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Acoustic vs. Electric: Which is the better starter guitar?


By Rado Randriamamonjy




Often, new-comers to the guitar find themselves confronted with this quesiton.  Is it better to start out on acoustic or electric?  In this article, we'll take a closer look at the pros and cons of each as well as other issues to consider when deciding on a guitar  for you.




The Myths


•    You should start with an acoustic guitar because it is harder to play and will make your hands and fingers stronger quickly.

 •    You should start with an electric guitar because it is easier to play, and improvement will come fast.






The Facts



Electric guitars are physically somewhat easier to play.


Electric guitars are physically somewhat easier to play, assuming they are properly adjusted, because they have a smaller body, thinner neck, and use lighter gauge strings. The pickups and amplifier do all the work of projecting the sound, so a lighter touch along with lighter strings also makes it easier to play. An electric guitar needs to be plugged into an amplifier, which must be turned on before playing. For some, the extra effort that it takes to plug into an amplifier and turn it on may be enough to keep them from playing as often or taking advantage of a spontaneous moment to pick it up and play.  But it does have its perks in easy playability. 





Acoustic guitars have heavier gauge strings which require slightly firmer picking and fingering.


The wood top of an acoustic guitar must vibrate in order to project the sound. This requires heavier gauge strings along with slightly firmer picking and fingering. The body of the acoustic guitar is much larger than the electric guitar, and usually has a thicker neck to support the tension of the heavier strings. However, some people find the immediate accessibility of an acoustic guitar resting on a stand appealing, making them more apt to pick it up and play more often.





The Finer Points...



So, on the face of it, it looks like it is easier to play an electric guitar, while playing an acoustic guitar affords you the opportunity to strengthen your hands over time.  However, there are many more things to consider when buying your first guitar.  Committing to learning and buying an instrument is an investment of time and money.  Set yourself up for success by considering these finer points:




Does the guitar fit your musical needs?


As an aspiring musician, you probably have musical goals in mind, a musical style that you prefer and certain musical issues or needs that you want to address.  Ideally, the guitar you choose should put you in line with and/or address these things.  For instance, if you want to play heavy metal, or grind-core, an electric guitar would probably suit you, your goals and your musical style best.  An acoustic would probably fall short of filling your needs.  But if your goal is to play local shows around town doing solo singer-songwriter type stuff, then an acoustic guitar will probably be better suited to your needs than an electric.  Match your guitar to your needs.  That said, it's important to understand that there is no "right" guitar for any set of styles, tastes etc.  Choosing your guitar is something you will have to consider carefully.





Does the guitar sound good to you?



This is an example of the little things making a big difference.  Although, whether or not a guitar sounds good really is no small thing, it can often be overlooked by beginners when selecting a guitar.  Does the guitar sound good to you?  Does the sound of your guitar make you want to pick it up and play it?  Playing a guitar that doesn't sound good often makes playing it and learning on it difficult.  Music after all is an auditory pursuit.  If the sounds coming out of your guitar don't sound good to you, committing to the guitar long enough to see progress could prove to be challenging.  





Does the guitar stay in tune?



This is an easy one to overlook.  Coming across a guitar that doesn't stay in tune is not that uncommon.  Especially with beginner guitars.  So it's important to find a guitar that does stay in tune.  To find out if a guitar has tuning problems, tune it using a tuner (you can refer to the article on tuning on this site if you need help), play it for a few minutes, then check its tuning again.  It it's out of tune don't buy it.  Usually, a guitar will start to sound less and less "nice" to listen to if it has tuning problems too; as the strings go further and further out of tune.  So, sometimes you won't even need to check its tuning.  It will just sound "off" (which is why you don't want to buy it in the first place).  However, if you're sold on the guitar  in every other way, a reputable guitar technician can make the necessary repairs to make it playable for you. 





Is the guitar within your budget?



Finding a guitar that feels good, sounds good and stays in tune does not have to break the bank.  Finding a guitar that fulfills these criteria is possible at any budget.  Although it can be tempting to spend a lot of money on a high-end name brand guitar, it's not necessary to do so.  Finding a good starter guitar that will fulfill your needs for a few months, or even years, is possible.   Some "starter" guitars even become a permanent fixtures some players' arsenals.  On the flip-side, if a high-end name brand is within your budget, there is nothing that says that you have to pass on it.  Remember, success at learning the guitar is as much about the time and commitment invested in the instrument as it is the money invested in an instrument.  The key to success is in putting the time into a guitar that you like.  As long as the guitar feels good, sounds good and stays in tune, it can fulfill your needs and help you reach your musical goals.





Whether you decide on an acoustic or an electric, be sure to get it properly setup by a professional guitar technician or luthier.



A good set up is critical to the maintenance and playability of a guitar.   What is a setup?  A setup is when a guitar tech or luthier (a guitar builder) adjusts the neck and positions the strings of your guitar in such a way that he/she optimizes the space between the strings and the fretboard.   This often makes the guitar easier to play and keeps the guitar in good playing shape.  As you gain experience playing the guitar, you will decide on the proper string distance that works for you.  But when you first buy a guitar, either out-of-the-box new or 2nd hand, you should have a reputable guitar tech 0r luthier set it up for you.  Doing this will optimize the playability of your guitar and set you up (no pun intended) for success.




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