So you’ve decided to become a guitar player and need to decide whether you should start on an acoustic or electric guitar.
Acoustic vs Electric guitar: Either type of guitar is great for a beginner, but understanding the key differences will help you choose the one best suited for you.
I was once faced with this choice. At 12 years old, I had just watched the Jimi Hendrix concert from Woodstock ’69 on TV. That day I became a guitarist, and since then, I’ve had a long professional career as a composer and producer. I play guitar as a part of my job almost daily.
When you’re starting out, consider the sound, playability, and the type of music you’d like to play when selecting your instrument.
Acoustic guitars produce sound through the vibration of strings, which resonates in the instrument’s hollow body. This results in a rich, natural tone well-suited for folk, country, and singer-songwriter genres.
Electric guitars generate sound with electricity, using pickups to capture string vibration and an amplifier to project the sound. This results in a diverse sound popular in rock, metal, blues, country, and pop music genres.
You should also consider the playability of each guitar type.
Electric guitars have thinner necks, lighter strings, and lower action, making pressing down on the strings and playing easier.
Acoustic guitars tend to have thicker necks and higher action, which may be more challenging for your hands but can help you build finger strength and enhance your playing technique.
The main difference between acoustic and electric guitars is their sound generation and amplification methods. This distinction also leads to several other differences in playability, tone, and versatility.
When playing an acoustic guitar, the sound is produced by the vibration of the strings, which resonates within the hollow body. This natural amplification creates a rich, organic tone often associated with genres like folk, country, and singer-songwriter music.
Acoustic guitars typically have a larger body and thicker strings than electric guitars, which can influence beginners’ feel and ease of playing.
Electric guitars feature solid bodies with magnetic pickups that convert string vibrations into electrical signals. These signals are then sent to an amplifier, which produces the sound. Electric guitars have thinner strings and slimmer bodies, making them easier to hold and play for some players.
The electric guitar offers greater versatility in tones and effects, making it suitable for a wide range of genres.
Types of Guitars
There are multiple types of guitars; classical, acoustic, acoustic-electric, and electric. While you may hear classical and acoustic guitars referred to as acoustic guitars, there are distinct differences between the two.
A classical guitar is an acoustic guitar that typically has nylon strings. It’s known for its warm and mellow tone, making it a popular choice for classical, flamenco, and folk music. The neck of a classical guitar is usually wider than other guitars, giving you more space for intricate finger movements and techniques.
The standard acoustic guitar uses steel strings, providing a brighter and louder sound than the classical guitar. Acoustic guitars are available in different shapes and sizes, affecting sound, playability, and comfort.
Here are some acoustic guitar benefits:
- Rich and full-bodied sound
- Ideal for fingerpicking and strumming styles
- Perfect for solo performances, intimate settings, and unplugged sessions
- No external amplification needed – pick it up and play!
- Microphone needed when recording an acoustic guitar
The acoustic-electric guitar is also known as an electro-acoustic guitar. It has a built-in pickup and preamp, meaning you can plug it into an external speaker or amplifier. This is helpful in live performances where a standard acoustic guitar’s sound might not be loud enough.
Some benefits of the acoustic-electric guitar are:
- Offers the same rich tonal quality as a standard acoustic guitar
- Provides an option to amplify the sound for larger venues
- Can be plugged into effects pedals, loopers, or recording equipment
- Slimmer neck and body compared to a standard acoustic guitar
Unlike the previous types of guitars, the electric guitar relies on electronic amplification to produce sound. It uses magnetic pickups to convert string vibrations into electrical signals. The signals are then sent through an amplifier and a speaker to create the guitar’s sound. Electric guitars are popular in rock, metal, jazz, and blues.
Features of electric guitars include:
- Variety of body shapes and sizes
- Typically has six strings, but can also be found with 7, 8, or 12 strings
- Easily customizable with different types of pickups and hardware
- Requires an external amplifier and speaker to produce sound
Strings, Materials, and Tuning
You’ll notice differences in the strings, materials, and tuning when choosing between an acoustic and electric guitar.
Acoustic guitars typically use steel strings, with the 3rd to 6th strings plated in bronze or brass. These strings produce a bright, resonant sound often associated with acoustic music.
Electric guitar strings consist of a steel or nickel core, with the 4th to 6th strings plated in steel or nickel. This combination provides the magnetic properties to produce sound through an electric guitar’s pickups.
