Have you ever tried swapping between an electric guitar and an acoustic during a live performance? Not ideal is it.
What if I told you that, at the flick of a switch, you could get an acoustic tone from your electric guitar? Well, it turns out you can with an acoustic modeler pedal.
In this article, we went on the hunt for the best acoustic simulator pedal. We cover the key considerations you need to think about when buying one and we’ll review some of our favorite products. Will using one ever be as good as the sound of a real dreadnought? Of course not. But for the reasons we set out below, these things have a lot to shout about.
At a Glance – Our Review of the Best Acoustic Simulator Pedals
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this article.
How Does an Acoustic Simulator Pedal Work?
These devices alter your guitar’s input signal to produce mid-range frequencies similar to those created by acoustic guitars. Via a guitar pedal, they give you the sound of an acoustic but through an electric guitar.
In reality, they never fully recreate an acoustic tone, but the sound you get may still suffice. It helps if your electric already sounds quite acoustic, for example using a Gretsch guitar with warm tones will sound closer to the real thing than a Jackson guitar built for high gain.
Do many musicians use them? Yes, many do. They’re especially popular among extreme metal, classic rock, and indie bands. For example, Slipknot’s Jim Root uses the Boss AC-3 in the middle of ‘Dead Memories,’ and Richie Castellano of Blue Oyster Cult has been known to use one during a couple of live performances. Additionally, indie guitarists in The Kooks and Fallout Boy use them in several songs.
So why would you use one of these pedals? Let’s take a look.
First up, they’re convenient. You avoid having to transport both electric and acoustic guitars to gigs, and they let you switch tones at the stomp of a footswitch. This way, there’s much less room for error as you swap between them during a gig. Most of these pedals are about the size of a smartphone and weigh very little, making them easy to fit in your gig bag.
For players who mostly play electric, buying an acoustic guitar is a bit of a luxury. It seems even more ridiculous to buy one to play some short introduction or a one-off song when there are plenty of decent simulator pedals available at a fraction of the price.
Finally, they help you mix up a set by adding an acoustic number to a set that’s mostly made up of electric guitar. This sounds especially cool in heavy metal type playing, for example, Metallica’s acoustic introduction in ‘Fade to Black’ adds texture and suspense, for an epic build-up to the main riff. Having an entire song played acoustically can also be a welcome break from an otherwise distortion-heavy album.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
They’re relatively simple devices, but there are nuances that are worth pointing out.
The first is how much control do you want? Some models we review (the Joyo for example) are very rudimentary in how they work. You get a few dials to play with, and that’s it. More advanced models (which, admittedly, you pay more for) have built-in simulation modes making then much quicker to plug in and play.
Sound sculpting is divided into ‘top’ and ‘body’. The top control adjusts the high end, whereas the body knob mimics the resonance of the guitar body.
- The ‘top’ control lets you adjust the attack and harmonic content of the upper frequencies, producing a similar sound to that of a real condenser microphone. Of all microphone types, condensers have the widest frequency response, the best attack response (to capture lively energy bursts e.g.: the “pick” of an acoustic guitar), as well as more sensitivity and lower noise interference than other microphones.
- The ‘body’ knob lets you play with the amount of sound produced by the simulated guitar body. The resonance of an acoustic guitar is caused by oscillating air in the soundhole – acoustic modelers mimic this and allow you to change the mellowness and breadth of the guitar sound.
You’ll also find a selector with the following options: Standard, Piezo, and Jumbo (the popular Boss AC-3 acoustic simulator pedal below includes a fourth mode, ‘Enhance’). These preset modes mimic different types of acoustic guitars.
Sidenote: Acoustic simulators tend to work best with certain types of pickup. Single-coil pickups work better rather than humbuckers, especially high output humbuckers which tend to clip and distort. It’s worth knowing about and ideally testing before you buy if you own a guitar such as a Les Paul.
Models such as the AC-3 throw come with a reverb option built-in. If you already have a reverb, then it may not interest you, but if your shopping on a budget and you’re interested in a reverb pedal, this will double up nicely as one.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Acoustic Simulator Pedals
Mooer MAC1 Akoustikar
This compact pedal utilizes comes in a small microbody housed in a full metal shell.
