Should Beginners Start on Electric or Acoustic Guitar?

Updated on June 7, 2018
Guitar Gopher profile image

Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

Should beginners learn acoustic or electric guitar first?
Should beginners learn acoustic or electric guitar first?

Electric or Acoustic Guitar for Beginners?

The answer is: Whichever excites you the most! Neither is correct nor incorrect, and the best choice is the instrument that most motivates you to practice, learn, and play.

Deciding whether to choose an electric guitar or acoustic guitar as a first instrument really comes down to answering one question: What inspires you?

A new guitar player needs to choose whichever makes them want to pick up the guitar and play. Because, to get good at this guitar thing, you are going to have to pick it up and play a lot.

If a newbie gets fired up listening to rock music and wants to emulate their favorite guitar heroes, they need an electric guitar, and they probably aren't going to be very excited about learning on an acoustic guitar.

If a beginning guitarist dreams of writing music and singing songs while strumming an acoustic guitar, they need to strum that acoustic guitar. They likely won’t care much about an electric guitar.

This article looks at the advantages of each approach, and will help you decide which is right for you. I've been playing guitar for over 30 years and, in my opinion, any time a new guitar player picks up the instrument for the first time it is a wonderful thing.

Whether you choose electric or acoustic guitar, or a different musical instrument altogether, I just hope you decide to bring music into your life.

Pros and Cons of Acoustic Guitar

Many new players (and parents) think the default starter guitar is an acoustic instrument, and only after that is mastered should a player move up to the electric guitar. As we’ll see this isn’t necessarily so, but acoustic guitars do have a few advantages over electrics, especially for beginners.

One of the biggest ones is cost. Quite simply, if you start out on electric guitar you need an amp. That's an added expense you don't have with acoustic guitar, where you only really need the guitar and a few accessories.

Acoustic guitars also allow a little more focus when first starting out. There is no distortion or volume knob to crank up, and the guitar student can concentrate on the basics of the instrument.

Acoustic guitars are easy to tote around, and you can play and practice them anywhere. This makes it easier to lug them to a practice session, or over to a friend's house for jamming.

Bottom line: Starting out with an acoustic guitar is a little more affordable, and because it is simpler it lets a newbie concentrate on basics before moving on to other things.

Starting on an acoustic guitar lets you concentrate on the basics.
Starting on an acoustic guitar lets you concentrate on the basics.

Pros and Cons of Electric Guitar

There are several important advantages to starting out on an electric guitar. The first is ease of play. Acoustic guitars, especially less expensive ones, tend to have relatively higher action, which means the strings are a bit too far away from the fretboard. This makes it harder to fret notes, especially for new guitar players who haven’t yet mastered the dexterity needed to get around the fretboard.

By comparison, the action on a decent electric guitar is much lower, though it is worth noting that both electric and acoustic guitars need to be set up correctly to get the most out of them. Electric guitars have lighter strings and thinner necks, two more factors that make them a little easier to play for a beginner.

Believe it or not, electric guitars are also more conducive to low-volume practice. Many parents worry that starting a kid on electric guitar means endless noise in the house because of a loud guitar amp. However, that volume knob goes the other way too. There is no way to turn down an acoustic guitar, but you can practice on an electric at low volume, with headphones, or even unplugged.

Finally, with a wider array of sounds available via effects, the electric guitar is more flexible than the acoustic, and maybe a little more inspiring to play.

Bottom line: If a wannabe guitarist is set on learning electric guitar, there is no reason an electric can't be their first instrument. In many ways, it may even make the learning process easier.

Electric guitars are best for players who know they want to play rock or metal.
Electric guitars are best for players who know they want to play rock or metal.

Starter Guitar Recommendations

Starter guitars don't have to be expensive, but I advise you not to go the cheap route ether. For a decent beginner guitar I recommend around $200 for an acoustic setup, and $300 for electric. The reason for the difference, as I stated earlier, is that with an acoustic guitar you don’t need an amp.

I always recommend Yamaha instruments for players who intend to start out on acoustic guitar. They are one of the biggest names in music, and the FG Series is their line of quality, affordable acoustic guitars for beginner and intermediate players. For most players the Yamaha FG800 is a fine starter guitar, and the one I recommend the most. It’s a dreadnought shape, meaning it is good for playing with a pick or fingerstyle, and has excellent projection.

The Yamaha FS800 is another solid option. It has a slightly slimmer concert-style body, but uses the same construction materials. Both of these instruments sound great for the price, but more importantly they are among the most comfortable budget-level guitars to play.

For beginners who want to start out of electric guitar, I suggest the Epiphone Les Paul Special II. Epiphone is a guitar company owned by Gibson, and they build quality, affordable versions of classic Gibson guitars. While there are several outstanding starter guitars on the market, the reasons I recommend the Special II comes down to versatility and simplicity.

With a pair of humbuckers new players can experiment with different sounds, and with a solid hard-tail bridge there are fewer tuning issues to worry about. It also sounds really good for a starter guitar, which should get newbies ready to play.

Going with a starter kit is also a smart idea for beginners. Both Yamaha and Epiphone make some good ones, but also check out brands like Fender, Dean and Ibanez. You get the guitar, plus all the other things you need in one package. This includes a strap, picks, string winder, extra strings, instructional materials and even a capo. The electric guitar versions even come with a little amp.

The Epiphone Les Paul Special II

How to Choose

There is something both new guitar players and their parents need to remember: The possibilities of a new music career are nearly infinite. A starter guitar is like a little seed, and once planted it can grow into almost anything.

It's easy to feel like making a poor decision here can impede the progress of a new guitar student, and possibly cause them to give up altogether. It's possible, but much less likely if you come at the experience with an open mind.

The kid that starts out bashing away on an electric guitar may evolve into the finest classical guitarist in the world. The young girl who picks up an acoustic guitar because she wants to be the next Taylor Swift might end up as the next Jimi Hendrix instead.

The important thing is to take that step and start playing, and anything that gets someone interested in music is a good thing.

Music is a journey, and choosing a beginner guitar is only the first step. So, try not to stress out too much!

Electric or acoustic? Whatever makes you want to play guitar!

What would you choose?

Which do you think is best for beginners?

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      Linda 3 years ago

      I am learning on the acoustic and it's much easier on my fingertips. Of course, the neck is wider so that makes it harder to learn the fingering. There are trade offs in both.

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