Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar: What’s the Difference?

If you think about playing the guitar, you will need to decide what instrument type you want. Acoustic and electric guitars are similar at first glance since both possess identical basic features.

Typically, both instruments have six strings. Learning any of them will allow you to play another without much adjustment because the chords, tunings, and notes are the same. So, let’s find out how to choose between an acoustic vs. electric guitar.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar – Visual Differences

Once you get in a music store to pick out your instrument, you will discover that an acoustic guitar is much bigger, deeper, and bulkier than an electric model.

When picking them up, you will also notice the difference in weight. Surprisingly, an electric guitar is quite heavy despite its small size. The acoustic guitar is lightweight because it has a hollow body, whether made of wood or plastic.

Most acoustic guitars have a Dreadnought, Concert, Parlor, or Jumbo shape, while the typical electric guitar shapes are Stratocaster, Telecaster, or Les Paul.

An acoustic guitar has a thicker neck and strings than an electric one and a soundbox that amplifies the sound. On the other hand, the electric guitar has no sound hole at all. Frets on any electric guitar are larger than on an acoustic model, while the gaps between strings are narrower.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar – Strings

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar - Strings
Image: Noname Music

The primary difference between an electric and acoustic guitar is the way it produces sound. When plucking an acoustic guitar string, the sound will amplify throughout its body.

On the other hand, the pickups on an electric guitar transform strings vibrations into an electrical signal that an amplifier converts into a sound. Therefore, the strings on an electric guitar are thinner than the acoustic guitar ones.

As you can guess, their gauges also differ. The gauge for the electric guitar strings varies from 0.009 to 0.11. The acoustic guitar strings usually feature 0.11 to 0.14 gauge.

The result is a different feeling on your fingers when playing these two instruments. Strings on an acoustic guitar are heavier and more challenging to play, which is why many beginners opt for an electric guitar. They are a physically less painful choice.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar – Difference in Sound

Simply put, it is enough for you to pick up an acoustic guitar and pluck the strings to produce a sound. However, you need to plug in an electric guitar and use the amplifier before you start playing.

If you try to play an unplugged electric guitar, you will barely hear it since it produces a disturbed and low volume tone. For this reason, the acoustic guitar is more mobile because you can play it wherever you want, whether you are in the park, on the beach, or at home.

On the other hand, an electric guitar offers more sound variety. Most amplifiers come with a clean and a distortion channel. Plus, you can get additional effects pedals and further enhance your music.

Although an electric guitar doesn’t resonate like an acoustic guitar, it can mimic acoustic, piano, or saxophone sound with the right equipment. On the other hand, variations in the acoustic guitar sound largely depend on your skill.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar – Volume Control

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar - Volume Control
Image: Noname Music

Once you start playing guitar, you will need hours of practice, depending on your goals and dedication. If you don’t live alone or have noise-sensitive neighbors, you will need to think about volume control.

An electric guitar is significantly louder than an acoustic model, which volume depends on your playing style, the type of wood it is made of, and strings.

Luckily, you can practice your technique on the unplugged electric guitar, lower the volume, or use the headphones when plugged in. Unfortunately, it is not an option with an acoustic guitar.

Amplifying an Acoustic Guitar

You will need to amplify your acoustic guitar sound in some cases, for example, if you perform in front of a larger audience. The typical solution is to place a microphone in front of the soundbox.

However, the type of microphone and its position will affect the sound quality, which can be tricky for a novice player. Fortunately, you can also fit an onboard pickup. Nowadays, you can find various models different both in cost and tone quality.

Keep in mind that some options, like a piezo pickup, require modifications on your guitar. Others, like a mic pickup, are put inside a soundbox. Inform yourself well before choosing the one that fits your acoustic guitar best.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar – Learning Difficulty

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar - Learning Difficulty
Image: Noname Music

There is no definitive answer to whether it is easier to learn to play the acoustic or electric guitar. Strings on the acoustic guitar are heavier and thinner than on the electric one, so you can expect to get callosities during the first months of practice.

On the other hand, the distance between the strings is wider on the acoustic guitar, making the fingers’ posture and learning the open chords much more comfortable. Plus, you can focus solely on the instrument instead of learning to use all the equipment simultaneously with playing guitar, which is the case with an electric model.

That said, some people prefer learning an electric guitar. The strings are lighter, and the string tension is lower, so it is more comfortable to play in the beginning than an acoustic model.

Besides, the acoustic guitar is weighty, bulky, and less comfortable. You can play longer in a standing position on a slim electric than on a heavy acoustic guitar, but the lap position is comfortable with both guitars.

Be prepared to perfect several skills to learn to play electric guitar. These include muting the strings you don’t play at the moment, a vibrato and bends using, improvisations, and adapting to lower string action. All of these skills are unnecessary or rarely used when playing an acoustic guitar.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar – Price

Nowadays, there are plenty of guitar choices for any budget you set. You can buy a second-hand guitar for under $50 and a luxurious model for several thousands of dollars.

There is a general rule of thumb that an electric guitar is more expensive than the acoustic one, no matter whether you buy only an instrument or the one with additional equipment.

On average, a decent quality acoustic guitar for beginners is around $150, while you need twice as much for an electric guitar. Still, you will save some money if you buy a guitar set, which usually includes:

  • Acoustic instrument
  • Suitable guitar cases
  • Spare strings pack
  • Tuner
  • One or more guitar picks

You can find acoustic guitar starter packs of renowned brands for $100 to $150. At the same time, a similar set for an electric guitar costs about $300 because it includes additional equipment:

  • Amplifier
  • Guitar cables
  • Guitar straps
  • Effect pedals

Remember that buying all these items one by one can sum up to over $500 since the amplifier’s price can reach at least $100 to $150.

Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Image: Noname Music

If you enjoy an acoustic guitar but want to benefit from electric guitar features, you can choose an acoustic-electric guitar. This hybrid comes in all standard sizes and shapes of the acoustic guitar.

It comes with piezoelectric pickups and a preamp, which include equalizers and controls. That means your instrument has enough volume that you can perform live in front of an audience.

Moreover, you can connect it to a mixture, audio interface, and other equipment, which will allow you to record your performance or modify guitar sound by adding additional effects. Simultaneously, you can play it unplugged in the same manner as the regular acoustic guitar, thus merging the best from both worlds.

Personal Preference

If you decide to buy an acoustic guitar, you will need to choose the model of the right size. Otherwise, you may have difficulty reaching the frets or strings properly, not to mention the discomfort of playing an oversized instrument.

There are short-scale guitars you can choose from. However, many parents purchase an electric guitar for children and teens to ease the learning process.

The winning solution is to try playing several different instruments that vary in size and shape. If you go to a music store and play several guitars, you will quickly make your decision. The guitar you enjoy playing most is the right instrument for you.

Music Genres Choices

Whether you choose an acoustic or electric guitar will also depend on the music you enjoy to listen. Although you can play most tunes on both instruments, it will never sound the same.

Typically, guitarists choose an acoustic guitar for country, bluegrass, and folk music. If you write songs and you prefer a solo performance, this instrument will meet all your expectations. On the other hand, rock, blues, heavy metal, and punk require electric guitar intensity. If you favor some of these genres, this instrument is a better option.

Summary

Both electric and acoustic guitars come with some unique features the other instrument lacks. An electric guitar sounds more versatile, while an acoustic one is more mobile. Most people consider an electric guitar easier to learn, but the definitive choice depends on your preferences, goals, and music taste.

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