The age-old debate around acoustic guitars and electric guitars is one that isn’t going away anytime soon. Newbies will always wonder if they are making the right choice in going with one side of the divide. Acoustic guitars have been around the longest and have a strong reputation, but why?
One of the reasons why acoustic guitars are better than electric guitars is that they are regarded as the perfect foundation for any guitar player. The affordable pricing and the compact nature make them a more realistic option for many new guitarists and their teachers.
The rest of this article will look at the 12 reasons why acoustic guitars are better than electric guitars. You should also watch out for some tips to keep in mind when it is time to buy yours.
Differentiating Between Acoustic and Electric Guitars
If you’re new to guitars, in general, you may be unsure about the main differences between acoustic and electric guitars. They are covered below.
Acoustic guitars come with a hollow body. This is to help in the physics of sound generation—from the strings to the air inside the body of the guitar and through the opening in front (known as the soundhole). Electric guitars come with a solid body and require an amplifier to produce any sounds.
Weight and Size
Acoustic guitars are larger because the body has to be big enough to amplify sound waves. However, the hollow design means they don’t weigh much. Electric guitars might look smaller, but they weigh a lot more most of the time because of the elaborate circuitry required to power them.
Neck Appearance and Strings
The strings on an acoustic guitar are further apart, so they have thicker necks than electric guitars. The strings on an electric guitar are a lot closer to themselves. Classic acoustic guitars often have the widest necks.
The strings on acoustic guitars are heavy steel to allow for adequate vibration, making them harder to hold down. Some acoustic guitars are built with nylon strings, but these sound a bit more subdued. Electric guitars always come with thinner steel strings, which are easier to handle.
Tone and Music
Standard acoustic guitars only sound one way, which is the classic tone we have all come to know and love. There may be slight tonal differences between different acoustic guitars due to the materials used in the construction. Electric guitars can have different tones due to the effects you can add with an amp and the pickups built-in.
These differences in tone mean that you can only hear the acoustic guitar in music like folk, country, pop, blues, and classical. Electric guitars can work with any music style apart from classical and folk.
There are many reasons why acoustic guitars are better than electric guitars. They are covered below.
They Are Cheaper
One of the first things you will notice when you are in the market for a guitar is that choosing an acoustic guitar is cheaper overall. Even when you get bargains on an electric guitar that makes it similar to an acoustic in pricing, you will need to pay the cost for an amplifier—an expense you won’t need with an acoustic guitar.
With an acoustic guitar, all you need is the guitar and a few accessories that are also mostly required with an electric guitar. So, if you are looking for an affordable way to break into the guitar world, an acoustic guitar is the better bet.
They Allow Better Focus
With an acoustic guitar, your focus will always be on the instrument. You won’t have to worry about handling distortion or managing volume knobs and pedals (here’s how to distort guitar without pedal if interested). As a beginner, this means you can focus on playing and learning the instrument’s core basics. You will also be able to focus on improving your tone and sound.
They Are Easier to Move Around
Moving your acoustic guitar from one place to another is as simple as putting it into a case and carrying it by hand or on your back (Should an Acoustic Guitar Be Kept in Its Case?). It does not weigh much, so you can take your guitar with you anywhere. When it is time for practice, the only thing you need is the guitar. You do not have to think about any other special rigs to move with every time you need to play anywhere else other than your home.
If you intend to look for gigs out of state or join a band and tour the country, you don’t have to worry about flying any special equipment around. You only have to check in your guitar as a carry-on without undergoing any elaborate processes.
Do you want to take your guitar with you on a camping trip, or do you intend to perform regularly out on the streets? You can only achieve these with an acoustic guitar. How many times have you seen a street performer with an electric guitar?
With an electric guitar, you will have to buy the guitar and an amp and also worry about transporting them to the street corner. Once there, you have to look for a power source. That’s far too many variables to account for, so many people with electric guitars only ever play in their living room, practice studio, or when they have to play in proper gigs.
