Acoustic Vs. Electric Guitars: Which Guitar Is The Best To Start
By: Darren Armentrout
One of the most common questions I get from new guitarists is,
"should I begin on the acoustic or electric?" To be honest,
there really is no right or wrong answer. But let's look at some
of the differences to help us decide.
First, the biggest question is what kind of music do you like?
If you want to learn to play like Metallica or Greenday, then
it's obvious you need to get an electric guitar. If you want to
play like James Taylor or Dave Matthews, then an acoustic would
be the best route to go.
Parents, if you are helping your child decide what is best for
them, be sure to ask them what kind of music they want to learn.
Also, ask them if they know which kind of guitar they would like
and why. Asking these questions has always helped me figure out
which guitar would be a better fit for my students. Sometimes,
people just want to play the guitar because it's "cool"-- or
because they want to be a rock star. Or, maybe a friend is
learning to play drums and they want to start a band together.
In these cases I normally would recommend an electric.
Motivation is the key here. Sometimes simply buying the wrong
kind of guitar, can make a child lose interest in playing and
then you are out the time and money. I've seen many parents,
even with the best intentions, have a child start on acoustic
when the child really wanted an electric and it normally ends
the same way-- disinterest.
So, besides appearance, what are some of the important things to
consider? Generally, you can play the same things on either
guitar, and the basics are the same. The guitar is tuned the
same and all the scales and chords you learn will be the same
for either. However, the sound is different. What sounds good on
one may sound weak, out of place, or downright silly on the
other. When a lot of people think of guitar, they think of the
guy who comes to the front of a stage in the middle of a song
and plays a screaming solo. If this is the kind of playing
you're looking to learn, then you need an electric. If you're
wanting to learn to strum chords, kind of like the Beatles, then
get an acoustic. Electrics tend to be played louder, more
aggressively and have a raunchier dirty kind of sound. Acoustics
tend to have a fuller, more natural sound and have a little more
laid back kind of a feel.
The main advantage of an electric guitar when beginning to play
is the string gauge. Electric guitars usually have strings that
are much thinner than the strings of their hollow bodied
brothers. This means that it's a little bit easier to push the
strings down on electric. The strings are thinner, though, and
may feel a little sharper than the thicker acoustic strings.
But, guitarists who start on electric and then pick up the
acoustic sometimes find they have to develop their hand strength
a little before they can get comfortable on the acoustic. One
disadvantage of the electric, is that it is noisier. The pickups
of an electric are much less forgiving of mistakes than an
acoustic is. Because an electric is sensitive to every little
nuance of touch, finger placement and pressure, tiny mistakes
beginners make will ring more clearly on an electric than on an
acoustic. Another disadvantage of the electric guitar is it's a
little more expensive to get everything you need to start on it.
Not only do you have to buy the guitar but you have to buy an
amp and a guitar cable to go with it. On average it will cost
$40-$80 more to start on an electric than an acoustic of similar
The main advantage of an acoustic is it's portability. The
acoustic can go almost anywhere and be played anywhere. So you
can practice or perform wherever you'd like-- whether at home,
on a trip, or around the campfire. There is no extra equipment
required, just pick it up and play. Another advantage of the
acoustic is the volume. I have never been asked to stop playing
my acoustic because of noise-- even when in the dorms at college
or playing in my apartment at two in the morning. I have been
asked on several occasions to turn down my amp or to stop
playing all together by a frustrated roommate or neighbor.
However, if your main concern with an electric is noise, most
amps have a headphone jack you can use to keep others happy.
Getting a clean sound is a little easier on an acoustic than an
electric. But, guitarists who start off on acoustics and then
switch to electrics may find the required precision to control
the noise a little difficult to handle at first. Another
disadvantage of an acoustic is it's a bit quiet when playing in
a band unamplified. So playing with a band (especially drums)
may require extra equipment to be heard.
So there you have it, the main differences between starting on
the acoustic guitar or starting on an electric guitar. What
choice you make depends on:
The look you want: Are you going for the rock star look? The
sound: Do you prefer the pure natural sound or the crunchy
distorted sound? The tradeoff: Ease of pressing strings down, or
more forgiving of mistakes? Price? Portability?
In the end, most guitarists who stick with playing a year or
two, soon pick up the other kind of guitar as well. So, what you
start on depends on what is most important to you.
About the author:
For more guitar related articles by this author, answers to
common guitar related questions, and free blank tablature and
blank guitar charts visit www.fishmanmusic.c
om Darren Armentrout has been playing guitar for 13 years,
earned a Bachelors in music, and has been teaching guitar for
over 5 years.