Electric vs Acoustic Guitar: Which Is Best For You?

Electric vs acoustic guitar: what are the differences between the two instruments? What type of guitar is easiest to play? Which is easiest for a beginner? Which is cheapest?

On this page, we answer all of these questions and more, giving you are complete guide to choosing between an electric or acoustic guitar…


Page Index

The Difference Between Electric and Acoustic Guitar

Electric Vs Acoustic Guitar

Physical Differences Between Electric And Acoustic Guitars

Electric Guitar Vs Acoustic Guitar Sound

Electric Guitar Vs Acoustic Guitar Price

Similarities Between Electric & Acoustic Guitars

Which Is Easiest: Electric or Acoustic Guitar?

What Is An Electric Guitar Best For?

What Is An Acoustic Guitar Best For?

Which Type Of Guitar Is Best For A Beginner?

TL;DR Conclusion

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section at the bottom of the page.


The Difference Between Electric and Acoustic Guitar

Electric guitars usually have solid bodies and are equipped with pickups to convert the strings’ vibrations into an electrical signal, which is fed via a lead to an external amplifier. An acoustic guitar has a hollow body that amplifies the sound without the need for electronic amplification.

Stratocaster
A Fender Stratocaster – a typical, solid-bodied, electric guitar. Note the volume and tone controls, and the pickup selector switch that determines which of the guitar’s three pickups is used.

In other words, if you want your electric guitar to make anything other than a barely-audible, metallic sound, you’ll need an amplifier to plug it in to! An acoustic guitar, on the other hand, is loud enough to be played without an amplifier.

You can find out more about guitar amps (and see some beautiful classic amps) on this page: Guitar Amp Brands & Famous Amps

Because electric and acoustic guitars produce sound in such different ways, there are numerous other differences between the two types of guitar, not just in the actual sound they produce.

In this guide, we look at the difference between electric and acoustic guitars, comparing their construction, sound, price, and the kind of music each type of guitar is best for.

Below are the key differences between electric and acoustic guitars…

Electric vs Acoustic Guitar

  • An electric guitar requires an amplifier to produce a useable sound, while an acoustic guitar produces sound acoustically, without the need for an amp.
  • Electric guitars typically have solid bodies (although hollow-bodied electric guitars are available); acoustic guitars have hollow bodies that amplify and project their sound.
  • Electric guitars are usually easier to play than acoustic guitars, having thinner strings, lower actions, narrower fretboards and smaller bodies.
  • The notes of the fretboard and basic playing styles are the same for both instruments
  • Acoustic guitars produce a bright, clear ringing sound.
  • Electric guitars produce a mellow, ringing sound that lacks some of the clarity of an acoustic guitar.
  • With the use of electronic devices such as effects pedals, an electric guitar can produce an almost unlimited array of tones.
  • The sound of an electric guitar can be “overdriven” to produce the crunchy, distorted sounds common in rock and metal music.
  • Electric guitars are used in pop, rock and jazz.
  • Acoustic guitars are used in folk music, and in folk-influenced pop and rock music.
  • Acoustic guitars are prone to feeding back if amplified; electric guitars rarely produce (unwanted) feedback.
  • An electric guitar is typically played with a pick; an acoustic guitar is played either with the pick or with the fingers (fingerstyle).
  • Acoustic guitars can be played solo, and sound great accompanying a solo singer.
  • Electric guitars are rarely played solo, and are usually used in a band.

Physical Differences Between Electric And Acoustic Guitars

An acoustic guitar has a hollow body, with a sound hole positioned in the center of the front of the body, under the strings. The acoustic guitar’s hollow body, “top” (the guitar’s front panel) and sound hole work together to amplify and project the guitar’s sound.

Acoustic Guitar
An acoustic guitar being played fingerstyle (i.e. with the fingers, rather than with a pick). With an acoustic guitar, there’s no need for an amp!