The Mooer is so tiny that batteries don’t fit inside it and therefore only a power supply can be used. Unfortunately, this isn’t included, so you’ll need to purchase one separately. On the bright side, it features top, body and level controls for extra tone control of high end, resonance and volume. Additionally, it comes with true bypass, so that it won’t drain any of your guitar tones when it’s not in use.
It’s compact size, and weight makes it one of the more portable so its ideal for musicians on the go (or those shopping on a mid-range budget).
- Inexpensive – Excellent price for good quality sound; it won’t break the bank.
- Simple Control Settings – Ease of use makes it convenient, in that any beginner player can utilize its features.
- Portable – Considering its small size, it’s sturdy and sounds excellent.
- True Bypass – No tone drainage, for good guitar sound when not in use
- Noise interference – The switch can sometimes be noisy when turning the different modes on or off. This isn’t such a massive problem if you’re only going to use one mode.
- Lower quality sound – There are better alternatives available at higher prices, but the choice depends on how much money you have to spend.
The AC-3 has a range of tonal controls that lets you widely adjust your sound, with its electronics all encased in a durable metal case. As well as the four modes, it also has a reverb option. For this reason, the AC-3 can double up as a basic reverb pedal, which could save you spending a lot of money on another product.
There are also two outputs, so you can your signal to two different sources.
As well as having a great amount of tone and effects control, the AC-3 is also built to use both batteries and a power supply, so you don’t have to worry about purchasing one or the other.
Comparing the mooer acoustikar vs boss ac 3, this is a lot more sophisticated with four modes and the option to split your signal, etc. It will take longer to learn, but worth it if you want total autonomy over your sound.
- 4 different modes – standard mode, jumbo, enhance and piezo
- Built-in reverb
- Two output jacks
- Steeper learning curve to using it
- One of the pricier products in this category
- Heavier and bulkier than other models
This small piece of technology is rather retro, looking like it came straight from a 70s gig. Despite being one of the lower-priced simulators around, the Aroma AAS-3 is highly versatile. It has all the standard modes you expect from one of these products, as well as a body knob to enhance acoustic resonance and a top knob to change the gain level and volume control.
Another bonus of the Aroma AAS-3 is its aluminum alloy case and a protective metal bar that allows you to stomp away without fear of accidentally moving the tone dials or damaging its electronics.
The Aroma AAS-3 is called a micro-pedal for a reason. It’s so small that it requires a 9-volt battery supply for power, as batteries won’t fit inside the case. The Aroma will not be difficult to squeeze onto your pedalboard. Its small size along with its durability and versatility make the Aroma AAS-3 an ideal choice for traveling/performing guitarists – just don’t forget your charger.
- Versatile – Offers a lot of sound control, via three controlling knobs and one switch that are all accurate and highly sensitive.
- High-quality sound – Produces a pretty decent sound for its price, and even though no simulator can truly emulate an acoustic guitar, the Aroma comes pretty close.
- True Bypass – No tone drainage when it’s turned off
- Need to purchase power supply separately – Powered by a 9-volt power supply which isn’t included in the price.
- Noise interference – Can become noisy and ‘hissy’ when the body and top knobs are turned close to maximum
- Volume drop – The Aroma can be quiet and therefore require the rest of your equipment to be adjusted to reduce volume drop. This might not be ideal if you’re playing in a band and trying to match higher volumes of other instruments.
With four control dials – mid, bass, high and volume, this pretty little number lets you dial in the exact tone you want. The Joyo’s brown interface is quite retro-looking, and its flip-open box gives this pedal a pretty funky style. As well as looking cool, this pedal is quite compact, making the Joyo one of the better models to grab instead of taking your acoustic.
For a mid-range price, it produces some very nice, realistic wooden tones which are close to the quality of those produced by the Boss AC-3. The downside is that it doesn’t have simulation mode so you’ll have to twiddle the dials to get the best sound.
