This article will explore the similarities and differences between the acoustic and electric guitar, especially if it’s possible to play one, having already learned the other.
Playing acoustic guitar is an excellent opportunity to learn how to play an instrument. It’s very easy to do so, especially with lots of online courses and video lessons available out there that can improve your skills in no time. But one can start to wonder if playing the electric guitar can be just as fun and enjoyable as the acoustic – after all, they both got six strings, right?
If I Learn Acoustic Guitar Can I Play Electric Guitar?
You can play the electric guitar if you already know how to play the acoustic. Both instruments are similar, especially considering that the standard tuning allows you to play the same chords, licks, and riffs. Other physical aspects, like the scale length, can make both experiences seem very relatable.
However, these guitars can have a strong sound profile attached to them, resulting in particularities that can be found in one or the other. An acoustic sound is entirely different from an electric, and this is true for whatever style of music you want to play. Each has a good reason to be played with, and both should be played whenever possible.
Is the electric guitar more versatile than the acoustic?
The electric guitar is more versatile than the acoustic because it features more sonic possibilities. You can have multiple effects going on through your signal, setting the stage for an ambient sound or even a distorted chord progression, depending on your rig.
The acoustic guitar is usually played in a clean, undistorted tone. For some players, it limits the music styles to be covered simply because you don’t have many tone variations. Playing an acoustic means that what you play is what you hear: there’s no magic element that will change your volume output or interfere with your dynamics other than yourself. This is an excellent way to concentrate on the harmony and melody of your song instead of the tone, but it certainly limits your possibilities. They can also have built-in preamps that can feature effects like reverb and delay. This allows the guitar to be amplified in an external speaker, such as an acoustic amplifier.
On the other hand, electric guitars have revolutionized the world’s music because you can freely shape its sound to your taste. All the controls present on an electric guitar can be extremely important regarding versatility: the knobs can help control the precise amount of volume wanted or sweep through the signal frequencies right at your fingertips. Either on your instrument or your pedal box, the circuitry will dictate exactly how your sound will be.
The thinner strings and necks are compelling invitations to play around with. The variety of neck profiles is insanely vast, ready to satisfy every kind of player out there. The string gauge is indeed thinner than an acoustic’s and, with a very reliable bridge, tailpiece, and tuners, can easily be set up.
Tuning issues might be present in both of them, but the electric’s hardware is much more stable. These might sound irrelevant but are crucial at presenting a very comfortable instrument, suited to be played in many different ways – as versatile as it could get.
When dealing with effects, your possibilities are limitless. There are options to change the amount of distortion, the modulation, and even make your guitar sound like an anime character like the Korg Miku does. You can even add an effect to your guitar’s circuit, like the famous TBX boost Eric Clapton uses on his Stratocasters. It all comes up to what style you’re playing and what is required for your dream tone to come true.
Can I apply techniques learned on acoustic to electric guitar?
Yes, you can apply what you learn on your acoustic into the electric. The tuning is identical, and so are the number of strings, so you’ll have the same fretboard design in both. These guitars can be taken as some sort of “brothers” to one another, and, just like siblings, they can present subtle differences.
As we’ve learned, the acoustic depends on its central soundhole to project the notes you’re playing. Also, the strings are built with specific materials that help your notes resonate better, all in a way that doesn’t allow as many adjustments as its electric counterpart. So, as soon as you play an electric after playing an acoustic for some time, you’ll see that it’s way easier to fret the notes, and the neck is much more comfortable.
This proves to everyone out there that each guitar has its own techniques to be explored. Sure, you can learn the chords and play them just the same in the electric, but you don’t usually see players going for shreds and elaborated solos on an acoustic. The incredible dynamic and resonance provided by its delicate construction can lead to beautiful harmonies instead of melodies because strumming chords on it can be very pleasing, with a warm and full tone.
Having an amplifier at your disposal changes everything, allowing for the volume and effects to create another dimension for the guitar. Aside from the thinner neck and easy access to the upper frets, the electric guitar can easily handle every basic acoustic technique. In the end, the style you’re playing can be crucial to determine how each instrument reacts to your playing on top of the instrument-specific techniques you’ll learn on either kind of guitar.
Are acoustic’s guitar strings different than electric’s?
Acoustic and electric guitar strings are different from each other due to their expected sonic response. Yes, their tuning is identical, but their materials aren’t, and each set of strings is crafted to sound good in their intended instruments. So, they are quite different from one another.
You have a low E string in both guitars, followed by the A, D, G, B, and high E. Having the same set of strings in the same tuning means that both instruments share the chord shapes, scales, and overall intonation.
