Should you learn on an acoustic or electric guitar?

Choosing the right guitar to learn on when you start out is extremely important for all beginners. Choosing the wrong type of guitar will make everything harder and create unnecessary frustration. Some people quit guitar without knowing that it was because they were using the wrong type of guitar. Have a read through the points below to get an idea on what type of guitar you should consider buying when starting to learn guitar.

What type of music do you want to play?

It may sound obvious but you should pick a guitar that suits the style of music you want to be able to play. It’s not a good idea buying a BC Rich electric guitar if you want to play country music. Alternatively, a guitar suited for country music wouldn’t be a good idea for someone wanting to play death metal. So the first thing you should do when looking for a type of guitar is to consider what type of guitars are commonly used in that style. Check out videos and gear profiles for musicians to get an idea on the type of guitar needed. Of course you may want to play more than one style of music but it’s a good idea to see if there’s one type of guitar suitable.

Electric Guitar

If the type of music you want to play revolves around the electric guitar it’s probably worthwhile starting on a simple electric guitar. Electric guitars are extremely easy on the fingers as they don’t require much pressure when pushing down on the frets. This means learning chords will be easier as you won’t need to push your fingers down on the frets as hard to get a clean sound. Playing bends and vibrato are easier on an electric so it will be easier to start learning those techniques.

The reasons above may make it sound like starting on an electric guitar is an obvious choice, but unfortunately there is a problem starting on a guitar that is so easy on the fingers. If a guitarist who has only been playing on electric guitars suddenly tries to play a steel string acoustic, it is very likely that they will struggle to play anything properly as their hands wouldn’t have built up the strength a steel string guitar requires. So if you want to be able to play songs on acoustic guitars (especially steel string acoustics) be very cautious on your decision to start on an electric guitar with the intention to later move to a steel string acoustic. It may be better off to start on the harder to play steel string to build up your skills and strength as you will later find that playing an electric guitar will be a breeze.

Pros with starting on an electric guitar:

  • Easy on the fingers
  • Easier to learn techniques such as bends and vibrato
  • Suitable for many different styles of music

Cons with starting on an electric guitar:

  • Doesn’t build up hand strength
  • Hard to play a steel string acoustic after learning on an electric
  • Need an amplifier to hear properly

Acoustic Guitar

There are two main types of acoustic guitar based on the type of strings. There are nylon string guitars which are commonly known as ‘classical guitars’ which are very suitable for beginners. The high three strings are made of nylon which are very easy on the fingers. All the strings are fairly low tension which means beginners won’t have to apply as much pressure to the strings when playing notes or chords. The fretboard is quite a bit wider for nylon string guitars which means learning to play chords is easier for beginners.

On the other hand there are steel string acoustic guitars. The strings on these guitars are higher in tension and harder on the fingers. Beginners who start with these guitars find that their finger tips hurt even when playing simple parts and some give up guitar in frustration. Those who can get over the initial struggle with the strings find that the strength and control they gain from learning on a steel string guitar makes up for the effort. When they move on to nylon string acoustics or electric guitars they are shocked at how easy they are to play and how effortlessly their hands can glide over the fretboard. So if you have the discipline to work through the harder initial stage, you will be rewarded.

Pros with starting on a nylon string acoustic guitar:

  • Very gentle on the fingers
  • Wide fretboard makes it easier to play chords
  • Cheap to buy

Cons with starting on a nylon string acoustic guitar:

  • Limited to how many styles of music are suitable

 Pros with starting on a steel string acoustic guitar:

  • Builds up strength and control in your hand
  • Easy to switch to electric guitar later on

Cons with starting on a steel string acoustic guitar:

  • Much harder to start on
  • Pain in fingers


As you can see there isn’t one obvious answer to which type of guitar you should start on. The right guitar depends on many factors including which style you want to play, what type of guitar you want to be able to play in the future and your determination to work through the initial learning phase. The safe choice for many beginners is to start on a nylon string acoustic as it will feel easier to play which means you will be less likely to give up in frustration. So if you’re still scratching your head after reading this article, it may be a good choice to pick up a cheap nylon string acoustic guitar to learn the basics then you can decide which direction you want to take later on.

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