The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Thinking of learning to play the guitar? You should. The decision to bring music into your life is one you’ll never regret, and playing guitar is a skill that, once gained, nobody can ever take away. That’s a pretty good feeling, and you’d be surprised how learning the guitar can change your life for the better.
I can tell you this from first-hand experience. I’ve been playing for over three decades, and I can’t even imagine where I’d be today if I had never picked up the instrument. It’s a path I’m glad I chose, and I always do my best to encourage other people to embark on the same journey, if they appear to have an interest.
But I also understand that there are some stumbling blocks for wannabe guitar players, not the least of which is trying to sort out what kind of guitar to choose as your first instrument. Should you start out on an electric guitar or acoustic guitar?
There is a lot of confusing advice out there, but I always tell people the same thing: There is no wrong answer and no matter which you choose, you can always change your mind later.
I believe that’s a wise answer, and in some ways, it gets me off the hook, but I recognize many people may need a little more concrete direction on this subject. I’ve already written an article on the reasons to choose an acoustic guitar as your first instrument. In this article, we’ll look at the top five reasons you might prefer to go with an electric guitar when first starting out.
Let’s get to it. Rock stardom awaits you! (Maybe.)
Can You Learn on Electric Guitar?
Here is a quick summary of the reasons you might go with an electric guitar as your first instrument:
- You can follow your dreams and do what inspires you.
- You’ll start out on a guitar that’s a little easier to play.
- You’ll have control of your volume, so you can practice silently.
- There are more sound options for you to experiment with.
- You’ll have a much wider range of musical choices available to you.
Read on and learn more about each of the five benefits of learning on electric guitar.
1. Follow Your Dream
This first point has more to do with why some players don’t start out on electric guitar. Unfortunately, some people have a burning desire to play rock, metal, or another electric genre, but somewhere along the line somebody convinces them, they need to learn the basics on an acoustic guitar before moving on to electric.
That makes sense in some ways. Simplicity and the ease of learning the basics are some great reasons to consider an acoustic instrument as your first guitar. However, you don’t want to derail your enthusiasm and force yourself into something you aren’t going to enjoy. That’s a surefire way to end up quitting the instrument, and that, I guarantee, you will regret one day.
Learning guitar isn’t easy. While it is smart to consider your first step from a logical perspective, remember the most important thing is to choose an instrument that inspires you. If you’ve always wanted to play electric guitar, don’t feel like you need to start on something else first. You can learn the basics on electric just as easily as you can with an acoustic instrument and, as I’ll get to in a moment, in some ways electric guitar is even easier.
2. Electric Guitars Are Typically Easier to Play
Generally speaking, electric guitars are a little easier to play than acoustic guitars. The strings are a bit lighter, the neck is a bit thinner, and for hands that aren’t used to fretting chords that makes things more comfortable.
That’s good because when new players struggle with the mechanics of playing they are more likely to quit. Going with a guitar that’s easier on the hands removes one of the barriers that prevent newbies from advancing on the instrument.
Of course, there are a couple of caveats here, because a crummy electric guitar can be just as big a pain to play as a crummy acoustic guitar. First, you need to make sure you are choosing a quality electric guitar as your first instrument. A cheap hunk of wood with strings will just frustrate you and drive you to quit.
Secondly, you need to make sure your new guitar is set up correctly. Setting up your guitar is something you’ll learn to do yourself eventually, but in the beginning, a local guitar tech can do this for you. Electrics are easier to adjust compared to acoustic guitars, so if something is out of whack it can often be corrected with a few twists of a wrench.
3. The Volume Control
You’re probably thinking electric guitars are much louder than acoustic guitars, and of course, that’s potentially true. However, electric guitar amps have one feature that enables you to play much more quietly: a volume knob. Many beginner amps also have headphone jacks that let you practice in silence.
Obviously, this is good news for people who live in apartments and the families of wannabe guitar heroes. A fledgling shredder can work out the kinks without driving the rest of the building insane.
Even as an experienced guitarist I appreciate the ability to play my guitar in relative silence. When I’m working out a new piece of music I don’t want the whole neighborhood, or even my wife, to hear me bumbling along before I have it figured out.
Veteran guitarists like me are often sensitive about their practice, and for newbies, it is many times worse. The ability to make mistakes that nobody hears gives you the confidence to try new things and stretch your limits. You can even practice your electric guitar unplugged. It won’t sound great, but you’ll be able to work on your skills quietly.