Acoustic strings are usually made of bronze or brass, which are acoustically resonant alloys that can help each string sing as loud and transparent as possible. It’s no coincidence that other instruments like saxophones and trumpets are also made of these same alloys so that the best sound might come from within it. Allied with a full hollow-body, each sound coming out of these strings will resonate throughout the entire body of the guitar – the acoustic projection of the notes is all that really matters here.
However, the electric guitar string must be crafted with magnetically active elements such as nickel, steel, and chromium alloys, so the pickup might capture as good as possible whatever notes you play. If, for any reason, you were to try to put an acoustic string on an electric, it would sound a bit different from the rest because it’s not as active magnetically as an electric guitar string should be. These alloys found on electric guitar strings are present to ensure that the pickup will perceive every subtle nuance in dynamics when you play, the cleanest way possible.
In essence, one string set will prioritize magnetic induction, while the other will focus on being suitable for ringing very clearly. This is one way of putting that each has their own voice, even as brothers.
Are acoustic and electric guitars built similarly?
Has a 100% hollow construction;
Can vary between solid, semi-hollow, and hollow-body;
Simple bridge and nut, usually made of bone or plastic;
Has a metal adjustable bridge that can be easily set up;
Depends solely on its resonance to reproduce the notes played;
An amplifier and a 1/4″ cable are required to reproduce the electric’s sound;
Can be modified by adding a preamp or pickup so it can be plugged on external amplifiers;
It’s possible to switch, replace, and upgrade almost every hardware or electric part;
Usually has a cleaner sound, with much more dynamics and brightness;
Effects can be applied to alter even further how it will sound, with many options available.
When you’re considering musical tools such as these, every step in the construction and assembly matters and will undoubtedly influence the tone you’re getting and the comfort required to learn music. The building process is where these instruments start to become so different, so it’s clear they’re not constructed similarly.
The acoustic guitar is more robust, with the deserved space for the best sound projection possible. It can come in smaller sizes, like the parlor, and have thinner bodies, but, usually, it’s bigger than an electric. Even so, they are significantly lighter than electrics due to their particular construction: the inside is entirely hollow. It resonates with the notes you play through its top, back, and sides and projects them out through the sound hole. This kind of “built-in speaker” heavily influences dynamics, resonance, and how hard you fret a note, for instance.
On the other hand, electric guitars are built with some different styles of construction in mind. One of the essential parts of an electric is the pickup, which will send the electric signal through an amplifier and allow you to hear what you play. But the wood involved in its assembly is just as important, especially the wood type and the guitar’s body style. This combination of elements is imperative for the guitar to sound the way it does.
Each manufacturer might prefer a style, but most companies offer different models in their catalogs. Either Gibson, Ibanez, Fender, or Gretsch, any of them will present you with lots of choices. But let’s not focus on specific models and, instead, talk about how they can be built.
- Solid-body style
Most electric guitars are solid-body, which means that the body construction is based on a block of solid wood. This can be crucial when talking about sustain – how long each note lasts when played – and gives the characteristic tone of the instrument, according to a wood type. Each type can profoundly impact the overall tone, even with the amplifier into play. The Fender Stratocaster, for instance, was introduced in 1954 and had few substantial modifications over the decades. It consists of a solid, double-cut body, usually from maple or alder. However, Gibson guitars usually deal with darker woods and exquisite crafting, with the Gibson Les Paul being its most famous model. The Les Paul has different materials and construction techniques than Fender, for example, often featuring a mahogany body in one, two, or even three pieces.
- Semi hollow-body style
Not all electric guitars are 100% solid. The Les Paul mentioned earlier can have some chambers carved in its body to reduce the overall weight, for instance, but other models opt to have specific chambers added to its construction to influence how it will sound purposely. One of these models is the Gibson ES-335, which features a central, solid piece of wood in the body and completely hollow sides. While the solid central block can help cut unwanted feedback and add weight to your tone, the hollow sides can create a thin aspect to the sound. Another great example is the Thinline Telecaster, designed to be Fender’s take on the ES-335.
- Hollow-body style
Guitars like the Gibson L5 – one of the first acoustics manufactured with metal strings – would feature an archtop construction and a pickup added to its body. These instruments, sometimes associated with jazz and blues music, had the resonance amplified with the help of the pickups, but the body still was as hollow as an acoustic. Although they can be very lightweight, the recurring feedback response you get when playing at louder volumes can be a downside. The Epiphone Casino is a well-known hollow-body guitar model used by the likes of The Beatles, Oasis, and Gary Clark Jr., and so are the Gretsch White Falcon and the Ibanez AF95.
