How To Simulate Other Instruments & Sound Effects On Guitar

Creative Use of A Guitar To Simulate Other Instruments.

Think of how much fun it is to be able to make your guitar sound like a banjo, or a ukulele, or a bass.

In this blog, you will learn how to do all of this and will discover creative ways to produce different textures.

  1. Banjo
    4 string: use folded paper
    5 string: use rubber coated piece of wire
    Put a capo up higher on the guitar neck.

  2. Clarinet
    Pick 12 frets higher than the fingered notes to approximate the clarinets’ “wooden” sound quality.

  3. Dive Bombs
    Play with distortion.
    Hit an open bass string and depress your whammy bar all the way down to where the strings are hanging loose.

  4. Motor Cycle Engine sounds
    Play with distortion.
    Press the whammy bar down before hitting the strings.
    Then hit your open E and A string and release the tension on the bar so the pitch raises.
    Do this numerous times in a row.

  5. Flanger
    Using pinch harmonics, move up and down the string while picking it.
    You can also very lightly touch the string with your fretting hand closer to the headstock, distortion on, tremolo pick the open string and slide your fretting hand along the string while gently touching it.

  6. Gong
    Place your pick between the 4 and 5th string and twist it around so the strings are crossed with the pick stuck in between.
    Make sure the pick catches underneath the 6th string so it stays stuck in position.
    Hit the 3 bass strings.
    You can create different gong sounds sliding the pick that is stuck in between the strings, to different locations.

  7. Harmonics:
    1. Natural: pick the string while gently touching it with your fretting hand finger right on top of the 4th, 5th, 7th or 12th fret.
    2. Pinch: Pick the string in such a way that the side of your picking hand thumb gently touches the string right upon the pick attack on the string.
    3. Tapped: quickly tap with a finger of your picking hand on the frets 5, 7, or 12 frets above a (fretting hand) fingered note.

  8. Harp
    Play a combination of alternating harmonics and regular notes, on a fingered chord, first hitting a harmonic on string 6 followed by a regular note on 4, string a harmonic on 5 followed by a regular note on string 3, followed by 4 (harmonic), then 2 (regular) then 3 (harmonic) then 1 (regular).
    You can hear great examples of this in the playing of Lenny Breau.

  9. Mandolin
    Play octaves or 3rds while tremolo picking.

  10. Marimba
    Weave a little piece of cloth in between the strings. Pull that piece of cloth all the way against the bridge. This will give you the percussive, short sustain sound of a marimba.
    Pick the strings with your pick 12 frets or less above the fingered notes, to create a wooden sound.
    Play primarily 3rd intervals and tremolo pick often to simulate the typical marimba playing style.

  11. Oboe
    Play on your most nasally-sounding pick-up. (Mine is the setting combining my neck and middle single coil)
    Pick close to the bridge or right next to your fretting hand.
    Add vibrato.

  12. Organ
    Using a volume pedal or your volume knob, hit the string hard, and immediately drop down the volume then swell the volume up to loud again.
    If you add a flanger or chorus (set at fast speed) then you also simulate the sound of a Leslie speaker.

  13. Pedal Steel
    Play oblique bends (2 or 3 notes are played simultaneously).
    Add volume swells during the bend and/or the release.

    While doing this: also add vibrato using your whammy bar.
    To get even closer to the pedal steel sound: turn up your treble on your tone knob and add reverb.

  14. Percussion
    There are so many different percussive sounds you can create on a guitar.

    1. Claves: hit dead muted notes by gently hitting the strings around the 16th-18th fret.
    2. Bongos: create different sounds hitting dead mutes on either the treble strings or the bass strings with the inside of your picking hand.
      You can create extra rhythm sounds incorporating fretting hand hits on the guitar neck.

  15. Piano comping
    Tap full chords hard on the strings with your fretting hand.
    You can add accents fingerpicking chords as block chords with the fingers of your picking hand.

  16. Slap Bass
    Rhythmic combinations are created when the picking hand thumb hits the bass strings, the picking hand index and middle finger pull and snap strings while the fretting hand hits dead percussive mutes on the neck.

  17. Speech
    Steve Vai completely nailed this in the “song” “So Happy” on his Flex-Able album.
    You can hear the song here:

    This effect gets created when playing notes in random rhythmic groupings that resemble speech, using a wah and whammy bar (and possibly also a harmonizer).

    On a side note: you can’t get much closer to this effect than when you use a talk box of course or a vocoder.

    Listen to Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way” for some expert showcase of a talk box.

    or even better: Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” (around 6:11 you really hear the guitar talk).

  18. Steel drums
    Weave a peace of plastic through the strings.

  19. Theremin
    Put on distortion or overdrive and play melodies on the 1st string with a drum stick.

  20. Violins
    Use a slight overdrive.
    Pick a note with the volume pedal down, and swell the volume up after picking the note.
    Add vibrato with your whammy bar.

  21. WaWa
    You create a wah-like sound during rhythm playing if you target different groupings of strings with your picking hand: low, middle, and high strings.

That’s part of the amazing beauty of guitar: so many sounds, so many possibilities.

Of course, one could also always get a guitar synth. That would be the easy way to get really close to replicating the sounds of other instruments. 🙂
If you can’t afford a guitar synth (or you can’t afford to hire a steel drum or banjo player haha), then you’re stuck with the above ideas. 🙂

All that being said…

If you have other sound ideas on guitar or if you know more tricks to better simulate the above instruments, or if you know how to simulate other instruments on guitar than the ones discussed above, give me a shout in the comments section below.

It’s always inspiring to me to see what other people come up with.


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That is why people take lessons: way better results and progress, much more complete information, exposed to way more creative ideas than you can get from a blog or YouTube video.
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