Knowing the difference between an acoustic and electric guitar is a crucial step in your guitar journey. This is especially true for beginners looking to get their hands on their first guitar. Should you settle for the mellow acoustic guitar or go all out on a fiery electric guitar?
The main difference between acoustic and electric guitars is their sound and design. But there are also smaller differences in their build qualities, genre compatibility, and much more. If you want to learn about the differences between acoustic and electric guitars, you’re in the right place.
In this guide, we’ll discuss acoustic and electric guitars, looking at what they are, what makes them similar, and what makes them different. That way, you can make a more informed decision on what type of guitar best suits you. Without further ado, let’s dive straight into it.
What Is an Acoustic Guitar?
An acoustic guitar is a type of guitar with a hollow body fitted with strings (mostly steel) stretched over a fretboard. Plucking or strumming the guitar settings produces sound, which is then amplified by the guitar’s hollow body (soundbox) and the front of the guitar’s body (soundboard).
Unlike electric and semi-acoustic guitars, acoustic guitars don’t have electrical components and don’t use electrical amplification. Acoustic guitars are also known as country, western, or folk guitars.
What Is an Electric Guitar?
An electric guitar is a guitar with a solid body and steel strings. Electric guitars don’t have a hollow body for amplification. Instead, they have pickups that convert vibrations into electrical signals. Cables relay the signal to an amplifier projecting sound through external speakers.
The pickups use electromagnetic induction to pick up the vibrations and transform them into electrical signals. However, it’s not uncommon to find electric guitars with non-magnetic pickups.
Similarities Between Acoustic and Electric Guitars
While acoustic and electric guitars are clearly distinct, they do share a couple of similarities. Some of these similarities include the following:
You Can Play Both Without Amplification
While it’s obvious that you don’t need an amp for an acoustic guitar, did you know that you can play the electric guitar without an amp? That’s right, you can strum away on your electric guitar without an amp. The only caveat is that it won’t sound nearly as good as when you plug it into an amplifier.
An acoustic guitar will do just fine without the amp and is suitable for smaller performances. An electric guitar, on the other hand, will sound quiet and won’t be that good.
However, you can still practice without an amp and perfect your art. If you don’t own an amp, you can connect your electric guitar to a computer or smartphone and use an audio interface to get the job done.
They Both Use the Same Strings
Both electric and acoustic guitars use the same types of strings. Most acoustic and electric guitars use steel strings because they offer more power and volume. You can still find both guitars with nylon strings, which are more comfortable but don’t nearly sound as good as steel strings.
It’s worth noting that nylon strings are terrible for electric guitars and produce an awful sound. Remember, electric guitars use electromagnetic induction to pick up vibrations. Since nylon is non-magnetic, expect nothing more than lackluster sound.
The Body Is Made With the Same Material
Both acoustic and electric guitars are made from wood. These guitars are mostly made of well-seasoned woods like mahogany, maple, basswood, and walnut, to name a few.
However, with acoustic guitars, the wood is hollowed out to create a sound box that amplifies the sound. Electric guitars comprise a solid block of wood that houses the string and pickups. Either way, both guitars use wood for their bodies.
Electric guitars don’t have to be made of wood, though. Unlike the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar’s body doesn’t play too much of a role in its sound production. That’s why some electric guitars are made of plexiglass, plastic, and even aluminum.
They Have the Same Anatomy
Acoustic and electric guitars share the same general anatomy. They have strings, frets, a neck, body, tuning pegs, pickups (electric guitar only), and knobs (electric guitar only). All of these parts play an important role in the guitars’ sound production, working together to give us beautiful music
Difference Between an Acoustic and Electric Guitar
Picking between an electric and an acoustic guitar is pretty difficult when you don’t know what makes them different. Here are the differences between the two:
The first major difference between these two types of guitars is the sound they produce. With an acoustic guitar, you should expect an authentic, sort of relaxed, acoustic intonation. Sound intonation may vary from one acoustic guitar to the next because of the strings and type of wood. However, the sound is generally the same.
Electric guitars, on the other hand, have immense sound versatility. That’s because you can connect them to amps and other accessories and adjust the sound accordingly. You can alter the sound, enhance it, and even add effects. There are no limits to what sounds you can produce with an electric guitar.
Shape and Size
Electric guitars are noticeably smaller than their acoustic counterparts and are also a lot slimmer. Unlike acoustic guitars, which use their bodies as amplifiers, electric guitars’ bodies are only for holding the strings and pickup. That’s why they can be as small and quirky as the designer likes.
