Which Guitar is Best to Learn On: Acoustic or Electric?

Choosing the right guitar when you're just starting out can significantly impact your learning experience and progress. The shape, size, and playability of a guitar is a huge factor in making you enthusiastic for practice, and any guitar should be something you really want to pick up and play.

This guide explores the primary considerations between acoustic and electric guitars, helping you make an informed decision tailored to your musical goals and preferences.

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What’s the Difference Between Acoustic and Electric Guitar

Guitars broadly fall into three categories: Acoustic, Electric, and Electro-Acoustic. Each type caters to different musical expressions and styles and each has its own unique traits that make them the preference for both beginners and experienced players.

This guide explores the primary considerations between acoustic and electric guitars, helping you make an informed decision tailored to your musical goals and preferences.

Types Of Guitar

  • Acoustic Guitars

    Acoustic guitars are the traditional form of the guitar, crafted from wood with a hollow body that naturally amplifies the sound produced by the steel or nylon strings. They are celebrated for their rich, resonant tones and are commonly used in genres like folk, country, and singer-songwriter music.

  • Electric Guitars

    Electric guitars require an amplifier to project their sound. They generally have solid wood bodies, and the sound is produced electronically via a set of magnetic pickups. The strings on electric guitars are typically lighter and easier to press down, which can be easier for beginners. They are versatile and used in genres like rock, jazz, and blues.

  • Electro-Acoustic Guitars

    Electro-acoustics combine elements of both acoustic and electric guitars. They look like acoustic guitars but include built-in pickups that allow them to be amplified. This makes them versatile as they can be played acoustically or plugged into an amp.

    It's important to know that these are just different types of the same instrument, so the learning process is the same, as is the location of notes and chords on the neck. Each offers a different playing experience due to its physical shape and size, but the theory and core learning are the same.

Which Guitar is Best to Learn On: Acoustic or Electric? Closeup of a guitar fretboardWhich Guitar is Best to Learn On: Acoustic or Electric? Closeup of a guitar fretboard

What Type of Guitar is Best for Beginners?

Choosing between an electric or acoustic guitar as a beginner will influence the learning curve, so it’s an important decision to make, be it for yourself or if you're buying someone their first guitar.

  • Acoustic Guitar

    Acoustics are often recommended for beginners because they require no additional equipment, such as an amplifier, making them more straightforward and often more affordable to start with. There is a well-known belief they help develop finger strength and technique due to their string tension and neck size, though this is often disputed by ‘experts’ despite making perfect sense. Regardless, acoustics do generally have significantly heavier strings compared to an electric guitar and can be quite a workout for new players.

    Acoustics come in several body styles, with the Jumbo and Dreadnaught types being physically large, and often too big for younger players. The more compact Auditorium and Cutaway types are more forgiving and often can be purchased in half sizes specifically to suit really young players.

  • Classical - Spanish Guitar

    Providing a different feel and sound to the steel strings of an acoustic guitar, a classical guitar uses nylon strings, and will generally have a physically smaller body shape with a wide neck profile, designed to suit the fingerpicking styles of folk and country music.

    Due to their smaller form factor, they do often become the first guitar for many. They play and sound totally unique to a steel-stringed guitar, and their wider, flatter neck profile and fretboards can be quite a handful.

    Quite unfairly they are often looked at almost as toy guitars by many, and the limitations of nylon strings when trying to play certain music genres will put many players off, but they are simply a different take on the instrument, and offer a unique playing experience.

  • Electro-Acoustic

    Identical in size and shape to steel-string acoustics, as that's what they are, just with the addition of an electronic pickup and battery-powered preamp system that allows a direct output to an amplifier or PA mixer.

  • Electric Guitar

    Electric guitars, on the other hand, are generally easier to play than acoustics due to lighter strings, thinner necks, and smaller bodies. The body designs are often sculpted with cutouts for the belly and forearm to make them comfortable to hold for long periods, and there are many different neck shapes and fretboard radiuses available across models to further aid player comfort.

    They are also the preferred option for those interested in genres heavily centred around overdriven guitar sounds like rock or metal. The need for an amplifier and cables can add to the cost, but for serious learners, this investment can be worthwhile as it expands the potential for sound experimentation and growth.

What Type of Guitar is Best for Beginners? Max Acoustic Guitar in Sunburst being playedWhat Type of Guitar is Best for Beginners? Max Acoustic Guitar in Sunburst being played

Is an Electric Guitar Better than an Acoustic?

Whether an electric guitar is "better" than an acoustic, or vice-versa, largely depends on the user's musical preferences and goals. Electric guitars offer a wide range of sound effects and tones, which can be exciting for new players. They allow for easier manipulation of sound and typically require less physical strength to play, which can be greatly encouraging when starting out.

