Arlen Roth on Whether to Learn on Acoustic or Electric
I know there has always been an ongoing debate about what type of guitar a new player should learn on; acoustic or electric, and the debate will forever rage on for sure. I have my own very distinct opinions about this situation, and of course from teaching as well as playing my whole life, it has become apparent to me that you’re far better off melding the two types of guitars together, rather than playing them as two totally separate entities.
By starting on classical and then moving straight to electric, I, in a way left the idea of acoustic guitar “behind.” It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I really “discovered” the steel-string variety of acoustic guitar for myself, and really took off as an acoustic as well as an electric player. I found that because of this particular progression, my acoustic style seemed to immediately take on the character of my electric playing as well, even though it possessed such different characteristics. I also had to play many gigs during that time, and most as an acoustic player, so stick a “Barcus Berry” pickup on the face, plug it into and amp with reverb, and sure enough it was an acoustic as not many folks had heard before. Add to this all of my string-bending which is not often heard on an acoustic guitar, and I had a totally unique style going on!
The real point I am trying to get at is that I believe, more than anything else that it is the best thing if you can hone your skills on both electric as well as acoustic guitar at the same time. The acoustic will of course, possess many properties, and sound more “appropriate” on certain kinds of tunes, licks, rhythms and genres, while the electric will have many obvious and some not so obvious situations where it will be the absolute right tool for the job. Regardless, you should devote yourself to both equally, and allow each kind of instrument to truly “speak” for you with their own voices.
Most feel that the acoustic is harder to play than the electric, but really it just needs to “project” its sounds more, whereas the electric guitar must first be controlled before it can unleash its fury and beauty! Either way, they can each borrow” from each other and one can certainly influence the other in a positive way. Personally I can pretty much always tell whether a player started on electric or acoustic and how their style evolved just by watching and listening to them. In the long run I hope that I can one day hear you play, and I should not be able to tell which type of guitar you started on, because you will be a truly “balanced player” who devoted themselves to both acoustic and electric guitar with equal love, passion and the respect for what each can bring “to the table”
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.