One of the most common questions I get from new guitar players is to answer the epic question once and for all, and decide whether it is best to learn on an acoustic guitar, or an electric guitar, and to start with electric guitar lessons or acoustic guitar lessons. First of all, the second part of the question is flawed. If you are a total beginner, you don’t need to differentiate between lesson types yet, since at this stage, you are still just trying to learn very basic techniques, which are the same for both types of guitar (check out our free basic guitar lessons).
Now back to the original question of whether learning on an electric or acoustic is more suitable for beginners. This is a very interesting question that causes many disagreements between us guitar teachers as well. There are advantages and disadvantages of learning on either type of guitar, so I will try to list them all, and after you get a chance to read the pros and cons of both sides, I’ll give my opinion as well. And don’t skip forward, read the article in full, I want you to see things objectively before you hear my subjectivity.
So, lets start off with the electric guitar.
Electric Guitar Pros and Cons
Advantages of learning on an Electric Guitar:
- Holding down chords is easier, as the width of the neck will usually be shorter on electric guitars.
- The strings on electric guitars are much softer than acoustic guitars, which makes playing the guitar easier on your fingers.
- Learning to play barre chords is easier on the electric because of the lightness of the strings.
- You can plug headphones into your amplifier, so you won’t drive your household crazy
Disadvantages of learning on an Electric Guitar:
- You need to buy an amplifier as well, which is extra $$$.
- Finding the right tone is not that easy for beginners who know nothing about electric guitars and amps, and a bad sounding guitar might put them off.
- Being able to play something on an electric will not mean that you can play it on the acoustic guitar as well.
Acoustic Guitar Advantages and Disadvantages
Pros of learning on an Acoustic Guitar:
- If you can play something on a steel string acoustic guitar, you’ll be able to play it without any problems on an electric, something that cannot be said vice versa.
- Many people (your household) will prefer the naturally soothing, calmer tone of the acoustic over the distorted, amplified electric.
- You don’t need to buy any cables, or an amplifier to start playing.
Cons of learning on an Acoustic Guitar:
- Much tougher on your fingers than an electric. Absolute beginners will probably only be able to play for about 20 minutes before not being able to fret any strings any more, due to the immense pain shooting in their fingertips. Of course, this only lasts a couple of weeks, until you start developing calluses.
- The harder strings also means that playing chords, especially barre chords will be much harder.
- More string buzzing due to the harder strings.
- Wider fretboard, something beginners will not always enjoy.
- More brittle than electric guitars.
So, now you know both sides of the story. You want to know my opinion?
I learned to play on an acoustic guitar initially, and started playing an electric later on. I am quite comfortable with the fact that even someone like me, with over a decade of experience, sometimes can’t play something on an acoustic, but gets it on the first go on an electric. Sort of wants me to take beginner guitar lessons all over again No, seriously, the electric is much easier to play, there’s no doubt about it. So why is it, that I still recommend that beginners learn on acoustic guitars?
Simple. In the very beginning of your guitar journey, your single aim is to learn very basic guitar techniques, that you will be building on later on, regardless of the fact that you’ll be playing the acoustic or electric guitar. As you read in the pros section of the acoustic guitar,
If you can play something on an acoustic, you’ll be able to play it on the electric, but not necessarily vice versa…
The biggest frustration I, as a guitar teacher have with recommending the acoustic as a starter guitar, is the fact that I know how many beginners give up really quickly after a very short period of time, simply because they find the whole concept of learning the guitar too hard. I am tempted to think that if I recommend the electric, which is easier to play, I might be able to save some of the “quitters”. But this is probably not the case. Teaching yourself to play the guitar takes perseverance and dedication, since you will run into problems on both types of guitars. If your personality is not such as to hurdle these challenges, or you are just not that in love with the guitar, than it will not have mattered that you started learning on an easier to play electric.
People who stick with it, and actually become guitarists, all have dedication towards music and the instrument itself. For them, initially learning on an acoustic will not mean an excessive challenge, but a chance to develop calluses quicker, strengthen their fingers faster (and stronger), and develop their guitar technique at a more advanced level. They know that building a sound set of skills is more important than taking the short road, since it might backfire later on.
So that’s my 2 cents, but listen, I always say that if you are unsure, don’t listen to anyone. Read up, gather some opinions, than decide for yourself based on simple logic and intuition. Always the best way to go.