Is Acoustic Guitar Harder To Learn And Play Than Electric?

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Is playing the acoustic harder than the electric? What about learning to play guitar, is one easier than the other?

There is quite a lot of debate in the guitar community regarding these two questions.

Many people interested in learning to play guitar or determining which new guitar to buy have asked this question. Maybe you did too.

Unfortunately, like many topics in the music world, the answer to this question is not a simple yes or no answer. There is undoubtedly some subjectivity to these questions; however, several factors need to be weighed when determining if one is harder than the other or if one is easier to learn than the other.

The overall shape and size of the guitar and neck are two of the most important considerations when determining if acoustic or electric guitars are harder to learn and play. Generally, acoustics will be larger and have thicker bodies with larger necks, making them more challenging to learn and play; however, there are some nuances.  

Below, we will take a deeper look at whether the acoustic guitar is harder to learn and play, as well as five factors that should be considered when determining this. In each element, we will explore how it impacts overall playing difficulty and if the factor impacts the ability of a beginner to learn easier on either the acoustic or electric guitar.

1. Guitar Body Shape & Size

One of the first factors to consider is the overall shape and size of the guitar. Shape and size can have a significant impact on playability, especially for beginning guitarists.

An important but often initially overlooked consideration is how comfortable a guitar feels when playing it, both when standing and seated. While aesthetics are important, having a comfortable guitar is more important.

If you are not comfortable holding and playing your guitar, it can turn what should be a joyful experience into something to dread. So, which is more comfortable and easier to play? Acoustics or electrics?

Acoustic guitars having larger bodies than their electric counterparts is an often-cited reason why they are both harder to play and more difficult for beginners to learn, but is this entirely true?

Yes and no. In general, acoustic guitars have a much larger body than electric guitars, but that is not always the case.

For example, my Gretsch Hollowbody is of comparable size to my two acoustic guitars, but the Les Paul is noticeably smaller as you can see here:

However, from the side angle, we can see that the acoustic is significantly thicker than the Gretsch, which changes how you have the guitar positioned on your lap and can make it more challenging to play and learn, especially for smaller players.

One of the biggest challenges with thick acoustic guitars is the angle at which you have to hold your arm, as you must extend it farther out than you would with an electric guitar. This, of course, can make learning and playing acoustics more challenging, especially early on.

With that being said, various acoustic guitar sizes are available, from the relatively small Parlor style all the way up to the biggest and aptly named Jumbo. In addition, ¾ scale acoustic guitars are great for beginners due to their small size.

There are also Thinline models that are, as the name hints at, thinner than traditional acoustic guitars. This gives them more of a Hollowbody feel, with some even being as thin as many electric guitar models. This alleviates the thickness issue, which, as we’ve learned, is a significant issue regarding playing difficulty for acoustic guitars.

With so many different options, there is likely a size that will fit any player’s ability level and wants.

On the other hand, electric guitars come in many more body shape options than acoustic guitars. My picture below shows just a fraction of the immense variety available to guitar players:

So while electrics, in general, are thinner and not nearly as bulky as acoustics, their diversity in styles and shapes means it is not as clear cut as saying electrics are easier to play or to learn with.

For example, V-style shaped guitars are one of my favorite shapes to play with while sitting down, especially for soloing. Still, it is an entirely different feel and positioning than my other guitars, and it took quite some time to get used to playing. I know many players who dislike this shape and find it challenging to play.

Lastly, electric guitars tend to be significantly heavier than acoustics, especially solid body electrics. This is due to the body being solid wood as opposed to being semi-hollow or hollow, as well as the addition of all the electronics.

While this is not a huge deal when playing seated, it can make a significant difference if you are playing standing up for long periods. Gibson Les Pauls are notorious for being extremely heavy, making playing and learning this style of guitar difficult.

2. Neck Shape & Size

The next important consideration that goes hand-in-hand with body shape and size is neck shape and size.

Generally, the neck size tends to be larger on acoustic guitars than on electric guitars. However, just like body shape and size, there is a wide range of differences.

Due to the generally larger neck size, many assume that acoustic guitar is more challenging to learn, especially for those with smaller hands.

However, in his masterclass on fingerstyle picking on the respected learning platform, TrueFire, legendary player Tommy Emmanuel considers that notion ridiculous. He says that while players with smaller hands might need to be “more determined,” eventually, with practice, they will be able to play well, even on those large acoustic necks.

This makes sense as many children learn to play on acoustic guitars and remember there are many different sizes and shapes of acoustics to fit the size of the individual player.

Another size consideration is the difference between classical and regular acoustic guitars. Classical guitars, which use nylon strings, typically have wider necks than standard, steel-string acoustic guitars.

There are a few reasons for this, but two main reasons are that nylon strings are usually thicker than steel strings, and wider necks are better for fingerstyle picking, which is the most common method used with classical acoustic guitars. Although you absolutely can use a pick with nylon string guitars.

Therefore, while learning and playing acoustic guitars with smaller hands is certainly possible, it will likely be more difficult than on a smaller neck typically found on electric guitars. When only considering guitar neck size, an electric guitar will be easier to learn and play for the average person. However, for those players with larger-than-average hands or fingers, the smaller size of an electric guitar’s neck might be a disadvantage.