The choice of strings also affects the playability and tone of your guitar. Thicker or heavier strings create a more powerful, rich sound but may be harder to play, especially for beginners. Lighter gauges offer greater ease of play but with a slightly softer tone.
You should experiment with different gauges to find what works best for your playing style. Also, learning to restring your guitar is an important aspect of being a guitarist.
Another important factor is the standard tuning of your guitar. Both acoustic and electric guitars have six strings and can be tuned to standard tuning – E, A, D, G, B, E, from the thickest to the thinnest string.
The tuning pegs on both guitars allow you to adjust the pitch of each string to achieve the desired tuning. Regular tuning keeps your guitar sounding its best and maintains consistency when playing with other musicians.
Classical guitars: Nylon Strings
For classical guitars, nylon strings are typically used. These strings produce a softer, mellow sound compared to steel strings. The top three strings of a classical guitar are made of nylon, while the bottom three are made of nylon with silver-plated copper wrapping.
This combination of materials provides a warm, smooth tone well-suited to classical and fingerstyle techniques.
Neck Design and Body Size
You’ll notice significant neck design and body size differences when comparing acoustic and electric guitars. These variations have an impact on the playability and the tone of the instrument.
In terms of neck design, electric guitars often have thinner necks than acoustic guitars. This feature makes it easier for you to navigate the fretboard, especially if you have small hands.
The thinner necks on electric guitars, combined with the smaller space between the strings and the fretboard, make them more suitable for fast and intricate playing techniques.
Acoustic guitars generally have thicker necks, as the increased width and depth provide added support and stability for the higher tension of steel strings.
This, in turn, affects the overall tone and projection of the instrument. While some may find thicker necks harder to play on, others may appreciate their fuller grip.
Body size is another key aspect when comparing electric and electric guitars.
Acoustic guitars have hollow bodies, which are larger and deeper than the solid bodies of electric guitars. This design allows for greater acoustic resonance and a more powerful, natural sound without amplification.
The larger body size may be more comfortable for some players, while others may find it harder to reach around, especially if you have a smaller frame.
Electric guitars, with their solid body construction, tend to be more compact and slimmer than their acoustic counterparts. This makes them easier to hold and maneuver while playing, especially when standing up or performing on stage.
The solid body also provides a foundation for various electronic components, such as pickups, that allow you to shape and amplify your sound as desired.
Playing Styles and Personal Preferences
The style of music you’re interested in and your goals as a guitarist should greatly influence your decision.
An acoustic guitar might be the right choice for rhythm guitarists and those who prefer to play songs with many chords. An acoustic guitar’s big hollow body helps create a full, rich sound. You’ll find that acoustic guitars are commonly used in folk, country, and singer-songwriter genres.
If you’re drawn to rock, metal, blues, or jazz styles, an electric guitar provides more flexibility when achieving different tones and effects. This is due to essential components like magnetic pickups, which allow the sound to be amplified and altered using various effect pedals and amp settings.
You may also notice that electric guitars generally have lighter strings, making them easier to play and bend, especially for melodic solos and lead guitarists.
One aspect to remember is the instrument’s size and weight. Acoustic guitars usually weigh between 3 to 6 pounds, while electric guitars range from 6 to 9 pounds. The difference in weight may affect your comfort level and playing experience, particularly if you plan on standing while performing.
Genres: The Best Guitar for Different Music Styles
As you explore various music genres, it’s crucial to understand which type of guitar best suits each style. This will help you achieve the desired sound and make your guitar lessons more fruitful.
The acoustic guitar is an excellent choice for many genres due to its natural, unamplified sound. It is ideal for singer-songwriters, folk, country music, and fingerpicking styles. For example, playing an acoustic guitar adds warmth, resonance, and depth to country and folk tunes.
Electric guitar finds its strength in various styles of rock, heavy metal, and even some types of jazz or blues. The ability to use effects, techniques like bending and sliding, and the added volume for band playing make it the best guitar for energetic and powerful performances. Rock and heavy metal typically feature electric guitar riffs, solos, and intricate playing techniques that showcase the instrument’s flexibility.
Remember that some genres and artists successfully blend acoustic and electric guitars. It’s common for a rock song to have an acoustic verse or intro before transitioning to electric-driven choruses or guitar solos.