Due to their hollow construction, most acoustic guitars are bigger than electric guitars; not only is the body both wider and deeper, but the neck is also typically a little wider than that of an electric guitar.

This can make an acoustic guitar a little uncomfortable to play.

A typical electric guitar has a slim, solid body, which is often contoured for comfort. The neck of an electric guitar is slimmer than that of a typical acoustic guitar.

electric guitar being played
The Telecaster is a traditional solid-body electric guitar with two pickups.

Early electric guitars were hollow, or semi-hollow, instruments aimed at jazz and blues players. Most modern players, however, associate the electric guitar with solid-bodied instruments such as the Gibson Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster, which were popularized in the mid-20th century.

Hollow-body electric guitar
Even a semi-acoustic electric guitar is designed to be played through an amp.

Hollow-body, or semi-acoustic, electric guitars still require an amp to produce a useable sound.

Electric guitars, instead of a sound hole (or as well as, in the case of semi-hollow guitars), are equipped with one or more pickups. Pickups are magnetic devices that convert the vibration of the strings into an electronic signal. The pickups are mounted under the strings on the body of the guitar.

Electric guitars are usually fitted with an array of knobs that control the volume and tone of the guitar.

Electric guitars fitted with more than one pickup usually have a pickup selector switch. This allows the player to choose which pickup is currently being used. (A pickup positioned near the guitar’s bridge produces a bright sound; a pickup near the neck produces a warm sound).

These days, many acoustic guitars are designed with built-in microphones or pickups to allow you to play them through an amplifier or PA. Even these “electro-acoustic” guitars don’t sound like, or play in the same way, as true electric guitars.

Some electric guitars are even designed with “hybrid” technology allowing you to make a semblance of acoustic tone using the electric guitar. This type of guitar has its uses, but is not a substitute for a proper acoustic guitar.


Electric Guitar vs Acoustic Guitar Sound

Acoustic Guitar Being Played Fingerstyle
Acoustic Guitar Being Played Fingerstyle

Acoustic guitars have a distinctively bright, but “woody” tone. This is because, when you play an acoustic guitar without any amplification, all you are hearing is the natural resonance of the strings and the wood from which the guitar is made.

An electric guitar played clean (i.e., without any distortion), and without any effects, produces a mellow, ringing sound. The controls on the guitar itself can determine the color of this sound, which can be further modified by the amp’s controls and with the use of electronic effects.

The main difference between the sound of an acoustic guitar and that of an electric guitar is that an acoustic guitar only really produces one tone, while an electric guitar (with the aid of an amp and effects) can produce a nearly endless variety of tones.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear a variety of sounds from one electric guitar during the course of the same song!

Think of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which features a dry clean sound, a big, distorted sound, and a warbling, phased-out lead guitar tone. All those tones were made using the same Fender guitar and a variety of pedals.

Guitar Effects Pedal Board
Effects pedals can be used to modify the sound of an electric guitar.

Electric guitars can produce a wide range of different sounds, from the percussive, clicky clean tone of Mark Knopfler to the take-no-prisoners distorted sound of Metallica.


Electric Guitar vs Acoustic Guitar Price

As a general rule, acoustic guitars are more expensive than electric guitars of equivalent quality because they are harder to build.

Constructing an acoustic guitar requires more time, effort, and expertise, because it is made of many different pieces of wood, all of which must be shaped and joined together.

By comparison, even high-end electric guitars, such as Fender’s iconic Stratocaster, were designed to be made in factories in large quantities, and are relatively simple in their construction.

That’s not to say great electric guitars are not made by extremely skilled professionals, and that there are no decent, mass-produced, affordable acoustic guitars available. The reality is, however, that the intensive labor requirements for making a great acoustic guitar are reflected in their pricing.

That said, giant manufacturers such as Yamaha and Ibanez are able to mass-produce perfectly good acoustic guitars under $300, but in this price range there are more electric guitars on the market due to their comparatively cheap manufacturing costs.

