Acoustic vs Electric Guitars: Advice for Beginners
If you are thinking about learning guitar, you’re probably wondering whether you should learn on an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar.
There is a lot of bad advice online about what type of guitar you should learn on, so in this guide, I’ll give you clear advice to make the right choice.
After you read this guide, learn about all the different types of guitars in this guide.
Let’s go through some common questions you might have to help you decide between an acoustic or electric guitar.
Is it Better to Start With Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
This is the big question you probably have when thinking about what type of guitar to buy.
There is a lot of bad advice online that says you should start on a specific type of guitar.
Some people say you should start on a classical acoustic guitar because the strings are easier on your fingers. Other people say to start on electric guitar because the strings are easier on your fingers. Some even say that you should start on a steel-string guitar to toughen up your fingers.
All of the above is terrible advice and completely misses the point.
It is better to start with the type of guitar that suits the style of music you want to learn. Start with an acoustic guitar if you want to learn music that is best on an acoustic guitar. Start with an electric guitar if you want to play electric guitar music. Pick the guitar that you will enjoy playing.
If you want to play rock, you will hate learning on a classical guitar. Not only will it feel wrong, but it will sound terrible. You can’t get big fat distorted guitar tones from a classical guitar.
Imagine trying to learn metal, punk, or rock on a guitar like these:
I’ve had students who wanted to learn metal and walked into their first lesson with a guitar like these because the person at the store told them it’s the best guitar to start with.
As you can imagine, the students hated their guitars and couldn’t wait until they could switch to an electric guitar.
Likewise, if you want to learn acoustic folk songs, you will hate learning on an electric guitar. It just won’t sound or feel right.
Imagine trying to play a soft fingerpicked ballad with a guitar like this:
Even if this guitar is easier to learn on than a steel-string acoustic, it’s unsuitable for the style of music you want to play.
It doesn’t matter if one type of guitar might be easier on your fingers than other types. If the type of guitar doesn’t match the style of music you want to learn, you won’t enjoy it.
Start on the type of guitar that suits the music you want to learn.
What type of guitar suits the music you want to learn? Check out this guide on guitar types to find the exact type of guitar that is right for you.
Difference Between Playing Acoustic and Electric Guitar
Acoustic and electric guitars can look and sound completely different, but there is also differences in what they’re like to play.
The main difference between playing an acoustic and electric guitar is how they feel. Acoustic guitars are bigger and bulkier and the strings can feel tight. Electric guitars are typically smaller and easier to hold and the strings feel softer under your fingers.
Let’s look at the different ways acoustic and electric guitars feel to play.
Acoustic vs Electric Guitar Lap Comfort
Lap comfort is how comfortable a guitar feels in your lap while you play.
Take a quick look at the below photo and it will be clear how different the two types of guitars will feel to hold as you play:
The big and bulky acoustic guitar will sit on your lap very differently to the slim and contoured electric guitar.
Electric guitars tend to feel comfortable sitting on your lap as the slim body and contours almost hug you.
For most adults, the difference in how an electric vs acoustic guitar feels on your lap isn’t anything to worry about.
For shorter adults or children, the difference in how a guitar feels can make a big difference in your enjoyment of the guitar.
A child trying to play a full-size acoustic guitar may struggle to reach the fretboard.
If you’re buying a guitar for a child or you’re a short person (there’s nothing wrong with that!), check out my guide on guitar sizes to learn about the different options you have.
I also talk about this potential issue in my guide on guitar for small hands.
Finger Playability on Acoustic vs Electric Guitars
The big difference between acoustic and electric guitars is how they feel under your fingers.
One of the reasons some people recommend nylon-string acoustic guitars (also called classical guitars) is that these strings are soft under your fingers.
The string tension is lower than other types of guitars, so you don’t need to press down as hard to play a note.
Electric guitars also use fairly low string tension compared to steel-string acoustic guitars.
But it’s important to understand that everybody feels some finger pain or discomfort in the beginning. You shouldn’t buy a guitar just because somebody told you it’s easy on your fingers.
No matter what type of guitar you start on, your fingers will eventually toughen up and they won’t hurt anymore.
So don’t buy a guitar just because it might avoid some discomfort. Buy the guitar that you will love to play for years into the future.
What You Can Play on Acoustic vs Electric Guitars
Other than how guitars feel to play, the other big difference between acoustic and electric guitars is what you can play on them.
Technically, you can play any style of music on any type of guitar. But each style of music tends to work better with a specific type of guitar.
Some styles of music are better suited to acoustic guitars and other styles of music are better suited to electric guitars.
This is really important to keep in mind when you’re deciding whether to buy an acoustic or electric guitar.
First, think about what styles of music you want to play.
Then look at what type of guitars are typically used in those styles of music. Look up live versions of your favorite songs and see what type of guitars they use.
If you find that most of the music you listen to is played on steel-string acoustic guitars, then that’s the type of guitar you should start on. Don’t worry that the strings may be tougher on your fingers at first, it’s still the best choice for you.
If you find that the music you listen to is all played on 7-string electric guitars, then don’t start with a 6-string guitar (something a lot of people would advise). Start with a 7-string electric guitar (find out about 7-string guitars here).
It may be harder in the beginning, but it’s the right choice for you.
The key lesson to remember when trying to decide on the right guitar for you is that you want a guitar you will enjoy playing now and years into the future.
There’s nothing worse than learning on a guitar that is ‘meant’ for beginners, then getting frustrated with it in a few months when you realize it’s the wrong type of guitar for you.
Start on the guitar that suits the music you want to learn and you’ll never outgrow it. You may upgrade to a better guitar in the future, but you’ll never outgrow it.
Acoustic vs Electric FAQ
Here are some answers to other common questions about choosing between acoustic and electric guitars.
If I Can Play Acoustic Guitar, Can I Play Electric Guitar?
Yes, if you learn to play on an acoustic guitar, you can also play electric guitar. Anything you play on one type of guitar can be played on any other type of guitar.
Some guitarists play both electric and acoustic guitars and the same techniques can be used on both types.
Some styles of music will feel easier on one type of guitar, but it is possible to play the same things on both types.
Are Electric Guitar Chords the Same as Acoustic?
Guitar chords on electric guitars are exactly the same as acoustic guitars. The fretboards on both electric and acoustic guitars are the same, so all the notes and chords are also the same.
The only time guitar chords change is when you use a different tuning on your guitar. Find out about alternate tunings in this guide.
Can You Play an Electric Guitar Like an Acoustic?
You can play an electric guitar like an acoustic. You can strum the same chords, fingerpick the same arpeggios, and play the same songs. It will sound and feel completely different on an electric guitar, but you can play an electric guitar like an acoustic.
If you try to play an electric guitar when it isn’t plugged in, it won’t sound as good as an acoustic guitar. Trying to play an electric guitar when it isn’t plugged in won’t work. You’ll barely hear the notes you play and it will sound terrible.
Is it Harder to Play Electric Guitar or Acoustic?
Steel-string acoustic guitars are harder to play than electric guitars and nylon-string acoustic guitars due to higher string tension. Some people prefer acoustic guitars and some prefer electric guitars and don’t feel like one is harder than the other.
You shouldn’t worry about whether an electric or acoustic guitar is harder to play. You should worry about what type of guitar is right for you.
Don’t pick a guitar just because it might be easier to play. Pick the type of guitar you will enjoy playing for years into the future.
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