I have been learning to play a steel string acoustic guitar and recently started to think about when I would like to purchase and play an electric guitar.
Are they the same? Are the chords the same? Will I have to relearn how to play? Should I have started with the electric guitar?
So I did some research to see what transition will be required if any to go from playing an acoustic to an electric guitar.
If I Learn Acoustic Guitar Can I Play Electric?
Yes you will be able to play an electric guitar if you learn on an acoustic. The theory is the same but there will be a period of adjustment in style and technique. The Electric guitar is thinner in body and neck, the strings are softer and the tonal variety is infinite.
The differences between the acoustic and electric guitar mean that even if you are proficient at the acoustic guitar you will not automatically be proficient at electric guitar.
These subtleties mean that the proficient acoustic player will need to learn the nuances of the electric guitar in order to master it at serious level.
So let’s look a little closer at what it is like to transition from acoustic to an electric guitar.
Can You Play Electric Guitar If You Are Learning The Acoustic
Often described as going from standard steering to power steering on a car,the three main areas that will require learning in order to transition from an acoustic to an electric guitar are:
Acoustic steel string guitars hurt your fingers when your first start to play. I talk about dealing with this pain in my article here 21 Tips For Guitar Finger Pain.
You have to put what seems a lot of tension on the strings to get the string sounding the way it was intended. Often you might get a buzzing or a dull note sound because you don’t have the finger strength or the technique correct.
Overtime, with practice, this gets better and you get more consistent in getting the finger placement.
Whilst you do all this however, your fingers get bruised and battered but eventually build up calluses to protect themselves.
Getting through this is one of the harder parts of learning the acoustic guitar. Once you have then you are no longer distracted by the discomfort and can practice for longer periods of time .
When you transition to an electric guitar it will be awkward. The strings have less tension on them so you don’t have to press them as hard with your fingers.
In fact you will find it very easy to do so and this can be part of the new learning curve as you will be prone to over pressuring an electric. As you are so used to pressing down hard there will be a period of adjustment in getting the pressure correct.
Guitar Neck And Body
It is not just the strings that will be different, the neck of the guitar is much thinner also. Moving up and down the fretboard is often described as much more fluid on an electric guitar.
Gaining access to the frets beyond fret XV is a lot easier on an electric also due to the shape and thickness of the body.
However there will be an adjustment period for your wrist and finger position as it may feel a little ‘cramped’ at the start, particularly when forming chords.
The body of an acoustic and electric guitar are very different. Not only is the acoustic wider it is also deeper and often when you play you may rest your arm on it for purchase whilst strumming or picking.
When you move to an electric you will not have this purchase and the guitar will be heavier and overtime you can feel it in your shoulders and back.
Acoustic are made from natural materials in the majority and so make a natural sound. The sound is ‘unmodified’ and the guitars resonate whilst the soundboards (top part of the body of the guitar) project the sound.
When playing the acoustic guitar you generally strum and pick to generate the sound and melody you require. You use the strength of the strum or pick to control the volume
The sounds that come from an electric guitar are not ‘natural’ so to speak they modify the natural sound. The electric guitar is certainly more versatile as it has tonal tools, artificial harmonics like tremolo and a whammy bar and you will need to learn string muting more than you would on an acoustic.
In addition to this, fingertips sliding up and down and pick scraping on the strings allows for more personal expression that the acoustic guitar.
Tremolo and the Whammy Bar are often confused as being the same thing, here a couple of lessons which serve to highlight what they actually are.
As these nuances on the electric guitar will have to be learnt there will a large period where you sound like an acoustic guitar playing trying to play electric guitar.
Over time once you will start to understand the different ways you can manipulate the sound and use distortion.
Is It Easier To Go From Acoustic To Electric Than Electric To Acoustic?
Yes it is easier to go from acoustic guitar to playing electric guitar.
For example your fingers will be tougher from playing an acoustic and finger pressure required is less.
In terms of producing good clear notes it will feel very smooth and easy when moving from an acoustic.
So to go the other way from electric to acoustic you will certainly notice the discomfort on your fingers as you learn to increase the pressure.
If you have only played an electric guitar then when you move to an acoustic you will feel it in your hands, fingers and wrist.
The fretboard is spaced out a little wider, so getting those fingers spaced out will feel awkward at first as your muscle memory builds.
I Am A Beginner, Should I Just Move to Electric?
There is no real definitive answer to this. It all comes down to the individual and what your personal preferences are when it comes to music genres.
Personally I am learning on an acoustic and you can watch my beginner guitar journey videos on my YouTube channel to see how I am getting on. Here is one of my latest videos,
If you are interested in Rock, Metal, Blues and Punk then maybe you should move to electric as the majority of your favourite music will be played this way.
That said if like me you are interested more in Rock, Folk and finger picking then maybe stick with the acoustic guitar.
There is nothing stopping from changing in the future but if you are just starting out then it is important to choose the one that sparks the passion in you.
This will help keep you playing when things get a little tougher whilst you learn the rudiments.
Are The Chords The Same On An Electric And Acoustic Guitar?
Chords and Keys played on both the acoustic and electric guitar fall under ‘theory’ so they are both exactly the same on each type of guitar. However because of the tonal tools available you are able to manipulate the sound a lot more on an electric guitar.
Is It Better To Learn Acoustic Before Electric?
No it isn’t. It is best to play the guitar which most interests you and this generally comes down to your preferred tastes in music. Maintaining interest is key to progressing with the guitar.