The downsides to this are firstly they need an amplifier to work, which is an extra expense, and depending on the cost of the instrument, they can be electrically noisy (hum) due to cheap components being used, which can be frustrating to players of any experience. They also require extra techniques with the hands to control unwanted sounds being amplified, which is an extra thing for newbies to deal with.

Acoustic guitars offer a very authentic experience, ideal for genres that thrive on pure, rich acoustic sounds like classical, folk, and country. They can be taken anywhere with no additional equipment needed and can be a real source of inspiration for budding songwriters. Their volume and expression are controlled by the input of the player, and they are extremely dynamic and responsive.

So no, an electric guitar certainly isn't better than an acoustic guitar, as they are very different animals. As a beginner, if you are only interested in rock or metal playing say, you should just go electric from the start as it's far more likely to keep your interest. If however, you want to learn all aspects of guitar, and want the freedom of no cables and equipment, go for an acoustic

Is an Electric Guitar Better than an Acoustic? Max Soloist Guitar with Red Flame Top being playedIs an Electric Guitar Better than an Acoustic? Max Soloist Guitar with Red Flame Top being played

How Much Should a Beginner Guitar Cost?

Beginner guitars vary widely in price, generally ranging from £50 to £500. Typically, a decent quality beginner guitar (acoustic or electric) can be purchased for around £100 to £200. Spending less than £50 for instance will generally get you a guitar that is difficult to play and may discourage learning due to poor build quality. On the other end of the scale, £500+ guitars are constructed with much better materials and craftsmanship but are a considerable outlay, especially for a beginner.

Avoiding the ultra-cheap, investing in a low to mid-range instrument often ensures a good balance between quality and value, making the learning process more enjoyable and effective. With the current market for guitars, you can get an acoustic guitar of surprisingly good quality for around the £100 mark, with beginner electric guitars including a starter amplifier for around £150 depending on style and specification.

It's a great time for beginners, as guitar quality has improved massively at the budget end of the market. The popular starter kits offer incredible value, with the inclusion of things like clip-on digital tuners, stands, carry bags, and small practice amplifiers in the electric guitar packages meaning you get everything you need.

How Much Should a Beginner Guitar Cost? Max Black Acoustic Guitar being playedHow Much Should a Beginner Guitar Cost? Max Black Acoustic Guitar being played

Understanding Guitars for Beginners

Learning the guitar involves various technical and practical considerations that can significantly influence both your experience and success. This section will explore crucial elements such as string types, guitar setups, and how these affect beginners.

Nylon or Steel Strings: Which is Best for a Beginner?

Nylon-string guitars are often associated with classical and folk music. They are far softer on the fingers due to the lower tension of the strings, making them a popular choice for young or novice players. Found on classical-bodied ‘Spanish’ guitars, which feature smaller bodies and shorter necks, they offer an all-together softer-edged playing experience, though this can curtail learning if you specifically want to play rock and pop for example.

Steel-string guitars, on the other hand, produce a brighter and louder sound, favoured in rock, country, and pop music. They require more finger strength and dexterity due to the higher tension, which can be initially challenging but beneficial for developing strong techniques. Many modern acoustics are designed with near identical necks to electric guitars, meaning the adjustment between playing one to the other is much less jarring.

Nylon string guitars are a great starting point for young children. The smaller size body and soft feel strings are ideal for those just starting out, and classical guitars are naturally much quieter than steel string guitars, so are less intrusive when in the hands of an enthusiastic beginner.

Steel-string guitars are where you will need to aim for in order to play rock, pop, blues, and any of the more popular music styles. Be it acoustic or electric, steel strings are the standard for guitar, providing the required amount of tension to allow harder playing, string bending, and easy amplification.

How a Guitar's Setup Affects Learning

The setup of a guitar plays a critical role in its playability. Factors like string height (action), neck adjustment, and intonation directly impact the ease with which a guitar can be played. A poorly set up guitar can significantly hinder a beginner's ability to learn, causing frustration and discomfort.

Most new players wouldn't even consider it, as people generally expect that something bought new will just be ready to go, but this is rarely the case with musical instruments, as every player's physical traits and requirements would be impossible to account for during manufacture, and the replacement of traditional music shops with online ordering has removed the play before buying experience.

Properly setting up a guitar involves adjusting the neck to ensure it is near straight, with the correct amount of back bow to allow for string vibration, setting the string height so it is comfortable to press down without causing excess buzzing, and ensuring the guitar is properly intonated (string length) so that it remains in tune across the fretboard.

Beginners are advised to get their guitars set up by a professional, at least initially. This optimises the learning experience, ensuring the instrument is as playable and comfortable as possible. While certain adjustments can be made yourself, things like string height on an acoustic for instance, are not possible without the correct tools and knowledge.

