different options. Getting a pedal with a mid frequency is still very important but the way the string is amplified is a different process from the piezo.

If you have something like a Sunrise pickup or Fishman Rare Earth or even a Dean Markley Soundhole pickup – you can get super huge tone from a Boss Metal Zone. It’s even been done by a band like Grant Lee Buffalo 2https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq0D-56APSgwho get a huge sound with a Takamine 12 string equipped with a DiMarzio soundhole pickup and Boss Metal Zone!!

A sleeper in this category is the Sparkledrive because it has a separate control just for the clean signal so you can have a lot of clarity in your distorted tone by maintaining the clean signal along with it. This is ideal if you’re an acoustic player in a band and just want to fill out the sound of the band by adding some grit to the guitar sound but not sacrificing the clean acoustic at the same time.

Again the Tech 21 pedals really shine with the soundhole pickups and you can do a lot with them as well. I have even recorded parts on records with a Tech 21 Blonde pedal and the Fishman Rare Earth in my acoustic.

A big thing to understand is it’s not going to sound “just like a telecaster/strat/les paul” but I think you understand that – it’s going to be a different tone and having the high, mid, low is going to be very critical to dialing in what you’re looking for. I forgot to mention the other reason having a pedal with all that EQ is helpful – if you have your acoustic plugged in and sounding good, you don’t want to have to adjust that EQ for your distortion choices – you’re going to want a pedal that adapts to your existing sound.

Thanks for reading and please write in what your experiences have been in your tone quest. Would love to hear what works for you out in the real world!

Notes:   [ + ]

1. See my post on Acoustic DI pedals for more on this
2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq0D-56APSg