Monday, December 17, 2007

Learn to Play the Guitar: Acoustic vs. Electric

I recently posted a comment on a blog that was asking one of the perennial learn to play guitar questions; acoustic vs. electric, which told me I should outline what my own experience has been. After going through the startup process my conclusion is that you should learn to play on both guitar types and starting on an electric gets you there the quickest.

In my first post I described how an umpteenth listen of Jimi Hendrix's version of "Hey Joe" got me to finally commit to pursuing my life long dream of learning the guitar. No surprise that I started off with an electric guitar. However, I believe my interest in the electric also helped me make quicker progress, and picking the guitar up in middle age should be all about maximum results in minimum time.

I started off with a borrowed guitar, Danelectro single cutaway U2 model. Although I tried using an acoustic several times early on, I found it difficult compared to the Danelectro in both playability and production of decent tone. After each attempt, I would return back to the electric and keep working on building my chops and ability to produce better tone. My hypothesis on the difference is that the Danelectro had a thin narrower neck with lighter gauge strings compared to the acoustic; meaning better playability for someone starting out. In addition, you can derive some tone out of an electric earlier than an acoustic given you have an entire signal chain between your playing and the tone that comes out. Granted, this is somewhat of a crutch given you can be more effective at improving if you hear everything in its lack of glory. On the other hand, when you first start out you want to have enjoyment from day one and part of that is that you can generate some tone you appreciate right away.

I continued primarily on the electric for the first eighteen months and then decided to allocate half my practice time to the acoustic. By this time, I had built up my chops, purchased an electric guitar with higher gauge strings and a wider neck, and developed better tone. In no time, I found that I could finally extract something out of the acoustic guitar. I think the progress I made on building my chops plus development of tone got me to the point where I could appreciate what an acoustic has to offer sooner.

In summary, my opinion is that if you want to learn to play the guitar, you should plan on learning to play both electric and acoustic. The objective when starting out, especially if that is later in life, is maximum progress in minimum time. View starting out on electric as a training aid that lets you build technique and tone so you can more quickly appreciate the acoustic guitar for what it has to offer.


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