Acoustic Guitar Vs Electric Guitar 3

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

Is it best for beginners to learn on an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar?

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, but don't skip forward, please. Read the article in full, I want you to see things objectively before you hear my subjectivity.

Let's start off with the differences between the 2 types of guitar, as the pros and cons derive from here.

What are the differences between acoustic and electric guitars?

As a newbie to the world of guitars, you may be wondering just how are electric guitars different from acoustic ones.

 Electric guitarAcoustic guitar
BodySolid body which requires electric amplification to produce sound.Hollow body. The vibration from the strings vibrates the entire guitar. The resonation is passed into the air inside the body, where it resonates and is naturally amplified to become sound, which exits through the soundhole.
Size and weightGenerally smaller, but much heavier than acoustic guitars.Larger than electric guitars, because the body has to be relatively larger for the sound waves to get amplified. However, they are usually lighter, since they are hollow.
NeckUsually slightly thinner, strings seem closer together.Usually a bit thicker, strings are further apart. Classical guitars have even wider necks.
StringsThinner, lighter steel strings, easy on the fingers. Strings on electric guitars don't need to be heavy, because the sound is amplified. The thin strings make lead guitar techniques, like vibratos and bends easy.Heavy steel strings that need to vibrate stronger, therefore they are harder to hold down. Lead guitar techniques are difficult to carry out. Lighter nylon strings are also used on acoustic guitars, which are easier to play, but have a more subdued tone.
String actionSince the strings are thinner than on the acoustic guitar, they don't need that much space to resonate. Because of this, the string action can be set lower, meaning the strings are closer to the neck. This makes them easier to fret.The thicker strings on acoustic guitars need more room to vibrate, so they are a bit further from the neck. This makes them harder to hold down.
ToneThanks to the multiple pickups, the tone and volume knobs on the guitar, plus the effects you can apply with an amp, the tonal possibilities of electric guitars are endless.Acoustic guitars without amplification have a single tone. There are tonal differences between the different acoustic guitars as well, which depends on the materials the acoustic guitar is manufactured with and the size of the guitar.
MusicSince electric guitars are amplified and effects are added to create a final tone, you can basically play any type of music with them (other than classical and folk).The lack of amplification limits the use of acoustic guitars to music where the clean acoustic tone sounds good. These include country, classical, blues, pop, folk.

Electric Guitar Pros and Cons

Choosing Electric Guitar

There are some definite benefits to starting on an electric guitar, but also some drawbacks.

Advantages of learning on an Electric Guitar

  • Holding down chords is easier, as the width of the neck will usually be narrower 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

Choosing Acoustic Guitar

As with the electric, there are some advantages of starting to learn guitar on an acoustic, as well as some drawbacks.

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 anymore, 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 mean 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 which type of guitar should you learn on?

So, now you know both sides of the story. Do you want to know my opinion as a guitar teacher of 15+ years?

Ask yourself what kind of music you like, from there you'll be able to decide what type of guitar is used most in that genre.

If you like rock and metal, you should obviously get an electric. If you are into country, classical, or maybe aim to be a "campfire guitarist", get an acoustic. It's simple.

Either way you go, if you stick with the guitar, you'll naturally develop an interest in the other type of guitar as well, so you'll get one sooner or later 🙂

If you absolutely can't make up your mind, read on.

My opinion if you can't make up your mind

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 2 decades 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 physically, there's no doubt about it. So why is it, that I still recommend that beginners learn on acoustic guitars?

Simple. At 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, then 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, then decide for yourself based on simple logic and intuition. Always the best way to go.

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  1. Start with the electric if you like. Then if you are serious about it, you’ll get that acoustic and live through the pain and the struggle, because you know… there is NO CHEATING on the acoustic. A buzz is a buzz, a muted note is a muted note. What you play is what you hear. Then when you pick up the electric again, it’s childsplay. And it will also sound as it should. Given the choice again, I’d just start with the acoustic.

  2. I would say it depends on what you want to play.

    Acoustic you may learn three chords and play Sweet home Alabama and sing what is in your head.

    Electric guitars you plug in and sometimes it sounds good but you need to practice more with
    the notes and different frets.

