Acoustic or Electric? Advice for your first guitar

A common question from prospective students is, “Should I start with an acoustic or electric guitar?” There seems to be the traditional idea of beginning on the acoustic and then graduating to the electric. There are many variables and a few basic questions to consider when buying your first guitar so let’s dig a little deeper.

Musical styles – The style of music you want to play should factor into the type of guitar to play. If most of what you hear is played with acoustic guitars, then go with an acoustic. If you are hearing electric sounds then go with an electric. It is possible to play heavy metal on an acoustic guitar but most students want to “sound” like the guitarists on the recordings. Having a guitar that gets you excited to play is very important in keeping you motivated and progressing.

Size matters – The acoustic guitar can feel big and bulky to some students while the electric guitar might be thinner and easier to handle. There are many body sizes for both the acoustic and electric so you should sit down and hold a few of each to decide what feels more comfortable. The neck size can also make a difference and the neck on an electric guitar is usually a little narrower, but you might prefer the wider acoustic guitar neck if you have bigger hands. The strings are typically bigger with heavier gages on an acoustic guitar so you need to decide if hand strength will be an issue. There are also 3/4 size guitars available for younger students. Struggling with an instrument that is too big will usually end in frustration.

Volume control – The electric guitar is perceived as the loud instrument compared to the acoustic guitar. This isn’t always true when you consider that you can turn the volume down with the electric guitar and play quietly. If you want to play with a band, then you might want an electric so you can crank it up. The acoustic guitar can also be played with soft and loud volumes depending on if you are finger picking or strumming chords. You can learn to vary your picking attack to achieve loud and soft dynamics and it is still possible to keep the person in the next room awake while playing an acoustic guitar at night. You might not be able to play in a band setting with an acoustic guitar unless you have a pickup. The acoustic/electric guitar is a good fit if you need the ability to play loud but like the sound and feel of the acoustic guitar.

Portability – One of the advantages with the acoustic guitar is that you don’t need any extra equipment (amplifiers, cables and access to a power source). If you want to play by the fire on camping trips, on the beach or on the back porch then the acoustic might be your best bet. The electric guitar requires amplification so you should consider where you will be playing. There are small amplifiers available that sound great and some are even battery powered so the electric guitar can be portable, but does require bringing extra stuff.

Budget – This might be the first thing to consider before buying your first guitar. You can find acoustic and electric guitars that are very expensive and there will also be low budget options to start with as well. The electric guitar will need an amplifier and a cable so the starter acoustic guitar is usually the cheaper option if that is the game changer.

You can certainly learn how to play on either an acoustic or electric guitar but with thoughtful research and consideration, you will end up with an instrument you enjoy playing that will inspire you to be the next Jimi Hendrix or Taylor Swift.