There is always debate about whether it’s best to learn on an acoustic or electric guitar.
So, which is it?
There are pros and cons to both – and which is going to suit you best will depend on those pros and cons.
In the end it probably comes down to the style of music you want to play – and what is going to motivate you to continue to play in the early days.
If in doubt, go acoustic, I say, but before you decide, take into account the pros and cons of each.
Pros of Starting with an Electric Guitar
There are some things that make an electric guitar easier to play than an acoustic guitar. Which makes it an attractive option for learning.
Pro #1: Action
The action on an electric guitar is usually always lower than it is on an acoustic guitar. The action is essentially how far above the fretboard the strings are. On an electric guitar they tend to be closer to the fretboard.
This makes it easier to press the strings into the frets, therefore making it easier to play.
Pro #2: String Gauge
Electric guitars tend to use a slightly lighter string gauge, on average. Lighter strings have less tension. This again, makes it physically easier to press on the strings.
Pro #3: Neck Width
Electric guitars typically have narrower neck widths and a narrower neck depth. This can make it easier to play, especially for those with smaller hands. There is also a disadvantage to this as we’ll see later.
Cons of Starting with an Electric Guitar
There are also some downsides to starting out with an electric guitar.
Con #1: Price
Electric guitars are usually more expensive than acoustic guitars, especially to get something half decent. And making sure you get something with good intonation and that stays in tune is really important for a beginner.
Con #2: Extra Gear
You don’t get a lot out of an electric guitar if you don’t plug it in to an amp. So you’re going to need to buy an amp too – which adds to the price as well as adding to the research and purchases you have to make.
You’ll also need to buy leads to be able to plug it in.
Con #3: Having to Plug In
It’s only a small thing but having to plug your guitar in and turn the amp on can be a psychological barrier to actually playing compared to being able to just grab an acoustic and start playing. You can get around this to a large extent by keeping your electric plugged in on a guitar stand and then all you have to do is turn the amp on and your good to go.
Con #4: Neck Width
A narrower neck can make the guitar easier to play physically but it can also make it harder to be accurate with your fingering – and certainly more difficult for playing fingerstyle – so if that’s something you want to be doing, then the electric guitar is more difficult for that.
Pros of Starting with an Acoustic Guitar
Naturally these are going to mostly be the opposite of the cons of starting on an electric guitar, but let’s take a look.
Pro #1: Price
It’s typically cheaper to pick up a decent acoustic guitar and the fact that you won’t need an amp to play it also cuts down the cost.
Pro #2: Extra Gear
All you really need is your guitar and a few other things.
Pro #3: Easier to Learn a Wider Variety of Styles
It’s easier to learn to play in a wider range of styles – e.g. fingerstyle, using a pick, strumming etc. Maybe not as easy to learn epic guitar solos on – but overall a little broader (in this author’s opinion).
That said, you can always move onto the acoustic after playing the electric for a while.
Pro #4: Motivation
Since you don’t have to plug in, you can just pick up an acoustic and start playing. A good tip is to keep it on a guitar stand. If you keep it in a case, then that also becomes a psychological barrier to playing.
Cons of Starting with an Acoustic Guitar
There are also downsides to starting on an acoustic.
Con #1: Physically harder
As we saw above an electric guitar typically has a narrower neck, a lower action and lighter gauge strings. So, the acoustic guitar is typically harder on the fingers – both in terms of finger strength needed and also in terms of the soreness you get on the tips of your fingers.
There are a few ways around this con though, if you do decide you want to learn on an acoustic.
- Get strings that are easier to play in terms of gauge, type and tension
- Have your action lowered: This will make the acoustic much easier to play physically
- Buy an acoustic with a narrower neck width. They do exist and can make it easier if that’s the way you wanted to go. But just remember that it will make fingerstyle more difficult
That’s the main con for acoustic guitars.
But there’s one important thing that we haven’t discussed yet and that’s the style of music you want to play.
Style of Music Could be the Deciding Factor
If you only ever see yourself playing metal or rock and want to be a lead guitarist, then it’s probably best that you start on an electric guitar. You can still go back and learn to play the acoustic if you ever feel the need for it – but if your main aim is to play electric guitar music – then that’s probably the best place to start.
If you like the idea of learning to play folk music, classical, acoustic rock, country, etc or want to get a grounding in fingerstyle first, then the acoustic guitar, or even a classical guitar, is probably your best bet.
If in doubt go acoustic, IMO.
You will be more motivated to learn on an instrument that you enjoy playing more and an instrument that will be more suited to playing the style of music that you are more interested in learning. You’ll still need to learn a lot of fundamentals well – but your continuation on the instrument is greatly enhanced by choosing the one that captures your interest the most.
There are pros and cons to starting with either an electric or an acoustic guitar – and ultimately neither are a bad choice, IMO, and the final decision might come down to the style of music you are planning on playing.
And just because you start on one, doesn’t mean you can’t learn to play both, down the line.
If you’re really not sure what to start on, then I’d say start acoustic, but if you’re leaning towards one or the other, either one works as a starter instrument.
If you do decide to go acoustic, check out the link below to see what to look out for, when buying a beginner guitar.