Electric or Acoustic? A Beginner’s Guitar Guide

Acoustic vs. Electric guitar

One of the first questions that arise when buying your first guitar is: “Should I choose an electric or an acoustic guitar?” Guest blogger Nicky Patterson tries to help beginners make up their minds with this Beginner’s Guitar Guide. 

Having a hard time deciding which kind of guitar to learn on? You may be concerned about the price or quality of the guitar or you may simply just be unusure of whether to begin with a simple binary choice of whether starting with an electric is a better option.

That’s all right – most beginners to guitar are completely lost when it comes to choosing between acoustic or electric to learn on. In general, the kind of guitar to choose should be based on the kind of music you want to play (and the artists you want to emulate). Metal, rock, punk and jazz music, for instance, are best played with an electric guitar.

Most guitar players usually start out on an acoustic then move on to an electric guitar primarily because of budget limitations–a decent acoustic guitar tends to cost less than a decent electric guitar, and there’s no additional spending needed for electronics such as amps. However, it doesn’t really have to be that way–there’s absolutely no harm in learning how to play the guitar with an electric!

Both acoustic and electric guitars have their own aspects that can make them better for one beginner but not for another, so really it’s a case-to-case basis. To help you decide which guitar to choose for learning on, here are some points you need to consider.

Learning to play with an acoustic guitar

Martin acoustic

Learning the basics on an acoustic guitar provides a more solid foundation and tends to develop strength in the muscles used for playing. Acoustic guitars can be a bit more difficult to play because they have thicker necks and strings and a higher string action, but they’re easier to understand and simpler overall–no knobs, cables, amplifiers and dials necessary to get you started playing. 

Beginners can have their acoustic guitar professionally set up to lower the strings closer to the fretboard and/or replace the default strings with good-quality light gauge strings for greater comfort and playability. A proper guitar setup, a tuner, a carry case or bag and probably a few picks are all you need.

You know what they say about learning how to drive: if you learn to drive a manual-shift car, you can easily move on to an automatic. The same principle can be applied to learning to play the guitar. If you sweat it out on an acoustic where you need to apply greater finger pressure for the strings to reach the fretboard, then playing an electric would be like pushing down on air.

So, buy an acoustic guitar if you don’t want to spend much on a guitar (and accessories)–perhaps just the minimum amount necessary–to give the instrument a try to see if it’s a right fit for you, and if you want to play acoustic-style music.

Learning to play with an electric guitar

Airline 59 1p

The strings on an electric guitar are generally thinner or of a lighter gauge and have a lower string action. The necks are thinner too, which means they are easier on the fingers and are more playable.

In an electric guitar, most of the tone produced is shaped by effects pedals and amps, so you’re not limited to just one type of sound unlike with an acoustic–you have a wide range of playing techniques to experiment with. However, this also means that it can be more complicated to set up.

Electric guitar models come with headphone support so you can play without anyone else (like your roommate or neighbors) hearing.

So, buy an electric guitar of you really want to play metal, rock, funk or any other genre that sounds best with an electric. If an electric guitar is a greater motivator for you to play, then by all means go get one!

If you’re still not sure about which guitar to learn on, you won’t go wrong with getting an acoustic first as a beginner– you’ll probably get yourself an electric guitar somewhere down the line anyway, especially if you develop a liking for electrified sounds.

– by Nicky Patterson

Once you’ve finally made up your mind, be sure to head over to Know Your Instrument which has loads of great reviews and tips for people buying their first guitar.