4. More Sound Options
With the electric guitar, you have many, many choices when it comes to the sound of your guitar, your amp, and even which effects you choose. Remember when I said you should choose an instrument that inspires you? No matter what style of music you are into, you’ll be able to find a beginner’s setup that gets the type of sound you are looking for.
Many people pick up the guitar because they get excited by certain sounds they hear in music, or by the playing of a certain guitar player. While it will be a long time before you are able to come close to sounding like a famous guitar player, with the array of different guitars, amps, and effects available even a beginner can get a taste of great tone.
Finding the inspiration to pick up the guitar and play every day is a big factor when it comes to sticking with the instrument. Sounding good, even if you’re not yet playing well, will keep you coming back for more. That’s just not as likely with an acoustic guitar – unless the tone that inspires you happens to be a simple acoustic guitar sound.
5. A Wider Range of Musical Choices
While I certainly haven’t done the math, it seems to me you have many more choices when it comes to learning music on an electric guitar. The reason is simple: You can set up an electric guitar for clean sounds and play anything you would on an acoustic guitar, including classical music. However, the same can’t be said for an acoustic guitar. For example, you can’t really play extreme metal or hard rock on an acoustic guitar.
Most new guitar players haven’t chosen their musical direction yet. It takes some time to figure out what you really love, and what you’re really good at. An electric instrument gives you the freedom to explore those choices. You may find you love strumming chords or playing classical music finger-style and you’ll eventually switch to acoustic guitar. You may decide you love jazz, or metal, or country music. You can play all of that on an electric guitar while you sort everything out.
Even if you think you know what you want when you are first starting out, you may be surprised by the doors that open up to you as you learn the instrument. An electric guitar gives you a greater amount of freedom to explore it all.
Recommended Electric Guitars
Convinced you should learn to play on an electric guitar? Good! Now to you have to decide what to do next, and how to choose your first electric guitar.
Remember, one of the smartest things you can do is choose a guitar that inspires you. When you love the way your guitar looks and sounds you'll find yourself more motivated to practice and play.
There are a lot of choices out there and I encourage you to explore them all. If you need some direction there are a couple of guitars I typically recommend for beginners.
The first instrument I recommend checking out is the Squier Affinity Stratocaster. Squier is to Fender as Epiphone is to Gibson. The Fender Strat was made famous by players like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton, and Squier builds affordable versions for newbies. Like the Fender models, they come equipped with three single-coil pickups, controlled via a 5-way switch, and that classic Strat body styling.
The Squier Stratocaster is another versatile guitar, but because of the single-coil pickups, it has a thinner sound compared to the Les Paul Special II. For that reason, I think it is better suited for newbies who think they are interested in genres such as blues, country, and classic rock. However, there are versions available with a humbucker and two single-coil pickups for a slightly fatter sound.
The next is the Epiphone Les Paul Special II. This is a guitar modeled after the legendary Gibson Les Paul, an instrument that has been used by guitarists as diverse as Jimmy Page, Zakk Wylde, and Bob Marley.
Epiphone is a brand owned by Gibson, and while the Special II is a far cry from the pro-level guitars used by those iconic musicians, it does feature many of the same basic attributes. Like its Gibson namesake, it has a pair of thick-sounding humbucking pickups, a single-cutaway LP-style body, and a solid Tune-o-matic bridge with a stopbar tailpiece.
One of the reasons I recommend the Les Paul Special II is because it is a great all-purpose guitar. It can handle just about any genre - rock, metal, country, jazz, blues. I think that's important for newbies who are trying to find their sound.
A few more brands I recommend checking out:
You might also want to take a look at the electric guitars starter packs put together by some of the brands mentioned above. Starter packs are a way to get everything you need to begin playing in one handy kit. In other words, you don’t have to hunt down every piece of gear individually.
Electric vs. Acoustic Guitar for Beginners
Maybe the electric guitar is the right choice for you when first starting out, or maybe you’re better off with an acoustic instrument for beginners. Only you can make that choice, but don’t sweat it. I told you, in the beginning, there is no wrong answer here, and you can change your musical direction any time you want.
You’ll want to take some time to consider what’s important to you when you are first starting out, and come up with a plan that puts you on a path to your goals. Just don’t be surprised if those goals change once you begin learning the instrument!
Whatever you decide, I hope you follow through and start learning to play guitar. And if you don’t, I hope you learn to play some other instrument. Music can, literally, change your life.
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.