Even when you do not intend to play outdoors or carry your guitar around, an acoustic guitar is always more accessible. There is the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you can just pick up your guitar anytime you want and play in any corner of your home that appeals to you. With an electric guitar, you have to play in a fixed position, and you always have to worry about cables.
They Sound Better
The classic sound of an acoustic guitar (Classical vs Acoustic Guitars) sounds a lot more precise, soothing, and delicate compared to what you get with the electric guitar. An acoustic guitar gives you a complete range of dynamics. You can start to make some excellent sounds almost immediately.
Most experts will agree that open chords sound better when played on an acoustic guitar. You are also sure to get the best resonance, and the sounds generated are fuller and deeper. The perfect construction delivers better reverberation. It is possible to get some resonance with an electric guitar, but you will have to do lots of adjusting or knob turning, and the results may still be lacking.
You will get true sound from your acoustic guitar because it is more organic. There are no electronic components, just wood and steel.
You Can Derive More Satisfaction From Your Creativity
It feels great to know that the sounds coming from a guitar are completely your creation. This drives you to derive more pleasure in looking for more ways to express this creativity. There is no need for an accompaniment when it comes to an acoustic guitar. With an electric guitar, your input will be heavily impacted by the amp and other extras.
They Are Great for Rhythm
If you are looking for a guitar that is great for playing rhythm, you won’t do much better than an acoustic. This is because an acoustic guitar has more percussive elements than you’d find with an electric guitar.
Many experts will advise learning your rhythm on an acoustic guitar to get very good at it. With your rhythm sorted, playing wild solos on an electric guitar (if you choose to go that route later) will be a lot easier.
They Are Great for Building Hand Strength
As we have seen in the comparison above, the strings on an acoustic guitar are typically thicker than you’d find on an electric guitar. You will need to expend more energy in manipulating and holding down the strings, which scares away some newcomers. However, learning to play your barre and open chords is an excellent way to develop your hand strength.
You need a strong level of hand strength to play any type of string instrument. Once you have fully developed the strength, you will be able to play any type of guitar you pick up.
Acoustic Guitar Skills Can Be Transferred
Everything learned on an acoustic guitar, such as picking chords, strumming, rhythm, chords, scales, and timing, can translate excellently to the electric guitar if you decide to move to it later in the future.
The hand strength developed on an acoustic guitar also becomes immediately noticeable on an electric guitar. The skills learned on an electric guitar are not quite as transferable to an acoustic guitar if you make the switch.
Acoustic Guitarists Are Highly Rated
We mentioned briefly how acoustic guitars are great for playing rhythm. This means that acoustic guitarists are expected to maintain a song’s rhythm all through the session, and the best ones do it effortlessly and are highly rated by their peers. On the other hand, an electric guitarist doesn’t have to maintain any rhythm and can weave around mistakes on stage.
You Can Play Songs Solely on an Acoustic Guitar
There are thousands of excellent tracks you can play on an acoustic guitar without the help of a backup band. If you intend to play solo gigs a lot, you’ll have a vast pool of songs to choose from or write yours and perform.
Performing solo electric numbers, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult. This is why you’re less likely to find a solo electric guitar act down the street or at your local pub. On the rare occasion you find such a performer, they’ll have to do a lot of work to impress the audience.
Finding Great Acoustic Guitar Role Models Is Easy
If you intend to run a guitar class for children one day, there are many popular acoustic guitar role models to choose from that are or were good moral pillars in society. Tommy Emmanuel and Chet Atkins are good examples. With electric guitar role models, it’s difficult to find one where you don’t have to “separate the artist from their art.”
They Are Neighbor-Friendly
We have mentioned how you don’t need an amplifier for an acoustic guitar. This means you never have to worry about getting noise complaints from people around you. You’ll barely disturb people in the same house.
Also, the fact that you can take an acoustic guitar anywhere means you can go elsewhere if you need some privacy or don’t want to disturb your family members.
Acoustic Guitar vs. Electric Guitar: Which One Should You Learn With?
We’ve seen why acoustic guitars are better than electric guitars, but which one should you learn with as a fresh entrant to the guitar world?
