In a way, we are all rock stars at heart. We have dreams of fame, glory, bright lights and an audience of thousands screaming our name and singing along as we croon on stage, then reveling in the prowess of a well-executed guitar solo that could make doves cry. Usually, we wake up at that point and realize we’re late to get in our cars to sit in traffic and head to a cubicle, but for a moment – the dream is still alive.
Whether we admit it or not, the guitar is an iconic part of music culture today. Rock n roll music without a guitar simply would not be rock music. For many, the electric guitar is emblematic of freedom, of growing up and expressing ourselves and creating something truly unique. However, the electric guitar is often pitted against the acoustic guitar when it comes to playing music. You might find yourself torn between the two, or simply curious to discover what separates these two instruments. Hint: It is more than just an amplifier. Read on to discover more about these two classic instruments!
A Brief History of the Guitar
Before we get to dissecting the differences between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar, it would help to have a little knowledge about the origins of the guitar. The word guitar is tied to the ancient Greek word κιθάρα (“kithara”) and has been part of human musical history for thousands of years. The guitar has taken shape in numerous instruments, such as the humble Oud, the African Xalam and Akonting, and the classic Lute of medieval times. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish guitar known as a ‘vihuela’ was the first true acoustic guitar of its kind, with movable frets and equipped with six strings that were plucked with the fingers.
While the guitar was popularized as an orchestra rhythm instrument in the 1920s and 30s, it was due to efforts of guitar makers like Leo Fender and his successful electric guitar, the Fender Esquire, that were most instrumental (pardon the pun) in popularizing the electric guitar thanks to its affordable price and dynamic sound. Other key guitar makers included the originator of arched-top acoustic guitars, Charlie Gibson, and Adolph Rickenbacker, who created the first solid-body electric guitar (unlike a traditional acoustic guitar, which traditionally has a hollow body), the Electro A-22, also lovingly dubbed the ‘Frying Pan’ due to its shape.
While the electric guitar is a much more recent innovation compared to the incredible history of the acoustic guitar and stringed instruments, both have a colorful and unique past that has evolved with musical tastes and cultures over time.
What Kind of Music Do You Prefer?
When choosing between the two, the focus should be more on what you see yourself as enjoying more, particularly based on what kinds of music that you prefer. If you’re more into playing classic rock n’ roll music or modern metal and pop-rock, an electric guitar should be your first choice to learn. If you are more into blues, country music, the acoustic guitar may be a better fit for you – but we want to stress there’s no wrong answer, and you should go with the instrument that inspires you the most.
Benefits and Drawbacks of the Acoustic Guitar
Generally speaking, the classic acoustic guitar uses either a flat or arched top, is usually a larger instrument than your average electric guitar, and uses heavy steel strings which are played with either a pick or plucked with your fingers. The acoustic guitar is a common choice for beginners simply because it is as straightforward an instrument as it gets. There are no amplifiers to power, no extra knobs, or cables to worry about, it is just you and the instrument. This can help provide a greater focus on the performance of the guitar itself. It also does not hurt that an acoustic guitar is, overall, a cheaper instrument than the electric guitar. No cables, amplifiers, a power source for the amplifier, or any other major expenses. Lastly, the acoustic guitar is ideal for traveling and playing on the go. You can perform pretty much anywhere you can sit or stand if you comfortably hold your guitar, and you only need to worry about finding space for one instrument when you must go by car or by plane. There is no set-up time other than making sure your guitar is properly tuned. By and large, the acoustic guitar is the more portable and easily accessible instrument of the two.
However, the acoustic guitar does have its drawbacks. Since the acoustic guitar usually uses steel strings, it requires a stronger press of your fingers on the strings to play the notes of the guitar which can be more difficult for younger or physically weaker players. You will need more physical strength to play them, and because acoustic guitars tend to be larger and sometimes heavier than electric guitars, they can be less immediately comfortable to play. Still, acoustic guitars are loved for their timeless sound, their lower cost, their high portability, and allowing a greater focus on playing the notes.
Benefits and Drawbacks of the Electric Guitar
While the acoustic guitar has many unique benefits, it is worth taking the time to go over the advantages - and yes, the drawbacks - to the electric guitar. First, while you might be more concerned with the potential for ear-splitting guitar solos with an amplifier-equipped instrument, one of the major benefits of an electric guitar is the ability to control its volume. The amount of sound from an acoustic guitar is tied to the strength of your fingers and the design of your guitar. With an electric guitar, however, you have a greater ability to adjust not only the volume but the sound of your guitar itself. This naturally lends itself to opening more sonic dimensions to explore, and a greater capacity to express your musical creativity.
On a physical level, modern electric guitars tend to be lighter and more compact than acoustic guitars. It makes them easier to carry and store, and easier to play for longer periods of time. Furthermore, while the strings for an electric guitar are usually made of steel, they are much lighter than those for an acoustic guitar and require less physical effort to press down with your fingers. Strumming the notes with a pick gently, especially if you have the volume set just right, means less physical effort is required to play. The major downside to electric guitars is obvious, however - it requires electricity! Without having the means to power an amplifier, your guitar will not be making any kind of music, which can severely hamper your ability to just practice whenever and wherever you want.
Did we mention you need an amplifier? Because you will need an amplifier for your guitar. While there may be a kind of joy in discovering different kinds of amplifiers and their ability to help customize your musical output, the simple fact is most amplifiers can be an expensive, cumbersome necessity. Ask any person who plays electric guitar - carrying around amps all the time is a pain. You'll be spending more money than you would by simply buying an acoustic guitar.
However, the cost of amplifiers and electric guitars does not have to be prohibitive. While traditional wisdom might say that a $300 guitar is the bare minimum for a beginner's guitar, the truth is that you can easily find a good-quality instrument for under $150 if you do a little looking around (or just head on over to our Guitar collection on ashthorpe.com, no pressure). You can find amplifiers on the smaller side for between $50 and $100, while larger-sized amps will run easily over $250.
The only thing that truly matters when it comes to acoustic vs electric guitars is which instrument speaks to you. If you end up picking an instrument to play that you do not have a passion for, you are going to regret your time and make learning that much more difficult. Music should feel creative and inspiring, and something that can be an excellent way to relax and get away from your day's stresses. If you are looking to get right into playing, head on over to ashthorpe.com to browse our collection of high-quality guitars (and other musical instruments) at a price you are sure to love.