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Acoustic Versus Electric Guitars

Author:

Alan has played guitar since 1995 . . . mostly acoustic Fenders.

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Sound Is the Key

Obviously an acoustic guitar sounds different than an electric guitar. Acoustic guitars are generally associated with country and folk music. They feature a hollow body where the sound from the strings resonates.

Electric guitars are more likely to be associated with jazz, blues, and rock music. They are played through an amplifier where the sound can be shaped using effects like overdrive and volume control.

This difference in sound is an important distinction between acoustic and electric guitars. An aspiring guitarist should consider this to be the main deciding factor when choosing their first guitar.

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Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars tend to be slightly larger than their electric counterparts. The strings, in most cases, will be thicker and a little harder to press down onto the frets. While this makes acoustic guitars physically more difficult to play, the difference is very minor. Take a look at this article for a detailed description of all the parts on an acoustic guitar.

Unlike electric guitars, acoustics do not require any additional accessories. There is no need for cords or amplifiers, the instrument makes sound on its own. While this is extremely convenient, the lack of an amplifier limits volume and sound manipulation like special effects or distortion.

Acoustic guitars tend to be slightly more affordable than electrics, especially since there is no need for additional accessories. This makes them the more economic option, though that does not necessarily make them the best option. If an aspiring guitarist has dreams of learning the instrument and starting a heavy metal rock band, an acoustic could be the wrong choice.

Of course, everyone has to start somewhere. An acoustic guitar is great to learn on and a little easier on the wallet. If shredding hot riffs on an electric guitar is the ultimate goal, one can always be purchased after learning the basics on an acoustic first.

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Electric Guitars

Electric guitars are slightly smaller than acoustic guitars and usually feature a solid body. The strings will normally be thinner and easier to press down as well. This makes for smoother action across the fretboard, with less pressure on the fingertips. Take a look at this article for a thorough description of all the parts on an electric guitar.

Electric guitars require some type of amplifier, speakers or headphones, and a cord to connect the instrument to the amplifier. Without these extras, an electric guitar will not produce much sound. The vibrations of the strings is what forms the sound of any stringed instrument. Electric guitars have pickups that transform these vibrations into electronic signals. Those electronic signals are then amplified to produce sound.

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 Acoustic GuitarElectric Guitar

Musical Style

Western, Folk, Country

Rock, Jazz, Blues

Cost

Less Costly

More Costly

Accessories Required

None

Amplifier, Speakers, Cord

Sound

Warm, Traditional, Singular Tone

Unlimited Options

Ease of Play

Slightly More Difficult

Slightly Less Difficult

Electric Guitar Amplifiers

The most economical solution is a little device called a headphone amplifier. This is a very small amplifier that is used in tandem with headphones. There is no external speaker, so the sound only comes through the headphones. This makes a headphone amplifier perfect for guitarists that need to keep the volume low during solo practice sessions.

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The next step up from a headphone amplifier is a combination amplifier. This is basically a small cabinet that holds an amplifier and at least one speaker. These units, often called combo amps, come in many different shapes and sizes. They also come with several different power ratings, measured in watts. The higher the wattage, the louder the amplifier. A good practice amplifier will be in the ten to fifteen watt range, while a gigging amp will be more in the fifty to eighty watt range.

Top of the line guitar amplifiers are usually referred to as half stacks or full stacks. They feature an amplifier in one cabinet, usually called an amp head, and separate speaker cabinets. The name comes from the fact that the amp head is often stacked on top of the speaker cabinets. Generally speaking, a half stack is an amp head and one speaker cabinet with four large speakers, while a full stack features two speaker cabinets. These types of amplifiers are normally only necessary if a guitarist is playing a stadium tour with a popular band.

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The Real Difference

The real difference between acoustic guitars and electric guitars is clearly the sound. An acoustic guitar is the purest form of the instrument, making sound on its own and requiring no additional accessories. It breaks the relationship between musician and instrument down to its most basic form of creativity. The tone, the volume, the voice of each and every note is shaped only by the prowess of the guitarist.

An electric guitar, on the other hand, provides a musician with virtually unlimited options when it comes to shaping the sound of the instrument. A guitarist can experiment with a plethora of digital and analog effects that will bend, skew, and distort the sound of an electric guitar. Most of these effects can be added or adjusted with the simple flip of a switch or the turn of a knob. This usually makes it easy for any guitarist to find at least one sound that they love.

Comments

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 26, 2021:

Sounds like a great way to spend the day.

Alan (author) from West Georgia on January 26, 2021:

Thanks for the nice comments. When I was stationed in Sacramento years ago they had a huge music store that I loved. Not only could you play almost any instrument in the store without purchase, you could also rent top of the line instruments by the day for cheap! Needless to say, I spent a lot of time there.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 25, 2021:

Nice article about guitars.

I personally have an acoustic one.

We are fortunate here to have a few music stores nearby that allow one to play the guitar before purchasing them.

Sometimes it's nice just to stop in & play a few. The sounds are unique to each one.

The amplifiers for electric ones can get really loud. When I wss younger my brother & his friends actually shattered a window from the noise.

You can also purchase amplifiers for some acoustic guitars.

Nice write.

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