The small size of electric guitars confers on them a fair degree of lightness compared to acoustic guitars. This explains the crazy acrobatics rock stars do with their electric guitars, which would be impossible to do with acoustic guitars.
Hardware and Accessories
To play an electric guitar, all you need is the instrument itself. To play an electric guitar, you’ll need the instrument, hardware, and accessories.
Remember, an acoustic guitar doesn’t need amplification, but an electric guitar needs an amplifier and speaker for amplification. Of course, you can play the electric guitar without an amp, but it won’t do you much good.
If you settle for an electric guitar, you’ll also have to buy an amplifier. If the amplifier you buy doesn’t have an output stage, you’ll also need an external speaker. Not to mention the cables for connecting the guitar to the amplifier.
The bright side of having an amplifier is that you can tweak the sound to exactly what you want. This is especially true if you have an amp with a built-in tuner. As your skill improves, you can consider purchasing pedals or a pedal board.
This doesn’t mean that the acoustic guitar doesn’t have accessories. Some acoustic guitar accessories include capos, tuners, straps, and picks. However, these accessories apply across the board and are also much cheaper.
As mentioned earlier, both acoustic and electric guitars use steel and nylon strings. The strings on acoustic guitars are mainly alloys containing bronze, brass, or phosphor-bronze, while those on electric guitars are mostly nickel, nickel-plated, or pure steel.
Remember, electric guitars use magnetic pickups to read string vibrations. As such, they require strings with a high iron content for better reading. Manufacturers use various alloys, but pure steel works best.
The price disparity between acoustic and electric guitars is quite significant. Acoustic guitars are generally a lot more affordable than the cost of electric guitars. You can snag a decent acoustic guitar for as little as $100, but you’ll need between $200 and $500 to get a good electric guitar.
If you do your digging, you can find an electric guitar that sells for $100 or slightly more. However, these are likely knock-off models with subpar sound. If you want a good electric guitar, be prepared to dig deep into your pockets.
Is There a Difference Between Learning an Acoustic and Electric Guitar?
Yes, there are quite a few differences between learning an acoustic and an electric guitar. Here are some of these differences:
Amplification is the major factor that separates acoustic guitar from electric guitar learning. By now, you know that electric guitars require amplification to make the sound audible. An acoustic guitar does not.
With the electric guitar, you not only have to learn the basics like chords, scales, and fingerpicking but also amplification. That’s the only way to make your music sound as you want it to.
This means there are a few more skills to master and processes to get through before conquering the electric guitar.
The electric guitar gets the upper hand when it comes to learning its playing methodology.
That’s because the strings of electric guitars are closer to the fretboard. This means they’re more comfortable to play with since you don’t have to press too hard on the fretboard. It also means your fingers won’t get too sore compared to playing the acoustic guitar.
What’s more, acoustic guitars usually have thicker gauge strings to produce the desired sound. With no amp for amplification, the strings must be thicker to be loud enough. As a learner, you must press down hard on the fretboard for a clean sound. This is uncomfortable and hurts, especially when starting out.
Cost of Learning
This isn’t too much of an issue because you can always learn to play the guitar on your own.
However, there’s little issue with buying a guitar to learn. As mentioned before, electric guitars are more expensive than acoustic ones. Moreover, you’ll have to purchase a separate amplifier, which adds to the tab.
Equipment aside, electric guitar classes are slightly more expensive than acoustic guitar classes. If you choose to go the electrical route, be prepared to part with about $50 more. This is because electric guitar classes also involve learning how to use the amp, additional electric guitar techniques, and controls.
Pros and Cons of Playing Acoustic Guitar
There are a few advantages to playing the acoustic guitar over the electric guitar. Some of them include the following:
Benefits of Playing an Acoustic Guitar
No Amp Required
The most obvious benefit of an acoustic guitar is that you don’t need to buy a separate amp. This not only saves on cost but also makes learning the acoustic guitar slightly easier. It’s also easier to take the guitar with you when you travel.
Fingerpicking Is a Lot Easier
The fingerstyle technique is easier on the acoustic guitar because you can use a pick. Doing so with an electric guitar would be difficult because of how close the strings are to the fretboard. This allows for a lot more song variety on the acoustic guitar.
Allows for Capo Use
A capo is a small instrument you clamp on your guitar’s neck to adjust the pitch. The capo lets you experiment with different sounds and also expands your song variety.
