The Guitar Dilemma: Electric or Acoustic

Guest Post by Max Pheiffer

It happens to every aspiring guitar player. They hear that one song, or that one chord, or that one lick that just resonates. It stays in their head all week long until they finally make the decision. Its time to become a guitarist. And then everyone and their brother has an opinion of what the next step is. But what it always boils down to is the most organic of dilemmas that any starting guitarist has to face before plunging in: acoustic or electric?


Photo by ClintJCL

Yes, for some people it was a natural, even incidental, decision. They heard a riff off of a metal album, so their going to pick up an Explorer, plug in, and crank the distortion up to inhuman levels. Or, on the other end of the proverbial spectrum, someone heard a shimmering, weeping chord bouncing around an acoustic act and they go and find a nice Martin or Taylor. Or, in the case of poor people (like myself), a Telecoustic. Please no hatemail for that purchase.

But for the more musically rounded of us, it’s not so black and white. Sure, rocking out to loud, rude, distorted electrics is better than therapy to cure what ails you. But sometimes it nice to get a little more introspective, listen to some poetry put to music, or even just a powerful, dynamic ballad. And don’t get me started on the “in-between” music, using electrics and acoustics, or electric acoustics, or clean hollow-body electrics. The list goes on, but the dilemma stays the same. What is your choice?

Well, there are arguments for both, and many (most?) guitarists like each for various needs. But, as any starting musician will tell you, it’s not exactly cost-effective to purchase both on that first trip to Guitar Center, and the choice you make will most likely become your go-to guitar, so think wisely. There are pros and cons to each, so weigh them out.

Acoustics are typically cheaper at the get-go for the sole reason that once you buy it, your ready to go. You don’t need cords or amps, just a little determination. Acoustic guitars are also great for the beginner because they are a great song-writing tool once you learn some cool chords. There’s no need for a flaky, drug-addled band to express yourself, just the one guitar and the balls to sing. However, with every benefit is a hidden con, and acoustics are no exception. First off, when you get a little more serious, usually (and I use the word “usually” in the most broad sense because nothing is certain) can get much more pricey for the higher end models. Of course, this isn’t counting custom-made, or special editions, just good guitars. Also, the workmanship of an acoustic effects the sound and feel incredibly, resulting in hard-to-play, typically bland-sounding guitars, when one buys a cheap model (I have some first hand experience in this one). Plus, for a starting guitar player, the heavier strings will invariably tear up your fingers more than an electric. These are just a few concerns that might be important to the next aspiring Tom Petty.

And now for electrics: my personal guitar of choice. These can be a great tool for the guitarist looking for power and fun. In a broad sense, electric guitars are easier to learn, mostly because of the lighter strings and thinner bodies. Electrics also have the potential to be more versatile for the musician with a keen ear for when to use clean tones, distorted riffs, or crunchy leads. Not to mention, there are many kinds of pedals to freak out the sounds of the instrument. But, as mentioned, they are more expensive to start out. Amps can drive up the price really quick, and cords aren’t the cheapest things in the world. And of course, as with any product, the cheaper you go, the poorer the performance. Yes, you could start out with a Strat Pack (some of the best of us had to go that route), but there’s no tone in those, you get an amp that makes a better coffee table, and the you have the shame of having that purchase on your record. But of course, for the starter, it’s not a terrible deal, because it’s cheap, and the name rhymes. You’re now one step closer to being a songwriter.

While the dilemma may be short-lived (hopefully you decide to go the wise route and spend your next rent check on one of each) it still will affect the way you learn, and the way you see yourself as a guitarist. I have seen way too many people try to learn guitar, only to have made the wrong decision on an acoustic or electric, and given up because their guitar didn’t sound like that riff that they heard. So make the right decision, because there are never enough guitar players in the world.

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