Learning to play guitar is an exciting moment in any musician’s life. So, you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and start strumming – but first, you must answer the age old question: Should I choose an acoustic or an electric guitar? You may hear a ton of arguments from folks advocating for one versus the other. However, the choice is up to you.
Not to worry! In this article, we’ll arm you with all the info you need to help you choose a guitar that’s right for you. We’ll cover the similarities and differences between acoustic and electric guitars, as well as some of the benefits and drawbacks of learning to play on each of these instruments.
Want a quick primer on acoustic vs electric guitar? Watch this video with Fender instructor, Dr. Molly Miller as she breaks down some of the features of acoustic and electric guitars.
Similarities and Differences of Acoustic vs Electric Guitars
Sure, both acoustic and electric guitars are both, well… guitars. While they share quite a few similarities, they also have some key differences that make them appealing to musicians across the board.
Similarities between Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Let’s start with the more obvious similarities between acoustic and electric guitars. If a four-stringed bass guitar is a close cousin to these two instruments, then think of the acoustic guitar and electric guitar as siblings that share much more common DNA.
Both an acoustic and electric guitar have:
• Six strings
• Tuning pegs that allows you to alter the pitch of each of those six strings
• A fretboard
• Frets, which are small strips of metal that indicate sound intervals
The biggest similarity between acoustic and electric guitars, however, is that both require a commitment to learning and practicing. Regardless of whichever variety of guitar you choose, you’ll adopt a new vocabulary of chords, scales, and techniques that can be applied to both acoustic or electric guitar.
Whether you love the rich resonance of an acoustic guitar or the blast of power that comes from plugging in an electric guitar, practice is essential to improving your prowess as a player. To make the most of your practice sessions:
• Be consistent. Create a practice schedule and stick to it. Whether it’s 15 minutes a day or 30 minutes every other day, practicing and playing a little every day will help you to level up faster than going for long stretches without picking up your guitar.
• Record yourself – and your progress. Persistence pays off. But sometimes, it can be hard to gauge just how far you’ve come without having a look back. Record one of your earlier practice sessions on your phone. Then play it back a month or two later to see how you’ve improved!
Fender Play can help make it easier to commit to regular practice sessions and track your progress. Bite-sized video lessons are designed to make it easy to practice regularly – for as long or as little as you can fit in your day. Built-in features like the Chord Challenge mode help you measure your progress. See if you can beat your high score as you develop speed and accuracy transitioning between chords.
Differences between Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Going back to the analogy that, if the bass guitar is a cousin, then acoustic and electric guitars are siblings. And like siblings in any family, there are some key differences between them:
• Hollow body vs. solid body: Acoustic guitars are easily recognizable by their sound hole, often placed directly in the center of its hollow wooden body. This sound hole is what helps create the vibration, volume, and resonance needed to create the sound of an acoustic guitar without amplification. On the flipside, electric guitars have a solid body that houses the electrical mechanics that produce its unique sound. Instead of a sound hole, an electric guitar uses pickups, metal bars on the body of the guitar to “pick up” the vibrations of the guitar strings and convert them into electrical signals played through an amplifier.
• Body size and lap comfort: Acoustic guitars are a bit thicker and bulkier in their construction, whereas an electric guitar is flatter. An electric guitar may weigh slightly heavier on your lap compared to an acoustic, but it can still lay closer to the body without having to drape your arm over the guitar in order to strum.
• Neck size and string width: Often, an electric guitar has a thinner neck and there is less space between the strings and the fretboard, as well as less distance between each of the six strings. By comparison, the neck on an acoustic guitar is often thicker compared to its electric sibling. As a consequence, the strings are spaced further apart and there is greater distance between the fretboard and the strings. That means you’ll need to press down harder on the strings of an acoustic guitar in order to fret a note.
• Portability: With an acoustic guitar, all the gear you need is contained within your guitar itself. Simply pick up your gear bag and head out to a practice session! While an electric guitar is certainly just as portable, you’ll also need to carry an amp, cables, and pedals with you in order to plug in and play.
When it comes to practicing and playing, there are some key differences between acoustic and electric guitars.
• Power chords vs. traditional chords: Acoustic guitar lends itself to big, beautiful chords comprised of three notes played together across multiple strings. While you can certainly play standard chords on an electric guitar, it’s more common to play two-note power chords that deliver more punch – perfect for heavy, amplified sound and the perfect way to spice up a riff!
• Rhythm vs. lead guitar: Building off of the differences between standard chords and power chords, you’ll find that electric guitar is often a better fit for musicians who love to play the riffs and solos associated with lead guitar. Rhythm guitarists, on the other hand, have more of a focus on playing chords beneath the notes and riffs associated with lead guitar. With that in mind, acoustic guitar is well-suited for players who want to build their chord vocabulary and make use of the rich tones of their instrument. That’s not to say that acoustic guitar is only for rhythm players. Just take a listen to the arpeggios and fingerpicking styles heard on flamenco guitar or classical guitar!
