Beginner Decision # 1: Acoustic vs Electric Guitar

Home » Blog » Gear » Beginner Decision # 1: Acoustic vs Electric Guitar

Picking your first guitar can feel like a daunting task, but this comprehensive guide is here to assist. Let’s journey together into the captivating world of the acoustic vs electric guitar. You’ll gain insight on their basic principles, learn to spot key differences, identify the common types of each, and discover their unique components.

You’ll also have the opportunity to explore their distinct sound characteristics, the role of amplifiers, and how their playability and learning curve can shape your musical journey.

So, whether you’re drawn to the classic tunes or you’re a rock ‘n roll enthusiast, this article will help you make an informed decision. Ready to find your perfect match? Let’s get started!

Understanding the Basics

What is an Acoustic Guitar?

An acoustic guitar is a stringed instrument that makes sound through the vibration of its strings, which resonate within its hollow body. The sound it produces is clear and percussive, making it a versatile choice for various styles of music. You’ll find different types of acoustic guitars, including steel-stringed and nylon-stringed versions.

Steel-stringed guitars are popular because they’re versatile. They’re suitable for strumming or fingerpicking across a wide range of musical genres.

Nylon-stringed guitars, often known as classical guitars, are typically used for classical music, Latin, flamenco, and some pop music styles. They produce a clear, piano-like tone with ample volume.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, you can check out this list of the best acoustic guitars under $500 in 2023.

What is an Electric Guitar?

Unlike its acoustic counterpart, an electric guitar uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals. These signals are then amplified to produce sound. The electric guitar was first invented in 1931, and since then, it’s become a staple in genres like rock, pop, and blues.

Electric guitars are typically made of hardwood and covered with a hard polymer finish. They offer a wide range of playing techniques, including bending and vibrato. They’re often played with a plectrum or pick.

Key Differences between Acoustic and Electric Guitars

The most fundamental difference between acoustic and electric guitars lies in their power source. An electric guitar needs an electrical source for amplification, while an acoustic guitar doesn’t. This difference leads to distinct sound characteristics.

Acoustic guitars produce a more natural sound due to their high sustain. On the other hand, electric guitars offer more volume and a broader array of sounds due to amplification. The physical characteristics of these guitars also differ.

Electric guitars tend to have lighter strings, a smaller body, and thinner necks, making them physically easier to play. In contrast, acoustic guitars have a heavier body and a thicker neck to support the tension of heavier strings. The larger and heavier body of an acoustic guitar can be beneficial for beginners. It lets them rest their picking arm on the body of the guitar while playing, reducing hand fatigue.

Common Types of Each Guitar

There are several types of electric guitars, including solid-body, semi-acoustic, and electric acoustic. Solid-body electric guitars don’t have a vibrating soundboard to amplify string vibration. Semi-acoustic guitars have a hollow body similar to an acoustic guitar but with electromagnetic pickups mounted directly into the body.

Electric-acoustic guitars are fitted with pickups as an alternative to using a separate microphone. Acoustic guitars also come in various types and sizes, including “O”, “OO”, and “OOO”. Auditorium-style guitars have less bass and a more defined midrange than dreadnoughts or concerts. These guitars are great if you travel regularly or are just starting out.

Classical guitars are known for their soft nylon string tone and are generally used to play classical music. Parlor guitars have smaller body frames, making them suitable for children and appealing to vintage, blues, slide, and folk players. Acoustic-electric guitars include an electronic pickup. This allows them to be plugged into an acoustic amp or mixer. If you’re intrigued by the blend of the two, you might want to learn more about Acoustic-Electric Guitars.

A group of electric guitars hanging on a wall

The Anatomy of Acoustic vs Electric Guitars

The Parts of an Acoustic Guitar

The hollow body of an acoustic guitar, also known as the sound box, and the front of the guitar’s body, or the soundboard, work together to amplify the vibrations of the strings. The resulting sound is typically bright and metallic, with the tone varying based on the type of wood used, the strings, and the playing technique.

Acoustic guitars usually have six steel strings, tuned to the pitches E, A, D, G, B, E. Twelve-string guitars, which produce a rich sound ideal for strumming chords, are also available. Some acoustic guitars are equipped with electronics, allowing them to be connected to an amplifier for amplified sound.

