Instructables

What makes an electric guitar sound like it is suppose to.

I recently got an electric guitar and am trying to learn to play it. The problem is even when I run it through an amplifier it still sounds just like an acoustic guitar. I am not sure what I need to do to make it sound like an electric guitar. The amplifier I amusing is not desighned for an electric guitar it is just a small, general purpose amp that is powering a small five inch speaker. The guitar is a strat style. I am wondering if maybe normal electric guitar amps have a small synth in them to make it sound electric but am not sure.

I would apreciate any help anyone can give me with this problem. Thanks.

From what I can gather...

Either a new or used guitar, most likely NOT expensive -  beginners usually start with lower end, therefore it probably has standard pickups (not hot ones like EMG's or equivalent). Then you are playing through a regular gen. purp. amp, not a guitar amp. The difference between guitar amps and regular home audio style amps is that they have different input stages. The guitar amp has a high gain input stage while the home audio amp has much less gain, in comparison.

These pickups do not have enough output to properly drive the amp to get the sound you so associate with electric guitars. What you will need is a preamp, or booster as it is called in music effect terms. This will bring the guitar's output level up to the range needed by the gen. purp. amp.

In order to properly help you, a bit more info is needed.

1. What is your skill level in regards to electronics and electronics construction?
2. Do you want to incorporate the preamp modification into the amp or make it a separate unit?
3. If you want to make it a permanent part of the amp, what is the DC supply voltage inside?
4. What are you using as the input right now?

These pieces of info will point the way to the easiest and most efficient way to upgrade your gen. purp. amp toward a guitar amp. I have many favorited schematic sites that could be tapped for use.

Qa
nurdee1 (author)  Quercus austrina3 years ago
Thanks for your help. To be more specific I want that Classic/Hard Rock sound such as in songs like Smoke on the Water and AC/DC's Back in Black or Highway to Hell. I would be very interested in making a effects pedal that I can use with my amp. I would prefer to make some sort of pedal that I can hook up to my amp without actually modifying the amp. The reason for this I only have two amps one is a small amp from some old computer speakers, I don't think that it is really worth messing with this one. My other Amp is a high end Carver that I really don't want to mess with because it is such an expensive Amp. What I want is to make or get some sort off effects pedal that i can just put between my guitar and my amp. Because I don't want to spend a whole lot off money on this the only other option is to try and find a damaged effect pedal or Electric Guitar Amp on Ebay that I can repair. I would greatly appreciate any help or advice that you can give me. I can assemble electronic circuits and am willing to try to make what I need, however I am limited in what I can do because I don't have what I need to make custom circuit boards.

Thanks
Classic/Hard Rock can be mainly characterized by overdrive and distortion. There are other effects that can be used along with them, but these are the main 2.

So, what you would probably want to start with is some sort of Fuzz pedal. Tons to choose from, so hard to reccomend just 1. The best thing about homemade fuzz is that you can continue to play with the parts until you find the magic combo for your ears.

Let's start with some sites to peruse: AMZCircuit Exchange InternationalElliot Sound Products, General Guitar Gadgets, Geofex, Red Free Circuits Design, RunnoffGrooveSchematics for Free.

Any of these sites will show you some sort of fuzz or preamp or combo thereof. I will turn to General Guitar Gadgets for the rest of this reply.

On the Projects page, click on Distortion and check out Joe's Simple Overdrive and Easy Drive. The Easy Drive is probably the "easiest" to get parts for and build, especially if you have a Radio Shack nearby. It'll probably cost around $10-$12 dollars that way (without tax). If you want to get a bit more intricate (but only just a little), back up to the Projects page and click on Amps, then click on Practice Amp designs, scroll down to Tone Controls and click on Cook Your Own Distortion. Read the page and look down at the bottom for the One Transistor Distortion/Overdrive. Cheaper to build than the opamp version - especially if you do mail order. Take note that there are 3 options; GIF, PDF and CKT. You can read the first 2, but the CKT is the SPICE model of the circuit. You can download a number of freebies, but I have used Circuitmaker for years (discontinued). Free version is Student but is limited. If you look hard enough, you can find full versions, but I won't tell you to do so... LTSpice is another option. Having a Sim software can really help you once you learn to use it. Don't worry about PCB's as most of the legendary effects were wired point to point, often without any perfboard. You can use a standard perfboard to lay out the parts, just make sure you run the signal lines perpendicular to the power lines (helps cancel out hum etc.).