• Finger playability: As mentioned before, due to the differences in the width and circumference between acoustic and electric guitars, there are differences in string width and distance from the fretboard. Because acoustic guitars typically have a wider, thicker neck and the strings sit higher above the fretboard, it requires more pressure to fret a note. On the flipside, because electric guitars have a thinner neck, less distance between strings and the strings sit closer to the fretboard, it requires a lighter touch and less pressure in order to play a note. Having a shorter distance between strings means it can be easier to play a lightning-fast solo on an electric guitar than it would be to play on an acoustic.
Genres for Acoustic vs Electric Guitars
You know it when you hear it. From the squeals and string bends of heavy metal, to the lilting harmonies of folk music, to the twang of bluegrass, there are just some instantly recognisable traits of different genres of music. Your favorite genre may give you a nudge to start your musical journey with either an acoustic or an electric guitar.
Here are some of the genres most commonly associated with each type of guitar, although there are some areas of overlap between the two.
You might want to play an acoustic guitar if your favorite genre of music is:
Bluegrass and fingerpicking
Electric guitar might be your instrument of choice if your favorite genres include:
Grunge and alternative
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Pros and Cons of Acoustic Guitars
It can be a tough call to decide between playing acoustic or electric. Looking at the pros and cons of each type can help make your decision easier.
Benefits of Acoustic Guitars
No Amp is Required for Acoustic Guitars
Whether you’re practicing at home or jamming with friends, you don’t need an amp to play an acoustic guitar. Everything you need is self-contained in an acoustic guitar. Simply swing on the strap and get strumming!
Acoustic Guitars are Easier to Fingerpick the Strings
If you love the sound of flamenco or bluegrass fingerstyle picking, an acoustic guitar more easily lends itself to that type of play. Because the strings on an acoustic guitar are spaced further apart, it gives players more room to maneuver.
Acoustic Guitars are Easier to Practice On
Okay, there are some caveats here, as it isn’t universally true for all players. From a practical and equipment-based standpoint, acoustic guitars are easier to practice on in that they don’t require any amps or pedals to hear notes ring out to their full potential. In terms of helping you to develop your ear and hear what a note is supposed to sound like, an acoustic guitar makes it easier to practice. However, keep in mind that an acoustic guitar may require additional pressure on the strings due to their distance from the fretboard, which may make it harder to play an acoustic guitar if you have small hands or have not yet developed your finger strength and dexterity.
Different Tunings Allowed on an Acoustic Guitar
You may think that electric guitars have the market cornered when it comes to alternate tunings. That’s not the case! While metal fans may sometimes use Drop D tuning to more easily play power chords, many of those same alternate tunings can be used on an acoustic. If you favor acoustic folk and indie, you may want to try tuning your guitar to Open D, a tuning favored by folk icon Joni Mitchel and modern indie faves like Mumford & Sons.
Able to Use a Capo on an Acoustic Guitar
A capo is a device that clamps onto the neck of your guitar to alter the pitch of your strings without having to mess with alternate tunings. While capos can be used on both an acoustic guitar and an electric, they each require different types of capos. An acoustic capo works with guitars that have a rounder neck – like an acoustic – and is more complementary to the higher string tension of an acoustic guitar. You can place an acoustic capo further down the neck of your guitar without creating an unpleasant sound. On the flipside, capos made with electric guitars in mind, generally have a shorter circumference because less pressure is required to press the strings closer to the fretboard in order to alter your tuning.
Able to Use the Sliding Technique on an Acoustic Guitar
Once again, there is no law that says you can only play slide guitar on an acoustic. Just listen to Duane Allman’s memorable electric slide guitar outro on Eric Clapton’s “Layla” or put on some classic Delta blues to hear icons like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters offer a master class in acoustic slide guitar. Make no mistake, you can play slide on both an electric guitar and an acoustic, although you’ll require a different type of slide, depending on your instrument. If you’re playing slide on an acoustic guitar, you’ll want a heavier-weight slide made from either thick-walled glass or brass. A lighter-weight slide will give you a better sound on an electric guitar, so look for lighter weight brass or chrome slides.
Acoustic Guitars are Usually Less Expensive Than Electric Guitars
Although there are quite a few affordable electric guitars available, overall, an acoustic guitar may be the more economical option. All you need to play an acoustic guitar is the guitar itself (and maybe a pick, a strap, three chords, and the truth). Even the least expensive electric guitar will require the added purchase of an amp in order to unleash its full sonic potential.
Cons of Acoustic Guitars
Cannot Change the Sound
While you can experiment with different tunings on an acoustic guitar, you can’t change its sound the way you can with an electric guitar. Because you can’t plug in an acoustic guitar and it lacks the hardware of an electric guitar, you can’t use guitar pedals or distortion to alter its output.
