Beginners: Electric or Acoustic?
Published on 19 December 2018
Every year, around this time, that age-old question rears its head once more to trouble and taunt the good people of this land. The question, of course, is what to learn guitar on: acoustic or electric?
Such answers are the stuff of which eternal torment is caused! Such decisions! Fear not, gentle beginner-guitarist: we have wisdom to impart! What we don’t have, we are sad to say, are any set-in-stone answers. We will take you through both acoustic and electric guitar playing, pointing out the benefits and drawbacks to both. The decision ultimately lies with you.
One thing to bear in mind is that, if you enjoy playing the guitar (and you will), it’s most likely that you’ll end up with BOTH and electric and as acoustic at least! This means that we’re really talking about which type to go for first. Reading this short guide help give you a selection of perspectives to help make choosing easier.
For many who are new to guitar playing, it would seem that the acoustic guitar is the de facto first choice. We’re not saying that this should necesarrily be the case but let’s look into it. Acoustic guitars are complete in and of themselves, requiring no additional equipment in order to function. No amp, no cables, no electricity. This certainly makes acoustic guitar playing a simple prospect: you pick it up and you play it! Electro acoustic guitars that plug into amps do of course exist, but they are somewhat beyond the scope of this article.
Acoustic guitars are almost always physically bigger than electric guitars. They need the large hollow bodies in order to make the sound happen via resonance and projection of soundwaves. In practical terms, this means that the right arm will have to reach over the body slightly more than with an electric.
Acoustic guitars generally have more tension in the strings than electric guitars. This means that the strings are altogether tighter and less malleable, making them slightly harder work on the fingers. This is especially true with beginners since they have yet to develop the necessary callouses on their fingertips. Hey, it needs to happen eventually!
As to whether you go for steel or nylon strings, we have actually dedicated another entire blog to that subject! For the purposes of this article we are assuming steel strings but to summarise: nylon strings are easier on the fingers but often have bigger necks and also give a specific sound that may or may not prove to be what you’re after.
So, acoustic guitars are a simpler proposition and are slightly tougher on the hands. Sonically, if you like predominantly acoustic music, this is a no brainer! Lots of songs translate well onto acoustic guitar anyway and if you want to sing songs and write your own, the acoustic guitar is likely to be a good fit for you.
But what if you love Rock guitar riffs? Wild sounds? Metal? Posing? All of the above are more achievable with an electric guitar. To be clear, the actual principles of playing are exactly the same so you won’t be ‘losing out’ on anything whichever way you go. Whatever you learn on an acoustic can be brought across to the electric and vice versa, with the exception of obvious things like whammy bar dive bombs and feedback (don’t worry about these terms just now!).
So why pick an electric guitar over an acoustic? Well, firstly, they are most definitely easier to play on. They have slim bodies, thinner necks and the strings are much less rigid. All of that makes electric guitars far more ergonomic.
They are also, let’s face it, more exciting. Yes they are! There is no thrill quite like playing a note or chord on an electric guitar and hearing it coming out of an amplifier. Even after decades of playing, this does not get old! Electric guitars are available in a wide range of styles and colours so there is more excitement and personalisation in choosing one. This refers to beginner models, too: they look, sound and feel close enough to the famous models to make the experience of learning fun, encouraging and authentic.
What else? Well, the chances are, most of your experience of hearing guitars has been electric guitars. Whether you’ve grown up listening to Green Day, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin or Queen, it’s likely that your mind throws up images and sounds of Rock Stars onstage blasting away on an electric guitar. Realising this is important because an acoustic guitar will simply not fit in with this interior expectation and some enthusiasm may be lost. At this crucial early stage, this is not what we want!
So, what are the downsides of picking an electric guitar? Well, the guitar by itself won’t do a whole lot. Contrary to what some people expect, you can hear an unplugged electric guitar, it just doesn’t really sound like much. So, you’ll need an amplifier and a cable at least. Probably a strap too in order to play standing, let’s keep it real. These all add to the cost, though you can buy starter packages from us at some pretty great prices! For perspective, starter packages were roughly the same price back when we began playing guitar and when we began, Kurt Cobain was still alive. These packs are great value!
Anyway, you’ll need to plug into an amp and dial in sounds which is extra stuff to learn and account for. It also means you’re pretty much rooted to whichever spot you plug your amp into, making mobility a hassle unless you unplug everything and trail it around with you.
Aside from that, there isn’t really much in the way of downsides to choosing an electric. We aren’t going to warn anybody about loud amps annoying the family/neighbours either because A: turning it up loud is awesome, and B: at least amps CAN be turned down: acoustic guitars are gonna be pretty loud no matter what, until you learn how to control your playing dynamics. At least a volume control is an option!
So, how to we wrap this all up for you? We can’t definitively say one way or another about which direction you go since living situation, goals, taste and budget are all factors. You must decide for yourselves but, for our two pence’ worth, we’d maybe suggest that plugging an electric guitar into an amp will give a more instantly exciting and memorable experience than strumming an acoustic guitar. It will also be easier to hold down notes. And practising Rock poses will be far more satisfying.
The choice is yours. We are here to help though so please get in touch if you feel you need a little more help on the subject. Out staff have guided countless players to their first guitars and we want to do that for you, too! Have fun, choose wisely and MERRY CHRISTMAS!