Should I learn acoustic guitar or electric guitar?

If you speak to any guitar player, professional or otherwise, they’ll have some advice for you on how to learn the guitar and which type of guitar you should start on. The truth is that it won’t make a huge difference whether you learn how to play on an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar first because they both have their merits.

Ultimately, it depends on why you’re learning in the first place; most people start learning the guitar because it’s fun! And that’s what music should always be about. The most exciting thing about learning to play an instrument is exactly that: the learning. However, we've got some tips about learning on an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar.

Two common misconceptions are:

  • You should learn acoustic guitar because its harder to play at first and will make your hands and fingers stronger
  • You should learn on an electric guitar first because it’s easier to play.

What’s the difference between acoustic and electric guitars?

First, we need to make sure you know the difference between an electric and acoustic guitar. And what is an ‘electro-acoustic’ anyway?

Acoustic Guitar – An acoustic guitar is the box shaped instrument that can produce sound on it’s own. It doesn’t need to be plugged in to make a sound and is the type of guitar you’ll have around a campfire when strumming your favourite songs.

Electric Guitar – An electric guitar is the one you’ll see rockstars playing on stages around the world! It has to be plugged into a guitar amp to be heard and can give you ‘clean’ or ‘distorted’ sounds as well as a whole lot of other effects that you can’t achieve with an acoustic guitar. Guitar solos and heavy riffs will be played on an electric guitar.

Electro-Acoustic – An electro-acoustic is simply an acoustic guitar with the ability to be plugged into an amplifier to make it louder. It is still an acoustic guitar at heart but with the added functionality of being amplified to be louder at a show.

Learning to play on an acoustic guitar

People all over the world have learnt on both electric and acoustic guitars but the more common way is to learn on acoustic guitar first. This will give you greater finger strength and force you to have the discipline to learn chords for songs with strumming in them. This is the foundation of guitar playing and a good way to learn the guitar is by learning rhythm first which is definitely easier with an acoustic guitar.

There are tons of songs that can be played on an acoustic guitar with a few chords. What’s the best way to learn guitar chords? Simply go online! There are dozens of YouTube channels that’ll teach you the basics of playing an acoustic guitar and you’ll be off playing songs in no time.

We recommend learning songs as soon as possible because that is what’s fun about playing music. And whilst finger exercises have got their merits, you’re only doing this to play songs right?

If you want to follow in the footsteps of players like Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran, Neil Young and Jason Mraz then the acoustic guitar is the one to go for.

Are nylon strings or steel strings best for beginners?

Nylon string guitars are easier to play because their strings are softer but steel string guitars feature in modern music and are far more popular however they are slightly harder to play.

After playing steel string guitars for a while, you’ll start to develop callouses which allows you to play for longer without your fingers hurting. But until you get to that point, the steel strings on an acoustic guitar might hurt your fingers.

Nylon string guitars are better for fingerstyle types of music including Spanish Flamenco and Classical because the distance between strings is slightly wider than an electric guitar making it easier to fret the note. However, steel string guitars are far better for modern styles of music and if you hear a guitar being strummed, chances are that it’s an acoustic.

So, the answer is that you can’t go wrong. If you want to break into the guitar with less pain on your fingertips, then you’ll want to go for a nylon string. Learning on a steel string will ensure that you’ll be developing calluses quickly and can move on to harder songs and techniques faster because your finger strength will develop faster than it would on a nylon string.

If you want to know how to choose guitar strings for your guitars, then we’d recommend going for the lightest gauge possible. This means the strings are relatively the thinnest they can be and are therefore more forgiving on your fingertips.

Learning to play on an electric guitar

It can be quite tricky to learn on an electric because you’ll have to learn more than just the mechanics of playing the instrument. You have to learn to control the strings that aren’t being played so that you don’t create loads of extra noise through the amplifier. The pickups on a guitar are sensitive (don’t know what a pickup is? Click here!) and that means that if you aren’t careful, you can generate additional noise.

There are loads of songs that are played on an electric guitar and it’s a great way to spend your time relaxing at home or even learning to play in a band setup. If you want to play styles like blues, pop, indie, rock, metal or even jazz then you’ll be playing an electric guitar at some point. Here are some tips for choosing your first guitar.

The argument against learning on an electric is that you won’t develop lasting strength and stamina (like you would if you learn on an acoustic) but the truth is, you will. As long as you practice hard and keep playing – ideally every day - then you’ll develop the necessary technique to play.

How a setup affects learning the guitar

What you might not know is that the ‘setup’ will greatly affect how easy a guitar is to play. A well setup guitar means the strings will be the right height from the fretboard and therefore easier to play. If the strings are too high it means you will have to work harder to push them down and get the note to sound and if the strings are too close to the fretboard you’ll get a buzz-sound instead of the note.

The reason why a modern steel string or electric guitar might be a better option to start on than a cheap nylon string is that most cheao nylon strings can’t be setup. This means they can’t be optimised to learn on! So a modern acoustic or electric will be much easier to play and to learn on!

Conclusion

Ultimately, playing the guitar is all about having fun. You’re here to play music! So it doesn’t matter whether you learn on an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar, as long as you’re learning.

Once you’ve played for a short while you’ll know what you like and don’t like about playing the instrument and what you’re getting out of it. For example: if you end up loving strum-based pop tunes then focus on your acoustic playing.

If you’re enjoying playing solos or want to experiment with guitar effects and distortion and overdrive and all of those lovely things, then get to playing an electric guitar right now!

Our advice is to start on the acoustic and work towards the electric guitar depending on the style of music you like! Contact us if you have any questions and we’d be happy to help.

 

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