5 Ways To Make Your Guitar Sound Like A Synth

Do you want to explore the extreme sounds you never thought your guitar could make? These are the best ways to unlock your synth sonic potential.

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

Synths are amazing instruments. Just like guitars, synthesizers come in all shapes and sizes and possess sounds across a vast sonic scope applicable to virtually any genre of music. It’s no wonder guitarists want to get in on the action! And lucky for you, it’s not all that difficult to replicate a synth sound on the stringed instrument.

Buying a standalone synth raises a couple of issues for guitarists: they can prove a costly outlay when you’ve already spent a small fortune on guitar gear and you’ll have to operate it separately to the setup you’ve already got. They could also present the challenge of learning how to play an entirely new instrument; although some synths don’t resemble a piano (e.g modular/semi-modular synths), those packed with the most features, called workstations, usually opt for the classic keys layout.

boss sy-1000 synth guitar pedal

But you don’t have to be a multi-instrumentalist to add more sounds to your music. This applies most of all to guitarists, who have a number of options at their disposal in the form of guitar pedals, gadgets and a few free-thinking techniques to create synth tones. Let’s find out how to make your guitar sound like a synth…

1. Synth guitar pedals

It’s been quite the renaissance for synth guitar pedals. They used to get a bad wrap from critics because they simply didn’t sounds all that great. Plenty also suffered annoying latency issues rendering them useless in a live setting. But they’ve drastically improved in recent years and pack a mindblowing amount of tones into a simple, small format.

Synth pedals give you the ability to blend your dry guitar signal into hi/lo pass filters, modulation, new oscillation patterns, bit-crushing, compression and common synth effects like reverb and delay. Basically, they do the job of five or so different pedals in just one box.

Boutique pedal brands such as Earthquaker Devices, Meris and Red Panda are often associated with synth-esque tones, but they’re also available in the mainstream market thanks to Boss, Electro Harmonix and Digitech. The sounds on offer vary greatly from pedal to pedal. To get the most out your synth pedal, place it in between other modulation/filter pedals in a signal chain.

Synth Guitar Pedals

2. Fuzz guitar pedals

How could the classic fuzz pedal played by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend or Keith Richards apply to synth tones? It’s actually the modern take on the fuzz effect that most closely resembles a synth’s harsher square waveforms. Lead synth melodies often use thicker, gnarlier tones and that’s what you’re recreating here when you load on the fuzz.

Silicon fuzz pedals featuring a mix dial and built-in gate will get you closest to a synth. They give you the ability to create a sputtering, clipping, stop/start sound that’s much more akin to a synth than an electric guitar. Your best bet is with ZVEX, JHS Pedals and Walrus Audio.

Fuzz Pedals

3. Sustainer/MIDI pickups

A large part of what makes the electric guitar sound like a guitar is the pick attack on the strings. When you remove the need to pick with hammer-on and pull-off techniques, each notes blends into one another like it would if you were jumping between notes on a synth. The problem you have is that you need to pluck the string to keep the sound ringing true. Sustainer style pickups eliminate the need to pick guitar strings – instead projecting notes at an even volume level and allowing you to move around on one string without the dynamic rise and fall of a classic guitar tone.

An even more customisable alternative is a MIDI pickup. This specialised pickup type made by Roland, Boss and Fishman lets you select a fully customised tone you’ve crafted on a separate MIDI device, such as the Boss SY-1000 multi FX pedal, and play it through your guitar as you would any normal pickup. Essentially, you can bring to life any tone you want!

Sustainiac Guitars and MIDI Pickups

4. Using Guitar Controls

Faders and tremolo are common settings found on a synth. There are methods to mimic both styles on the guitar without buying any extra gear. Simply play a chord or single note and gradually turn your volume pot from zero to full and back down again at a rate to suit you.

As covered with sustainer pickups, the key to getting this right is picking while the volume is on zero, so as to remove that very specific “guitar pluck” from the sound. Set your guitar to the neck pickup and roll off on the tone control to get an even smoother, warmer feel – further removed from the thin electric twang.

5. Tapping and legato

Incorporating tapping and legato techniques into your playing helps emphasise the synth tone you’ve created using other tips on the list. It takes more than tone to turn your guitar into a synth. You have to play the instrument as if it were a keyboard! Again, it’s about eliminating the guitar pluck.

Legato is arguably the easier of the two techniques to learn. It’s achieved by stringing together a number of hammer-ons and pull-offs without picking the string for each note. You can even jump fluidly from string to string after a solid amount of practice.

Tapping takes a lot more time to master as it requires the use of your picking hand to play notes. Hammer down on a fret with whatever picking hand finger feels most comfortable. After you’ve become more accustomed to simple tapping, start to use more than one finger, and even tap over chords.

If you enjoyed this read, check out more of our learn articles!

Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a writer for the Andertons web team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big prog/modern metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and pointy guitars.

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