    But acoustic is the best to start on. Learn a few chords and listen to people solo.

  3. Hi Tom! Thanks for a really helpful article. I’m 53 and getting a little old to learn anything too complicated! I dreamt the other night that I was playing a semi acoustic guitar and making some awesome music. It was such a vivid dream I spent ages the next day searching the internet for this gorgeous guitar… couldn’t find it but saw some others but they just didn’t have the same appeal as my “dream guitar”. Although I’m veering towards a electric (Squier Mini Strat as I’m on the small side) I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on semi acoustics if you have a couple of minutes? Thank you 😊

    1. Hi Hazel, great dream, don’t give up on your dream guitar 🙂 Semi acoustics are basically hollow body electric guitars. They have a completely different tone than the Squier you mentioned. If I were you, I’d go into a shop and check both types and buy the one I fall in love with. If you’re leaning towards semi acoustics, Gretsch makes a few great models at entry price, as well as Epiphone.

  4. Buy the one you fall in love with the most. If you really want to play an electric and you have people telling you that you are far better with an acoustic – BUY THE ELECTRIC. If you have always fancied owning a telecaster – buy one. You are far more likely to spend time practising if you are in love with your guitar. This advice is particularly true of you are buying for kids. Let them guide the decision because they are far more likely to sit and practice if they are happy with their acquisition.

  5. When I started playing guitar about 12 years ago, it was definitely the norm to start playing on acoustic guitars. Now, I’m not sure what I would recommend a beginner start with. I know now that I prefer electric way more than acoustic, and it’s also easier to play, but an electric guitar can definitely be distracting in the early days when you’re learning the basics of the instrument.

  6. It looks like learning an acoustic guitar have better advantages for a beginner like me since according to your list of pros: once learned you can move easily to electric, it won’t need much equipment like cables to play, and most of the people in the household will be naturally attuned to the calmer tone of an acoustic guitar. That’s perfect for I have wanted to be able to play the guitar for a long time now. Additionally, I’ll be finally able to serenade my wife like I have always wanted. Thanks for the informative read about the advantages of learning to play the guitar!

  7. I learned on an electric basically because that was the music I wanted to play. I went backwards and learned solo techniques first. Later I figured out what individual notes made up chords so ‘got’ a lot of the chord theory I’d missed out on.

    It all depends on the individual and WHY they have started playing.

    I started because I wanted to be Satriani. 20 years later I can play his easier music and fudge the rest good enough for most not to pick it up.

  8. I am playing acoustic gitar for 7 months. I learned the basics and I’m in love with it. I like rock music and want to play electric guitar too. Do you recommend me to buy an electric guitar after 7 months of experience?
    Really nice blog by the way

    1. Oh yeah, if you are already in love with playing guitar, you’ll get one sooner or later anyhow 🙂

  9. I like hard rock music, and my favorite band, Breaking Benjamin, redoes a lot of his songs on acoustic when performing. i wanted to know, if i bought the guitar tabs for his electric guitar songs, if they could be played on an acoustic guitar.

    1. Well, it depends on the song. Some songs yes, definitely, but on more complicated electric guitar songs, no.

  10. I was very much confused about this one. Whether I play acoustics Guitar or whether I play the electric Guitar. I know that there are so many peoples are around there that they are also confused about this one. As you have mentioned all of the Pros and Cons about both of the Guitars, They will get a way that they can follow.
    But I do have a question to you TOM! If anyone very much comfortable with the electric guitar because of the strings softness and too much easier to them to play the electric guitar then why some of the teachers strongly suggest learning the acoustic guitar for the beginners?

  11. I play both acoustic and electric. I find the sound of the acoustic is more calming. But I still like the electric, for different reasons.

  12. I have severe sholder pain when I practice with the acoustic I have move my arm way forward on the neck, to practice, this due to surgery.
    Any suggestions. The electric seems smaller would this help?

    1. Experiment until you find a comfortable position. It would be best if you went to a guitar shop for live advice on this though.