Along with the overall size of the neck, the shape of the neck also needs to be considered. The video below explains neck sizes in detail if you are interested, but if not, I will briefly describe a few of the most common shapes.

As the video shows, many shapes are available, including many slight variations of each shape, but the most common are the C-shape, D-shape, U-shape, and V-shape, also known as the baseball neck.

C-shape necks are the most common shape and are a safe bet for beginner and advanced players. Going with a C-shape is a safe bet when you do not know what type of neck profile to choose. Almost all of my guitars are C-shaped necks.

C-shape necks are typically more comfortable for players, although this is highly subjective, and not all C-shape necks are created equal.

D-shape necks are also common and are essentially a middle ground between the C and U-shaped guitars. This profile is often found on shredder-style guitars and is excellent for soloing.

D-shape neck shapes are also a good choice for beginners as they are easier to learn than larger U-shape necks.

The U-shape neck is the thickest neck shape available, which we can guess based on the nickname of being the baseball bat neck. This neck will be the most challenging for players with small hands and beginners alike, as getting your hand around the neck and into the correct positions can be difficult.

Many guitarists recommend avoiding this type of neck if you are just learning to play, as it is challenging due to its large size. Further, due to its large size, it can be challenging to solo with, even if you are not a beginner player. However, because there is more wood than some of the smaller profile necks, many lovers of this neck style state how great the resonance and tones are.

V-shape necks are rare today and are typically only found on vintage guitars from the mid-20th century or perhaps on re-issues of those vintage designs. The video above explains why players may opt for a V-shape neck design.

3. Action

The action, or how far the strings are from the fretboard, is another crucial consideration in comparing acoustic and electric guitars.

If the action is too high, the guitar will be tough to play because you will have to press down the strings with considerably more force to produce the notes. This will also make it difficult to play fast and result in an overall challenging playing experience, even for advanced players.

On the other hand, too low of action will cause the strings to buzz and not sound great.

In my experience, I have encountered far more instances of action being too high rather than too low when playing a new guitar.

The video below shows a quick way to check the action. The video states that electric guitars should generally be around 1.5 to 1.75mm or a bit higher, although slight variations will come down to player preference. You can also check out this fantastic article by Range of Sounds contributor James Kelly if you want to read more about adjusting the action on your guitar.

Typically, action on acoustic guitars will be a bit higher than on electric guitars, which is another big reason that electric guitars are sometimes easier to learn and play.

Adjusting the action on acoustic guitars can be a bit more challenging in some cases than with electric guitars, but the video below explains how to accomplish it.

High action is often cited as a potential reason that learning on an acoustic guitar is more complicated than an electric one. However, action can be adjusted, so don’t let that stop you from purchasing an acoustic guitar for fear of it being too difficult to learn or play.

4. String Gauge

One of the last significant concerns regarding the actual guitars themselves is the string gauge.

The string gauge is essentially how thick the guitar strings are. String gauge not only impacts playability but can also impact the tone and overall sound. In particular, thicker gauge strings on acoustic guitars will help produce a warmer-sounding tone.

String gauges on acoustic guitars tend to be larger than on electric guitars. Factory standards, according to Sweetwater, for acoustics start at .012, while electric start at .009 or.010.

This means that fresh out of the box it is a safe bet that an acoustic guitar will have heavier gauged strings than an electric one. This, of course, has implications for learning guitar, as a thicker string will be harder to press down and make fingers sore more quickly.

However, head to any music store or website, and the number of string choices will likely overwhelm you. There are an almost unfathomable amount of variations of string gauge and material options.

I advise experimenting with different gauges to find what works best for you. A general rule to follow, at least for beginners, is that the lighter the gauge, the easier it will be to play, and the less your fingers will hurt. Another option is to learn or play on a classical-style guitar with nylon strings, as these are not as hard on the fingers to play.

However, as long as you practice consistently, your fingertips will eventually develop callouses, making them more resilient to becoming sore. While string gauge is a critical consideration early on in your playing career, it becomes less of an issue once you develop callouses.

5. Playing Style & Genre

The final consideration I will discuss is the playing style or type of genre you are interested in learning or playing, as this should influence whether you select an acoustic or electric guitar.

If you plan on sticking with strumming chords, an acoustic guitar is likely your best option, as this type of playing tends to sound better on acoustic guitars. Similarly, acoustic is usually the way to go if you want to focus on fingerstyle picking or classical guitar playing.

On the flip side, if rock n roll and metal are what you want to play, it makes much more sense to learn to play an electric guitar. Further, if you are into the shredding, solo-driven type of music like Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, and Joe Satriani, then electric is what you should be learning to play.

However, I would caution limiting yourself to only one style of music as most of the greatest guitar players learn and adopt many different playing styles and genres into their playing.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the nuances between acoustic and electric guitars and the factors that you should consider when determining if learning to play on an acoustic or electric is more difficult.

In a perfect world, you could have at least one type of guitar from all the different styles available, but if you only have to choose one, this article will help you make that decision.

Happy playing!