Acoustic or Electric Guitar: Which Should You Start Learning On

Published Categorized as Buying Guides, Guitar selection

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Acoustic or Electric Guitar

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.

Table of Contents

Pros of Starting with an Electric Guitar

pros of learning on 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

cons of starting on 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

pros of learning on 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.

(More on what you need to get started playing guitar)

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

cons of starting on 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.

  1. Get strings that are easier to play in terms of gauge, type and tension (More on choosing the best strings for beginners)
  2. Have your action lowered: This will make the acoustic much easier to play physically
  3. 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 even after mastering easy electric guitar songs, 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.

Summary

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 my blog on Key Points for an Acoustic Guitar for Beginners to see what to look out for, when buying a beginner guitar.

FAQs

Should beginners start with acoustic or electric?

Whether beginners should start with an acoustic or electric guitar depends on personal musical preferences and goals. Acoustic guitars are often recommended for their simplicity and the fact they don’t require additional equipment like an amplifier. They’re great for learning basic chords and strumming techniques, and they’re often associated with folk, country, and singer-songwriter music. Electric guitars, however, generally have lighter strings and a slimmer neck, making them easier to play in terms of finger strength and fretting techniques. They’re ideal for genres like rock, metal, and blues. Ultimately, the best choice is whichever guitar inspires the learner to play regularly and enjoy their musical journey.

Should a beginner start with electric guitar or acoustic guitar?

Choose an electric guitar if you’re interested in rock, metal, or blues, as it’s generally easier on the fingers for beginners. Opt for an acoustic guitar if you prefer folk, country, or singer-songwriter styles and like the simplicity of an unplugged instrument. Your musical preference should guide your choice.

Is it easier to learn acoustic guitar before electric?

No, it’s not necessarily easier to learn acoustic guitar before electric; the ease depends on personal preference and the style of music you want to play.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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