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Acoustic Vs. Electric Guitars: Which Guitar Is The Best To Start Learning With?

One of the most common questions I get from new guitarists is, "should I begin on the acoustic or electric?" To be honest, there really is no right or wrong answer. But let's look at some of the differences to help us decide.

First, the biggest question is what kind of music do you like? If you want to learn to play like Metallica or Greenday, then it's obvious you need to get an electric guitar. If you want to play like James Taylor or Dave Matthews, then an acoustic would be the best route to go.

Parents, if you are helping your child decide what is best for them, be sure to ask them what kind of music they want to learn. Also, ask them if they know which kind of guitar they would like and why. Asking these questions has always helped me figure out which guitar would be a better fit for my students. Sometimes, people just want to play the guitar because it's "cool"-- or because they want to be a rock star. Or, maybe a friend is learning to play drums and they want to start a band together. In these cases I normally would recommend an electric. Motivation is the key here. Sometimes simply buying the wrong kind of guitar, can make a child lose interest in playing and then you are out the time and money. I've seen many parents, even with the best intentions, have a child start on acoustic when the child really wanted an electric and it normally ends the same way-- disinterest.

So, besides appearance, what are some of the important things to consider? Generally, you can play the same things on either guitar, and the basics are the same. The guitar is tuned the same and all the scales and chords you learn will be the same for either. However, the sound is different. What sounds good on one may sound weak, out of place, or downright silly on the other. When a lot of people think of guitar, they think of the guy who comes to the front of a stage in the middle of a song and plays a screaming solo. If this is the kind of playing you're looking to learn, then you need an electric. If you're wanting to learn to strum chords, kind of like the Beatles, then get an acoustic. Electrics tend to be played louder, more aggressively and have a raunchier dirty kind of sound. Acoustics tend to have a fuller, more natural sound and have a little more laid back kind of a feel.

The main advantage of an electric guitar when beginning to play is the string gauge. Electric guitars usually have strings that are much thinner than the strings of their hollow bodied brothers. This means that it's a little bit easier to push the strings down on electric. The strings are thinner, though, and may feel a little sharper than the thicker acoustic strings.

But, guitarists who start on electric and then pick up the acoustic sometimes find they have to develop their hand strength a little before they can get comfortable on the acoustic. One disadvantage of the electric, is that it is noisier. The pickups of an electric are much less forgiving of mistakes than an acoustic is. Because an electric is sensitive to every little nuance of touch, finger placement and pressure, tiny mistakes beginners make will ring more clearly on an electric than on an acoustic. Another disadvantage of the electric guitar is it's a little more expensive to get everything you need to start on it. Not only do you have to buy the guitar but you have to buy an amp and a guitar cable to go with it. On average it will cost $40-$80 more to start on an electric than an acoustic of similar quality.

The main advantage of an acoustic is it's portability. The acoustic can go almost anywhere and be played anywhere. So you can practice or perform wherever you'd like-- whether at home, on a trip, or around the campfire. There is no extra equipment required, just pick it up and play. Another advantage of the acoustic is the volume. I have never been asked to stop playing my acoustic because of noise-- even when in the dorms at college or playing in my apartment at two in the morning. I have been asked on several occasions to turn down my amp or to stop playing all together by a frustrated roommate or neighbor. However, if your main concern with an electric is noise, most amps have a headphone jack you can use to keep others happy. Getting a clean sound is a little easier on an acoustic than an electric. But, guitarists who start off on acoustics and then switch to electrics may find the required precision to control the noise a little difficult to handle at first. Another disadvantage of an acoustic is it's a bit quiet when playing in a band unamplified. So playing with a band (especially drums) may require extra equipment to be heard.

So there you have it, the main differences between starting on the acoustic guitar or starting on an electric guitar. What choice you make depends on:

The look you want: Are you going for the rock star look?
The sound: Do you prefer the pure natural sound or the crunchy distorted sound?
The tradeoff: Ease of pressing strings down, or more forgiving of mistakes?
Price?
Portability?

In the end, most guitarists who stick with playing a year or two, soon pick up the other kind of guitar as well. So, what you start on depends on what is most important to you.

Submitted by:

Darren Armentrout

For more guitar related articles by this author, answers to common guitar related questions, and free blank tablature and blank guitar charts visit http://www.fishmanmusic.com




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