In some ways, the acoustic guitar is a golden mean between the nylon-string and the electric. This is the guitar that is associated with folk, bluegrass, and other all-American music forms, fact, the steel-string guitar was developed to provide extra volume so the guitar could hold a sound with banjos and fiddles. As we have discussed, volume is a challenge for the classical guitar.
One way the acoustic guitar gained volume over the classical is through its size. The other was steel strings, which, while more flexible than nylon strings, are harder to the touch They are also much harder to the touch. A beginner’s fingers are much more likely to bleed from a steel-string than a nylon-string guitar.
The steel-string has a taller, thinner neck than the classical guitar. It can be played with or without a pick.
Famous Acoustic Guitarists
Acoustic guitar probably makes you think of Bob Dylan, George Harrison or perhaps Kenny Chesney. It has been essential to folk, rock and country. But there are many other great styles of acoustic guitar, such as blues guitar, with a long tradition from Robert Johnson to today’s Keb’ Mo’. Acoustic fingerstyle guitar is also a favorite genre. “Fingerstyle” simply means music played without a pick. This is often music layered with rich chords and melodies. Listen to artists like Tommy Emmanuel and Alex de Grassi to get a sense for the wide range of music that can be made on the acoustic guitar.
Pros of Starting on the Classical Guitar
A strong feature of the steel-string acoustic is its versatility. It sounds great with or without a pick. When you want to strum along at a singalong, use a pick. If you are playing solo, go fingerstyle.
It is also a very portable and sociable instrument. The acoustic guitar is loud enough to be heard in a gathering, but not so loud as to drown out everyone else. This is the guitar that you are going to take to the beach and get that girl to sing a duet with you.
The acoustic guitar’s neck is also much thinner than the classical guitar, making it easier to reach for notes.
Cons of Starting on Acoustic Guitar
While the steel-string acoustic may be the most versatile, I think it might be the hardest to play. Steel strings are very rough to the touch. As a violin player prior to picking up the guitar, I already had developed callouses on my left fingers. They were still no match for the acoustic guitar.
Size may also be an issue for younger or smaller people. Some are so big that they are almost hard to hold onto.
I find the steel-string acoustic to be jack of all trades, and master of none. It is more folksy than a classical, but less badass than an electric. If you are looking to play a wide range of guitar styles, I would suggest to start with the acoustic. But just know that will likely need to buy another style in the future to get just the sound you want.
Acoustic Guitar Buying Tips
The starter acoustic guitar is the least expensive of the three styles. It’s less difficult to make than a classical, and unlike an electric, it requires no amplification or other gear. But because of the high tension steel strings, an acoustic guitar is delicate. So spend a little bit more. Also check if the instrument has a warranty.
Think about whether you plan to play the guitar in a band. If so, consider getting an acoustic-electric guitar. This is the same as an acoustic guitar, but it has a built-in output for amplification. Otherwise, you will have to mic the guitar, which is far less convenient.