The Parts of an Electric Guitar

Electric guitars are designed to be used with external amplifiers and are typically fitted with magnetic pickups that convert string vibrations into an electric current. The sound produced when played unamplified is quiet and tinny, but can be significantly modified with various electronic devices.

Electric guitars are often considered easier for beginners due to the reduced physical effort required to produce clean notes. They are commonly used in rock music, both for playing chord sequences or progressions as a rhythm guitar, and for providing instrumental melody lines as a lead guitar.

How the Parts Affect Sound

The sound produced by an acoustic guitar is powered by natural resonance and projection from its body, while an electric guitar relies on internal and external electric sources. The materials used in the construction of the guitar body, including the choice of woods, influence the sonic character of the amplified signal.

The design and construction of electric guitars can vary greatly, including the shape of the body and the configuration of the neck, bridge, and pickups. The choice of materials in the solid-guitar body can significantly affect the sonic character of the amplified signal.

The electric guitar became a key instrument in pop music during the 1950s and 1960s due to the wide array of sounds that could be produced with different effects. When choosing a guitar, consider the ease of setup and adjustment, the type of music you envision playing, and what inspires and motivates you. The instrument should be thoroughly inspected and adjusted for ease of play.

It’s worth noting that many players start with one type of guitar and then transition to the other as their skills and preferences evolve.

Sound Characteristics and Amplification

Sound Characteristics of an Acoustic Guitar

The unique nature of an acoustic guitar is largely due to the materials used in its construction. For instance, the ‘top’ or front of the guitar, where the sound hole is located, is typically made from either spruce or cedar. Spruce tops tend to produce a brighter sound, while cedar tops yield a mellow, warm sound. The type of strings you use and how you play the guitar can also influence the sound of an acoustic guitar.

Steel-stringed guitars produce a bright, metallic sound. In contrast, nylon-stringed guitars, often used in classical music, have a warmer, fuller tone. The sound can also vary depending on whether you play the guitar with a pick or with your fingers. Using a pick produces a louder and clearer tone. Playing with your fingers can create a softer, more nuanced sound.

Sound Characteristics of an Electric Guitar

Electric guitars rely on external amplification. They’re equipped with magnetic pickups that convert the vibration of the strings into an electric current. This current is then amplified. Without amplification, electric guitars produce only a very quiet, tinny sound. The sound of an electric guitar can be greatly modified with electronic devices and playing techniques. Reverb and distortion can alter the basic sound of the guitar.

Techniques like string bending, tapping, and hammering-on can create unique sound effects. Electric guitars are often used in rock music. They serve both as rhythm guitars, which set the beat and play chord sequences, and as lead guitars, which provide melody lines and solos.

The Role of Amplifiers in Both Types

Amplifiers play a big role in the sound of both acoustic and electric guitars. Some acoustic guitars are fitted with electronics that allow them to be plugged into an amplifier. This enhances their sound. These acoustic-electric guitars can be fitted with a pickup or a microphone. This converts the vibrations in the body into electronic signals.

Electric guitars, however, are designed to be used with amplifiers. The amplifier not only boosts the sound of the guitar but also allows for a wide range of sound modifications. The choice of amplifier can greatly influence the tone, size, and quality of the sound you produce with an electric guitar.

a close up of a mans hand playing an acoustic guitar

Playability and Learning Curve

As you embark on your musical journey, the playability and learning curve of your chosen instrument are crucial. Let’s delve into the ease of playing both acoustic and electric guitars, and how to select the ideal one for novices.

Ease of Play in Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars offer a unique playing experience due to their natural resonance and projection. They transmit the energy of the strings into the air through an acoustic soundboard. Some models even have a piezoelectric pickup or low-mass microphone to convert the body’s vibrations into electronic signals.

The materials used in the guitar body, such as the choice of woods, can influence the sonic character of the amplified signal. However, how much this influence matters is a subject of discussion. Acoustic guitars come in various shapes, each associated with different sound and volume production. For example, Dreadnought and Jumbo acoustic guitars are known for their large, bold sounds. This is due to their large internal cavity. On the other hand, Auditorium guitars, also known as “orchestra,” have a tight waist that produces a distinct sound.

Acoustic guitars can be more cost-effective and portable, making them a suitable choice for beginners. They allow you to focus on playing technique, which is crucial when starting out. However, they can be slightly harder to play due to their thicker strings and higher action compared to electric guitars.

