As a guitar teacher, I often get asked which guitar is better for beginners; acoustic guitars, or electric guitars?
And, the simple answer is that both choices are valid. Neither the acoustic guitar nor the electric guitar is necessarily a better choice.
But I know you’re looking for a little more meat to the answer, so let’s take a deeper dive into the topic.
Here are some thoughts on which type of guitar you should be selecting as a beginner; acoustic or electric. While there are other styles of guitar out there, these are the two most popular to get started with.
What You Need To Know About Acoustic Guitars Vs Electric
It’s fair to say that acoustic guitars have both advantages and disadvantages for beginners.
Here are some common statements I hear from other guitar players, parents and teachers, and what I think of them:
- You can take an acoustic guitar and play it anywhere. Acoustic, electric… that never stopped me from taking my guitar everywhere I went when I was first getting started (to some extent I still do that), but I will say that the acoustic guitar is generally seen as a more portable instrument, and on that point I can’t disagree.
- You can build up your calluses faster on acoustic guitar. Or so the theory goes. The strings on acoustic guitars are generally heavier, and if the guitar isn’t set up, you’ll have to press a lot harder on them to get a clean sound out of the instrument. But this can actually be disheartening and discouraging to beginners, who mistakenly believe it’s a lot harder to play guitar than they originally thought. My feeling is that you don’t need to add any extra barriers to entry.
- It’s a lot easier to learn on acoustic guitar. On a certain level, I can relate. I started learning on a nylon-string acoustic guitar. It has a thicker neck than a standard steel-string guitar, which means there is more spread between each of the strings. This makes it easier to be more precise with your fingering, and because the strings aren’t made out of a harsher material, they bite into your fingers a lot less than steel strings (but you can still build up your calluses).
- You don’t need to invest in a separate top quality power supply. These can be expensive, so not ideal if you’re on a limited budget.
If you don’t have much of a budget, you’re going to be starting on a cheaper guitar. This usually means that it’s a little tougher to play than a higher priced guitar. It also means that you’re going to have to upgrade at some point.
But if you like folk, blues, country, classical, and other musical styles that typically feature acoustic guitar, then you’re probably going to want to stick with an acoustic over the long haul. This means investing $400 – $600 is well worth it. An intermediate level acoustic guitar can last you a long time.
I usually recommend something from the Godin family of guitars, which includes Simon & Patrick, Art & Lutherie, Seagull, and others.
What You Need To Know About Electric Guitars Over Acoustic Ones
As with acoustic guitars, electric guitars have both advantages and disadvantages for beginners.
I’m going to carry out my analysis in much the same way I did with acoustic guitars. Here are some common statements that are thrown around in reference to electric guitars, and what I think of each:
- Electric guitars are quieter. This is a bit of a funny statement, but one you can probably appreciate from the perspective of a concerned parent. The answer is “yes” and “no”. Electric guitars are certainly quieter unplugged, and as long as you maintain control over those volume levels on an amplifier, it can still be quieter than an acoustic guitar. But don’t forget that even the smallest amplifiers have volume knobs, and they can get a lot louder than you might think.
- Electric guitars are a lot of fun. No arguments here. Whether it’s plugging into a modeling amplifier, or a bunch of effects pedals, you can have a lot of fun on electric guitars without any prior experience or knowledge. But sometimes this gets in the way of learning what you actually need to know to become a good guitar player.
- It’s a lot easier to learn on electric guitar. In general, I agree with this statement. The strings are generally lighter, and the action is usually more suited to beginners. Again, if you invest in a cheap guitar, this won’t always be the case, but even entry level electric guitars are pretty decent these days.
Both electric guitars and acoustic guitars are extremely versatile instruments. An experienced player might even tell you that there are far more possibilities on an acoustic compared to an electric instrument.
But there is an instant gratification element built into electric guitars. You can crank up your amp, switch to a distortion channel, or even activate individual effects, depending on its built-in capabilities. At first, it’s going to seem like you can do a lot more with electrics than you can with acoustics.
Regardless of which you choose, the skills you learn on guitar are transferable from one instrument to another. But if you know that you’re going to be playing rock, punk, metal, or even funk and jazz over the long term, you should buy an electric guitar.
My first guitar teacher told me that instrument choice should be based on your stylistic preferences. You can learn on an acoustic or an electric, but if you have a preference in terms of genre, and you don’t have the one you need to play the musical style of your choosing, you could be limited by your guitar.
I agree with that thought. It’s not that you can’t play anything you want on one instrument or another – believe me I do – but a heavy metal riff is never going to sound the same on an acoustic guitar, and a gentle classical piece is not going to transfer over to a heavily distorted electric that well.
You can learn on whatever you want. But I will say this – you should take your guitar to a technician to get it set up before learning on it. Ask them to take the action as low as they possibly can without producing buzz, and make sure they put a fresh set of strings on there too.