Once again, because the Joyo is a micro-pedal, it doesn’t take the usual 9v battery and requires an adapter that isn’t included in the package. On the other hand, it’s tiny size means this pedal will easily fit onto your pedalboard.
- Good sound – For the price, it has quite an authentic wooden sound, without too much treble, meaning there is little hiss or interference.
- Cool design – Groovy retro-style case and flip open box.
- Portable – Extremely compact, great for throwing in the backpack and adding to your pedalboard.
- True Bypass – Less likely to drain your guitar tone when not in use.
- Power supply not included – You’ll need to buy one separately and remember that the Joyo won’t take batteries.
- Low volume – A little quiet and cause your output volume to drop when in use.
- No simulation modes.
The Biyang AC-8 is one of the more budget products on the market. Despite its low price, this pedal comes with a quality stainless steel case and WIMA capacitors to ensure a fast, but very low, loss of signal transfer, for a decent acoustic guitar tone.
The Biyang’s design also includes metal, dustproof, sealed pots for longevity and features a true bypass design, to ensure your instrument plays with maximum tone when the pedal’s not in use.
Like the Joyo we reviewed previously, the Biyang uses treble, middle and bass knobs for tone variation rather than the standard, piezo and jumbo modes. This may suit some players more, or confuse things slightly if you prefer to change tone with the flick of a switch.
If you’re worried that it might be more prone to damage due to the price, Biyang gives you a free 5-year warranty for peace of mind. It’s best suited to guitarists looking to practice switching between acoustic/electric sounding parts of songs at home, due to it being quite noisy when turned up loud enough to gig.
- Price – One of the cheapest on the market.
- Lifetime warranty – Will keep going forever, or you’ll get your money back, it’s a win-win situation either way.
- True Bypass – Less noise interference when not in use.
- Nice aesthetic – Cool, chrome silver look with neat black pots.
- Larger size – May not squeeze into your pedalboard as easily as other models.
- Noise interference – When the ‘level’ knob is turned up past halfway, a lot of hiss disturbs the sound quality – this is not great for those that want to perform live and may result in you having to play using a quieter setting.
- Less tone control – Lacks the normal mode settings, so some guitarists may find it more challenging to change tone compared to other pedals.
Caline Golden Halo
The Golden Halo by Caline is small but cool, with a swirling sun design at its center. As a cheap option, it still manages to produce some pretty authentic sounding acoustic tones.
It has jumbo and standard modes and also comes with top control to adjust high-end frequencies and body to simulate natural acoustic resonance, and can take both a 9v power supply or battery making it extra portable. It even includes true bypass to protect from unwanted tone inference when not in use.
Although the Golden Halo has many advantages considering its price, it’s best used as a practice pedal due to its tendency to be noisy when pushed to higher volumes and more extreme settings.
- 3 modes – piezo, standard and jumbo
- Very reasonable price – One of the cheapest on the market.
- Convenient – Can use batteries and power supply.
- True Bypass – No tone reduction while not in use.
- Noise interference – When the ‘top’ and ‘body’ dials are set to above 1 o’clock, it starts to get noisy with excess ‘hiss’ and crackling. It’s worth mentioning that the tones produced are quite nice below these settings.
- Size – Slightly larger than the previously mentioned micro-pedals, so might take up more pedalboard room.
- Tone – Has great tone considering its price, but more expensive models like the Boss AC-3 can produce higher quality sound at a higher volume.
So, Which Should I Buy?
All the products we’ve looked at have their strong points, but if I had to pick my overall winner, I would say the Caline Golden Halo is the best acoustic sim pedal. For an extremely reasonable price, it gives some of the best simulated acoustic sounds at lower volume and effects levels and has a cool design. Although the Golden Halo may not suit those looking to gig or play at higher volumes, it’s a great way to get a taster.
For someone who likes to throw their pedals in the boot of the car and needs something a little tougher, the Boss is a durable beast that could be a good pick for you too. Its also likely the best option for live use due to its ability to produce realistic, versatile tones without volume drops.
If you’re still not convinced you need one of these pedals, you could just try using the clean channel on your amp (set really clean) with a hint bit of chorus/delay and a footswitch to change settings quickly if needed.