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17 Proven Ways To Increase Acoustic Guitar Sustain

Find out how to get more acoustic guitar sustain with these tips! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, you can use these techniques to improve your sound.

Volume and sustain are two of the most important attributes of a guitar. Although they might be more associated with electric guitarists, acoustic guitarists can benefit from knowing what they are, how they work, and how to achieve them.

Guitar makers have spent years working to develop these abilities in each type of instrument they produce. It would almost be rude for the player not to learn how to make the most of both traits.

When you are looking to buy a new guitar, it is a good idea to consider both volumes and sustain on any instrument you are considering.

Difference Between Volume And Sustain

There is also a difference between volume and sustain, plus one influences the other. The soundboard, the top of the guitar, vibrates when a string is played. Each type of wood has a different sound, which affects the overall tone of the guitar.

Volume is defined as the successful vibration of the guitar. Acoustic guitars mainly produce their volume through the vibration of the top. The top must be flexible enough to vibrate freely. That’s why it’s a balancing act between finding a flexible enough build to ensure good volume while also having a stiff enough build to ensure the structure of the instrument is maintained. Increased volume results from increased vibration energy.

Sustain is the material’s ability to hold the note audibly. A seemingly rigid material like wood holds a vibration longer than a drum head, for instance. The wood must be rigid enough. The best sound is achieved by finding the maximum volume possible through flexibility while maintaining enough rigidity in the instrument’s body to ensure a lot of sustain.

A heavier-bodied instrument will have far better sustain than a lighter one. An electric guitar, with a solid body and the extra volume possible from the amp, will achieve a far better sustain than an unplugged laminate top acoustic.

Also important is the bracing, the internal framework which gives the guitar its structure and defines how the top vibrates through the internal placing of the braces. This can be used to adjust the flexibility of the top, which in turn affects the blend of volume and sustain. Finding that sweet spot where both sound great is the holy grail.

Why Is It Important To Have Acoustic Guitar Sustain?

If an acoustic guitar has no sustain, it is unlikely to be heard clearly. This can be down to a number of things, from string gauge and playing style to the weight of the guitar itself. So, here are some things you can try and find out your perfect sound.

17 Proven Ways To Increase Acoustic Guitar Sustain

1. Using Heavier Strings

This is the easiest way to gain enough sustain on any guitar. They may be a bit more difficult to bend and fret on a heavier string; the difference in sustain is likely to be noticeable. If you are using lightweight strings, try using a thicker gauge, for instance. There will be no loss of tone either. String thickness is important in creating the note’s length and hence its sustain.

This may be the easiest option, but it is not recommended until players have built up the calluses on their fingers to allow them to handle heavier strings. Trying to play heavy strings too early in the learning process can literally lead to the Bryan Adams quote, ‘…played it till my fingers bled.’

2. Replacing The Nut

This mod is probably better done by a guitar specialist. The standard nuts, especially on budget guitars, are synthetic or plastic, which can dampen the sound of the strings. Replacing it with a bone or graphite nut will result in an instant improvement in the quality of your acoustic sustain.

3. Replacing The Saddle

Another way to increase sustain is to replace the saddle. That’s usually the white bit of the bridge where the strings lie. If you can replace that with a bone saddle, then shape it with sandpaper to fit your instrument, then you’ll be able to find out that your guitar gives better sustain.

4. Adding Mass To Peg Head

Another trick is to add mass to the guitar’s peghead. This is achieved by replacing the tuning pegs with heavier or bigger pegs. You get the picture by now, right? Replacing the supplied-as-standard items on your instrument with higher-quality parts improves the sound and sustain. You could also clamp something onto the peghead, as many Fender players do.

5. Increasing Gain On Your Guitar Amplifier

Adjusting your amplifier settings for acoustic-electric or electric guitars is another good way to make sustain sound better. The overall setup will have an effect, but you can also change the individual settings to make the most of your playing style and the strengths of the instrument itself.

6. Using Pedal Effect

Pedal effects are a good way to make your acoustic sound fuller and louder for longer. Many guitarists have used effects pedals over the years to carve a signature sound, and these days, some of those musicians are among the most venerated in the world for their style and kit. Pedal effects are often better used in a band setting, and specialist sustains pedals will work well in a group.

7. Getting A Heavier Acoustic If Possible

There is no getting away from it; heavier acoustic leads to better sustain. The heavier a guitar, the better the sustain. That’s why electric solid-body guitars sound so much louder, even before they’re plugged in. An acoustic offers resonate rather than sustain. An acoustic-electric with a carbon fiber body is probably the best way to achieve sustain with any form of acoustic guitar.

8. Getting A Dreadnought Solid Body If Possible

A solid-body guitar will have a better sustain simply because there is more body to make and hold the sustain. If you can locate a solid body dreadnought, you’re onto a good thing if you’re in search of an instrument with effective sustain.

9. Using Fuzz Pedal Like David Gilmour

If a fuzz pedal is good enough for the great David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, it’ll be good enough for you. His sound is unique, so you won’t ever sound the same as him. (He probably wouldn’t want you to, either). But you can learn how to use a fuzz pedal, modulation, reverb, delay, and compression to produce your own sound, including extra sustain.

