How To Make Your Acoustic Version Of A Song Sound Better Than The Original

by Simon Candy

One of the best ways to learn how to do something regarding your guitar playing is to observe and analyse how others have done it before you. This is certainly true when creating unplugged acoustic versions of songs on your guitar.

When trying to play or do something on our guitars we have a choice. We can go it alone with the trial and error approach which is time consuming, frustrating, and very often unrewarding, or we can look to others for help and guidance.

Creating versions of songs on your acoustic guitar is no different. It has been common practice to do so for many years now, and there are numerous acoustic versions of songs out there waiting for your to pick them apart and learn from, so that you can create your own.

Today, we are going to do exactly that by taking a look at various parts of existing acoustic songs that have been created by certain artists as versions of the originals, that were often played on electric guitar. These original versions generally have the whole band playing, however the acoustic versions may have a more stripped back line up and feel, or in some cases no band at all, just the acoustic guitar and a vocal.

By carefully listening, observing, and analysing how musicians have created acoustic versions of these songs, we can learn how to do the same and in process improve our overall guitar playing skills.


Analysis Of Some Great Acoustic Versions Of Songs

The following are a collection of songs that have been arranged for the acoustic guitar. Be sure to listen to both the original and acoustic versions of each song, so you can compare them, as well as hear exactly what I am referring to in the analysis of each.


Song title: Everlong

Artist: Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)

Original Version

Unplugged Acoustic Version

Dave Grohl's acoustic take on the band's song Everlong is a classic. Stripped right back to it's bare bones, it is simply a vocal line and a single acoustic guitar. Gone is the intensity of the original version, replaced with a more mellow rendition.

Comparison to the original

Slower tempo:

Changing the tempo for the acoustic version of a song is a great way to change the feel, compared to the original. It can leave more room for the vocal and guitar parts to breathe as is the case with this rendition of Everlong. It is considerably slower than the original version.

Altered arrangement:

Sometimes certain parts of a song are re-arranged to suit the acoustic version better. This is the case in the bridge of Everlong. From 3.10 into the acoustic version, until the end, the arrangement of the song changes compared to the original.

Leaving parts out:

It's inevitable that if you are only going to use a single acoustic guitar in your version that you will need to leave parts out. This is fine as your aim is not to copy the song onto your acoustic, but to create your own take of it. In Everlong the intro riff that appears at certain points throughout the song has gone, however at no point do you feel like anything is missing in the acoustic version as it is it's own song.


Song title: Hey Ya

Artist: Obadiah Parker (original by Outkast)

Original Version

Unplugged Acoustic Version

This unique take of Hey Ya by Obadiah Parker shows you just how creative you can get when arranging a song for the acoustic guitar. It's often the songs that you least expect to hear an acoustic version of, that work out the best.

Comparison to the original

Feel and tempo:

The feel of this acoustic version of Hey Ya compared to the original could not be more different. It's basically a whole new song. This is a great example of how effective changing this one element (ie. feel/tempo) can be in creating a great acoustic version.

Change of key:

The key of this acoustic version of Hey Ya has been changed from G to E. The guitar is also capo'd at the 4th fret, allowing you to effectively use the chords of C major. Having different open chord shapes to use compared to the original will provide subtle nuances that really contribute towards the sound of the acoustic version.

Further to this, the last chord of the progression has been changed from a major to a minor chord. This adds to the more mellow feel of the acoustic version.


Song title: Message In A Bottle

Artist: John Mayer (original by The Police)

Original Version

Unplugged Acoustic Version

This is another great acoustic take of a famous song by The Police. Once again we have a single acoustic guitar and vocal line. The sign of a great song is when you strip it right back to it's roots, and it still works. This is exactly what John Mayer has done here. As is the case with many acoustic versions, the tempo is slower and we have a much more laid back feel throughout.

Comparison to the original


In his version of Message In A Bottle, John Mayer uses a fingerstyle approach. This allows him to play the chords in a way that wouldn't be possible with a pick. Using your fingers also provides a different tone compared to that of a plectrum.

Percussive elements:

Mayer is also slapping the strings on beats 2 and 4 throughout the tune. This percussive element is extremely effective and is a great technique for a single acoustic guitar approach.

All this amounts to a very cool, mellow and laid back version of the more upbeat original by The Police.


Song title: Imagine

Artist: Jack Johnson (original John Lennon)

Original Version

Unplugged Acoustic Version

This classic has been covered by various artists numerous times. Jack Johnson's acoustic version here certainly holds it's own. This is an example of taking a song that is played on another instrument, in this case a piano, and arranging it for the acoustic guitar.

Comparison to the original

Arranging from other instruments:

Once again the capo comes into play in this acoustic version. It is on the 6th fret allowing the chords of C major to be used. Throughout, Johnson is using a fingerstyle approach, arpeggiating all chords.

Notice that he is not trying to copy the piano part in the original. This is never the goal, rather he is creating his own unique take on a classic.

Taking a song that is played on another instrument, and creating a version of it on the acoustic guitar, is a great way to immediately have something that sounds unique to the original. Take this into account when choosing a song to create an acoustic version from.


Song title: Girls Just Want To Have Fun

Artist: Greg Laswell (original Cindy Lauper)

Original Version

Unplugged Acoustic Version

Ok, so this is not an acoustic version, but rather a piano version of a famous song from the 80's. Arranging songs that other instruments play onto your guitar will provide you with a wealth of ideas that you can use in your own creations. Many of these ideas you may never come across otherwise. Compared to the original, this is basically a completely different song.

Comparison to the original

Chord embellishing and substitution:

Apart from the fact that this version of Girls Just Want To Have Fun is played on a piano, at a much slower tempo, creating a very different feel, it's in the chord choices, and how they are being played compared to the original, that you will perhaps learn the most.

The key has changed from F# to B in this version. Playing at slower tempo's allows you to include things like chord arpeggiation and embellishments which is certainly true here.

There are also chords that have been included that do not appear in the original. These have been substituted in. See if you can hear the slash chord being used in the intro and verses.

A great thing for you to do here would be to transcribe the chords from the original song, then transcribe the chords from this version, put them in the same key and compare. You will learn so much doing this.


Imitate, Then Innovate

It was the great Miles Davis who said "First you imitate, then you innovate".

This is exactly what we are talking about in this article. Carefully listen, observe, and learn existing acoustic versions of songs. Compare them to the original to see what the artists has done and take these ideas and implement them into your own unique takes of songs on your acoustic. It's loads of fun and you will learn so much in the process.

Ready to take your skills further? Learn how to create your own amazing acoustic instrumental versions of songs with this free ebook/audio download.