Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar: Choose Wisely! • Acoustic Tuesday 298

90% of new guitar players abandon playing within 1 year. Are you starting off on the wrong instrument?

Many years ago, I found myself drawn to the sound of the electric guitar, but as time passed, I  was drawn to the warm, resonant tones of the acoustic guitar. For decades, I almost exclusively played acoustic guitar, until recently when the allure of electric guitar reignited my interest.

With this newfound exploration, I have fresh insights and perspectives on where to begin your guitar journey. And guess what? I’m here to share this treasure trove of knowledge with you. So, if you’re just starting out, or you’re an old hand considering a new path, you’ve come to the right place.

In this video, I delve into the 10 key differences between acoustic and electric guitars, covering everything from body styles to string gauges. It’s not just about which one is better—it’s about understanding the unique qualities of each and how they can influence your playing and musical growth.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, I strongly recommend you go down the acoustic path. The acoustic guitar is not just more portable and less gear-intensive, but it also serves as an excellent foundation to build your strength and dexterity due to its string gauge and length. This makes transitioning to electric guitar easier in the long run!

Submit your guitarsenal at the link below!

Featured in this episode…
– Buffalo Kin
– Peter Dankelson 
– Michael Watts  
– No Sudden Movements  
– Fat Possum Records
– Innovative Leisure  
– Mapache
– Suzanne Santo
– Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs  

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  1. Tony,
    Any chance that you could mention the yearly Blues concert put on by Blue Heaven Studio in Salina Ks. The origin of this Blues music is a very interesting story that needs to be told. Blue Heaven Studio has presented and recorded so many awesome and legendary Blues artist, many of the recorded artist have passed and Blue Heaven has recorded them to preserve their performances.

  2. Hi Tony, Thanks for this wonderful episode. VERY enlightening. I had no idea of all the differences. I think one difference you eluded to a number of times is they produce different sounds and express music differently. Keep up the great work and pass on my thanks to your team.

  3. Also regarding tone – where the pickups are located. Just as you get a different sound picking an acoustic at different locations, the pickups on an electric are stimulated similarly. Some electrics have 3 pickups (e.g. most Stratocasters), some have 2 (e.g. most Les Pauls) and they are in different locations blending tones differently.

  4. I’ll start by saying that I have arthritis is the saddle joint of my thumb. I wish I knew then when I first started playing what I know now and I would have saved a lot of money and no one address this topic. I play almost exclusively a nylon string guitar. Granted the music that inspires me joins hand in hand with that. James Taylor, Cat Stevens and so on. Steel string guitars are torture on my thumb. I own 2 really beautiful, expensive steel string guitars that knowing what I know now I never would have purchased. I would own one much less expensive steel string and one or 2 really nice nylon string. By the time I realized on the steel string that it wasn’t me not being able to learn and play but it was the difficulty level as opposed to the ease for me to play nylon, I would have saved a lot of time and money. I do own one electric and agree with everything you said and only play it when I get together with friends. I also notice that most of the benefits of playing electric elude me due to my arthritis so again it always brings me back to nylon. Unfortunately I never hear any one address this and when exploring the nylon string option it almost always brings you to the classical music and guitar world. That is all beautiful but it is not necessarily what moves me mostly because at 70 years of age I doubt that I’ll ever be able to play classical as opposed to being able to play the music that keeps me going. Sorry for the run on sentences and long message but I had to at least do minimal explaining and hope that someday someone addresses all this for other beginners or people in my situation. I’m now playing for 2 years and since I found nylon, I can’t get enough and play at least 2 hours a day. Thanks for all you do.

    1. Gary, I’m over 70 and just started Tony’s course with the “30 days to play” and struggling through the CORDS section. My fingers are very sore but I’m pushing forward. I have steel strings on an older Fender Acoustic Guitar. Would you recommend switching to nylon strings to make it easier to learn? Just curious.

  5. Thanks for this episode, Tony. You clearly outlined all of the technical and joyful differences between playing acoustic and dipping a toe in the electric guitar lake. I have tried to teach my grandkids to play guitar, and when they complain about how their fingers hurt on their acoustic guitar, I smile and say “You’re doing it right! It takes practice to build up the strength and calluses. It hurts to play the guitar.”