Not Enough Bass for More Heavy Songs
If you love heavier genres, acoustic guitar might not be the right fit. The controls on an electric guitar allow you to adjust the bass and treble, increasing the low-end tone to give your playing more bass. With an acoustic guitar, what you hear is what you get and there’s no way to beef up the bass.
The Strings Can Hurt Your Fingers
Until you build up those callouses, acoustic guitar can hurt your fingers. Because the strings sit higher away from the fretboard, it requires more pressure to fret a note on an acoustic guitar. Although most acoustic guitars make use of metal strings, guitars with nylon strings can be easier on the fingers and an ideal option for beginners just getting the hang of playing.
Pros and Cons of Electric Guitars
Just like acoustic guitars have their pros and cons, the same holds true for electric guitars.
Benefits of Electric Guitars
Electric Guitars Allow Users to Control Volume and Tone
Plugging in your electric guitar does not necessarily mean you’ll wake up the entire neighborhood during a practice session! Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars allow users to have greater control over their volume and tone. Electric guitars are equipped with a variety of knobs and/or switches that control their volume and tone. When plugged into an amp, you can also play with the treble and bass frequencies, further tweaking your tone to your liking. And if you want to opt for a really quiet practice, you can plug your headphones into your amp. With an acoustic guitar, the only control you have over your volume depends on how hard or soft you strum your guitar.
The Design of Electric Guitar Makes it Easier to Learn On
Because the body of an electric guitar is thinner and less bulky compared to the construction of an acoustic, it’s easier to hold your instrument closer to your body. The thicker construction of an acoustic guitar means that you’ll have to hold your arm further away from your body – almost draped over the front of your guitar in order to strum.
Electric Guitars Have Flashy Designs
While acoustic guitars often embrace natural finishes that bring out the inherent beauty of their wood construction, electric guitars come in a variety of shapes and colors. Vintage shapes with cool cutaways and eye-catching hues like Surf Green or Fiesta Red can make an electric guitar as easy on the eyes as it is to the ears. If a bit of sizzle is just as important to you as substance, having an instrument you love to look at can be a great reminder to pick it up and practice more often!
Many Options and Types of Electric Guitars
Electric guitars come in a near endless array of colors and shapes, but there are also a variety of electric guitar types. In addition to the popular solid body electric guitar, there are also semi-hollow body guitars with f-holes on the front – like the Affinity Series Starcaster, designed to offer a twangier flavor that’s right at home with country and bluegrass styles. And for guitarists who crave the best of both worlds, hybrids like the Acoustisonic offer the depth of resonance associated with an acoustic alongside the low-end responsiveness and ability to experiment with tones found on an electric guitar.
Solos Sound Awesome on Electric Guitars
The thinner neck, lower action on the fretboard, and overall mechanics of an electric guitar were meant for soloing. Better yet, you can crank the volume way up on your amp and use effects pedals or built-in tone presets to add flavor to solos.
Cons of Electric Guitars
Electric Guitars are Usually More Expensive than Acoustic Guitars
When you’re considering the total cost of an electric guitar starter package, even the least expensive model will still cost slightly more than an acoustic starter bundle. In order to hear the full power of your electric guitar, you’ll need to pair it with at least a small practice amp, whereas all you need to play an acoustic is the guitar itself. However, if you love the sound of an electric guitar, the slightly higher price point will be worth it if it means you get an instrument you love and want to play time and time again.
Tuning is More Difficult for Beginners on Electric Guitars
Tuning an electric guitar isn’t necessarily more difficult than it is on an acoustic guitar. However, because electric guitar can be heard in so many different genres and subgenres – from murky grunge to thrash and doom metal – you’ll hear a variety of alternate tunings among your favorite artists. If you’re tuning your guitar by ear, it may be “easier” to tune an acoustic guitar because the sound rings out truer without the use of amplification. However, if you’re just starting out and developing your ear, there are a variety of digital tuners that can help make tuning your guitar easier no matter how long you’ve been playing.
Electric Guitars are Heavier
Electric guitars are heavy, man. Not just heavy in sound, but heavy in terms of weight. The average weight of an electric guitar can range between 6 to 12 lbs, due to the fact that your guitar is packed with wiring and mechanics to give it its unique tone. Even though acoustic guitars are bulkier in terms of construction, these hollow bodied guitars are lighter, weighing in at between 2 to 6 lbs. Although acoustic guitars are generally lighter, there are still quite a few thinner, more lightweight electric guitars like the Mini Jazzmaster that are super comfortable to play!
Electric vs. Acoustic Guitars - Which Guitar Is Best For Me?
There’s no right or wrong choice when deliberating between an acoustic or electric guitar. Rather, it’s about making the right choice for you. Choose a guitar that you’ll want to pick up and play over and over again, and that sounds at home with your favorite musical genres.
While you might already be leaning towards an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar, there are so many options to choose from. To help you narrow the field and choose the perfect guitar, check out our Find Your Fender app. Simply answer a few questions and you’ll instantly find yourself paired up with a few choices that speak to your preferences as a budding guitarist!