- As we touched on above, you can easily play anything you learn on a steel-string acoustic guitar on an electric guitar. You can also transfer skills you acquire, but this can’t be said for electric guitars. So, learning on an acoustic guitar is a double-deal experience, while you will have to go through another learning curve if you start with electric guitars first, intending to move to acoustic guitars in the future.
- Practicing your skills on an acoustic guitar is great for your pocket and everyone around you. Remember, you won’t generate much noise, and listeners will likely appreciate the naturally calmer and soothing tone of the acoustic guitar (Relevant article: Why Do Acoustic Guitars Have High Action?).
- The curriculum at many guitar schools will almost always start with a class on acoustic guitars. You may have difficulties finding a center where you can jump straight to electric guitar sessions.
- Acoustic guitars are tougher on the fingers. In the first couple of weeks, you may find it harder to play for more than half an hour before your fingertips start hurting from fretting strings. However, this phase doesn’t last longer than a couple of weeks before you develop calluses.
- You have to protect your guitar with a case and avoid accidents because they are more brittle than electric guitars.
- Holding down chords is easier due to the narrower neck width.
- The strings on the electric guitar are softer than on acoustic guitars, making playing on them a lot easier on the fingers.
- You can practice in “silence” because most amplifiers have a headphone jack.
- You need more money to buy both the guitar and the amplifier.
- You have to spend a lot of time finding the right tone and right amp settings to use.
- Knowing how to play something on an electric guitar doesn’t always mean you can replicate the same on an acoustic guitar.
Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of learning with each type of guitar, you can see why many people agree that going with acoustic guitars beats going with electric guitars.
However, if you’re unsure, you can always go with the option that best aligns with the type of music you like and intend to play regularly. An acoustic guitar can take the backstage if you intend to play metal and rock music.
If you want to play classical, country, or lots of solo songs, you should go with an acoustic guitar. If you intend to play everything, you should still choose an acoustic guitar first to get a well-rounded foundation.
Tips for Choosing Your Perfect Acoustic Guitar
If you’ve chosen to go with an acoustic guitar, there are a few factors you should keep in mind when weighing your options.
Check the Body Style
You’ll find acoustic guitars in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Options you can expect to find include classic, dreadnought, and jumbo. The body style is important because it affects the guitar’s tonal emphasis and the sound projection. Body designs that come with a single or double cutaway design also tend to allow better access to the upper frets.
Look at the Electronics
Acoustic guitars typically don’t have any electronics, but some have preamplifiers and pickups built-in for guitarists that want to play in larger venues. You’ll find the preamps inside the soundhole in many cases, but some manufacturers have the preamp mounted in the hole cut to the side of the instrument.
Some acoustic guitars may also feature an equalizer, piezo pickups, a microphone, and other such additions. If you need any of these, go with products that have the right mix.
Measure the Neck Width
When comparing the necks on an acoustic guitar, your hand’s size is the most important factor to guide you. The thickness and width of a guitar’s neck are dependent on the overall size of the instrument and the number of frets on the neck. So, check the width to ensure it’s a good fit for your hand size.
Check the Intonation
If you intend to use your guitar in real performances or for recording music, you should confirm its intonation. This measures whether the notes on your guitar play in tune as you move up the neck. An acoustic guitar typically won’t play in tune if the distance between the frets above the 12th is improperly aligned.
Compare the Wood Type
The choice of wood used in the design of a guitar will affect the overall sound. Different wood types are known for different tones. You should pay attention to the wood at the top as makers believe that the top is most important for measuring tone quality.
Spruce is the main wood option for guitar tops. You can find guitars made with rare tonewoods like rosewood, but these tend to cost a bit more.
Check the Tuning Machine
The tuning machine on your guitar is very important because it’s the feature that allows fine-tuning and pitch holding. Guitars with the tuning machine enclosed are better as they can withstand airborne corrosives and rust. You won’t have to maintain or replace them as frequently as those with open heads.