  6. Hi Chief, happy 4th of July! Speaking of fireworks, looks like your chiro got carried away somewhat. Reminds me of a song, The Foes of Mr. Chiro…oh, it’s Cairo, my bad! last, but not least, if you can’t stand the heat, get outa the studio…when you’ve finished giving us all the “GOOD news we can USE” first. Now go enjoy a cold one in a cold one. Hope this helped!

  7. At 10 yrs old 1966 ,couldn’t fret an acoustic. Dads fender esquire was playable, and that’s what the guitarists in the north Idaho backwoods played. Old time fiddlers ,I would watch the other guitarist to see the chord changes until I learned to hear them. I didn’t know student size guitars existed. Then at age 17-18 started acoustic and never looked back. So electric vs acoustic was great.

  8. What’s the difference between an acoustic amp and an electric guitar amp? Can you use just one and be happy. I play acoustic and don’t want to buy another amp, even if the electric bug hits. I have a Fishman acoustic amp. Thanks. Steve

  9. Tony,

    I started playing guitar when I was 12 (72 now). My parent bought me an accordian when I was eight and forced me to go to lessons and practice everyday for 4 years. Hated every minute of it – and it was the best gift I’ve ever gotten, as later I switched to guitar and found it fairly simple after having to pump air and play both a left and right hand tunes. My first guitar was a $35.00 Stella with an action at the 12th fret of about 1/2″. Didn’t know any better so just played it that way developing a grip like a lumberjack.

    Made progress over the years and went through many evolutions from Spanish guitar to Acoustic, to Electric, and then back to Acoustic. I suppose it’s really all about the right tool for the job, but of course we have our preferences. I have a number of electrics (Parker, couple of Strats, and a Les Paul – and I almost never play them. Just can’t get the feel and tone I want. Really love acoustic (amplified) as it seems to express what I want to express. These currently include an Ovation, a Martin, a Taylor 12 string, and my favorite, a McPherson carbon fiber Touring model.

    In my case, playing the most difficult piece of junk first made every step of my subsequent journey easier. I have heard teachers say that it is important to get the very easiest thing to play first as so not to get discouraged by having too steep a hill to climb. That may be true, and often times I hear them recommend an electric with very light strings. It was just the opposite with me. But, I had a lot of desire to play, and was raised in a German Catholic family with a Marine Drill Sargeant for a father, all of which sent me the meassage loud and clear that life is hard so just deal with it. I remember getting progressively easier guitars to play and learning about setup as I went. Every step was such a pleasent surprise in how much easier things were and that you really didn’t have to kill yourself to get sound out of these things. At this point however my suggestion would be to NOT make this harder than it needs to be, but I also wouldn’t necessarily start out with a $4000.00 Taylor either. And, it’s completely unnecessary. There are so many great inexpensive guitars out there now, and while they’re not all perfect – man, they are light years from where I started. A $200 Yamaha will do nicely until you get some experience under your belt. (It’s also interesting to learn that $35.00 in 1964 is now worth over $345.00).

    Keep a pickin’ and grinnin’.

    1. John, Just starting to play on an Acoustic Guitar with steel strings about a month ago. I’m older than you but strill have some dexterity with my hands. Would you suggest getting nylon strings too make the CORDS and transitions between them easier? BTW, I’m a Marine Veteran so I’m willing to tough it out either way.

  10. Tony,

    Love your blog, always interesting and informative. I also feel you have a great “teacher” vibe reflected in your patience, providing pertinent information, desire to keep things interesting and your audience engaged, and a pleasent inviting manner. I’ve had some real bastard teachers over the years who, it seems, have the singular goal of discouraging students. (Retired a couple years ago, and though I’ve played for over 60 years – accordian before that – looked forward to taking lessons again at a local music school. I picked a teacher with lots of cred – guy was a studio musician for years and has played with everybody. When I explained that I used to read but haven’t for years and wanted to pick it up again, he told me: “You don’t have enough time, you’re too old.” How’s that for bedside manner?)