Acoustic vs electric: which is easier to learn for beginners?
It’s clear that the electric guitar is more suitable for beginners due to its friendlier aspects, such as a more comfortable neck and lighter strings. Many players. though prefer to start their studies with an acoustic – they don’t require any additional gear to make it work, being easier to play with.
Acoustics are unique because you’ll get the sound you’re strumming. Sure, you can upgrade your guitar with a preamplifier, but the acoustic sound is pretty much all you’ll get, even when plugged in. Allied with the aforementioned strings and construction, the acoustic guitar’s aesthetic and sound profile is very clear. On the other hand, electrics can have pickups swapped, effects built into, and even new potentiometers added, showcasing how vast the possibilities are to get your tone. This is welcoming because it can satisfy many players within their favorite music styles.
It’s correct to assume that the electric guitar may be easier to be played. Overall, the electric guitar sits better within your body. Guitars like the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson SG have contours on their construction to fit better on your belly, and that can be a more attractive invitation to play it. The scale can feel significantly lighter, as the neck profiles tend to be thinner, and its width is substantially smaller. Such a compact and welcoming neck can be a massive differential for those with smaller hands or simply beginners who would benefit from some encouragement – you might see results in a shorter time while practicing the electric.
It’s very important to analyze which instrument suits you best. As both are very similar, you can easily switch from one to the other, but it’s fair to say that it might be easier to begin your studies on an electric, and only after that move to an acoustic. You’ll develop the necessary skills, the perfect strength, and your finger muscles will be prepared for the challenge more efficiently this way, as the acoustic might be too harsh for beginners.
However, both instruments have very specific good sides about their playability, so it’s imperative to know what kind of sound you aim to reproduce. If you’re into folk music, an acoustic might be a more obvious choice than an electric one. If you need more volume or simply plug your instrument through a PA system, a preamplifier will assist you just fine without taking off the acoustic’s sound characteristic. Electric guitars can be more versatile, naturally fitting in more styles and genres. The possibilities are extended even further with amp settings and guitar pedals built exclusively to incorporate the electric’s sound, so it’s just as important to know what sound exactly you are aiming for, right from the beginning.
If you learned how to play acoustic and want to dive into the electric guitar world, you’ll undoubtedly find it an easier process. As discussed in this post, the neck profile, string thickness, and lightweight body of an electric can be tremendously appealing to be played with and stimulate you even more. While acoustics can vary in models, sizes, and shapes, the electric provides much more options involving pickups and even potentiometers. Either a semi-hollow or a solid-body might have almost infinite possibilities as to these hardware choices, leaving it up to you to decide which construction feels better.
Both instruments share the same number of strings and the exact same tuning. This shows that you don’t need to learn everything again when moving to the electric, but some different techniques might be essential to develop. Fast shreds and extended solos usually don’t fit the acoustic playability, but a more warm chord progression indeed does. That’s where the acoustic’s power lies: getting sounds projected from within the body, with all the excellent woods doing their best at amplifying them.
That doesn’t mean that electric guitars can’t sound as good – they also feature a wooden construction. So, the last statement applies to them as well. The major difference is the electricity involved, as the pickup on a guitar does the magic at capturing everything you play. One important thing to notice is that electric guitars need to be externally amplified to sound as intended. So, you’ll have to plug your 1/4″ cable into your guitar and amplifier to hear what you play. Nowadays, friendlier options such as small practice amps can allow you to even plug a headphone into it, so you’ll not disturb your neighborhood and be able to play at night if you want to. The possibilities are enormous, but all of them will ensure that your electric guitar sounds like it’s supposed to, the best way possible.
Remember to have the genres and music styles you want to play in your mind. Each instrument has its own capabilities, and manipulating them in your favor is what matters. It won’t be very helpful to have an acoustic guitar when an electric is required, and vice versa. The secret is to develop your musicality in one of these two instruments first and then move to the other to improve your musical knowledge even further. Expanding your technique, licks, and repertoire is extremely fun and will show you that these two guitar styles should always be near you.
I hope this article helped you learn more about these two wonderful instruments that I adore so much and inspired you to play more music. See you next time!
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Eduardo Cardoso is a musician and audio producer based in São Paulo, Brazil. He studied both music production and theory in college and has successfully launched his career as a solo artist in 2021. With over 10 years of experience with the music business, he currently acts as a session musician, music producer, audio editor, and content creator.