How to listen to an electric guitar acoustically

DRG: And what were you listening for acoustically?

Mr. X: Sustain. Fullness of tone in the three ranges -- high, medium, and low. And overall smoothness, rather than one frequency that sticks out in a pronounced or unpleasant way. You're listening for roundness of tone. You don't want (the tone) to disappear into bass frequencies, or go into that ratty high-end scritch tone.

James Byrd's tip was excellent, and explained well.

I have a test that I've used for years when checking out a guitar; hang the guitar on the wall and pluck the high E string with your hand on the back of the neck joint. You should be able to feel the neck joint vibrate. Most electric guitars fail this test; you have to move the test to the B or G string to feel anything. If it doesn't vibrate there when you pluck the high E, you don't have a very good electric guitar in terms of it's acoustical properties. Next, pluck the high E string and then immediately stop it. If you hear other strings carrying over a harmonic, you've got good things happening. I have yet to build a Super Avianti® that didn't pass this test with flying colors.

This is very important and true -- you should be able to FEEL an electric guitar resonating in your hands and against your body as you play it acoustically. And Byrd's test will indeed tell you if "you've got good things happening" acoustically with the guitar when the most delicate string is engaged.

cvansickle: If the guitar plays and sounds pretty good unplugged, then it will be improved by using better pickups. On the other hand, a good set of pickups will do very little for a crappy guitar.