Beginners: Electric or Acoustic?

As an 8 year old kid, I fell in love with the idea of playing the saxophone. I would spot it in any music we were listening to. I would use my mom's cornucopia to mimic sax players. I even listened to...... Kenny G. Turns out ol' Kenny can hold notes a very, very long time. When I started to take lessons, many teachers we talked to told me the same thing. "Start with the clarinet, then move to the sax in a year or so". I rejected their advice and went right to the sax. I cannot figure out why starting with the clarinet was the conventional wisdom. They are cheaper, maybe that is why. But I think it is a conspiracy by the clarinet lobby to trick some kids into being forced into a life of clarinet playing that they never wanted.

The Big Question

As a guitar teacher and the neighborhood expert in all things guitar, I frequently get asked this question: "My son/daughter wants to play guitar. We should get an acoustic first, right?" Notice they never ask which they should get, they assume it should be acoustic. Also, no one ever seems to ask this if they are learning guitar themselves. Only when they are buying a guitar for someone else. That is because when you are buying a guitar for yourself, you already know what you want. Here are some common reasons people think acoustic is better, along with my responses: Acoustic guitar is easier to play. False. A nylon string guitar is more gentle on the fingertips, but in many ways can be more difficult to play. An electric guitar, by comparison, has very low action (the stings are close to the fretboard) and makes it easy for small hands to push down the strings. Acoustic guitars are easier, since there are no accessories. Ok, I guess that's true. With an electric guitar you add the complexity of an amplifier and a cable. An acoustic guitar is just- a guitar. So I suppose that is easier. But if your kid can operate a TV remote, they can handle the 5 knobs on an entry level amplifier. Electric Guitars are more expensive. Not really. Any entry level guitar package (acoustic or electric) will run you $100 to $200. The electric guitar packages frequently come with small starter amps, so there is no additional expense. Acoustic Guitar as quieter. Yeah, that is usually the case. But many student amplifiers come with headphone jacks. If they have the headphones on, they are much quieter than an acoustic guitar you can't turn down.

So what should I get?

Neither is superior. What you should get really depends on the goals of the player. What sort of music do they like to listen to? If they only listen to Metal, you are doing them a disservice with an acoustic guitar. That isn't the instrument they want to play. If they like folk, country, bluegrass or other acoustic based music, an acoustic guitar is the way to go. What are the goals of the player? Are they interested in playing a little Kum-ba-ya around the campfire, or becoming the next big rock star?

Bottom Line

There is no rule that says they have to start on acoustic. Talk to the player. Buy them the type of instrument they want to play, either acoustic OR electric.