This is a very common question that we get asked by many parents and beginner students.
The answer: it depends
The electric guitar and acoustic guitar are both just pieces of wood with strings attached, however they also have very different sounds, capabilities and purpose.
The acoustic guitar is ideal when played as a solo instrument and accompanying a singer. The electric guitar is in it’s natural environment as an ensemble instrument, being played within a band.
The sound of the acoustic guitar is often associated with strong rhythmic strumming and mellow fingerpicking, whilst the sound of the electric guitar to many people is defined by the infectious riffs and scorching solos being played on it.
In which context are you aiming to play? A band? A solo player? A singer songwriter?
Which sound and voice is most appealing to you? A clear shimmering acoustic or a heavy distorted electric?
Which style of music do you wish to play? Bob Dylan or Metallica?
These are just very simple comparisons, and if you can answer the above, you can probably make a good decision on the guitar that’s right for you.
“…but surely I need to start on acoustic and progress to electric?”
No. Both guitars share the same basic core principles and fundamentals. The knowledge and skills that you need to advance as a beginner player will be very similar, if not the same on both instruments. You will be developing basic dexterity, basic chord knowledge, tab/notation reading and scales on whichever guitar you happen to own.
“…but won’t the acoustic guitar make my fingers ache more?”
The strings on a steel string acoustic guitar are a heavier gauge and tougher than on an electric guitar. Although it’s likely that you may experience your fingers feeling tender after a longer session of playing, the pain is small and negligible even at it’s worst and will pass quickly. The more you play, the quicker your fingers become conditioned. It’s absolutely normal to feel sore after your first day at the gym, and it’s the same for guitar. Conditioning is key here.
“….I’d like to get an electric guitar but it’s way more expensive!”
It’s true that an electric guitar will cost more than an acoustic guitar when taking into account the amp and jack lead into the price. You can expect to pay anywhere in between £40 - £100 for an entry level beginner acoustic, whilst for an electric guitar £100 - £200 is a reasonable figure. It’s clear that the electric is higher in cost, but so what? You’re not buying a car or committing to a 30 year mortgage. If the electric guitar is the right guitar for you, then go for it. You can always resell it or give it to charity. There is a huge second hand market for guitars, and sure enough for every person wanting to start learning there is probably at least one giving up.
Of course if you’re a parent and you’re already spending a substantial amount a month on various clubs and child activities, the acoustic is a lower price to pay to see if your child will enjoy it and commit to it.
Furthermore, if your child is asking to learn on electric because of it’s sound and awesome look, bear in mind that this will soon wear off as they’ll realise that it’s still going to require consistent effort over a period of time to actually make it sound amazing.
Remember: there is no wrong decision here, simply choose the right guitar for you, commit to developing your skills and have fun. The best way to start, is to just start.