Choosing a Guitar: Acoustic vs Electric

By Kevin Wimer Published on Feb 24th, 2007
There are a few things to take into consideration when choosing to play an acoustic or electric guitar. Ultimately, the deciding factor should be which type of instrument you enjoy playing the most. If you buy an electric guitar because you want to have a nice painted finish to show off but don't play frequently because the neck feels uncomfortable, then you've likely made a poor choice.

Here are a few points to consider when making your decision:

Ease of Play
The electric guitar is considerable easier to play for a few reasons. First, the action (general setup of the guitar) is much easier. The strings are typically closer to the frets & easier to push down. Since the pickups & amplifier do most of the work on an electric guitar, the player isn't required to push down on the strings as much as they would on an acoustic. You can make minimal contact with the frets & still get a very clean sound.

Since an acoustic guitar's sound is produced by vibrations from the wood top, heavier gauge strings are required (creating larger vibrations, resulting in more sound). Unfortunately, heavier gauge strings are harder to press down & bend to get a clean sound.

Beyond the lack of pressure needed & lighter strings on an electric, the neck is much more thin & the body is smaller. The thin neck will allow you to get a good grip & wrap your hands around easier to get better finger positioning. The smaller body size will also allow a more comfortable posture. It is sometimes difficult to get comfortable when you have to reach around a large, edgy body.
Many people will tell you that the sound out of an acoustic is unmatched due to its natural vibrations & output. With an acoustic guitar, there is no loss of sound with pickups & electronic transfers. The drawback, as mentioned above, is that thicker strings, more pressure and harder picking is required to get a full / clean sound.

Other people will say that an electric guitar produces a much better sound because it takes advantage of modern electronics which can capture, enhance, and then amplify the sounds you're playing. Beyond the raw translation of the vibrations, you can add a symphony of effects with various effects pedals & other similar equipment.

Each of these types of instruments certainly generate different sounds. We do not believe that one type is better than the other - it's mostly personal preference.
Equipment & Convenience
With an acoustic guitar, additional equipment is not mandatory. You can simply grab your guitar & start playing anywhere you want. You can take it camping or jam, to a friend's house or just play at home. This ease of playing is one major advantage of having an acoustic guitar. Not only is it easy to start playing, additional money is not required for the purchase of an amplifier or cables.

An electric guitar may require power, an amplifier, pickups, and cables but these are all features that can be upgraded to improve your instrument. At any time you can purchase better pickups, a nicer bridge, or a more powerful amplifier. You also have the option of purchasing effects pedals & loop stations to add effects to your music. The upgrading ability of an electric guitar is certainly something to consider.

Above I have presented a series of advantages & disadvantages for each instrument. For the most part the electric guitar is superior. However, this superiority comes with a price. A decent acoustic guitar will cost approximately $150. A decent electric guitar package is usually about double that. When you purchase an electric, you are not only required to purchase the guitar, but also cables and an amplifier. Regardless of which route you take, we do not recommend buying the absolute cheapest item. If you buy a piece of garbage, you will find yourself retuning often & getting a less-than-desirable sound. Junky guitars are often harder to play than a decent guitar.

In the end the most important factor when purchasing a guitar is what suits you best. Do not purchase based on pitches from a music store's sales team. Most of the time they care a lot more about their commission than what guitar is best suited for you. You should head into your purchasing phase with a good understanding of how your instrument will be used. You may be leaning towards an acoustic guitar for its clean sound but what if you will likely be playing with friends in a local jam band? Is an acoustic going to produce enough sound? Your best bet is to check out your local music store, test out a handful of guitars & see which guitar feels the best to you.