Your First Guitar - Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
So you're interested in some guitar lessons and don't know whether to start on an electric guitar or acoustic guitar? Like many guitarists I began my musical journey on a classical/acoustic guitar and much later progressed to an electric guitar. Here at The Guitar Dojo we often hear that this is the "right way" to do things but is it true or just a myth?
It seems to be quite widely accepted that the acoustic guitar (and for the purposes of this article we will refer to both nylon and steel stringers as "acoustic") is harder to play and therefore should be the beginner's first guitar in order to strengthen the hands. There is an element of truth to this and so in terms of finger strength the transition from acoustic to electric can feel easier than the other way around. However in our opinion there are far more important factors that should be considered when making this decision and - let's be frank - you are going to find the development of finger strength a challenge in both cases.
Let's examine some of the pros and cons of each and see where we land!
The Benefits of Starting With Acoustic Guitar
- portability and ease of use
- less expensive to start
These are the key reasons that you might start on an acoustic. In general you would expect to be spending less money because there is no need for things like leads, an amplifier and perhaps an effects pedal or two. The guitar is also lighter and can therefore be easier for small bodies to handle.
If the intention is to transition to electric guitar later on then there are likely to be some challenges. There are a number of key electric guitar techniques that you will not generally be using when learning on an acoustic (bends and noise dampening being the most obvious). It might come as a shock to find that your beautifully strummed acoustic guitar chords can sound like a hot mess when played on an electric guitar through an amp!
The Benefits Of Starting With Electric Guitar
- thinner gauge strings and lower string action (how high the strings sit above the fretboard) make finger strength less of an obstacle for beginners
Aside from being a bit easier to play for beginners (all things equal) there are some challenges that come along with it. Beginners will quickly need to learn how to control noise from strings that are meant to be out of action (dampening/muting) and there are a larger variety of techniques to be learned on an electric guitar , not to mention the experimentation required to get a sound that you are happy with from your amp and effects.
Aside from a bit of a step up in terms of finger strength the transition from electric to acoustic should be relatively smooth if required.
What Are Your Longer Term Goals On The Guitar?
We have looked at a few of the key differences between acoustic and electric guitars but , when it comes down to it , your playing goals should be the main deciding factor.
The guitarist who wants to one day be a classical fingerstyle maestro has no business even bothering with an electric guitar and so the decision is easy. Likewise if your main goals are to take your guitar with you around the country and strum along around the campfire then the acoustic is the way to go.
On the other hand if you see yourself playing rock,blues and metal and your guitar idols are players like Eddie Van Halen , Dimebag Darrell, Jimi Hendrix or even John Mayer/Keith Urban then - all things being equal - our recommendation would be to go against conventional wisdom and start with an electric.
Learning the guitar can be a bit like going to the gym - it's tough starting out and finding the motivation can be a challenge when you are not seeing great results on a daily or weekly basis. But the results are fantastic if you persist. Choose the guitar that best motivates you to play!