  13. I’ve been playing acoustic guitars for more years than I care to mention – I love the tone, the feel, the response of the instruments to varying levels of attack. Lately I’ve been playing amplified acoustics which I hugely enjoy as it has introduced sustain and effects not possible on straight acoustics. Tremelo, glissando,distortion, reverb etc. add a dimension to the music possible – but at the same time I will choose my un-amped classical guitar for things Brazilian, classical, folk and a little jazz.

    I’m about to add a pickup to my 12 string acoustic – because I suspect there’s a treasury of melodic tonal surprises in store for me played through a quality amp.

    I totally understand young players frustrations in learning on acoustic – there’s little by way of instant gratification (outside of the beauty of the melody and counterpoint say) like there is with an electric and a bank of effects, but once they achieve a degree of mastery on acoustic – the rewards on electric guitar will come in multiples.

    My suggestion is start of with an acoustic – and work up to electric – both will give enormous levels of satisfaction and broaden the scope of experimentation and skill.

  14. Excellent article, and definitely a tough question to answer. You nailed the main points I would have made, one being that while learning on an acoustic is harder, it’s probably better in the long run as switching over to an electric later will be an easy transition, and it likely makes the person a better player once they master the basics.

    It’s hard to get past the key points of learning on an electric though, because if the beginner gets too frustrated with the lack of progress, there is no “long run” if they give up. Learning can be difficult in the beginning, so having that smaller neck and softer strings (especially for barre chords which I still find difficult) is very helpful. So is being able to adjust the amp settings to sound at least decent early on, which may give the person a little much-needed confidence.

    I guess I’d say the acoustic is probably “better”, but may still advise starting with an electric. Tough choice, but both options are way better than not starting at all!

  15. Hi, first of all great article, it really helped me on getting a perspective of the different pros and cons of both the electric and acoustic guitars and which is better for starting out. I couldn’t help but wonder if it also depends on what type of music you like? Like Im a 17 year old girl with a different taste in music that the average girl. But I get why the acoustic is better for starting out but would your learning environment for it change if your not really into the country type feel of it? What if your just into the type of feel some specific songs your artist plays? And what if your more into like I guess punk or alternative music? Like green day, all time low, and the sex pistols and what not? Sorry I have so many questions I just really want to see what I’m going to be getting interested in before I actually buy either one.

    1. Hey Ashley,
      The article is a guide for everybody looking for direction, but it’s not set in stone. I still have debates on this topic with myself.

      It’s important to love your instrument, and not play it because “you have to”.
      If you’re into punk and alternative, and feel the electric is more your style, than by all means, go for it!

    2. thank you it is becoming crismise time and I want a guitar thank you for having me make up my mind and acoustic or electric I like the Beatles so I think I am going to get a softer toning electric thank you for helping me make up my mined 😀 please answer back
      from: walker 😀

  16. I have an acoustic guitar that I used to play until recently when I (for some reason that is unknown) have completely lost all interest in and fallen out of love with it and have since given up.

    I hate chords (especially barre chords) even though I have not taken a single lesson but can read TAB and can play by ear.

    The guitar I have is sitting in its case ignored, neglected and no longer loved in my room.

    I can’t afford to take guitar lessons and don’t want to go onto websites where I have to pay for online lessons.

    For me to come to revive and rekindle the love for my guitar and to enjoy playing it again, what websites do you recommend for free online lessons, websites with free downloadable/printable resources and any lessons/tips that are also on YouTube?

    Please help me.

    Until anyone answers me, my guitar will remain sitting in its case ignored, neglected and no longer loved.

    Any help and advice given will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

    1. I have found some good websites offering freebies and have just got myself a Fender Stratocaster which I find much more easier and enjoyable to play than an acoustic guitar.

      My Fender Stratocaster has rekindled my love of the guitar 🙂

  17. Nice info, thank you… I just started 3 months ago, age 45. Bought an electric bundle and practice everyday with scales and a few chords. I tried to learn many years ago but got frustrated with the acoustic guitar. Last night I grabbed the old acoustic from the closet and couldn’t believe how well I sounded.(my wife is surprised too).. But I find that I can play the C chord better on the acoustic. More room on the fret board maybe? On the electric my fingers sometimes mute the other strings. I have short stubby fingers. I did have neck and right shoulder surgery which keeps me from being in a better position to reach. Thinking maybe getting a Taylor mini koe. Do you think this would be ok to learn on. My goal is just to play at backyard camp fires and camping. Thanks again , great info..