Effects pedals are a great way to adjust the sound of your guitar once you’ve tried all the other tips listed here. There is no substitute for a proper playing style, but a good style can be enhanced by many tricks.

10. Placing Metal Plate On The Back Of The Headstock

You could decide to add a metal plate to the back of the headstock to improve your guitar’s sustainability. Fathead has produced these for a number of popular models. Does the name describe what these items do, surely? If you prefer a more DIY method, you can tape something onto the peghead to help lengthen sustain.

11. Cleaning Your Acoustic Guitar On A Regular Interval

If your guitar is polished and free of dust, then the sound will be better and that will have a good impact on the sustain. (Come to that, this goes for any instrument, really.) Nothing performs well if it’s dusty and covered in the detritus that comes from playing. That’s why you see guitar techs wiping instruments down when they’re ready to hand the ax over to the band member just before they hit the stage.

They use a soft cloth to clean the whole surface, including around the frets. It’s possible that guitar polish may have also been used to shine some guitars, but that depends on the type. Lemon oil is a popular choice for cleaning the fretboard, while there is no substitute for simply wiping the strings down regularly.

12. Keeping Your Acoustic In A Proper Place

Associated with cleanliness is keeping your acoustic guitar in a suitable location. It’s better for your instrument to be indoors, at a stable temperature. Too much moisture and humidity can affect a guitar, and most instruments are best kept at room temperature and 30% humidity where possible.

13. Adjusting The Tuners

As one end of the guitar string, the tuners are important in achieving a good amount of sustain and even overall sound quality. Loose or damaged tuners make the string move more, which affects sustain and sound quality. You can easily check whether the tuners need adjusting – they should be fixed without movement when the strings are fitted correctly. Some guitars may benefit from locking tuners, but you should research these before fitting them to your instrument to get more sustain.

14. Replacing The Frets If Possible

An older guitar may come to the point of needing to have replacement frets fitted to make sure its sustain abilities are at their best. Frets wear down with time, and the best sound is always achieved when the string has something to hit. Players can usually tell when the frets need replacing as the sound starts to buzz instead of sounding clean.

15. Changing The Bridge If Possible

Sometimes even the bridge needs to be replaced or upgraded to increase the acoustic guitar tone. A brass bridge could be a potential improvement if your ax allows it.

16. Setting Up An Appropriate Action

The average action height of an acoustic guitar is usually around 2 inches or 5 cm at the twelfth fret. You will improve the sustain still further by playing over the sound hole, so the vibrations go straight into the guitar’s body.

17. What If My Acoustic Guitar Has Too Much Sustain?

If you’re in the arguably enviable position of finding that there is too much sustain on your guitar, you could consider the reverse of many of the options given above for increasing the effect. Thinner strings, and a lighter-weight guitar, playing above or below the sound hole; all will work to reduce the sustain effect.

Alternatively, switching to an archtop guitar with f-holes rather than a sound hole can reduce sustain and change the sound of the guitar entirely.


Q. How Long Is Considered As A Good Sustain For Acoustic Guitar?

The length of along sustain varies with the style of music and the type of wood used in the manufacture. For an acoustic, a guitar with a bright sound needs a longer sustain, while a darker-sounding guitar will be better served with a shorter sustain. An even sustain, no matter the chord being played is also desirable. Typical sustain lengths are between 7 and 15 seconds. It is possible for more advanced players to increase the sustain of the same guitar that a novice would struggle with simply because the advanced musician has better ways to improve the guitar sound. They can also mute or dampen the sound more effectively.

Q. How Long Is Considered As A Good Sustain For Electric Guitar?

Electric guitars can have a 30-45 second sustain, but with all the gizmos available to electric guitarists, this is hardly surprising. An acoustic-electric will therefore be somewhere between the two.

Q. How Long Is Considered As A Good Sustain For Classical Guitar?

For a classical guitar, the sustain is often in the choice of wood. Many CG players suggest cedar or rosewood as the best woods and a heavier build to maximize sustainable potential. Even then, it’s shorter than many other types of guitar.

Q. How Long Is Considered As A Good Sustain For Bass Guitar?

Sustain on a bass guitar doesn’t tend to be as important as on acoustic or electric models. The average time seems to be a handful of seconds only, assisted where needed by the use of pedals or effects.

Q. Does Sustain Increase Over Time?

The sustain of your guitar can be increased over time if the strings vibrate for longer. Thicker strings will produce a longer sustain, hence why that is one of the first mods recommended for anyone looking for more sustain. It does not generally increase with the age of the equipment but is related to the type of instrument and style of playing.

Final Verdict

Sustain is a part of the guitar playing process, which can be adjusted through modifications, playing style, and even the type of guitar or wood used in the build. Some players tend to have the knowledge about the tricks of the trade needed to increase or decrease sustain as required and have a veritable arsenal of kits to create just exactly the sounds they need at any given time. Others are happy to rely on the wood and natural qualities of the guitar and make the best of the sustain without too many modifications.

The choice of how to improve sustain is entirely up to the musician and may be reliant on the type of instrument they choose to play. It is a very personal choice but all part of the musical journey.

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