It’s a familiar story, and one that I’ve personally gone through: you’ve been playing for a while, maybe many years, then something happens. Maybe you hear a song that moves you in a way you’ve never been moved before. Maybe you’re an acoustic player and it was Jimi Hendrix’s use of a wide-open Marshall stack, or Eddie Van Halen’s unreal “brown sound.” Maybe you’re an electric player and it was the subtle sound of a beautiful acoustic guitar someone was playing in church. Whatever it was, suddenly you have an overwhelming urge to pick up a different type of guitar.
Moving from primarily playing an electric guitar over to acoustic, or vice versa, can be confusing—starting with one of the most important questions: “What guitar do I get?” Of course, perusing through all of the pictures and listings available online of the most beautiful instruments in the world, both expensive and inexpensive, can be bewildering. The trick is to find the one that will get you rolling in the right direction.
Obviously, acoustic guitars are different in terms of playing, tone and feel. If you decide to go after an acoustic, you need to ask yourself how committed you are to sticking with the instrument. If you want to try it out for a few months and experiment, then maybe a $10,000 custom-built model isn’t such a good idea.
For experimenters, there are many reasonably priced acoustics on the market in the $300 to $600 range. Most of them are well built, set up nicely out of the box, and if you decide to keep playing, will last for years with proper care. But be careful not to “cheap out” too much or the guitar may ultimately hold you back. A well-made acoustic will make the “crossover” process easier and much more enjoyable.
For those of us, such as myself, who got the itch to play acoustic and just couldn’t imagine life without one, there are other paths to take. There are many acoustics on the market that should be considered works of art. They feature premium woods, hand-selected tops, custom finishes and custom inlay work. Prices on these models can be of a much broader range, generally starting around $1500 and running up to many thousands of dollars. If you’re convinced you’re a “lifer” in the acoustic guitar world then the investment will surely be worth it to learn on a great instrument.
If you’re wrestling with the dilemma of whether playing an electric be just as gratifying as strumming an acoustic, the only way to find out is to try one. In that case, the same general rules of quality would apply. If you want to see what it feels like to peel the paint off the walls, you can get into a pretty decent electric for about $400 to $600. Realize, however, that more than acoustics, electrics can have very different tonal characteristics. For example, a Strat is generally a bright sounding guitar, while a Les Paul is a bit heavier. A decent starting point in your search is figuring out which one better suits your taste. Of course, an electric guitar is going to need an amp, and they come in all kinds of configurations and with different features. Some have built-in effects, some don’t. Some come with one speaker and others with as many as four. Some are huge and some are even small enough to fit in your hand—and with a set of earphones, you can silently practice and play in rock and roll heaven.
For those who want to dive right in and buy a high-end electric, there are hundreds of manufacturers making incredible guitars. Many of them feature hand-picked tonewoods, custom electronics and gorgeous finishes. Some are one-of-a-kind models, or special editions with limited quantities. You can pay as little as $1500, or as much as many thousands of dollars. If you’re serious, you won’t regret investing in a high-quality guitar. The one truly will last you a lifetime.
Whether you’re going from electric to acoustic, or acoustic to electric, the changes you’ll experience as a player are well worth it. Any instructor or experienced professional will tell you the same thing: start slow, give your hands time to adjust to the new feel and techniques, and be patient—don’t expect miracles. Changing from one to the other will teach you to look at guitar in different ways, not only stylistically, but physically, too. The rewards are well worth the time. Best of luck on your journey!
Mark Magdich is a Senior Sales Engineer for Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as well as a live musician, session vocalist, and studio engineer. He can be contacted at 800-222-4700 ext 1265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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