Electric guitar is easier than acoustic guitar – but whether it’s easier for you ultimately depends on your approach.
Electric guitars are generally more playable due to lower string tension, lower string action, and comfortable neck profiles, making it easier to press down on the strings and fret chords. But acoustics have their advantages, with easier rhythmic strumming and no amplifier settings to mess with.
You may have heard that an acoustic guitar is supposed to be the best guitar to start with and wondered, “Is electric guitar easier than acoustic guitar?”
Truthfully, you can learn great guitar playing on either. But you don’t want to end up with a steep learning curve that demotivates you from learning your favorite guitar songs and jamming with your friends.
With so many different opinions floating around which guitar beginners should start with, it’s easy to get confused. This objective breakdown of the pros and cons of each instrument should help you choose between the two.
The Basic Difference Between Electric And Acoustic Guitar
Despite both instruments being guitars, the electric and acoustic guitar have significant differences in how they sound, as well as the strings they use, available neck shapes, and overall playability.
While their sound differs greatly due to amplification, what matters the most is how they feel under your fingers. The electric guitar feels easier to play, likely because it has thinner strings.
An acoustic depends upon acoustic guitar components like the soundhole and guitar body wood to amplify the vibration of its strings to make the instrument loud enough. This is why heavier gauge strings are necessary – they make the guitar louder and more ‘percussive.’ If you were to use thin gauge strings, the sound would likely be weak and tinny, not the rich acoustic guitar sound you expect.
Electric guitars use pedals and amplifiers that shape the overall tone, making them more versatile. You can play clean or with distortion, shape the lows, mids, and highs, and more.
Since an electric guitar uses amplifiers and pickups to produce sound, it also responds better to picking dynamics and does not need heavier gauge strings.
Some acoustic guitars do have built in electronics, or you can install an acoustic guitar pickup in your instrument. But acoustic guitars just aren’t capable of producing the same range of sounds as electric guitars.
Thicker strings lead to higher string tension, so you’d have to press down harder to play. Sometimes acoustics have a higher action as well. But this does not mean that acoustic guitars are necessarily challenging to play – it’s more of a personal preference.
As you play any new guitar, it’ll get easier once your fingers get used to it. Calluses will develop on your fingers, and your hand will get better adjusted to the guitar’s neck and fretboard.
Neck and Body Shape
While there are a variety of acoustic guitar neck shapes, electric guitars tend to have thinner necks than acoustics. Thinner necks reward a lighter touch and make playing more manageable for small hands. However, an electric guitar tends to be heavier than its acoustic counterpart since it’s made of solid wood. The greater weight can make it uncomfortable or tiring to play while standing up.
Overall, guitar players tend to find it easier to play on an electric. It helps improve their ability to use advanced techniques like bending, vibrato, hammer-ons, tapping, etc. While these are still possible on an acoustic, electric guitar is preferred.
Why Is It Common To Begin Learning With An Acoustic?
Many guitar teachers and guitarists recommend beginners start with an acoustic as a ‘rite of passage’ to learning guitar. While learning on an acoustic is beneficial, there are also several myths associated with it:
Common Myths About Learning With An Acoustic Guitar
You need to start learning when you are young
There are very few myths that have done as much damage as this one. Contrary to expectation, you do not need to be a child to start learning a new instrument. The amount of time it takes to learn guitar will always be determined by how much passion you have for the instrument and how much practice you are willing to put in regularly.
So you can always start learning either acoustic or electric guitar whenever you want, regardless of how old you are. All you need is an instrument and a teacher (or even a book or the internet) to guide you along, as well as a strong will to learn!
You should not start learning with heavy gauge strings
Interestingly, this myth seems to contradict the very nature of an acoustic guitar. As mentioned before, acoustic guitars sound their best with heavy gauge strings. They add power, depth, and richness to the sound. So using thin gauge strings on your guitar may make you feel like your guitar lacks the tonal warmth you’re looking for.
There is no set gauge of strings used for beginners. While thinner strings should feel easier on your fingers, you need to make sure that they’re strings that are suitable for your instrument. There is nothing inherently wrong or complicated about beginning your learning process with a guitar with heavy gauge strings – it’s a player’s preference.
You need to learn with an acoustic so you can increase finger strength
This one seems contradictory to the previous myth.
While acoustic guitars do have thicker fretboards and strings, which seem perfect if you want to increase finger strength, agility and finger strength will improve even if you start with an electric guitar.
The key to developing finger strength is regularly practicing your scales, chromatic exercises, and finger training patterns on the guitar. Doing this regularly, it won’t matter which guitar you start on.
