Is It Better To Learn Guitar On A Classical, Steel String, Or Electric?

So, you’re ready to purchase your first guitar. There are many makes and models out there, and it can be overwhelming to choose your first instrument. But before you even begin looking at different brands on the market, you’ll need to figure out what kind of guitar you want in the first place. Classical, acoustic, and electric guitars may seem similar at first glance, but they are pretty different and suited for different types of music and musicians.

If you’re wondering what type of guitar is best suited for beginners, read on!

Classical, steel string, and electric guitar similarities

There are obvious similarities between the three types of guitars because, despite the differences, they are the same instrument. You play each of them the same way, and they are generally tuned the same way. Although they are used for different genres, the theory behind using a guitar, whether classical, steel string, or electric, is the same. 

Classical and steel string guitars look particularly similar to the untrained eye, with only slight differences.

All three types of guitars also have six strings and are generally tuned to EADGBe.

Classical, steel string, and electric guitar differences

Classical guitars are typically played using a finger-picking technique. Classical guitars were the first guitars ever used and were originally strung using the guts of sheep! But if you are vegan you don’t have to worry. Nowadays, they use nylon strings. The sound from classical guitars is also much warmer and soft compared to a steel string or electric guitar.

As for steel string guitars, also called acoustic guitars, they look similar to a classical guitar with a hollow body. But as the name suggests, steel string guitars utilize steel strings instead of nylon strings. Steel string guitars also have a truss rod that prevents the neck from bowing because they have much higher tension than classical guitars.

Visually electric guitars are the most different than the other 2 types of guitars. The most obvious difference between electric guitars and classical or steel string guitars is that instead of producing sound organically and acoustically through a sound hole, electric guitars create sound through an electrical mechanism. A magnetic pickup detects vibrations and transfers the plucking and strumming into audible sound through an amplifier that the guitar is plugged into.

Here’s my breakdown of the most notable differences between classical, steel string, and electric guitars.

ClassicalSteel stringElectric
StringsNylon stringsSteel stringsSteel strings
SoundAmplify sound through the hollow bodyAmplify sound through the hollow bodyAmplify sound through an electrical signal to the amp
GenresClassical, LatinContemporary, pop, blues, country, folkJazz, rock, metal, soul, funk
Playing styleFinger pickingStrummingStrumming
Price for beginner$150 – $250$100 – $200$150 – $400

Pros and cons of starting on a classical guitar

Here are the pros and cons of learning to play guitar on a classical guitar.

Pros of starting on a classical guitar

  • Classical guitars use nylon strings, which are easier on the fingers for beginners and are not as abrasive on the nails.
  • Classical guitars have a warm and malleable sound, which is why they are used for very specific genres, such as Classical music, flamenco, and folk.
  • Classical guitar playing is transferable to steel string and electric guitars.

Cons of starting on a classical guitar

  • Classical guitars are fairly easy to start on, but they are by far the most difficult instrument to master.
  • Since the neck and fretboard are wider, there will be a period of adjustment needed when switching to a different type of guitar.
  • Genres are limited to Spanish guitar, Brazilian guitar, and classical.

Pros and cons of starting on a steel string guitar

Here are the pros and cons of learning guitar on a steel string.

Pros of starting on a steel string guitar

  • Steel string guitars tend to be cheaper than classical guitars and electric guitars.
  • You’ll build strong callouses that make playing electric and classical easier
  • It is easier to learn a wide variety of genres and styles.

Cons of starting on a steel string guitar

  • Steel strings on acoustic guitars have more tension and are more difficult to press down, so they are harder on beginner guitarists’ fingers. However, you can easily lower the action to make pressing the strings easier.

Pros and cons of starting on an electric guitar

And finally, here are the pros and cons of an electric guitar for a beginner guitarist.

Pros of starting on an electric guitar

  • Electric guitars are the easiest to play as they tend to have smaller bodies, thinner necks, and softer strings than steel string guitars.
  • You can practice electric guitar with headphones, which is handy if you have roommates.
  • You can incorporate fun effects on an electric guitar, making it sound like your favorite guitarists.

Cons of starting on an electric guitar

  • Electric guitars are the most expensive to buy, especially since you will also need to purchase additional accessories, such as an amp and cables.
  • It is more difficult to switch from electric guitar to any other type of guitar.

What type of guitar is best for beginners?

There’s no real right or wrong answer here. The best type of guitar for a beginner is going to depend on the individual musician. But with that said, acoustic steel string guitars are the most popular choice for beginner guitarists as they offer more flexibility and offer the best balance between playability, learnability, and sound. For your average beginner guitarist, I would say a steel string guitar is the best choice.

However, guitarists that want to learn how to fingerpick and play classical or Flamenco music would be better off purchasing a classical guitar. The classical guitar would allow the guitarist to grow their skills and eventually even move onto steel string or electric guitars as they wish.

Finally, electric guitars are an excellent option for beginner guitarists because they are the easiest on the fingers and have the lowest action. But if really want to learn guitar skills and technique, you’d be better off starting with a classical or acoustic guitar first. That said, electric guitars make up a majority of annual guitar sales each year and are very popular.

The best type of guitar for beginners will also heavily depend on the genre the musician wants to play. 

For example, if you are a beginner and want to learn hard rock or metal music, you will likely want to start on an electric so that you can add distortion and overdrive to your guitar. 


Can you use steel strings on a classical guitar?

No, you cannot use steel strings on a classical guitar. Using steel strings on a classical guitar can cause damage to your guitar as steel strings have a much higher tension than nylon strings. Classical guitars do not have a truss rod that can support steel strings.

Can you learn to play classical guitar on a steel string guitar?

Not really. Classical and steel string guitars have completely different tones, so playing classical music on a steel string guitar just won’t sound the same. While they are technically the same instrument, classical and steel string guitars are very different playing styles.

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