Yamaha’s FG820, for example, is a well-regarded beginner / intermediate acoustic guitar.

Yamaha FG820 Solid Top Acoustic Guitar, Natural
  • Solid Sitka Spruce Top
  • Mahogany Back & Sides
  • Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Rosewood Bridge
  • Diecast Tuners

A decent, beginner electric guitar can be had for under $250. The Yamaha PAC012, for example, would make a great first guitar.

Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC012 Electric Guitar; Metallic Red
  • Agathis Body
  • Maple Bolt-On Neck
  • Sonokeling Fingerboard
  • Vintage Tremelo
  • 5 Position Switch

You can get a pro-quality electric guitar for under $1,000, and a top-of-the-range one for under $2,000. On the other hand, high quality acoustic guitars, such as the top-end offerings from Martin or Taylor, will easily set you back over $3,000… or more!

Martin Guitar Standard Series Acoustic Guitars, Hand-Built Martin Guitars with Authentic Wood D-28
  • PROFESSIONAL SOUND: Martin's Standard Series guitars combine authentic wood, like sitka spruce, mahogany, ebony, rosewood, and more, with innovative bracing, a variety of body styles, and handmade detailing to deliver rich resonance, classic tones, and a professional sound. Add our premium guitars to your touring lineup, studio gear, or instrument collection.
  • PREMIUM HANDMADE GUITARS: Handmade from the highest-quality materials, Martin's Standard Series guitars are built to stand up to late-night jams, long studio sessions, and plenty of picking. These solid-wood acoustic guitars deliver classic designs, professional sounds, and enjoyable playing.
  • STYLE OPTIONS: With many body sizes and designs, the Martin Guitar Standard Series truly offers a guitar for any type of player. Choose from acoustic, acoustic-electric, and many different body types—dreadnought, concert, grand concert, auditorium, orchestra model, jumbo, or grand performance cutaway. Beginners, intermediate guitar players, or working musicians can all find the instrument that works for them.
  • PLAYABILITY ENHANCED: In addition to Martin's iconic tone known worldwide, our guitars deliver enhanced playability that makes playing a pleasure, no matter your experience or skill level. Whether you're playing rock, country, folk, bluegrass, or jazz, these guitars deliver a natural playing experience that you will love.
  • MARTIN STANDARD SERIES: Martin's superior guitar and string products remain the choice for musicians around the world for their unrivaled quality, craftsmanship, and tone. Still handmade. Still the standard. Martin guitars are the real deal—not an imitation.

You can find out more about the cost of a new electric guitar on this page: How Much Is An Electric Guitar?


Similarities Between Electric & Acoustic Guitars

Playing-wise, electric and acoustic guitars are more alike than they are different. As a general rule, the tunings are the same, basic technique for picking and fretting applies to both, and the music theory for chords and melodies is applicable to both as well.

If you are a competent player on acoustic, odds are you can play electric guitar reasonably well, and vice versa.

At the end of the day, both are guitars.

At a more advanced level, it is worth noting that there are techniques that are only really used on one type of guitar.

Electric players need to sharpen their muting technique in a way that acoustic players do not. String bending is a technique not often used on acoustic guitar, but it is very common for electric players.

Fingerstyle – playing with the fingers rather than with the pick – is a technique far more commonly employed on acoustic guitar.

Playing fingerstyle allows you to play solo pieces that have independent melodies and accompaniment. This is possible due to the more nuanced sound of an acoustic guitar, and simply don’t sound that great when tried on an electric guitar.


Which Is Easiest: Electric or Acoustic Guitar?

Lead guitarist
Electric guitars are slightly easier to play for beginners.

The relatively narrow neck, thin body and low action (the distance between strings and frets) of an electric guitar make it easier to play than an acoustic guitar for a beginner. Until your fingertips harden up and your hand gains strength, playing acoustic guitar can be quite tough physically – although you will get through the painful first stages eventually!