Beginner acoustics are often cheaper than electric guitars since you won’t need to buy amplifiers, pedals, or even cables. So players who aren’t sure whether playing guitar is right for them often pick an acoustic because it’s usually cheaper.
Yes, if you’re on a budget, an acoustic is a good option. But without budget concerns, an electric is an equally good option to start with, and would depend on what kind of songs you’d like to play.
Beginners often find that most existing guitar lesson material focuses on acoustics. There are Youtube videos, online courses, and books talking about acoustic guitar chords, scales, playing techniques, and more.
But all of these lessons apply equally well to an electric guitar, as the chords, scales, and technique are almost entirely the same. And several advanced techniques are easier on an electric.
So if you’re worried about lesson material, you’ll be able to follow along with almost any guitar course with any guitar you have, and you’ll be playing guitar like a pro before you know it!
Perhaps the biggest reason players prefer an acoustic is its simplicity – no amps, no cables, no fuss. All you need is the guitar – and a pick, unless you’re adept at fingerstyle.
If you’re looking for a simple stringed instrument, an acoustic is a good choice. It’s suitable for portable jamming around campfires, and even during blackouts. Electric guitars do have a lot of bells and whistles, but that is what makes them more versatile.
What If You Begin With An Electric?
Playing electric guitars is relatively easy, unlike what many beginners think. However, if you’re on a tight budget, starting with an electric guitar could be more costly.
Generally, electric guitars are more expensive than acoustics for the same beginner range of instruments ($150-200). Besides that, you’ll also require an amplifier ($100-150), cables, and maybe some pedals ($50-100 per pedal) if you want to add different effects to your tone.
As you progress with the electric guitar, you’ll want to try out more techniques and effects that the instrument provides. You’ll want to invest in more pedals and equipment, especially if you’re recording your music. All these expenses add up, so it’s safe to say that electric guitars are an expensive investment.
But keep in mind, a good acoustic is also expensive (in the range of $500 and above). So it does depend on the quality of instrument you’re going for.
Learning the mechanics of the electric guitar is also a challenge that beginners have to overcome. While the basic playing techniques are the same for acoustic and electric guitars, electric guitars and the amps that they come with have several effects and dials, including but not limited to Gain, Volume, and a 3-band EQ.
Learning what these dials do and how to use them properly to get a good tone for playing can take some figuring out. More advanced amps come with even more features, and with so many variations in guitar tone, pro guitarists often spend years honing their sound exactly how they like it.
So yes, while beginning with an electric is perfectly feasible, it does have its drawbacks to consider when you’re deciding.
Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar – Which One Should You Begin With?
If you’re still not sure which one you should begin with, here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of each.
Let’s begin with the pros of starting on an acoustic guitar.
Beginning your guitar journey with an acoustic guitar, especially one with steel strings, means that you can play just about anything you picked up on your acoustic on any other guitar. The skills are highly transferable, and most players find it easy to transition from acoustic to electric and even to bass guitar.
The easy-going and rich tone of an acoustic guitar means that it sounds more soothing than an electric guitar. While you could coax your electric guitar into playing soothing sounds by tweaking some controls and pedals, you won’t have to go through all that trouble to produce pleasant sounds on an acoustic. Beginners often prefer this tone over the amplified and distorted sounds of an electric guitar.
A beginner-level acoustic guitar is much easier on the wallet than a beginner-level electric guitar. You can buy just the instrument with an acoustic guitar, and you’re good to go, although you might also want a strap, a capo, and enough picks. An electric guitar needs all these added accessories and an amplifier + cables at the minimum.
The most important thing to note is that many advanced techniques like hammer-ons, tapping, and sweep picking are significantly more challenging on an acoustic guitar. Using these techniques on electrics is common due to their greater playability. If you want to play complex songs (like rock music) that include such techniques, an electric might be the way to go.
An acoustic guitar’s strings may be difficult to bend, especially if you have softer fingers and smaller hands. The heavy gauge strings make for more difficult fretting, and when you eventually move into more advanced techniques like barre and power chords, you’ll really test your fingers.
Absolute beginners will find it challenging to play an acoustic guitar for long periods until their fingers have developed enough calluses and are used to it.
The higher action on an acoustic guitar means higher fret buzz, and if you find yourself dealing with this problem often, you might want to get your guitar looked at by a luthier. It also means that playability is lower. Since most beginner acoustics are notorious for high action, this one is tough to overcome.
Acoustics generally have wider fretboards, which also impact playability. Cramping hands are a common occurrence for beginners who start with an acoustic guitar, and you’re going to have to practice and figure out the proper technique if that happens too often.
