I’ve owned and played acoustic and electric guitars for over 15 years and ultimately spend a lot more time playing acoustic than electric guitar.
In this post, I’ll explain why I play acoustic guitar more and how you can decide which instrument is better for you to pursue.
So how do you decide whether to play acoustic or electric guitar?
Electric guitar might be a better fit for you if several of the following are true:
Acoustic guitar might be a better fit for you if several of the following are true:
You’re more interested in playing lead than rhythm guitar. (You’re interested in solos, scales, and you want to learn how to shred or rock out on your guitar.)
You’re more interested in playing rhythm than lead guitar. (You want to learn chords, strum patterns, finger-picking, and how to sing along while you play.)
The majority of the songs you want to learn are in the rock, heavy metal, punk, or jazz genres.
The majority of the songs you want to learn are acoustic folk, bluegrass, country, or singer-songwriter.
Most of the time you like to plug into an amp and play loudly.
Most of the time you like to play the guitar quietly.
You get excited about all the potential gear you could get for your electric guitar like amps and countless pedals and the sorts of sounds you can make with this gear.
You’re happy getting the same sound out of your acoustic and buying a new guitar if you want a different sound.
You want to play a guitar that’s easier on your fingers.
You realize the acoustic guitar is slightly more difficult to play because the strings are heavier and harder to press down and are OK with this.
I’ll discuss these issues in greater depth below.
But the short answer is you should play whichever instrument you are most excited about playing.
Lead Vs. Rhythm Guitar And How This Might Influence Your Decision to Pursue Electric or Acoustic
If you’re new to the world of guitar then the terms lead and rhythm guitar might confuse you.
Lead and rhythm guitar are two different styles of playing the same instrument.
The lead guitarist is usually the guitarist who focuses on the melody of the song, often playing the solo and employing bending, vibrato, slides, arpeggios, and picking to play individual notes.
As noted in wikibooks, the lead guitarist usually plays the electric guitar.
So if you want to play lead guitar, you should probably focus on the electric guitar.
The rhythm guitarist usually plays chords and may play either acoustic or electric guitar.
Though the lines between rhythm and lead guitar are often fuzzy (sometimes with one guitarist playing both roles), Angus and Malcom Young in the band AC/DC are good examples of lead and rhythm guitarists.
For example, in the song Back in Black, Angus plays the shredding solo as lead guitarist, and Malcom plays the chords throughout the song as the rhythm guitarist.
Lead guitarists need to know music theory, scales, and how to improvise.
Rhythm guitarists need to know chords, strumming patterns, and have a good sense of timing and rhythm.
Your Preferred Music Genre and How it Could Determine Whether You Pursue Electric or Acoustic Guitar
It’s best to have the songs in mind that you want to learn when deciding between pursuing the electric or acoustic guitar.
If you want to learn songs by these bands or in their respective genres then electric guitar is probably a better choice for you:
- U2 (rock)
- Iron Maiden (heavy metal)
- The Ramones (punk rock)
- or Fourplay (jazz)
However, if you’re interested more interested in songs from bands like these or in the following genres, then acoustic guitar might be a better choice for you.
- James Taylor (singer/songwriter)
- Peter, Paul, & Mary (folk)
- Nickel Creek (bluegrass)
- Willie Nelson (country)
The Context and Places You Envision Playing the Guitar Should Help You Decide Whether You Pursue Electric or Acoustic Guitar
When you imagine playing the guitar, are you playing the electric or acoustic guitar?
It might sound silly but this is actually a great way to help you decide which guitar to pursue.
Do you imagine playing guitar on the front porch, by the campfire, or quietly in your living room?
If so, you should probably pursue the acoustic guitar.
On the other hand, if you imagine blasting your skills through an amp and rocking out in your garage, then the electric guitar might be the better choice for you.
Of course, this is an oversimplified way of thinking about these instruments.
There are plenty of electric guitarists who practice quietly (especially when most amps have a headphone jack for the guitarist to plug into).
There are also plenty of acoustic guitarists who like to plug in and play loudly.
But thinking through how you will play your instrument is definitely helpful in determining which type of instrument is best for you.
Guitar Gear and Accessories and How This Can Guide Your Decision of Whether to Play Acoustic or Electric Guitar
Pictures with larger than life pedal boards for electric guitarists are a dime a dozen.
It’s very easy to go down the infinite rabbit hole of creating unique sounds for your electric guitar.
And with different amps, pedals, and distortion options, your ability to make new sounds with the electric guitar is truly limitless.
Many electric guitarists love this aspect of their instrument and always have a new pedal on their wish list.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who can envision himself being satisfied with the singular sound of your guitar for decades to come, acoustic guitar might be a better fit for you.
Granted, there are plenty of acoustic guitarists who are always buying new guitars in search of a new guitar sound.
Likewise, there are electric guitarists who stick with their same guitar, amp, and maybe one or two pedals for their whole lives.
That said, in general there are more gear options for electric guitarists and fewer for acoustic guitarists.
Acoustic Vs. Electric Guitar: Which Is Easier?
I don’t think you should make a decision on which type of guitar to pursue based purely on which you think is easier.
If you approach learning guitar with this mindset, you will more than likely quit because learning the guitar is not easy.
However, for what it’s worth, electric guitar strings are easier to press down than acoustic guitar strings.
This only really matters for the beginner musician who has not yet developed hand strength or callouses on his fingertips.
That said, you should absolutely take your guitar to a luthier (that’s someone who builds and repairs musical instruments) to get your instrument “set up.”
When you take an instrument to get set up, the luthier makes sure the action (the distance between the neck of your guitar and the strings) is properly set and makes other adjustments to ensure your instrument plays as well as it can.
Usually, a luthier will lower the action (reduce the distance between the neck of your guitar and the strings) which makes playing your acoustic guitar significantly easier.
So Which Acoustic or Electric Guitar Should You Purchase?
If you’ve made your decision on which type of guitar to pursue, congratulations!
Getting started on your guitar journey is very exciting.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive, entry-level acoustic guitar, check out the Jasmine S35.
If you want something higher quality or a performance ready instrument, check out my acoustic guitar buying guide here.
This is a good electric guitar starter kit for <$100 if you’ve decided instead to pursue electric guitar.
And if you’re looking for an electric that’s a step up from the beginner package, check out this one.
Do You Have to Play Either Electric Or Acoustic Guitar?
Don’t sweat it if you still aren’t sure which type of guitar you want to focus on.
Most guitarists I know who focus primarily on electric/lead guitar own and play at least one acoustic guitar, and vice versa.
(I own an electric even though I focus primarily on acoustic guitar.)
If you stick with the guitar, you will more than likely purchase an electric or acoustic guitar at some point in addition to your primary instrument.
So don’t feel like you’re locked into playing electric or acoustic forever.
Also, playing lead and rhythm guitar styles aren’t mutually exclusive.
There are plenty of accomplished guitarists (like John Mayer) who can play both lead and rhythm styles and alternate between acoustic and electric guitar.
What’s the difference between electric and acoustic guitar strings? Electric guitar strings are typically lighter gauge (thinner) and therefore easier to press down than acoustic guitar strings. Also, electric guitar strings are usually made of magnetic alloys which the electric guitar pick up can better amplify. On the other hand, acoustic guitar strings are typically made of more resonant alloys. These are my favorite acoustic guitar strings and these are my favorite electric guitar strings.