So you’ve decided that you are going to take the leap and learn the guitar.
It is an exciting journey that is filled with joy and adventure. Just think of all the cool stuff you see your favorite players doing can be done by you someday, too.
Okay, so now what? You’ve decided you want to play.
The first question you think of is,
This is one of those questions that many people have strong opinions on.
There are old wives tales saying you should play an acoustic guitar first. And there are others that say you should definitely learn on the electric first.
So who’s right?
Well, let’s talk about the benefits and disadvantages of each before answering that question. They both have their own set of issues.
Let’s take a look at your contenders.
In this corner, wearing the blue trunks is a classic contender. It’s big and bold, has been around centuries and becoming increasingly popular in the last 100 years. Weighing in at a svelte 5-7 pounds…
Is the acoustic guitar right for you?
In the decision between acoustic or electric guitar, there is something about an acoustic guitar that resonates (no pun intended) with people. I know that some of my favorite players like Johnny Cash and Robert Johnson (for the classics) and Tom Waits and Tom Petty (for the contemporaries) all play acoustic guitar.
There are no wires, there are no amps, there are no electronics you need to have. If you want, you can just grab the guitar, head on the back porch, to the park or simply play it where you stand.
There is something pure about playing an acoustic guitar. It brings you closer to the earth. Just wood and wires and a song in your heart. It produces a beautiful, rich and pure sound that brings to mind.
Everybody loves the sound of an acoustic guitar. They are great songwriting tools. They’re excellent accompaniments for singing and playing. If you go to any coffee house, you’ll probably see a songwriter performing on an acoustic guitar.
“Great!” I hear you say. “You’ve made my mind up! I’m definitely getting an acoustic guitar!”
But what about the disadvantages?
The biggest disadvantage I can think of is that the simple answer is…
Now what I mean by that is the acoustic guitar is bigger, and the strings are thicker to produce the louder sound from the guitar.
The strings are thicker. And thicker strings are harder to play. They are a bit painful to play with fresh new fingers who are trying to put pressure on the string to get a sound.
You will experience discomfort in your finger when fretting chords and note on either instrument. However, the intensity is raised slightly when playing thicker, heavier strings found on an acoustic guitar.
Another disadvantage is the body is big. If you are a smaller person or a female, you may experience discomfort trying to wrap your arms around its bulky frame.
So those are some advantages and disadvantages. Let’s move to the electric guitar.
And in this corner, wearing the red trunks, weighing in at a solid body mass of usually 6-8 pounds, born deep in the heart of Texas, it has overtaken the violin in a list of most popular musical instruments in the world to learn, Ladies and gentlemen, I give you …
Continuing our debate on acoustic or electric guitar, the question remains… Is the electric guitar the right choice for you?
Ah, the electric guitar. The ultimate symbol of rock and roll rebellion.
When I think of electric guitar, I think of visionaries like Jimi Hendrix, Brian Setzer, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Slash, Prince and Eric Johnson.
Those players stand under the spotlight, lean their head back and just melt your face with some of the most blistering licks ever created.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
So let’s talk about some of the advantages and disadvantages of the electric guitar.
Alright, so the advantages are this: Opposite of the acoustic guitar, the electric is easier to play for several reasons.
The body of an electric guitar is smaller and thinner. Since you will be plugging it into an amplifier, it doesn’t need the large body to create the sound. So most of the electric guitars are much thinner.
In fact, the Stratocaster is an excellent guitar to play because of its contours on the back, the sides for your arm and stomach. It rivals being in the womb in terms of comfort.
Another part is the strings are thinner and smaller, once again due to the fact that you will be amplifying. You don’t need bigger strings to make a bigger sound (Although don’t tell that to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He used extremely thick strings to create his mammoth sound).
But typically when starting off, the strings are thinner. The neck is also thinner. So if you have small hands or are a smaller person, then the electric guitar is a fantastic choice.
When you plug that guitar is, you can alter the sound using tons of effects (such as distortion, delay, reverb, etc.). There are thousands of pedals that can pull you into a dreamland of sounds that you had no idea you could create using a guitar.
It has a wider sonic palate. You can make it sound like a synth, an elephant or a violin. I think of guys like Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine who creates amazing sounds never heard before from his electric.
“Great!” I hear you say. “You’ve changed my mind! I’m now definitely getting an electric guitar!”
Hold on there, Sparky…
The major disadvantage is this: you need amplification. This is something that you need to plug in to hear it. Naturally, this reason alone makes the electric much less portable to just pick up and go. (Unless you have a very, very long cable).
They are heavier than most acoustic guitars due to the solid body. So that may be a turnoff for some.
So which one should I pick?
My opinion? Remember when dealing with opinions, they are like armpits, everybody has ‘em and they all stink. So listen to opinions with a grain of salt.
My two cents is this: Which one you like the look and sound of better?
If you’re thinking of playing classic country like Johnny Cash, folk blues like Blind Lemon Jefferson, or more contemporary music like Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift or Jason Mraz, then maybe the acoustic is your best bet.
If you desire is to headbang or shred on electric blues or melt faces with epic rock riffs, the obvious choice would be to grab the electric.
But if we probe a little bit deeper, the one you should choose would be the one that you will want to play.
If I wanted to play the guitar, and someone bought me an acoustic when I wanted an electric, I might not be as interested.
So buy the one that you are interested in. Deal with the advantages and disadvantages of that instrument.
And then, once you feel comfortable with that instrument and enjoying the sounds you are making with it, go and buy the other one.
Think of these guitars like tools. So, the electric guitar could be a screwdriver. Very versatile and the acoustic could be a pair of pliers (also very versatile).
So get your toolkit set up, pick the one you want, knowing that down the road you’ll eventually have both.
But for now, make it easy on yourself. And get the one you want. You’ll be more inclined to play it.