One of the most common questions I have been asked by prospective new guitar students throughout my many years as a guitar teacher, is “should I learn guitar on an electric or acoustic?” As a beginner looking at taking up the guitar for the first time, this question can pose quite a conundrum, and this post will attempt to advise anyone thinking of learning guitar for the first time on the best choice for their first guitar purchase. Unfortunately, there are a few myths about which type of guitar you should learn on when you first start out, so before we get into the main bulk of this post, allow me to debunk a few of these first, starting with the most common one:
Myth #1: You Should Learn On Acoustic Guitar First
Many people have said to me things like “I was told to learn on acoustic first and then move onto electric” or “I was advised that the first guitar I buy has to be an acoustic.” I can see the logic in this advice, as acoustic guitars are more difficult to play, meaning that becoming proficient on this type of guitar will make playing an electric easier.
However, I don’t necessarily agree with this advice.
I actually started off playing on an electric guitar before I picked up an acoustic many months later. I had already made good progress on my electric, and soon realised that all you needed to do in order to get a good sound on the acoustic was to make a couple of adjustments. First, I needed to press down slightly harder on the strings, and second, since the neck on my acoustic was slightly wider, I needed to make a small adjustment with my left hand fingering. However, I did notice that the way you hold it is the same, the technique is the same and all of the chords I learned on electric could be easily transferred to acoustic. I am now extremely proficient on both instruments, so learning electric first does not hinder your ability to be able to play an acoustic guitar if you choose to do so. Of course, if you are inspired by other guitarists who play acoustic guitar and this is the path you want to go down, then by all means go and get yourself an acoustic. However, if the reason for you wanting to take up guitar is that you are inspired by electric guitarists, then the best purchase for you will be an electric.
Myth #2: You need an amplifier if you are going to buy an electric guitar
Not entirely true. Yes, in an ideal world, if you can afford to purchase both a guitar and an amp then this will be the best course to take. You will be able to hear any mistakes you are making with your technique a lot clearer, and the whole experience of plugging into a guitar amp and making some noise is certainly a lot more satisfying than not! However, one of the most common misconceptions that complete beginners have about electric guitars is that they won’t be able to hear it when it’s not plugged in. This isn’t true! Although it’s nowhere near as loud as an acoustic guitar when it’s unplugged, it’s still very audible. In fact, I will quite often just pick up one of my electrics and play unplugged if I’m feeling lazy, it’s totally fine. So, while it is much better to buy an amp if you can afford it, I wouldn’t let that issue put you off if you had your heart set on learning the electric guitar, you can always purchase one at a later date.
Myth #3: You should learn on classical guitar first
In my opinion, you should only purchase a classical guitar if you want to take classical guitar lessons. Although the strings are easier to press down on, the necks on most classical guitars are much wider, and require a certain left hand discipline in order to get the best out of the instrument. Of course, if your goal is to become a proficient classical or flamenco guitarist, then by all means go ahead and purchase a classical guitar and find a great teacher who specialises in this style. However, if your vision for your guitar journey is play your favourite songs that you hear on the radio, then purchasing a classical guitar will not be the best option for you. Instead, it would be much better for you to pick up either an electric or acoustic as your first instrument.
So which type of guitar should you learn on? Is it better to learn on acoustic or electric guitar? The correct answer to this question is of course, whichever one inspires you to keep playing the most. As mentioned above, if you want to emulate electric guitar greats such as Slash, David Gilmour and Brian May, then you will definitely find more inspiration from picking up and plugging in an electric guitar. However, if you are inspired by the more singer songwriter approach of artists such as Ed Sheeran, Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift, then perhaps you will be more inclined to begin your guitar journey on an acoustic guitar instead of an electric.
If you have made this far in this post and are still unsure of whether you should learn acoustic or electric, then fear not! If your first thought when deciding to play the guitar was “I just want to learn guitar” then allow me to present to you a list of pros and cons of both electric and acoustic guitar:
Learning On Electric Guitar – Pros & Cons
- Lighter strings making it easier to press down and easier to play.
- Easier to learn lead guitar techniques such as string bending, tapping etc.
- More commonly used in bands if you get to that level.
- More options to shape your sound and experiment with effects such as distortion etc.
- Requires an amplifier for public performance.
- You will need to adjust your technique slightly for acoustic guitar.
- Despite the smaller body shape, on average electric guitars are heavier than acoustic guitars.
Learning On Acoustic Guitar – Pros & Cons
- Harder to learn on at first, but the transition to electric will be slightly easier should you choose to.
- No need for an amplifier at first.
- Great for playing songs in get togethers with friends such as at barbeques etc.
- More suited to certain techniques such as fingerstyle etc.
- Harder to press down on the strings – may be off putting for complete beginners.
- Not suited to some lead guitar techniques such as string bending.
- You will probably need an electric if you decided to join a band.
Guitar Buying – Further Advice
I hope the above information has proved useful to anyone struggling to make a choice between electric or acoustic to learn guitar on. Whichever one you finally settle on, I would personally advise anyone to get the best possible guitar they can afford. As a general rule, the further you go up in price range, the better quality instrument you will get, so make sure you get the best guitar that your budget can stretch to. I believe that an instrument that you’re proud to own will inspire you to pick up and practice the guitar more often, which is crucial in your development as a beginner. Furthermore, I would advise you to get some lessons with a good teacher who is well versed in the style that you wish to pursue, and who can coach you through the initial stages every step of the way.
Whichever path you decide to go down, I wish you all the best in your guitar journey.
Until next time,