Which Guitar Is Better for Beginners: Acoustic or Electric?

Guitars
Getty Images/Andy Lee

Most beginning guitar players have pondered the question "Which is better to learn on -- an electric guitar, or an acoustic guitar?" The answer to that question is a little more complicated than personal preference. The best way to find an answer for this question is to first learn a little bit about both electric and acoustic guitars, and what makes them different.

Acoustic Guitar

This is the instrument most people think of when they think "guitar".

An acoustic guitar is hollow, and almost always has a "sound hole" -- a round hole in the face of the guitar. Acoustic guitars almost always have six strings. When you strike the strings of an acoustic guitar, the instrument produces a rather loud sound. Although acoustic guitars are often associated with folk music, and "mellow" music in general, they are in truth in all styles of music, from country to blues to ​heavy metal.

A "classical guitar" looks quite similar to an "acoustic guitar", and is indeed still an acoustic instrument, but it has several distinct differences. Standard acoustic guitars have six strings made of steel, whereas classical guitars have six strings, three of which are nylon. This produces a sound quite different from an acoustic guitar. The neck of the guitar is also much broader on most classical guitars. Essentially, unless you are interested in focusing on classical music, this style of guitar probably shouldn't be your primary choice for a first instrument.

Electric Guitar

Electric guitars have a few more bells and whistles than acoustics. Most electric guitars are not hollow, thus when you strike the strings, the sound produced is very quiet. In order to project the sound of an electric guitar, a guitar amplifier is needed. Generally, people find electric guitars to be a little more confusing than acoustic guitars -- there are more knobs and buttons to deal with, and there are also a few more things that can go wrong.

Electric guitars are generally much easier to play than acoustic guitars. The strings are lighter and easier to press down. The sore fingers that many novices experience when learning on an acoustic guitar generally aren't nearly as much of an issue when learning on electric guitar.

Electric guitars have a different role in music than acoustic guitars. Whereas acoustic guitars are often used to strum chords to many songs, electrics are used to play "guitar leads" as well as chords.