Now on to what I would do if I were you. I would save the Carvin for music reproduction, i.e. playback of recorded stuff, maybe hook it to your computer as the monitor amp once you start to record stuff (and you will sooner than you think). You could Frankenstein your computer speaker amp to work with the 5" speaker (don't forget to build a box for it, at least 12"x8"x4" maybe larger). But I think it would be best to invest just a little bit more into your own guitar amp. Go back to General Guitar Gadgets Practice Amps designs page and go to the bottom. See Len Galasso's practice amp? Click the PDF and look at it. It has most everything you want, and taking some info from the above distortion page, you can add soft distortion by adding a SPDT (or half of a DPDT switch - easier to find and cheaper too) and the 1N34/1N914 diode clipping pair next to D1/D2 and switching between them. For more power, replace the standard LM386 amp section with a Little Gem Mark II (near the bottom of the page), using everything after the 0.22 uF capacitor. Radioshack parts (LM386N) will get you from 1/4 watt (original) to 1 watt (MK II). If you can wait about a week, order from a place like Jameco. They have the better version of the LM386 (N3) which can net you from 0.7 watts to 2.8 watts (same as above versions). Ordering from a place like Jameco will probably run you about $30 for everything, and that would be pushing it. Ask your parental units to help with payment type (Jameco is secure). Oh, be sure to use heavier batteries, like D cells or a wallwart power adapter. With the "shredability" of this new amp, you'll want to practice ALOT!

Qa

This can be built on perfboard using point to point wiring. If you get interferance, put it in a metal /shielded box. One of the sites I listed way up there shows how to shield a box.
nurdee1 (author)  Quercus austrina3 years ago
Thank You so much for your help. I really apreciate all the links you sugested. Some of them are above my building level but I think I could build some of the simpler ones. I haven't had time to look at all the sites you recommended but I will look at them.

One thing I thought of was maybe I could use some sort of guitar synth software. I don't have a really new computer but I have one that runs a dual boot of XP and Ubuntu Linux. It has 80Gb for each operating system and about a Gigabyte of RAM. It also has a high end sound card. I was hoping maybe you could recommend some good free software that will do atleast some of what I want. Again it doesn't have to sound perfect right now because I am just learning. However I find it hard to learn some songs when my electric guitar doesn't sound electric.

One other thought I had was maybe getting a kit to make a guitar pedal. I have built several electronics kits, one of wich was quite complicated. I know one of the websites you suggested had some kits on it, but I was hoping you could suggest some other good places to get kits.

Thanks again for all this wonderfull help and please feel free to ask for more info if you need it.
The best software way to go would be to buy an audio interface such as one from M-Audio, probably USB. These will give you the direct inputs you will most likely use, freeing up the sound card for the job of sound output. Seeing as they start around $150, they are probably out of your budget. For a much more pocket friendly version, try ASIO4all, Mixcraft trial and Reaper. ASIO4all is allows you to plug your guitar into your mic input and have very low latency. Mixcraft is where you can find lots of VST plugins (including amp models). This is not technically wrong to do as they allow you to download the trial, so they are allowing you to use the VST's. These are all you want from there anyway. Install it, grab the VST folder and move it elsewhere, then uninstall. Reaper is a wonderful DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that you can use as a trial for a very long time (maybe forever) if you can deal with a splash screen and you follow their rules for fair use. This is the program you will use to make your guitar input sound like that rockin' axe you love.

