Sep 29, 2010

Mythbusters Unplugged

Dear ask a punk-
I have wanted a guitar for a long time. My parents said the usual stuff about keeping my grades up which I did, but they say if I want a guitar I have to get an acoustic guitar first to learn on. Why is that? I want to play rock and punk music anyway. Do people have have an acoustic guitar first? - GuitarBoy

Dear GB
I think I might have answered this question before, but it is worth repeating:

The answer is NO. There is no reason, repeat NO reason, why a person who wants to play rock guitar "needs" to start on an acoustic guitar first... In fact I think there are a few reasons why starting with an acoustic is actually a BAD idea for any wannabe guitar beginner.

Are your parents lying to you on purpose? A fair question, but they're probably not... but frankly I'm a little surprised they're perpetuating the 'get an acoustic first' myth because I'm guessing your folks are probably my age - or likely even younger than me, so they should know better.

Like all myths, this one is based on some facts, or former facts... It used to be true that electric guitars (and the amps you need to play them through) were expensive investments that parents were hesitant to make on what might be their kid's quickly passing interest... so the idea was to buy a cheap guitar and if the kid "stuck with it long enough" then maybe they would shell out for a Strat. This is no longer true... in fact the $150 spent on a 'cheap' electric guitar will likely get you a better instrument than the same amount spent on an acoustic... and a tiny battery-powered starter amp will probably set you back less than $20. It is also important to keep this point in mind: Buying something reeeeeally cheap (either acoustic or electric) is going to defeat the whole purpose of sustaining your interest in making music. There has to be some sort of minimum quality to the gear you start off with. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to learn on an instrument that won't stay in tune of that breaks apart in your hands.

And speaking of young hands and delicate fingers, here is another reason why "start with an acoustic" is wrongheaded dogma; The strings on an electric guitar and thinner, looser and bend easier. This makes them easier to play. The body of an electric guitar is almost certainly going to be thinner and less bulky than an acoustic, making it easier for smaller arms to hold onto and reach around the instrument.

Another reason parents might push the acoustic agenda is that they think an electric guitar will necessarily be louder (and more annoying for them and the neighbors.) This isn't true either. You can either play through headphones - at non-ear-damaging volumes of course - or yes, you can play/practice on your electric guitar without even plugging it in... in a quiet room you can hear what you're playing perfectly well. These strategies work for grown-ups too. We city dwellers can't be blasting our guitar amps in our quiet apartment buildings now can we? we use headphones or practice unplugged.

If you had said you wanted to play bluegrass or country or easy-listening it would make some sense to just learn on an acoustic, since that is what you would end up playing anyway... but you want to rock, so why pretend otherwise? and if you do eventually get deeper into it, and the guitar becomes part of your life, at some point down the road you might find yourself wanting to add an acoustic to your guitar arsenal. ...and when you do, your first thoughts wil be "Man, are these strings tight and a pain in the neck/fingers to play."

So there it is. No one has to start on an acoustic, and anyone that says otherwise doesn't know what they're talking about.

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