Getting Started: Beginner Guitarists
Choosing the right first guitar can be crucial for a beginner guitarist. The acoustic or electric guitar type can greatly impact your learning experience and progress.
Younger players and new guitarists may find it easier to maneuver an electric guitar due to its slimmer neck and lighter body than an acoustic guitar. Moreover, electric guitars typically have lower string action, making it more comfortable for beginners to press down the strings and form chords. On the other hand, an acoustic guitar requires a bit more finger strength and dexterity.
If you are taking lessons with a guitar teacher, it’s wise to consult with them before purchasing your first guitar. They can provide guidance based on their experience and knowledge of your musical preferences and learning style.
While acoustic guitars have a simpler design without additional equipment like amplifiers or cables, electric guitars offer more versatility in sound and genre. If you are drawn to a specific style of music, such as rock or jazz, opting for an electric guitar might better suit your interests and facilitate your progress in mastering the techniques specific to that genre.
On the other hand, acoustic guitars have the advantage of being self-contained and work well across a broader range of musical styles. They produce a classic, natural sound that can be more appealing to some beginners. Also, acoustic guitars usually have a lower starting price than electric guitars, making them a more budget-friendly choice for new players.
Electronics in Acoustic-Electric and Electric Guitars
When examining the electronics in acoustic-electric and electric guitars, it’s important to understand the key differences. The sound is captured and transformed into electrical signals for both types by pickups installed on the instrument. However, achieving this differs between the two types of guitars.
In acoustic-electric guitars, also known as electro-acoustic guitars, piezo pickups are commonly used. These pickups capture the vibrations of your guitar’s strings and body, converting them into electrical signals. The piezo pickups are typically installed under the saddle or in the guitar’s bridge. This allows them to pick up a more accurate and natural acoustic sound.
Electric guitars feature electromagnetic pickups that convert string vibrations into electrical signals, which can then be amplified, processed, and sent through speakers.
This technology emerged in the early 20th century, leading to the creation of the first electric guitars. These instruments have evolved significantly, allowing for new innovations and changing how musicians play and create music.
These pickups detect the vibrations of steel strings and convert them into an electric signal. The resulting sound is amplified and can be adjusted to produce a wide range of tones.
Acoustic-electric guitars often feature built-in preamps, which boost the weak signals produced by piezo pickups. The built-in preamp generally offers EQ and volume controls on the instrument, allowing you to adjust your guitar’s tone and output level. You can achieve a consistent and balanced sound using the built-in preamp without needing extra equipment, such as an external preamp or DI box.
In contrast, electric guitars require an external amplifier to process and amplify their electrical signals, lending to a larger range of tonal and volume possibilities. The various electric guitar amplifiers and effects pedals can provide almost endless sound-shaping options.
Factors to Consider When Making a Choice
First, think about the style of music you want to play. Acoustic guitars are a great way to learn and practice folk, country, bluegrass, or classical genres. They have a sound hole and rely on the wood’s natural resonance to produce sound.
Style Of Music
Electric guitars are better suited for crunchy rock, metal, or blues, as they let you control the amplification and effects to create a wide range of sounds.
Ease Of Playing
Another important aspect to consider is the ease of playing. Electric guitars typically have thinner strings and a smaller body, making them more comfortable for beginners. They also require less hand strength to press the strings since the action is often lower.
Budget is another thing to keep in mind when selecting a guitar. In general, acoustic guitars are more affordable, as they don’t require additional equipment such as amplifiers or cables. On the other hand, electric guitars require an amp to be heard properly and fully take advantage of the different effects and tones available. Be sure to factor in these added expenses when choosing an electric guitar.
At the end of the day, the right guitar for you is the one that aligns with your musical preferences, comfort, and budget. It’s a good idea to test out a few of each type, if possible, to determine which one feels the best in your hands and provides the sound you want.
Remember that the only difference between the two types lies in their components and sound production; both require a commitment to learning and practicing. Whichever you choose, dedicating time and effort to your music will ultimately be the best way to excel in mastering the guitar.
Performing Live and Practice
Both acoustic and electric guitars have their advantages when it comes to live performances. You can easily plug electric guitars into an amplifier or soundboard, providing a high volume and consistent sound. This is particularly useful in larger venues where sound projection is crucial.