  18. I think that acoustic guitar is good for beginner the reason i am suggesting this is because i have used it personally. Thanks for wonderful sharing with us.

  19. I believe newbies stand to gain a lot more by learning with an acoustic guitar instead of an electric one. It’s the same thing with learning how to drive. I think it’s best done with a manual gear transmission.

  20. Hi,
    So I think that acoustic guitar is good for beginner because with that guitar you can learn music deeply, but with an electric guitar, there’s no need to understand music that much.

  21. I agree with your pro’s and cons i disagree with your conclusion having been given the same advice 20 years ago. I started on acoustic guitar and stuck with it for 18 months i found it frustrating because you can,t practice for long just as you start to get something you have to stop because of the pain. I hated practicing when others were home because it was both annoying for them and embarrassing as nobody gets any good in a few weeks. And after 18 months yes i was starting to sound ok but it just was not the music i was really interested in totally disheartened the guitar was left to rot. Getting an electric guitar this week and computer teaching aids can plug in headphones and practice as much as i like when i like if im hopeless nobody will know and it wont annoy a soul, its the music i like and im enthused again .

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Emma!

      You are right in that if the type of music you like is mostly played on the electric, there is no point in starting on the acoustic. You have to learn to play the type of music you listen to, otherwise it won’t be motivating.

      I have to say that the more experience I have with students (15+ years now), the more I’m starting to lean towards an electric as a first guitar.

  22. You say that an electric guitar is more disturbing than an accoustic one to the surroundings. Not so if played with earphones connected to the amp. I use Koss Portapro headphones. I can play after the kids have gone to sleep. An accoustic guitar might have waken them up.

  23. Thank you!
    At the young age of 61 I finally have the time to resume learning the guitar. My wife gave me a Fender “beginner’s acoustic” for Christmas and although my fingers are killing me I can see the advantages in sticking with the acoustic–and its heavier strings–before getting an electric. I am hoping that a few months on the acoustic will toughen my fingers enough that picking up an electric a few months from now will feel pretty comfortable. Am I correct?


    1. Oh yeah, if you learn on an acoustic, the electric will be child’s play, much easier than the acoustic you’ll already be used to.

  24. Great advice and I agree, learn to play a song on acoustic first and you will have no trouble playing it on an electric. I started on an electric myself, but you are completely correct on that one. Hope the beginners out there take heed of your advice!

  25. Great article. Not trying to nitpick you, but you have a simple typo on the cons for an acoustic guitar. The con should be that it is much tougher on your fingers than an ELECTRIC guitar. You wrote than an acoustic guitar is much tougher on your fingers than an ACOUSTIC guitar.

    Again, very well put together article.

  26. I’m biased toward the acoustic guitar personally, so I tend to agree with you about starting on an acoustic. My thoughts, though, are that your choice should have more to do with the style of music you listen to. If you can’t have fun playing songs you like listening to, you’re probably more likely to quit!

  27. Acoustic is much better for rhythmic motions and soothing music. Although electric has more sounds that you can produce with an amp; acoustic guitars can have their tuning changed to sound deeper or higher, henceforth making more beautiful music. I myself play acoustic and will hardly ever play electric. Hope this helps somebody

  28. i don’t know anything about guitar but madly passionate about music. i want to learn music, but i don’t have a school or classes of music where i live, so the only option is to learn online. and there are many terms in music that i m unaware of. where to start from?

    1. its not necessary for you to go classes and all…if you are really interested you can learn easily from net and be good…it totally depends on you will,determination and your effort..

  29. i say a classical electric guitar.Chords are easy to hold down. and fingering is really easy. the only problem i really see are fret sizes, and the number of frets.

  30. This is useful for sure.. I am gonna get myself a guitar soon. I want to play both the melodious acoustic and the rocking shredding metal electrics.. But i’m not sure if there’s a teacher somewhere here.. So i might have to teach myself. Can you tell me how much time it will take me to play guitar at least not that bad? I have a lot of dedication and love this awesome instrument. I have learned playing keyboard to an extent.

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