Guitars and pianos are the staple beginner instruments around the globe. In the US only, an estimated 2.6 million guitars are sold annually. Maybe you are also among those millions of music enthusiasts who have recently decided to pick up a guitar. Yet, you may be confused about which kind of guitar is right for a beginner. Which would be the easiest to learn? Probably, you have heard of the terms ‘acoustic’ and ‘electric’ and even browsed some guitars brands. But there’s a lot more to it than just choosing between acoustic and electric.
The question plaguing beginner guitarists, “what type of guitar is easiest to learn?” Both acoustic and electric guitars have distinct characteristics. Each has its benefits and its shortcomings when it comes to learning. Electric guitars cannot be played by their lonesome. Acoustic guitars lack versatility. Electrics are faster to pick up while acoustics help you master. But that is not all. The artistic direction of your music, comfort, and playability are all things that will shape your learning experience. To truly know the differences between these two types, along with some tips to help along with your choice across the guitar spectrum, this article discusses the factors that will point you in the right direction.
There are two myths most beginners will hear surrounding this debate.
When someone says the acoustic is better, they usually give the following reasons. It builds up strength in your fingers and helps to develop calluses quicker. The acoustic requires more pressure and therefore by learning an acoustic, you are future-proofing yourself for the electric. If you are slick and speedy on an acoustic, you will be much more so on an electric.
When someone says the electric is better, they often preface it by saying it is much faster to learn. You can learn to play a song in a few days and the acoustic is just way too hard.
Well, they are not entirely untrue. But they also don’t give us the full picture. The main problem with the ‘myths’ is the idea that these oversimplified statements should be your deciding factor when you buy a guitar. These reasons ignore the driving force of why anyone wants to learn anything, especially a guitar.
The guitar easiest to learn is the guitar that caters to you. You probably have a sound in your mind or have a feeling of ‘this is the one for me’ just by hearing and seeing guitars. Your learning will depend on your interest and especially, how long you can sustain that interest.
It is no use to buy a guitar you have to force yourself to pick-up from the guitar stand because both will require time and effort. Even if an electric might be easier, if you prefer the mellower sound of the acoustic, you won’t feel motivated to learn. Likewise, learning an acoustic to develop strength does not make sense if what you really want to do is learn to rock out and head-bang. With enough practice, any outcome is possible if you love your instrument.
Then, of course, there is the matter of budget— electric guitars are a big investment from the get-go, with additional essential equipment, and for many people only learning on the side as a hobby, it does not make sense to go big on the bucks so early. Acoustic guitars have beginner-friendly prices but that does not mean you should go for the cheapest brand acoustic you find, because that will sully the learning experience for you if you are always worried about this part or that part not working right. Or sacrifice your desire to learn the electric guitar in favor of saving some money. Chances are that acoustic will just sit on its stand and that bit of money will have been wasted anyway.
While the rest of this article will go in-depth about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of guitar, as well as some additional things to consider, the takeaway here is that which guitar is easiest to learn depends on your criteria for learning as an individual.
Guitars are composed of the same essential parts: strings, body, neck, fretboard, and headstock. The fundamental difference is that electric guitars have the electric circuit, hence the name.
The character of each guitar type and their respective pros and cons are outlined below:
Acoustic guitars are the largest body guitars. They do not require a connection to an amplifier in order to produce sounds. The resonant wooden body of the guitar allows it to project sound through the air when the strings vibrate against the soundboard. The soundboard is the ‘top’ of the guitar and the area where the soundhole is placed. The inside of the guitar is basically hollow. It serves as a soundbox in which the sound waves are reflected.
The acoustic guitar is the one most people start out with. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the cost and lack of gear. Acoustic guitars cost about half as much as their electric brothers and virtually do not require anything for you to start learning. Spare strings and capos are about the only thing you will need to buy extra for acoustics.
Secondly, because it does not need a connection, you can hear the sounds in real-time. If you press a note correctly, you can fix it immediately. Since the strings in acoustics tend to have more space between them, it is the best for practicing scales, chords, chord progressions, and riffs. In terms of technique, starting with an acoustic is a really good idea even though it might be a steeper learning curve right at the beginning.
The skills you develop with an acoustic will carry over to electrics as well. All you would need to do is adjust to the playability and size difference of electrics but the same cannot be said vice versa.
As stated previously, the learning curve is steep. The strings are placed farther apart so your fingers really have their work cut out for them. Playing for even a few minutes can be painful at first because of the hard steel strings and your fingers will have to use muscles it has never used before to stretch far apart enough to play chords. This is not a bad thing. Eventually, this will allow your fingers to pick up the immense skill and proper fretting technique. However, for many beginners, this is a deterrent because you have to put in hours of practice before you can even begin to play a song. It requires a certain level of diligence and resolves for acoustics at the very start.
Electric guitars make use of electrical signals in order to produce sound. That is why in order to perform with an electric guitar, an amplifier is essential. It has ‘pickups’ which are transducers that literally pick up the mechanical vibrations of the strings. It then converts that input into an electrical output signal that is either amplified or recorded directly. As such, these signals can be modified which is why effects like reverb and distortion are possible.
The main advantage to learning with an electric is that right at the start, it is easier to play. If the strings are not ringing out loud enough, you can just turn up the amp volume and hear yourself. This means you get to know the joy of playing along to songs at a very early stage. This is great motivation to keep playing an unfamiliar instrument.
Electric guitars are the most versatile. Due to the electric nature, you can equalize your sound to your liking. You can add effects and distortions which are what gives the distinct stylizations during guitar solos so unique. This is a goal for many guitarists. The type of genres in which electrics revel in, like metal and rock, acoustics just don’t make the cut.
The biggest disadvantage is certainly the amount of investment electrics need. You need an amplifier, tuner and guitar lead. These alone rack up the cost to double that of acoustics even if you are buying a relatively cheap electric.
You lose out on the basics. The tradeoff of playing easy from the start catches up to you eventually because it will take you much longer to reach mastery with an electric. The problem lies with the fact that the convenience of being able to manipulate the electrically produced sounds will cover up your lesser mistakes. Since you cannot fix something if you aren’t made aware of it. The basics are the root of all learning. Pro guitarists build on their basics to take their playing to the next level.
Go for the guitar that you think you will use the most. At the end of the day, the one who practices is the one who learns.
So far, we’ve talked about the advantages and disadvantages. As you read, you may have found yourself almost sneaking to a certain decision. That should be an indicator of where to go. Since you as a learner know yourself the best, only you can decide which would help you achieve results fastest. If you have the patience and drive to master guitar basics, the acoustic would be the choice. But if you think you cannot get the image of playing rock riffs on an electric out of your head, then electric guitars are the right one for you.
Before you decide though, it is a good idea to go to a shop and try playing both types of guitars. The feel of it in your hands and the tone will give you a good idea of what you can see yourself doing long term.
The ease of learning depends on the learner. Just like how many artists start with a brush and others start with a pen, the one that you feel a calling for is most likely the one you’ll play the most. The stylistic direction, budget, and playability are all factors that will affect your choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to both so don’t be afraid to go for one over the other.