So, you want to learn the guitar. As far as life decisions go – it’s a good one (okay, we would say that). But what type will work best for you? Acoustic or electric? Let’s explore this and see what we find.
Differences & Similarities
Deciding which type of guitar will work best for you can be very exciting but also a bit confusing decision at first. Taking this into account, we've decided to delve into some of the pros and cons of each, which we hope can help all newcomers make a decision that works best for them.
If you’re a guitar newbie, you may not know much about the core features that can be unique to each type of guitar, as well those which are wholly universal to both. The body, neck, fretboard, tuning pegs and bridge can all vary to a degree. That is because small changes collectively can make a big change to the comfort of the player using the instrument, so get to know your guitars early on.
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Amplify & Resonate
The main difference, which we’re sure most of you will be aware of (it’s also kind’ve implied in the names), is that the electric guitar needs to be amplified electrically, allowing the guitar the sound louder and be distorted in a variety of way, whereby the acoustic relies on sound waves from the strings of to resonate through the instrument's body, amplifying the sound that way. Typically, a guitar's body is a sound box, of which the top side serves as a sound board that enhances the vibration sounds of the strings.
The electric guitar body is typically thinner than an acoustic guitar, allowing you to hold it as close as possible to your body whilst playing. It also requires less pressure to play notes, which can be heightened by the use of an amp. The body of an acoustic guitar tends to be hollow, thicker in feel and wider in circumference, which is necessary when you consider how the sound is created (see above). As it is today, both types of guitars come in a copious amount of shapes and sizes – some of which can challenge the outlines above – but as a general rule, you’ll find these descriptions to be true.
"My first guitar was a little wooden toy thing, bought in a haberdashery shop in Manchester in 1967, when I was four years old. Humble beginnings, as they say..." Johnny Marr
Try Before You Buy
Now, I’m sure most of you have spent hours watching your favourite guitar players on YouTube (that’s not just us right?) and marvelled at their incredible special edition, signature, limited release, hyper-customed, mega-expensive guitars and wondered when you’d be able to afford one of your own. The reality is, they almost all started with an inexpensive, humble instrument that they played for thousands of hours, gained their first hand callouses on, and look back on an incredible significant part of their development.
What we’re trying to say is: don’t overspend for the sake of it. Go into a guitar shop and try as many as your attendant can bear to give you. You’ll then be able to gauge the size, shape and weight of guitar that suits you best. That way, you can use those preferences to find an ideal purchase at a good price.
"My very first guitar was pretty much unplayable. I was 14 or something. My mom went to a pawn shop and got me a Harmony acoustic. I didn't know any better! It was one with an f-hole, and it wasn't a good one. They do make some good ones, but this was not a good one. I thought that it was just the way that guitars were. I could hardly push the strings down, and I figured 'man, these guys must be strong!" Mike Campbell, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Additionally, there’s the brass-tax argument for the acoustic that is kind’ve hard to ignore: they cost less money and you don’t need anything other gear to get going (picks don’t count). Are you someone who has a mind to start writing your own songs? If so, the acoustic guitar should really be your go-to songwriting partner. Ideas aren’t easy to come by – great ones, even harder – so having an acoustic around allows you to start exploring your ideas immediately. This may sound like a slightly trivial point, but once you start developing your own compositions, you’ll realise that exploring them as often as you can ensures that the best ones are more likely to appear. You’ll slowly realise that you have to burn hundreds of ideas before you arrive at a good one, and that each of those bad/average ideas all played their part.
Things to Know: A Checklist for Beginners
So, now you’re ready to purchase your first guitar there’s a few things you should know…
1. Type of Guitar: If you’re dead set of a style of play, make sure you do some research into the types of guitar that best support your intended outcome. Your favourite players should all have preferences that you could use as useful points of reference, so just look into what they started for some potentially influential insight.
2. Guitar Costs: Consider how much you want to spend and decide on a budget. Most professionals advise not to spend more than £300 on a beginner guitar. Once you’ve put the hours and have fully committed to your craft, buying a new guitar will be exciting and worthwhile for all the right reasons. See a new guitar as a prize for progression and you’ll concentrate on the work, rather than the tools.
3. Size: Both electric and acoustic guitars come in various shapes and sizes, so choosing the right size of guitar for you is an extremely important decision early on. As stated previously, go into guitar shops, pick them up and make sure you’re happy before you buy. An ill-fitting guitar as a beginner can unnecessarily affect a young players confidence before they even begin, so avoid this at all costs.
4. Measure Your Progress: Once you've started playing, it is important that you measure your progress as you develop. This helps you get into the really profitable routine of playing, evaluating and improving. Having goals that signify improvement are paramount to feed a players’ drive to improve. Do not underestimate setting regular benchmarks, no matter how small!
5. Ask Other Players: Do not be shy when asking other musicians, teachers and guitar shop staff what they think. Use their experience to provide another view you might not have thought of yourself. Whether you choose to use that information is up to you, but it’s always worth being as informed as possible.
We would love to hear your experience as a beginner. Did you learn the acoustic or the electric guitar first? What advice would you give to young players starting out now? What’s the best advice you ever received?
Have you read our list of the top acoustic guitar players of all time? Do you agree with it, or do you have any personal favourite that did not make the top spots?
Share your guitar journey with us today and you could have the chance to be featured in our #RockschoolStories series.