Electric vs. Acoustic Guitars: Which One is Right for You?

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Are you learning how to play the guitar? You might wonder whether you should choose an electric or an acoustic guitar. Both instruments have unique benefits and drawbacks, so it can be tough to decide between them. Which one is the better choice for learning how to play guitar?

Both electric and acoustic guitars are suitable for learning how to play guitar. An acoustic guitar is an excellent choice for a beginner due to its simplicity and ease of use. However, an electric guitar may be easier to play due to its thinner strings and lower action. The choice ultimately depends on individual style preferences.

We will compare electric and acoustic guitars and help you decide which is best for your needs. The primary differences between the two are straightforward, but there may be a few things you have not considered. Keep reading to learn more.

What is the difference between electric and acoustic guitars?

It’s all about the sound.

The main difference between electric and acoustic guitars is how they produce sound. Acoustic guitars have a hollow body that amplifies the sound of the strings, while electric guitars rely on electronic amplification. 

The acoustic guitar is designed to be played without an amplifier, hence the name “acoustic.” In a performance setting, an acoustic guitar can be amplified with an instrument microphone and PA system or amplifier. 

With an electric guitar, you need an amplifier to create a sound. There are ways to play an electric guitar without an amp, but in general, an amplifier is required with an electric guitar.

Musical genre

Acoustic guitars are frequently used for folk and country music. You’ll also hear the acoustic guitar well-represented in early blues, such as the music of Robert Johnson or Lead Belly.

The acoustic guitar is also used in rock, although often in ballads. Think of “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls, “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” by Green Day, almost anything on the “Jar of Flies” album by Alice in Chains, or “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses.

Electric guitars are widely used across musical genres, especially in blues, rock, and metal. 

Although you might think “rock” when you see an electric guitar, many jazz guitarists are well known for their electric guitar style. Consider jazz legends such as John Scofield, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Allan Holdsworth, Bill Frisell, and John Abercrombie. 

Playing style 

Many acoustic guitar players employ fingerstyle or fingerpicking techniques, meaning you use your fingers to pluck the strings instead of a pick. 

Most electric guitar players use a pick to play. Although, as we recently discussed, some guitarists prefer to play electric guitar without a pick.

Fingerstyle will be right at home on the acoustic guitar. In comparison, sweep picking, hybrid picking, and other speed picking techniques will be more appropriate for the electric guitar.

Rules are made to be broken, and you will find all kinds of examples of players pushing the boundaries. So don’t stress about it too much, and pick the type of guitar you like best. Or better yet, buy an acoustic and electric guitar.

Do you need to start with an acoustic guitar?

Many new guitar players consider whether or not to start with an acoustic or electric guitar. Perhaps because the acoustic guitar has been around longer, there is the assumption that one should start there.

An acoustic guitar is more straightforward than an electric guitar. For the most part, there are no knobs, switches, or other controls that you find on an electric guitar. There is just wood and wires. Simplicity.

For this reason, an acoustic guitar makes a perfect starting guitar. With an acoustic guitar, you can learn the basic open chord shapes, start learning scales, barre chords, and maybe even some soloing. 

You might develop your picking-hand technique by learning songs that use fingerstyle playing or some classical guitar pieces. You’ll also build up the strength of your fretting hand.

You’ll be inspired to learn all the great acoustic guitar intros and songs such as “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac or just about anything by Neil Young. 

If all that sounds good, you have your decision. You need an acoustic guitar. Or, keep reading to see if an electric guitar is right for you.

Learning to play with an electric guitar

While learning how to play guitar with an acoustic is one path, learning with an electric guitar is another way to experience the instrument. If you want to play rock, metal, or anything else that uses distortion, then an electric guitar is the way to go. 

As noted above, many jazz musicians also play the electric guitar. You’ll be in good company even if you’re playing with clean tones.

With an electric, you can easily modify the sound of your guitar by adding effects pedals and changing amp settings. This is part of what makes it so much fun.

As with anything, the ability to change your tone can also be a distraction. As a new player, it’s best to spend most of your time practicing and developing your skills. Fiddling with effects can be a lot of fun but can take away time from your practice routine.

Since an electric guitar needs an amplifier, it’s not quite as portable as an acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitars are typically played unplugged, so if you want to play anywhere without an amplifier, this is the route for you.

It ultimately comes down to what sounds best to you and what type of music you see yourself playing. If you’re still undecided, then the best option is to try out both types of guitars and see which one you prefer. 

Are electric guitars easier to play than acoustic?

Electric guitars are typically easier to play than acoustic guitars. With lighter strings and lower action, electric guitars are easier on your fingers. You don’t have to press the strings down as hard to make a sound. 

