Should I Start Playing on an Acoustic or Electric Guitar?by Jay Skyler
Your First Guitar: Get The One You Really Want!
First, let me say this. I love Acoustic. I love Electric. I really love playing guitar. My comments on this subject have led many to ask me whether I actually liked playing acoustic guitar. The answer is yes! I have hosted open mics, and I'm ready, willing, and able to rock any campfire or coffeehouse I encounter.
The thing is this: I have never had a student walk into a lesson with an electric and say "I really wanted an acoustic but everyone and the dude at the store told me I had to start on electric." Not even once.
However I have heard the inverse on at least 50 occasions. And I hear it from both guys and gals. One of the purposes of this site is to expose myths that ruin peoples development on and enjoyment of the guitar. And this is easily one of the most prevalent ones out there. I've taught at music schools/stores, I've had many friends who have sold guitars for a living, and for whatever reason, dads of teenagers I have taught have felt the need to relate to me pretty much every bit of frustration they experienced with the instrument growing up. It's more than a significant sample size; its the truth.
The "You Need to Start on the Acoustic..." Swindle!
"You Need to Start on a Classical"
In the early days of rock 'n' roll, if a kid walked into a music store wanting to play rock on an electric they would be told they "need to start out on a classical guitar" you know, "if they were serious." If mom was paying she grins and nods; she would be relieved to be buying something "a bit more respectable," and thinks it will be a whole lot quieter. Dads would think much the same.
But in reality, Its an old music store scam to sell the kid two guitars, because they'll eventually come back and buy the electric too.
This would inevitably set students back, because although electric and steel string acoustic technique are the same, classical guitar technique is different from both and they are not really interchangeable. If you would like to know the differences please read my article: The Two Ways to Play Guitar.
Becomes "You Need to Start on an Acoustic"
Baby Boomers cemented the guitar as the dominant instrument in American culture. Once Baby Boomers had kids there was always a chance parents had started out on a nylon string, and had to relearn their technique when they switched to electric or steel string. Many Dads have told me they got so frustrated at that point, that they gave up guitar altogether.
Many who really enjoyed classical guitar and had no interest in electric or steel string acoustic had to give it up to play sports. For the benefit of International readers, unlike soccer, the sports popular in the United States cannot be played safely with long right hand fingernails (which is how nylon string guitars are played).
So the standard sales pitch "You need to start on a classical" was replaced by the more generic "You need to start out on an acoustic." This has become "popular wisdom." And it seems believable enough because you hear it all the time. Well what kind of acoustic? Classical or Folk? What exactly are the advantages to starting on acoustic? No one really knows the answer to these questions because it doesn't really matter. The net result is the same. The music store sells you two guitars.
I've taught at music stores. I've heard them training the sales clerks. I have personally been told that students should "upgrade" to an electric. If any reader of this article can give me a couple of sound educational, musical, spiritual, or heck even moral reasons a student who exclusively or primarily wants to play electric guitar will be better by starting on acoustic, I will put a second article on this site with your prose word for word and my reponse to it. My email is RockGuitarLessons@Gmail.com. Fire away. I will post the link right here: (no responses yet!)
What Should I Start On?
Want to play a classical (also correctly termed a classic) guitar? Buy a classical guitar.
Want to play a steel string folk guitar? Well, buy one of those.
Want to play an electric? Get an electric.
Its pretty simple once music store profits have been taken out of the equation.
And ladies, please don't buy into any sexist nonsense about what is appropriate for women to play, or what you can or can't do on the instrument. This myth has nothing to do with music store profits, but rather with the insecurity of the people who propagate this complete and utter fiction.
Get the guitar you really want to play! You will have a lot more fun and will find yourself practicing more.
But here's a more complicated issue.
Want to Play Both Steel String Acoustic and Electric?
Its very common (if not the norm) for people to want to be able to play BOTH steel string acoustic and electric. Well that's not problematic because the technique is the same. But which one to buy first?
You probably have some vision of yourself in your head where you can play pretty much whatever you want on guitar. It doesn't matter whether you think its even remotely achievable or not. What kind of guitar are you playing? Get that one (in that exact color too, special order it if you have to).
It's Actually the Amplifier that's Loud
If you're still 50/50 here's my advice:
If they hold equal power over your imagination START WITH AN ELECTRIC!
There's a bunch of little technical advantages, but much more importantly:
A steel string acoustic is WAY LOUDER THAN YOU THINK IT IS! (Especially to your neighbors in the next apartment, and parents who bought the thing thinking it was quieter than an electric).
An Electric can be played with headphones!
An electric + inexpensive $25 headphone amp is a far more diplomatic solution, especially for apartment living situations.
Parents might also consider this. Buy your kid a headphone amp. If they get good enough to play in a band, they'll need an actual amp. But they will most likely keep the amp at the drummers house.
- Category: Student Secton (Local)