Which is the best instrument to learn first: Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar or Bass Guitar?


I Am often asked which instrument is easiest to learn. There isn’t really a straight answer for that, as it always depends how far you want to take your playing. Bass guitar is fairly easy to get going on, but some people cannot develop enough strength in their hands to press down the rather fat strings. On top of that if, you want to play like jazz legend Jaco Pastorius, then playing bass guitar is very difficult. By contract playing the double bass is very hard right from the start, as there are no frets (so you have no gauge of where to place your fingers, and for a long time you will play out of tune), and the strings are even longer and harder to press down.

Amongst the woodwind family, the alto and tenor saxophones are the easiest. Though soprano and sopranino saxophones are quite tricky.

A common question is which out of acoustic guitar, electric guitar or bass guitar students should choose. Well the choice between bass guitar or guitar is basically down to what you want to play. If you feel like laying down low grooves, playing very repetitive lines and being the foundation of the piece, then bass guitar is for you. Always try one out first, to see if your hands are big and strong enough to fret the notes. Your fingers will hurt for quite a few months when you first start practicing, but this does ease after a while as you build up pads/callouses under the skin of your fingers.

One of the fun things about playing bass guitar is that you can play along with your favourite pop/rock recordings quite quickly, and it can be rather good fun. As a random example, the bass parts for any U2 songs are really easy to learn. One thing you have to consider if you buy a bass is that you will also need an amplifier if you want any kind of volume. It is perfectly possible to practice on your own however without plugging into an amp.

If however, you would rather play guitar riffs, or strum chords andsing along, then bass guitar is not for you.
So it is then a question of whether to get an electric guitar, a steel string acoustic or nylon string acoustic. If your thing is rock or metal, then electric is the obvious choice, if you are more indie, then either, but for folk and ballads you’d want an acoustic. With an acoustic you are also free and easy, as you don’t need an amp to carry around. You can learn several easy open chord shapes on the guitar quite quickly and then strum along to quite a number of tunes. To learn all major and minor chords on the guitars is, however, not so easy as some chord shapes are quite painful to execute. Having said that, even some of the best know pop/rock guitarists don’t know all chord shapes (jazz, flamenco and classical players would, however), and that hasn’t stopped them from making great music. BB King, the legenrday Blues guitarist, famously asked the band members of U2 if anyone can play chords, as “I’m no good with chords”.

You can of course use and electric guitar, plug it into and amp, add no distortion (so have a clean sound) and strum chords and sing along – but it does not have the same sound as an acoustic.

So if you go for an acoustic guitar it’s a question of whether you want a nylon string or a steel string. Steel string guitars have that country sound to them, and can also (if they have an output) be plugged into an amp. Nylon strings have a softer, more flamenco/classcial guitar like sound. Out of the two nylon string guitars are easier to play, as the strings are less abrasive, and chord shapes easier to hold.

If however, you want to play rock guitar or metal riffs, then you will need to get an electric. Out of the 3 guitar types, electric is by far the most forgiving guitar to play, as the strings can be thinner, and there is less problem with not fretting notes 100% correctly and therefore getting irritating buzzing. So if you want the easiest guitar to ply, choose an electric, which in theory also gives you the most options.

Once you have decided on your guitar type, there is then the small issue of which model to buy. Let the fun begin!