I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Learning on Acoustic Guitar?
Learning guitar will change your life, and that’s no exaggeration. Over thirty years ago I decided to pick one up for the first time, and I can’t even imagine how different I’d be today if I hadn’t. From my perspective, the guitar is a major part of what defines me as a person, and it has played a big part in shaping how I view the world.
I’ve always tried to encourage other people to learn to play guitar if they have an interest. But, I’ve also come to understand it isn’t so easy for many. Sometimes the simple things that confound them the most, and prevent them from taking the plunge into the world of music.
One common question I hear concerns the choice between electric guitar and acoustic guitar. Which is better when you are a beginner? I always say the same thing: It’s up to you! There is no right or wrong choice, and you can always change your mind later.
While I think this is the best answer, I also understand why it is somewhat unsatisfying. You still need to make a decision, and you need to know the pros and cons of acoustic and electric guitars for beginners in order to make that decision.
This article can help you figure it out. While there are definitely some good reasons to go with an electric guitar when first starting out, here I’ll outline the main benefits of choosing an acoustic guitar for your first instrument.
Let's get to it, so you can start playing!
Should You Learn on Acoustic Guitar First?
You don’t have to learn on an acoustic guitar, but here are five reasons you might consider it:
- You can spend a little less on your first instrument.
- You’ll have fewer things to carry around.
- You don’t have to worry about the technical aspects so much.
- You can concentrate on the basics.
- You’ll have a simple platform as a singer and/or songwriter.
Read on to learn more about each point
1. Spend Less on Your First Instrument
If you learn to play on an acoustic guitar you’ll typically spend a bit less on your first instrument than if you had gone with an electric guitar. That’s simply because you don’t need an amp, an instrument cable and some of the other accessories.
There are some great beginner acoustic guitars under $200, and that’s the budget I recommend when starting out. For that, you’ll generally get a better-quality acoustic instrument than if you had spent the same amount on an electric guitar and amp.
Or, you can take the $100 or more you would have spent on an amp and grab an intermediate-level acoustic guitar when you are first starting out. That means you wouldn’t have to upgrade for a long while.
Look, if I knew everybody was going to stick with it I would say spend as much as you can on your first guitar and get a pro-level instrument. However, I know cost is always an issue, especially since most newbies aren’t 100% sure they’ll stay with it. Choosing an acoustic guitar as your first instrument can help minimize that cost.
2. Acoustic Guitars Are More Portable
You can pack up your acoustic guitar and take it anywhere. With an electric guitar setup, again you have that darned amp to worry about, not to mention cables to hook everything together. This might not sound like a big deal, but to a beginner who already has a lot of confusing things to worry about it can be a hassle.
If you are going to tote your guitar to lessons or around town, playing an acoustic instrument makes life a lot easier. If you play an electric guitar you have to hope your guitar instructor has an amp for you to plug into, but maybe not. When I first started playing I had to take lessons, and I needed to lug my guitar and amp to practice every time. What a pain!
If you choose an acoustic, you can practice anywhere you’re fledgling guitar skills are tolerated. You don’t need to worry about being near an electrical outlet. If you want to take your guitar into the backyard for some inspiration, or into the woods where nobody but the birds and squirrels can hear your mistakes, you can.
3. Acoustic Instruments Are Simpler
With electric guitar, there is a lot to think about. You’ve got your guitar, with all the electronics and knobs and switches and maybe a complicated bridge. You’ve got your amp, which has its own set of complex knobs and doodads. You have to hook it all together, and you have to be near a power source.
With acoustic guitar, everything is easy: Take it out of the case, tune it and start playing. Why make your life any harder than that when you are first starting out? You have enough to worry about just learning to play the thing without having to figure out why your bridge won’t align correctly or your amp isn’t working.
Even acoustic-electric guitars can be played unplugged just like a regular acoustic guitar until you feel comfortable enough to work an amp into your setup. Acoustic-electric instruments are basically the same as acoustic guitars with the inclusion of a pickup and preamp to amplify the sound.
You don’t need an amp if you choose an acoustic-electric as your first instrument, but you can add an acoustic guitar amp later if you find yourself in a situation where you want to perform in front of a crowd or join a band.
4. Learn the Basics Without Pressure
Speaking of starting simply, there is no more basic way to learn to play guitar than to start out playing simple chords on an acoustic. No need to worry about how to play solos or complicated songs. Just concentrate on the basics, like your technique and your chord vocabulary. If you are hoping to become a real-life, functional, song-playing guitarist in the quickest way possible, this is the path to choose.
Even if you only know a few chords there are many, many songs you can learn to play on acoustic guitar. In my opinion, learning and playing new songs is a great way to stay motivated to practice and expand your horizons as a player.
You can do that on an electric guitar too, of course. However, many songs you’ll learn on an electric guitar will feature complex sections. A lot of people pick up the electric guitar because they want to emulate their favorite guitar hero. Unfortunately, the same music that's inspiring to hear often can be unrealistically challenging for newbies to play.
If you start off on acoustic guitar you can hold off on all that guitar hero stuff until you have the basics down. It’s a much less frustrating path for beginners.
5. Learn to Write Songs and Lyrics
Some people pick up the guitar because they want to sing and write songs. You can certainly do that on electric guitar, but in most cases, you’ll be doing it with a band. If you don’t want to be in a band or don’t think you’ll be able to find band members anytime in the foreseeable future, you may prefer to go with an acoustic instrument. As an acoustic guitar player, you can learn to write songs and even perform solo.
To be clear: You don’t need to be able to carry a tune or even have a desire to sing to write songs and lyrics. Writing a song on guitar is a skill, one you can start practicing after you know only a few chords. Just like learning the basics of the instrument, it is a good idea to start working on your songwriting skills as soon as possible.
If you intend to be a solo singer/songwriter this is kind of a no-brainer. But, even if you do intend to play with a band eventually, the lessons you learn writing songs on your own will carry over when you start to consider other instruments in the mix.
Recommended Acoustic Guitars
So maybe you’re convinced you should start out with an acoustic instrument. Now what? For most beginners, I recommend checking out Yamaha acoustic guitars. This is a brand I am consistently impressed with in the budget and intermediate price ranges. One thing that is tough about some lower-priced acoustic instruments is that they aren’t always so easy to play. Yamaha guitars are pretty good in this respect, and that makes life much easier for beginners.
A few more brands I suggest looking at:
You also might consider going with an acoustic guitar starter pack, which could save you a few bucks. These kits have everything you need in one box, so you don’t need to hunt around for all the accessories.
Acoustic or Electric Guitar for Beginners?
As I said in the beginning, there is no wrong answer here. It’s a good idea to sit down and really consider how much each of those things matters to you. If the answer is a whole bunch then you know you need to start out with an acoustic guitar.
On the other hand, if you don’t mind spending a little extra on more stuff, are itching to get into the technical side of the gear, and want to learn to solo like a pro as soon as you can, then I’d advise you to start out on electric guitar.
Another important takeaway here is that your decision isn’t binding for life. I started out on electric guitar. In my case, I don’t think I would have been nearly as excited to learn on acoustic. But, within a year or two I was playing acoustic guitar too, and today I continue to play and practice both.
The choice is yours. Hopefully, this article gave you a few things to think about. The most important thing is that you take that first step and start learning to play guitar. Find an instrument that inspires you, and get playing!
Which guitar is right for you?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Mr. Phil on June 27, 2019:
I agree that the acoustic guitar is the most versatile instruments out there and and popular acoustic related is increasing yearly. Even the electric player are switching to acoustic guitar.