Many people who are just beginning to learn the guitar start out on an acoustic, and with good reason. Acoustic guitars are usually significantly less expensive than electric guitars, and they require no additional equipment or hardware to be able to play.
There are valid reasons to start off and learn how to play an electric guitar though. Electric guitars are actually physically easier to play than acoustic guitars. Their necks are usually smaller, the frets shorter and the strings closer to the neck, all of which makes the left hand’s job — fretting notes and chords — much easier. An electric guitar can also produce infinitely more sounds than an acoustic, though this generally requires purchasing digital amplifiers or effects pedals.
The physical act of playing an electric guitar is not much different from playing an acoustic guitar, except that it relies more on strumming notes and chords with a pick and less on fingerpicking — though the latter can be used on an electric guitar, it is not as common.
Because of the more manageable fret board and available effects, electric guitars are also better designed than acoustic guitars for playing solos, which have become a staple in rock, blues and other styles of guitar music. A solo is a series of mostly individual notes, generally within the same scale and key, in which the guitar is the most prominent instrument in the band.
If the solo is one of the main trademarks of the electric guitar, the other is the power chord. Power chords, given their name because of their powerful sound, are two-note chords generally played on the low E and A strings or on the A and D strings. The shape of a power chord — for example, the index finger on the second fret on the low E string and the ring finger on the fourth fret of the A string, can be moved up and down the fret board or up one string (with the note on the A string now being the lower of the two).
A third note, played on the same fret as the higher note but one string higher and fretted with the pinkie finger, can be added to power chords for a fuller sound. These chords, when played with distortion, have become the backbone of rock music.
Electric guitars, which are played through amplifiers, can be coupled with any number of effects to create varied sounds. Modern digital amplifiers, in addition to the standard distortion found on most every amp, can include effects such as delay, reverb, chorus, flange, phase shifter and various filters, each of which modifies the guitar’s sound in a different way.
Effects are also commonly used by way of pedals that are connected by one cable to the guitar and by another cable to the amplifier. Multiple effects pedals can be connected in sequence and used individually or simultaneously for a combined effect. One popular effects pedal is the wah pedal, popularized by Jimi Hendrix, which modifies the pitch of a note when the pedal is pushed down or raised up.
Subtle changes can also be made to an electric guitar’s sound using the pickup selector found on most guitars. The selector switches each pickup — the devices found under the strings on the body of the guitar that transmit sound vibrations to the amp — on or off. Each setting on the selector will produce a slight change in tone.