Many electric guitars have ergonomic shapes, making them more comfortable to hold and play. However, some modern acoustic guitars have added contours and cutouts, increasing the playing comfort.

Electric guitar necks are thinner than their acoustic counterparts. This makes it easier to play fast and more comfortable to play barre chords.

If you are wondering how the electric guitar shape evolved, we delved into why electric guitars are shaped the way they are.

Are electric guitar strings different from acoustic?

Acoustic guitar strings are made of a bronze alloy, and the top three are plain steel. The 80/20 bronze acoustic guitar strings are so named due to the combination of copper and zinc that make up the alloy. Phosphor bronze strings are a bronze alloy with phosphorous added. The addition of phosphorous inhibits corrosion, making the strings last longer.

Electric guitar strings are commonly made of a nickel-steel alloy. The strings have a steel core and are wound with nickel. As with acoustic guitar strings, the top three are unwound steel.

For players just starting out, the main difference between acoustic and electric guitar strings is that the strings on an electric guitar are typically lighter than those on an acoustic guitar. Beginning players may find electric guitar easier to play for this reason.

However, starting with an acoustic guitar, you will build up the callouses on your fingers. Later, switching to an electric guitar will be a piece of cake.

Electric guitars need an amplifier.

One reason to choose an acoustic guitar for your first guitar is that it’s all you need. An electric guitar needs an amplifier, as we discussed above. Buying an acoustic guitar is all you need to create a sound. 

An electric guitar requires the purchase of an amplifier which can make the total cost more expensive than just buying an acoustic guitar. 

On the other hand, with an amplifier and some effects pedals, you’ll be able to modify the sound of your guitar. This gives you a little more flexibility and variety if you choose to start with an electric guitar.

Are electric guitar notes the same as acoustic?

People unfamiliar with the guitar might think electric and acoustic guitars are entirely different instruments. But in reality, they are variants of the same instrument. 

This means that notes on electric and acoustic guitars are exactly the same. There is the same number of strings (typically six), the tuning is the same, the number of frets is the same, etc. 

So if you learn the acoustic guitar, you will also know how to play the electric guitar. The electric guitar has some additional controls to contend with, but it’s nothing you can’t learn how to use.

Electric and acoustic techniques can be a little different. But in essence, if you learn one, you know the other. 

What is an acoustic-electric guitar?

There is an additional category of guitar we have not mentioned–the acoustic-electric guitar. This is just an acoustic guitar with electronics similar to an electric guitar. 

With an acoustic-electric guitar, you can plug it into an amplifier just as you would with an electric guitar. This gives you the best of both worlds and some ways. 

You can play the guitar unplugged, just as you would with a standard acoustic guitar. Or you can plug it in for performances or if you are playing with a band. 

Do electric guitar strings work on acoustic?

In theory, electric guitar strings could work on an acoustic guitar too. However, since electric guitar strings are lighter, you would probably need to adjust the neck of the acoustic guitar to compensate for the lighter gauge strings. You would be better off simply buying a set of lighter-weight acoustic guitar strings.

Electric guitars are typically easier to play than acoustic guitars because of the lighter strings and lower action. Low action It means the strings are closer to the fretboard. This makes it easier to push down on the string.

If acoustic guitar strings are causing you a problem, you may want to try an electric guitar or even a nylon string classical guitar. Both will be a  little easier to play than a steel-string acoustic.

Can an electric guitar sound like an acoustic?

If you already have an electric guitar, and you don’t want to spend the money on a new acoustic, or you just want to experiment with an acoustic guitar sound, there are ways to make your electric guitar sound like an acoustic.

Electric guitars give you access to an incredible variety of tones. With amp simulators, you can make your guitar sound like just about anything. 

There are some acoustic guitar simulators out there. For example, BIAS FX has an acoustic amp simulator built into it. The Spark amp (also by Positive Grid) has an acoustic simulator as well.

Should I buy an acoustic or electric guitar?

Deciding between an acoustic or electric guitar can be a difficult choice for some guitar players. With an acoustic guitar, you reduce the playing experience down to the essentials. You can concentrate on learning chords, scales, songs, and essential techniques. 

With an electric guitar, you have access to a wide variety of sounds and digital effects. Electric guitars are typically a little easier to play due to the lighter strings and low action. However, sometimes all of the digital effects, apps, amp simulators, amplifiers, etc., can be a distraction. 

If you’re just starting out, the simplicity of an acoustic guitar may be the perfect way to go. Whichever you choose, just practice consistently and work on developing your song repertoire. With practice, either one can bring you years of enjoyment.