*****

There are kits out there, but they will run you much more than buying the parts and making it yourself from some of the schematics you can find (or have been pointed to... ;) ) and the pointers about finishing (AMZ's site has some really good tips). If you have any doubts about the pins on an IC or active device, there are so many sites that have either the datasheet, wiki or a clarification page that you should be able to figure it out within a few seconds. Laying out or redrawing the schematic to reflect real pinouts will go a long way toward dispelling any fear about the build. For an example of this technique, check out the "best" answer to this question and see the difference between the referenced datasheet and the clarified pic. Makes it easier to follow and build. As for supplies, mail order/online ordering is the best way to go. For the price of one project at Radio Shack, you can make 2, 3, 4 or more going through places like All Electronics, Electronics GoldmineDigikey, Jameco, MCM and Mouser. There are others if you look. Since you have some experience, you can (and probably should) try to further you skills. It can only help you down the road.

I still think you should build a small amp similar to what I said I would do ( to get started, at least). It would allow you to get that electric guitar sound in a traditional analog way (you'll most likely come to prefer analog over digital as you grow) and you'll be able to plug in pedals in different orders to get cool effects. And, you can save for a good mic to do your recording, catching the subtleties of your own custom amp. You can't do that with digital models. For a pointer on that, check out this question on recording with an older computer and Audacity.

Qa
nurdee1 (author)  Quercus austrina3 years ago
Oh, and by the way my guitar is fairly cheap it is about a 130$ guitar. The pickups all seam to work but the tone knobs don't really alter the sound very much when I adjust them.
freeza362 years ago
what guitar do you have? I have a fender squire and a fender starcaster (prety much just a squier) and a Dean evoxp. None of them sell new for over 210, but the tone knobs work on all of mine.
nurdee1 (author)  freeza362 years ago
Until recently I was using my electric guitar with a very small amplifier, but recently I hooked it up to a larger amplifier and now the tone knobs seem to be working. It seems to me that they control what frequencies are output to the amplifier. i:e with the tone knobs at one the output tends to favor the higher strings and with them at ten the output favors the low strings.
rickharris3 years ago
what do you expect it to sound like??

A 5 inch speaker isn't very large to reproduce the bass notes.

It's more about how you play it.
Designed right, a cabinet with a 5" driver can produce good extension that belies it's size. For small bass amps, Roland's Microcube uses 4 - 4" drivers, Hartke's B150 uses a 6.5" driver, Markbass' Minimark uses 2 - 6" drivers. For a standard guitar, even a little 2-1/4" speaker driven by a LM386 (Ruby or Ruby MKII) will sound good. Check out the video on this 'ible. Pretty impressive. Sounds like a guitar combo amp to me.

I think the biggest difference between the OP's amp and the one I linked to is that the Ruby has an extra gain stage at the input. As I stated earlier, a booster would do wonders for the OP's amp. If said robot* would answer my questions, I would be happy to help further.

Qa

*nurdee1 is listed as a robot
jeff-o3 years ago
Musicians will usually patch their instruments through one or several filters to get the sound they want. At the very least they might crank up the gain on their amplifier to the point that it distorts. But there are also a multitude of guitar effects pedals out there that will change the sound in subtle or extreme ways.

There are a few guitar effects pedal instructables here, and plenty more on the web. If you're handy with a soldering iron you can make your own, otherwise you can buy one. Often you can find them pretty inexpensively used.
frollard3 years ago
an electric guitar without any filters or effects will just sound like several sine waves -- quite a soft tone.

The 'electric' guitar sound you're thinking of comes from effect pedals that modify the signal before it hits the amplifier.

Common:
Distortion - makes that rough gravelly 'rock' sound you're probably thinking of
Flanger
Wah - Every 70's bassline or 'porn soundtrack'
Chorus
Reverb - think fast echo
Attack

Some can be made diy/homebrew (search instructables for effect pedal) but generally they are a purchased item. Hit up your local used ads (kijij, ebay, craigslist) for less expensive solutions.
Yes!

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