I've been playing acoustic for years and am mostly a strummer in the context of simple folk/indie (open chords, barre chords, the occasional triad or drone chord, and that's about it). Out of nowhere I got the rock bug, though, and I bought a Squier to begin learning how to play something harder.

I don't feel like my approach to the acoustic is appropriate on the electric, though. Open chords feel very loose and messy, especially with distortion, and while barre chords sound more manageable, they still sound too "thick". I hear so many rock records where electric rhythm guitar is sleek and precise and I'm curious where I can learn more about the technique behind that.

Bear in mind I feel very comfortable playing lead on electric (not that I do it much, but I get the concept fine). I'm just having trouble making the transition from acoustic rhythm to electric rhythm.

Any advice or recommendations (books, websites, whatever) would be awesome. Thanks!
Last edited by adrienfr at Aug 19, 2013,
Don't use strings any lighter than "electric regular", (.010 to .046).

Pump in plenty of reverb or chorus to make up for the lack of resonance.

Turn down, use the neck pickup, kill some of the high end, and don't use distortion.

If you want grunge, use a smaller amp and let it break up naturally.

Put a compressor in the effects chain. That will stop the wild dynamic swings that an electric is capable of generating with that little too heavy strum.

Also keep in mind that rhythm with distortion needs to be played with "power chords". These are chords with no 3rd, just the root and 5th. The 3rd fouls the harmonic structure up too much, by creating inter modulation distortion. My first instructor told me right off, "ease off the 1st & 2nd string when you're strumming. And yeah, pretty much what you have left on the bottom 4 strings are all power chords.

Keep in mind that many of the rock greats don't use the electric for rhythm on their studio recordings. I heard Jimmy Page laugh about that. "Stairway to Heaven" is played on stage with a double neck out of necessity. The studio version is done on an acoustic 12. Mr. Page thought it comical that some people thought it was recorded with the double neck.

If you want really great electric rhythm, plug your acoustic in, and stuff a sound hole plug in it.
Last edited by Captaincranky at Aug 19, 2013,
Distortion causes chords to overwhelm amps, but one way to bypass it is to imply a chord with single note playing or arpeggios, Hendrix did an amazing job at this. However, if you turn down the distortion, you can get some really nice rhythm sounds, but as far as strumming goes, you wanna have a lighter strum. If you must have heavy distortion, 2-3 note chords are the most you're gonna get for a strum, but you can imply a lot with small chords.

I disagree with killing the high end, kinda makes them muddy, treble makes each note cut through more, at least in my opinion, however, noise gates and compressors make a massive difference with distortion. You can also work the intervals with single note stuff, any Metallica song gives a typical example of this. Root, fifth, root, minor 6th, root, fourth, etc, it outlines the key of the song.
you have to learn how to control the noise when you're playing at high gain

also, there's distortion and distortion. Not too many people are playing extended/complex chords on a 5150, for example. the people on records are often using less distortion than you think, especially if they're playing anything more harmonically complex than a power chords. it's entirely possible they're using a light overdrive. try turning your gain down and it may fix itself.
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Yeah I should clarify two things:

- Distortion was one issue I wanted to discuss, but most of the time I'm not looking to play that way. I love getting into electric guitar, but I still want to keep it a "guitar" and not make it a fuzz machine.

- I understand power chords and was mostly looking to understand electric rhythm guitar above and beyond them. The power chord + distortion technique is a bit too nu-metal for my tastes.

So yes, I still want to play "real" chords, I want to play an electric and not necessarily go too crazy with effects and processing (although I do appreciate the advice in that department).

For instance, how common are triads in "mainstream" rock rhythm guitar? I understand that they're useful and can produce a more focused sound, but do a lot of electric rhythm players take that approach? That seems like one way to maintain the purity of the instrument but also cater to the challenges of an amplified and potentially distorted signal.
I find that substituting a power chord instead of a full barre/open chord will give you a much cleaner sound, I don't think theres much you can do about the "messy" sound you get when playing chords through an amplifier except for playing less strings..