You Can Use the Sliding Technique
The sliding technique involves holding a hard object (a slide) on the guitar to create a variety of effects. It allows for effects like vibrato and glissando that you can only do on an acoustic guitar.
Disadvantages of Playing an Acoustic Guitar
Impossible to Change Sounds
Unlike an electric guitar, you can’t alter the sounds an acoustic guitar produces. This greatly limits experimentation.
The acoustic guitar has very limited bass, and you can’t use it for songs with powerful bass. Certainly not recommended for rock and jazz performances.
Bigger than Electric Guitars
Acoustic guitars are bigger and heavier than electric guitars. This makes them uncomfortable and impossible to play for long periods of time.
Strings Might Hurt Your Fingers
Acoustic guitar strings are thicker than electrical guitar strings. They’re also further away from the fretboard. This means you must press down harder for them to produce a clean sound. Doing so will hurt your fingers and leave them sore.
Benefits of Playing an Electric Guitar
Easier to Learn Because of Its Build
Learning the electric guitar is a breeze because of its small size and the distance of the strings from the fretboard. This makes it an excellent choice for beginners looking to learn the fundamentals of guitar.
Allows for Volume Control
An electric guitar player can adjust the volume accordingly because of the amp. As such, the guitar is ideal for casual play and performances in large concerts.
Greater Sound Variation
Another cool feature of connecting your electric guitar to an amp is that you can vary the sound however you like. This is great for experimentation and playing different types of genres like rock and roll, the blues, and even jazz.
Excellent Sound Quality
The sound quality of electric guitars is sublime, especially if you pair them with a quality amp. The sound these guitars produce is clear and concise. Plus, you can use the amp to enhance the sound quality even further.
Disadvantages of Playing an Electric Guitar
Electric guitars cost twice as much as acoustic guitars. Plus, you also have to buy an amp and other accessories for the complete package.
Hard to Tune for Beginners
As a beginner, you’ll have a hard time tuning electric guitars because you don’t have tuning pegs like acoustic guitars. Instead, they use controls on the amp and electrical knobs that are difficult to get the hang of.
Not Great for Softer Songs
It’s hard to get beautiful, soft songs from an electric guitar. They’re best suited for hard rock, rock and roll, and metal songs. If you want to be the next Sam Smith, you best stick to an acoustic guitar.
Tips for Choosing the Right Type of Guitar?
Are you stuck between choosing an acoustic or an electric guitar? If so, here are a few tips to help you make the right choice.
- Cost: You need to decide how much you’re willing to spend on your guitar. That’s unless you inherited one or got one as a gift. An electric guitar is more expensive, but if you’re on a tight budget, an acoustic guitar is a great option.
- Skill level: It’s worth noting that some guitar skills and songs are simply not playable on specific guitars. If you’re only a casual player, an acoustic guitar should suffice. If you want to be a professional player but play softer tunes, consider an electro-acoustic guitar. If you want to shred the strings like Jimmy Hendrix, an electric guitar is just what the doctor ordered.
- Playing style: Think about what genres you’re interested in playing. For pop, rock and roll, and jazz, the electric guitar will do you justice. For blues, country, and bluegrass, get an acoustic guitar.
There’s not much that sets the acoustic and electric guitars apart. Both are made of wood, have strings, and create wonderful music. Now that you know the difference between an acoustic and electric guitar, you can pick the right guitar for your specific needs.
Remember, it’s never a good idea to skimp on your guitar, even if you’re a beginner. Invest in a high-quality guitar, and it’ll last a lifetime and give you glorious tunes. And if you can’t decide between the two, just get both! Of course, if your budget allows.
Acoustic vs Electric Guitar FAQs
1. Which Is Better, an Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
The choice of which guitar is better depends on a person’s specific needs. However, acoustic guitars are great for beginners, but electric guitars offer a lot more sound variety.
2. Is It Harder To Play an Acoustic or Electric Guitar?
Acoustic guitars are harder to play because of their size. They also have thicker strings that are spaced further from the fretboard, making it harder and more uncomfortable to play.
3. Which Guitar Is Best for Beginners, Acoustic or Electric?
Acoustic guitars are best for beginners because they offer a more balanced experience, and are easy to learn the basic concepts of guitar playing, even if you’ve never touched a guitar.
4. Can I Play an Acoustic Guitar if I Can Play an Electric Guitar?
Yes, if you can play the electric guitar, then you can definitely play the acoustic guitar. However, you’ll need some time to get used to holding the acoustic guitar.