    Anyway, I watched your Acoustic Challenge episode today and heard you explain “string gauge”. You explained about the numbers of the various string sizes in a set and referred to them as “gauges”. In my career, I have been a Tool and Die Maker, Mechanical Designer, and Engineer, and I have to tell you that what you are referring to is not string gauge. The numbers on a package of strings are string diameters in thousandths of an inch, not gauge. If you look at any number of websites dealing with this (e.g., you’ll see that the numbers for wire diameter size and gauge are completely different things. One easy to remember guide I always keep in mind just for some perspective is that 0.062″ diameter = 1/16″ = gauge #16. You can see from the chart how they range above and below that. Also, this is for “Steel Wire”. There are completely different gauge sizes for copper/brass/plastic/other things.

    Not the most important point in your lesson, but thought you’d appreciate updating your knowledge for accuracy sake.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. John, Just read your comment on the Electric vs. Acoustic Guitar. I just started this course about a month ago with the 30 days to play and struggling with the CORDS and transitions. I’m using an older Fender Steel String Acoustic Guitar. Would you recommend nylon strings for a beginner? BTW I’m over 70 and would like to have a word with that teacher who said you were too old to learn.

  11. Great episode on the electric vs. acoustic. I have only an acoustic (Guild). It’s a lovely guitar and when played well, well it’s heaven. But sometimes the electric looks so much easier to play i.e. bending, barre chords, quicker action etc.
    I sometimes envy electric guitar players. But when I think of perhaps dipping my toe into electric (shocking I know), it seems so complex and complicated. Even know where to start is mind blowing. So, for those electrically shy guys like me, how can this be simplified or explained? That might be a good adjunct program to this one.
    Anyway as always, great job…keep it up and thanks and be well.
    Mike Brooks

  12. Tony – I’m so jealous – Luca Stricagnoli is playing the Ellen theater in Bozeman on August 8th. I hope you’re gonna see him – he isn’t coming anywhere near me.

  13. Tony:
    I’m officially one of your “Start/Stop” Tony’s Acoustic Challengers. Fortunately, you are still kind enough to email me your Acoustic Tuesday presentations. #598 arrived today, with your useful musings on the electric v acoustic guitar decision. It was great! For now I’ll continue to plug away on my acoustic, but you brought up a boatload of things that must come into play as my Start/Stop journey continues.
    I did enjoy your entire TAC concept of “whatever makes you most excited” approach to learning the guitar. Who knows, if I decide to relaunch my guitar efforts, you could have another TAC student, and that would be a very good thing.
    Thank you for everything you continue to do to get us off our butts and PLAYING!
    Very truly yours,
    Mike R

  14. As an Osteopathic physician for over forty years might I give you some advice? Avoid the icy hot. Try a product called Real Time Pain Relief. You can buy it on line. Due to numerous sports injuries from my previous life, I have tried them all. This product is the most effective pain relief cream I have have ever used. It’s all natural anti inflammatory ingredients, has a pleasant smell and does not burn. Good luck!
    On a musical note, how do you feel about putting electric guitar strings on an accoustic guitar? We have a friend who used to sing at open mike nights here in the Branson, Mo area. On of her music mentors here advised her to switch her accoustic strings to electric. Just wondering your input. Love and look forward to your weekly show.

  15. Hi Tony,
    I’ve been playing both acoustic and electric off and on for almost 40 years…mostly acoustic though. I agree with you wholeheartedly that its better to start with acoustic and for me its still my go to. After having delved more into electric over the past several years I have noticed (and my old teacher pointed out) that when I play electric, I press too hard on the strings making some of the notes go slightly out of tune. I attribute this to many more years of playing acoustic and developing the hand strength to play acoustic well. Guess that I am still learning how to deftly make the transition to electric and use a lighter touch on the strings. It works best when I’m conscious of it but when I starting getting into the groove and going with the music I revert automatically to a heavier acoustic touch. Just thought of this based on this episode…maybe I should use heavier gauge strings on my electric instead of the 9’s and sometimes 8’s that I use. I think I read somewhere that both SRV and Robin Trower used heavier strings on their electric guitars.