Check the Fingerboard and Bridge Materials
The materials used in the fingerboard and bridge of your guitar can affect the sound generated. This won’t be at the same level as to how the guitar’s body influences things, but it matters—especially if you’re buying the guitar for long term use that will involve stage performances.
Check the Overall Finish
The finish on the guitar can influence the wood’s vibration. However, there’s usually nothing you can do about this except choosing the option that looks good to you. Most of the guitar makers will choose the finish that best complements the rest of the materials on the instrument, so the finish is rarely the deal breaker.
Check for Fitting
Even if you haven’t learned any chords yet, it’s always a good idea to check the guitar’s fitting before you buy one. This is to confirm how the guitar feels when sitting on your lap and in your hand.
At this point, your priority should be your comfort. Remember, you could be playing for hours at a time.
- How does the neck feel under your hands?
- Does the guitar slip around excessively on your laps?
- Are the strings too high?
- Is the overall size of the instrument too big or too small?
These are all factors you should check before you pay for a guitar. Even as a learner, you need to pick the perfect instrument. The shops will usually provide some guidance based on your unique needs, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Acoustic Guitar FAQs
Is It Hard to Play an Electric Guitar as an Acoustic Guitarist?
No, the learning curve for an electric guitar almost disappears if you start as an acoustic guitarist (Related: how long does it take to learn fingerstyle guitar). Anything you can play on one guitar can be played on the other guitar, but it’s a lot more challenging replicating electric guitar performances on an acoustic guitar.
Are the Chords on Acoustic Guitars Same As on Electric Guitars?
The chords on both types of guitars are identical because the fretboards on them are the same. All your chords and notes can be played in the same way. The chords on any guitar will only change if it’s been tuned differently, away from the typical tuning standards.
Are Acoustic Guitars Played Like Electric Guitars?
Yes, you can play an acoustic guitar like an electric guitar (without the extra effects). You can play the same songs, fingerpick the same arpeggios, or strum the same chords. The sound and feel will vary across the two guitars, though. Also, you won’t get any decent sound if the electric guitar isn’t plugged in.
Are Acoustic Guitars Harder to Play?
Yes, acoustic guitars are harder to play because, as we mentioned earlier, they come with steel strings compared to the nylon strings you’ll find on electric guitars. However, some acoustic guitars also come with nylon strings, so the difficulty has more to do with the string type than the guitar type.
A good tip is to stop worrying about which guitar is harder to play and just choose the option that is right for you (all of them will require building guitar calluses). Don’t pick a guitar because it is easier for you; pick the one you’ll enjoy playing for years to come.
Why Are Some Acoustic Guitars More Expensive Than Usual?
The price of an acoustic guitar depends on a wide range of factors. However, the biggest influences on the price you’ll get for a guitar are how and where it’s made. If you’re buying an acoustic guitar handcrafted in the US, you can expect to pay more for it compared to models built abroad.
The wood used in making the guitar can also affect the price. Manufacturers may use rare pieces of wood to craft special editions of a guitar. The rarity of the wood, the style of the grain, and the overall finish can influence the price. Some of the most affordable guitars are made of laminate or a series of layers instead of one solid wood top.
Guitars with a solid top tend to vibrate wholly and have a distinct sound, but laminate tops are generally more resistant to weather and temperature fluctuations, and they also sound great during performances.
Are Quality Acoustic Guitars Expensive?
You don’t have to break the bank to buy an excellent acoustic guitar. While the limited-edition and rare wood instruments can cost thousands, you can find an excellent-sounding and playable acoustic guitar for less than $200. In some cases, you can find packages that throw in extras like additional strings, a tuner, a strap, and a guitar cover for under $300.
If you’re stuck on choosing between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar, everything we’ve discussed thus far shows that there’s a lot to gain if you choose to go with an acoustic guitar first. From playing cost to ease of transportation and foundational improvements, acoustic guitars come out on top.
If you find electric guitars intriguing or intend to play the music that requires using one of them, you can always pick up an electric guitar after you have mastered playing an acoustic guitar. Remember, an excellent acoustic guitarist can catch up to playing an electric guitar quickly.