Selecting the right guitar involves understanding the differences in guitar types, how they align with your musical goals, and ensuring the instrument is in the best possible condition for ease of learning. Whether you choose an acoustic or electric guitar, the right setup and suitable string type can make your learning journey as rewarding as possible.

String Gauge

A huge factor of playing comfort is string choice, specifically the gauge (physical thickness), and it’s one that most beginners and many experienced players seem to be fearful of changing from what came supplied from the factory. This is a big mistake that can really hinder the playing experience, especially with acoustic guitars that seem to always be strung with monster-size strings from new.

Steel guitar strings are sold according to their gauge, with the thickness given in an imperial measurement of 1/1000th of an inch, stated as a decimal. So for example a ‘9 gauge string’ is 9/1000th or 0.009 inch.

The most popular standard full set of six strings for electric guitar is 10-46 gauge, fondly referred to as a pack of ‘10s’. This is a medium-light size which gives a good mix of play comfort and tension on most styles of guitar. Below that is the also popular 9-42 gauge, which is kinder on fingers so is a great size for beginners.

For acoustic guitars, things are slightly heavier, with 11-52 being sold as a set of light strings, and acoustics shipping from the factory with 12-54 or even ‘13s’ as standard. They do this as thicker strings increase natural volume and tone, and most acoustic players arent bending strings. It can still be a bit much though, especially for beginners, and a lighter set can transform the playing experience.

While strings for both guitar types are steel core as standard, you will find the coatings are different. Electric guitar strings are predominantly nickel-silver coated, for a bright tone and good magnetic conductivity over the pickups. Acoustic strings on the other hand are usually phosphor bronze coated, giving them a gold appearance and a warmer tone.

Matching the Guitar to Your Style

One of the first questions to ask yourself when choosing a guitar is what kind of music you aspire to play. This choice can greatly influence the type of guitar that will best suit your needs. While the layout of the notes on the neck stay the same, each type of guitar has a very different physical feel, and obviously, some require amplifiers to work, so your intended core musical style is a huge factor in what guitar you should be considering.

  • Acoustic Guitars for Folk, Country, and Singer-Songwriter Music

    For genres like folk, country, and singer-songwriter music, acoustic guitars are ideal because they provide a warm, vibrant tone that complements vocal melodies and can stand alone without the need for amplification. The acoustic guitar’s ability to produce a full, resonant sound makes it perfect for strumming chords or fingerpicking.

  • Electric Guitars for Rock, Blues, and Jazz

    Electric guitars, with their solid bodies and magnetic pickups, offer a different range of sounds and possibilities. They are the backbone of rock, blues, and jazz music, where the ability to manipulate sound with electronic effects comes into play. Electric guitars can produce everything from powerful overdriven tones for rock solos to clean, sharp sounds ideal for jazz and blues.

  • Electro-Acoustic Guitars for Versatility

    Electro-acoustic guitars are a hybrid that offers the portability and natural sound of an acoustic guitar with the option to amplify the sound like an electric guitar. This makes them particularly versatile and ideal for performers who play in various settings, from quiet coffee shops to large venues. They are the favourite of solo performers and street musicians.

Understanding Guitar Maintenance and Care

Maintaining your guitar is crucial, regardless of the type. Proper care ensures your guitar performs well and lasts a long time.

  • Regular Cleaning and String Changes

    Regularly cleaning your guitar and changing the strings will not only maintain its condition but also improve the sound quality. Acoustic guitars, in particular, can accumulate dust and dirt inside the body, which dampens the resonance.

    Sweat and old skin can quickly build up on the playing surfaces, and apart from just being disgusting, can cause metal parts to rust. Electric guitars require attention to their hardware, such as the bridge and tuning pegs, to keep everything functioning smoothly.

  • Humidity and Storage

    Guitars are made of wood, which can be sensitive to environmental changes. Proper storage in a case and managing humidity levels can prevent warping and other damage. This is especially important for acoustic guitars, which are more susceptible to changes in humidity and temperature. Don't leave them sitting in a window, or next to a radiator, as you can easily dry an acoustic out enough to crack the body or warp the neck.

    Electro-acoustic guitars are a hybrid that offers the portability and natural sound of an acoustic guitar with the option to amplify the sound like an electric guitar. This makes them particularly versatile and ideal for performers who play in various settings, from quiet coffee shops to large venues. They are the favourite of solo performers and street musicians.

Conclusion: The Journey of Learning Guitar

Choosing the right guitar involves balancing many factors, from the type of music you want to play to the ease of use and the kind of maintenance you are prepared to undertake. Whether you choose an acoustic, electric, or electro-acoustic guitar, understanding the nuances of each can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your musical aspirations and budget.

Begin your guitar journey with a clear understanding of your goals, and don't hesitate to seek advice from more experienced musicians. As you grow as a player, your first guitar will likely be just the beginning of a lifelong exploration of music.