Therefore, if you’re just starting out, it’s probably easier to learn the basics on an electric guitar.

However, neither electric nor acoustic guitar is so much easier that it’s worth neglecting the other for. If you’re more interested in the sound of one or the other, you should play that type of guitar. There’s really no right or wrong answer here, and it’s down to your own personal preference.


What Is An Electric Guitar Best For?

You can hear the electric guitar in virtually all modern forms of popular music. Rock, pop, jazz, blues, country, hip-hop, disco, funk, and heavy metal all feature the electric guitar. The electric guitar was one of the defining sounds of popular music as we know it.

The electric guitar is probably most associated with the rock genre and its various offshoots like metal and punk. It’s not a blanket rule, but generally speaking, you can expect the electric guitar to be a major feature of more upbeat styles of music.

What Is An Acoustic Guitar Best For?

In recent years, the acoustic guitar has become extremely popular in pop music. Ed Sheeran, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, exclusively plays acoustic guitars.

Acoustic guitar is commonly used in many genres of music, but the softer, warmer tones of the acoustic guitar are more closely-associated with soft rock, folk, and country music than they are with the aggression of high-voltage rock and roll.

You can hear acoustic guitar on jazz and blues records, too, although it’s common for proficient players in those genres to play both acoustic and electric guitars.


Which Type Of Guitar Is Best For A Beginner?

Although an electric guitar is slightly easier to play at the start, this shouldn’t be a major factor in your decision. Instead, select the guitar that’s most suited to playing the music you love.

If you want to play rock, blues, metal or funk in a band, then you should get an electric guitar. If you want to play folk or folk-influenced rock or pop, or if you want to play solo fingerstyle pieces, then acoustic guitar is the instrument for you.

If you want to play all styles of music, then we recommend you start on an electric guitar. Playing electric guitar is a lot easier on the fingers at the start.

The one disadvantage of starting out on electric guitar is that you’ll need an amplifier and a lead to connect the guitar to the amp. If you play acoustic guitar, all you need is the guitar itself!

Marshall Guitar Amp
You’ll need an amp if you want to play electric guitar!

Most of the big guitar companies sell beginner electric guitar packages that contain a guitar and an amp, plus a lead, picks and often a few other accessories:

Fender Squier Stratocaster Electric Guitar Bundle with Frontman 10G Amp, Gig Bag, Clip-on Tuner, Strap, Cable, Picks, and Austin Bazaar Instructional DVD - Transparent Blue
  • Modern C-neck for the ultimate play comfort
  • Tune into a variety of modes effortlessly with the 2-point tremolo system
  • Be it the combination of middle and neck, or a bridge pickup, the single coils make this a breeze
  • Easy adjustment with the two point system
  • Included Fender Frontman 10G amplifier delivers full sound from its 6" speaker, with a gain control and overdrive switch that rock guitar tones from tube-emulated overdrive to full-strength ultra-saturated distortion - perfect for blues, metal and famous Fender clean tone

Another factor worth considering is that you can upgrade a cheap electric guitar to improve its performance more easily than an acoustic guitar. You can, for example, swap out the pickups in your beginner electric for more expensive pickups, and improve its tone that way.

One bonus of acoustic guitars is that they are better-suited to traveling because they are self-contained. You can’t (easily) play an electric guitar round a camp fire!


Electric vs Acoustic Guitar: TL;DR Conclusion

If you want to play rock music in a band then there is only one choice: an electric guitar. If you’re more interested in playing folk music or folk-inspired pop or rock music, or if you want to be a solo singer / songwriter, then acoustic guitar is the way to go.

Don’t spend too much time choosing whether to get an electric or an acoustic guitar – make your decision and get playing! You can always change over at a later date!


Related Pages

Types Of Electric Guitar

Bass vs Guitar

How To Play Rhythm Guitar

How To Play Lead Guitar

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