Ease of Play in Electric Guitars

Electric guitars need external amplification to be heard at typical performance volumes. They work by converting the vibration of their strings into electrical signals through pickups. These signals are then reproduced as sound by loudspeakers.

The sound of an electric guitar can be modified by effects such as reverb, distortion, and new playing techniques like string bending, tapping, and hammering-on. Electric guitars are often recommended for beginners due to their ease of play. They have lighter strings, a smaller body, a thinner neck, and lower action compared to acoustic guitars. This makes them less physically demanding to play. However, they require additional equipment, including picks, a strap, a tuner, connecting and power cables, and an amplifier.

The design of electric guitars varies significantly. Factors such as body shape, neck, bridge, and pickups configuration can greatly affect the comfort and playability of the guitar. The choice of wood, the method of attaching the neck to the body, the type of pickups, and the design of the neck can all influence the guitar’s comfort and playability.

Choosing the Right Guitar for Beginners

Whether you should go for an acoustic or electric guitar as a beginner depends on your musical preferences and the type of music you see yourself playing. It’s important to choose an instrument that has been fully inspected and adjusted for ease of play. This holds true whether you’re choosing an acoustic or electric guitar.

When buying a guitar, it’s important to pick one that suits your body type. A guitar that’s too large can make it difficult to play and cumbersome to learn. While some may opt for an inexpensive guitar as their first instrument, it’s important to choose a guitar that interests you and suits your needs. This will ensure motivation and focus. An ill-fitting or cheaply made guitar may discourage learning.

Your guitar choice should also be influenced by your preferred music genre. Switching from one type of guitar to another is common. The emotional attachment a player develops to a certain body style is irrational but strong. If the body style doesn’t match with the style of music you prefer, all the best “features” in the world won’t matter.

A close up of a man playing an electric guitar near a stage.

Genres and Performance Styles

The type of guitar you choose can be influenced by your preferred music style. Understanding which genres align with different guitar types can guide your decision-making process.

Styles Suited for Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars, with their distinct resonance and projection, are often favored in genres that require a more organic sound. Dreadnought guitars, with their robust sound, are commonly used in country and folk music. Classical guitars, recognized for their soft Nylon string tone, are typically chosen for classical compositions. The high sustain of acoustic guitars makes them ideal for singer-songwriters and folk musicians who require a rich, full sound to accompany their vocals.

Styles Suited for Electric Guitars

Electric guitars, known for their amplified sound and tone flexibility, are typically chosen for genres that require more volume and a more precise tone. The solid body design of electric guitars ensures that the amplified sound reproduces the string vibration alone, avoiding unwanted resonance. This makes them ideal for genres like rock, blues, and metal. For instance, the Fender Stratocaster, with its unique double cutaway shape and 3-pickup configuration, is a favorite among rock musicians. Super Strats, with their higher output and locking tremolo system, are perfect for metal and hard rock.

The Versatility of Both Instruments

While certain genres may be more commonly associated with one type of guitar or the other, both acoustic and electric guitars are incredibly versatile instruments. Your choice between an electric or acoustic guitar as a beginner often comes down to personal preferences. Consider factors such as cost, learning curve, mobility, and versatility. For example, while electric guitars require an amplifier and can be more complex to set up, they’re often easier to play. Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, are more portable and can help beginners focus on the basics of the instrument, tone, and sound without the distractions of distortion, pedals, or volume knobs.

Final Words: Choosing Your Musical Partner

Choosing between an acoustic and electric guitar involves considering your musical taste, playing style, comfort, and budget. An acoustic guitar suits those who prefer a versatile, organic sound and simplicity, while the electric guitar fits rockers and blues enthusiasts who love experimenting with sound modifications. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Your first guitar is your partner in the journey towards musical expression. Think about your aspirations and what really moves you musically. The ‘right’ choice is one that aligns with your personal style and encourages your progression. Happy playing!


Andrew Scrivens

Andrew Scrivens

I am a live musician and guitar teacher from Brisbane, Australia, with extensive experience playing live, in the studio and for TV shows. I play in many venues, studios, music shops and with my students and as such am exposed to a lot of different gear. I form my opinions based on my experiences playing instruments in these locations.

*This site contains product affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links. However we have provided our unbiased, honest, and professional opinions of all products that we review.