An acoustic-electric guitar offers a more natural acoustic sound during live performances. Players often value the acoustic-electric guitar’s authentic tone, especially when playing more intimate gigs or small venues. One of the key benefits is the ability to plug into an amplifier while maintaining the guitar’s natural sound qualities.
Electric guitars offer the ability to adjust the volume or use headphones. They also allow for more discrete practice sessions, making them suitable for shared living spaces or late-night practice.
Famous Guitarists and Their Instruments
When you think of famous guitarists, you probably associate them with acoustic or electric guitars. In this section, we will discuss some prominent musicians and their preferred instruments to showcase the unique qualities of both acoustic and electric guitars.
Ed Sheeran is a prime example of a modern-day musician who has achieved immense success using an acoustic guitar. He primarily plays a custom Martin LX1E, a small-bodied guitar with a solid top, perfect for his blend of pop and folk music.
The acoustic guitar’s rich tones, warmth, and versatility enable him to captivate audiences in intimate settings and large stages.
On the other hand, Eric Clapton is a legendary guitarist renowned for his bluesy solos and incredible electric guitar skills. Clapton has played various electric guitars, including the iconic Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it easier to learn on an electric or acoustic guitar?
This question has no definitive answer, as it greatly depends on your preferences and goals.
Some players find it easier to start with an acoustic guitar due to its simplicity, while others may prefer the electric guitar’s lighter strings and ability to produce different tones.
Ultimately, you should choose the one you are more interested in playing, encouraging you to practice and develop your skills.
Which type of guitar is best suited for beginners?
Both acoustic and electric guitars are suitable for beginners, and each has its own advantages. Acoustic guitars typically offer a more affordable option, and their simplicity allows you to focus on fundamental techniques and hand strength.
On the other hand, electric guitars offer a wider range of sounds and may be less physically demanding due to their lighter strings and smaller body. The best choice depends on your musical preferences and goals.
What are the main differences in playing techniques for electric and acoustic guitars?
While many techniques apply to electric and acoustic guitars, some differences exist. Acoustic guitars generally require a heavier touch and finger pressure due to the thicker strings and higher action.
Electric guitars, with their lighter strings and lower action, can be played with a lighter touch, allowing for techniques such as string bending, hammer-ons, and pull-offs to be executed more easily. Additionally, electric guitars offer more options for distortion and effects, which can influence your playing style.
Do acoustic and electric guitars share the same chord structures?
Yes, acoustic and electric guitars share the same chord structures, scales, and music theory concepts. The fingerings and shapes used for chords on an acoustic guitar can be applied to an electric guitar and vice versa.
However, due to its inherent tonal characteristics, certain techniques specific to electric guitars, such as power chords, may not be as applicable or recognizable on an acoustic guitar.
How long should one play the acoustic guitar before transitioning to electric?
Depending on your preferences and practice routine, there is no set timeline for transitioning from an acoustic to an electric guitar. Some players choose to master the fundamentals of guitar on an acoustic instrument before moving on to an electric guitar, while others may prefer to switch back and forth between the two regularly.
The key is to maintain a consistent practice routine and be open to exploring various techniques and styles on both types of guitars.
Are there any significant advantages of an acoustic-electric guitar?
An acoustic-electric guitar offers several benefits, such as versatility in playing styles, the ability to be amplified for live performances, and greater tonal control through onboard preamps and EQ features.
Additionally, acoustic-electric guitars can be played without amplification, allowing you to practice quietly or when an amplifier is unavailable.
The most important thing in choosing between an acoustic and electric guitar is understanding the major differences between the two and what suits your needs and preferences the best.
When selecting your first guitar, there is no wrong answer; the key is finding the one that inspires you to play and feels comfortable in your hands.
Acoustic guitars are a great tool for learning to play without additional equipment like amplifiers or cables. They emphasize the raw sound of the instrument and are widely used across various genres, such as folk, rock, and blues. Acoustic guitars are also typically more portable, ideal for traveling musicians or impromptu jam sessions.
Electric guitars offer a wider range of sound possibilities through amplifiers and effects pedals. They generally have slimmer necks and lighter bodies, which may be more comfortable for some players. They’re also popular for those interested in rock, metal, jazz, and various other genres.
Ultimately, choosing between an acoustic and an electric guitar is a personal decision based on your interests, playing styles, and musical preferences. The most important thing is to select a guitar that will inspire you to play and improve your skills.
No matter which option you choose, you can always transition to the other type later on as you grow as a guitarist.