While acoustic guitars are lighter than electric guitars, they’re also more brittle and prone to dents and scratches, hampering sound and aesthetics. You might want to be extra careful when dealing with your acoustic so that you do not accidentally dent or break your instrument. Acoustic guitars can be difficult to repair, and sometimes it’s easier to buy a new guitar than to get your old one repaired.
Even though electric guitars might look like an easier option, there are several factors that you need to keep an eye out for.
Since electric guitars typically have a smaller and thinner neck, it is relatively easier to hold the fret if you have smaller hands. Pressing down on the strings and chording is also easier than on acoustic guitars since electric guitars have lower string action by design (this can help you pick up songs and progress with the instrument faster).
Most beginners tend to find that they can practice longer on an electric guitar than on an acoustic guitar because of the softer strings, smaller neck radius, and low string action.
This increased practice time means beginners may have an easier time learning new techniques, for both the right hand and left hand. You’ll have an easier time holding barre chords, playing power chords, doing hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, and several other skills. You could well be on your way to learning the solo you’ve dreamed of playing.
And if you’d like to keep your practice silent while picking up a new riff in the middle of the song, it’s easy to plug headphones into most electric guitar amps. And with modern headphone amps, electric guitars are also more portable than ever.
Out of all of the issues you might face with an electric guitar, the budget limitation might likely affect you the most. Electric guitars are, in general, more expensive than acoustic guitars. They require you to buy amplifiers and pedals as you progress along your learning curve, so the overall investment is more than most acoustics.
The chimeric nature of the electric guitar and its ability to replicate and create a broad range of sounds is one of those unique qualities, which is both a pro and a con, albeit it might be more of a con for a beginner. It’s difficult for beginners to settle on a sound they like since you can change your electric guitar with several pickup settings and adjust the tone knob. The rest of the customizations available on the amplifier just further complicate things and confuse beginners.
While you might be able to play a challenging song on your electric guitar within the first couple of months of learning, it won’t necessarily translate well to an acoustic. Because of the playability differences between the two, you’ll likely find the same song much harder to play on an acoustic, especially if it has advanced techniques.
Song Choice, Playing Style, and Inspiration
If all the pros and cons haven’t helped you decide so far, there are some easy questions to ask yourself – “Who inspired you to play guitar?”
“What’s the first song you want to play on the guitar?”
These questions help narrow down what you need to do. If your favorite guitarist plays an acoustic and you want to play just like them, that’s where you go. The songs you want to play, the genres, and the arrangements help define what you need to do to get there.
So take a moment, and visualize yourself. You might find your answer there, so stick with it. Electric or acoustic guitar, you can learn to play incredible music on either.
Frequently Asked Questions About Electric And Acoustic Guitars
Is Electric Guitar Easier Than Acoustic Guitar?
Electric guitars are generally more playable than acoustic guitars, which can make them easier for beginners to pick up. However, learning acoustic guitar first can help you build fundamental skills and finger strength, which will set you up for success in the long run.
So while electric guitar is “easier” to start with, it’s not necessarily easier in terms of becoming a skilled guitar player over time.
Do I need to learn different chords for electric and acoustic guitar?
You do not need to learn different chords for electric or acoustic guitar. The inherent notes, scales, and chords are all the same, as is typical for music theory. Most of the skills are transferable as well.
Both electric and acoustic guitars, given that their strings are tuned the same, have the same chord patterns. Only their sounds will be a bit different due to the amplification. On an electric, you might have to tweak the dials and settings a little to replicate an acoustic guitar’s sound and strum chords a bit softer.
Can you replace electric guitar strings with acoustic guitar strings and vice versa?
No, you should not. Both guitars use strings of different gauges and materials, making them unsuitable for the other type. Electric guitar strings usually have nickel or another magnetic substance that interacts with the pickups, while acoustic strings usually have phosphor bronze for a richer, warmer tone.
While you can use electric guitar strings on acoustic, it’ll sound too thin and won’t have that warmth or depth. And acoustic strings on an electric won’t be picked up properly by the pickups, leading to a fainter, dull sound.
Is it easy to switch from one type of guitar to another?
Yes, it is surprisingly easy to switch from one type of guitar to another. However, you might find the switch easier if you begin learning on an acoustic and move to an electric one since acoustics are more challenging to play.
While most skills are transferable, some advanced techniques work well on electrics and are hard to execute on an acoustic. But with time, patience, and enough practice, switching between acoustic and electric guitar will become second nature.