Believe it or not....Epiphone actually owns Gibson and not the other way around. Epiphone is one of the oldest guitar mfgs around...if memory serves me correct...buying Gibson many many moons ago. Alot of the guitars are produced on the same lines, but use different woods and obviously different pick ups etc.
If i was going to start all over again, i would have shopped around more. Go to different stores and see what guitar sits and feels well in your hand. If your not comfortable, you will probably be discouraged. I started on electric then switched to acoustic and never really found much difficulty in doing so, but the majority rules and yes acoustic will strenghten your hands. Another thing as invictus said was that different guitars have different sounds....that couldn't be more dead on....decide what sort of music you like and match your guitar by not only feel...but by the way it sounds with your amp as well. I do admit it takes a bit of experience to notice the suttle differences in each instrument but with time your ears will be the judge. Ive bought guitars from pawn shops etc used lots of times and never had a problem. As long as there is someone who knows how to play checking it out for you...making sure the intonation isnt messed up, the neck isnt out of whack, and the tones and keys all work, i would say save a couple bucks....who knows..you may hate it and never end up playing. Another good route is the package deals for starters. Often they come with guitar, amp, picks, tuner, learning books, case etc etc...kind of a nice package...for the money, Yamaha makes a great package deal with Pevey amps...i believe for under $400-500.