Wednesday, September 21, 2016

12 Cool Essential Things For Guitar Students

Actually, the list could easily be endless, and I'm sure I'll think of something to make this list longer as soon as I publish this.

We all know it's a disease and obsession rolled into one, this quest for more gear, better gizmo's, and let's face it... better tone and better playing!

Let's assume that the student already has a guitar, whether it be acoustic (classical nylon-stringed, or some steel-stringed variety), or electric, with strings already on it, a guitar strap, and the student is eager to play when they're not sleeping, and they enjoy playing guitar.

Here now is my list of 12 Cool Essential Things For Guitar Students, certain to inspire discussion, debate, and ideas.

1.  The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer


An amazing book. I got this as a gift one Christmas long ago, and I still refer to it, both at lessons with students and personally at home.

It's easy to dig into fast, but it's so deep you'll be reading from it for years. An incredibly deep examination of guitar method and music theory is accompanied by interviews with some of the greats, and an overview of every type of instrument, amplification, and (somewhat dated) recording gear imaginable. There's a bunch of great reviews here.

(This book might be out of print, but copies can be found cheap on eBay or Amazon. I try to have a few copies on hand as well.)

2. An Extra Set of Strings


Because sooner or later, you're bound to break a string. And that's just one reason.

Early on, I actually run students through the process of changing their strings - it's a good periodic habit to get into, and an important skill to have.

Yet, I encounter guitar players (and not just students, I'm talking about seasoned players) whose guitar won't stay in tune, or just sounds dull, and it's often because they haven't changed their strings for way too long! After a certain amount of time, even when un-played, strings will get old and tired; putting a new set on can often make you feel as if you've bought a new guitar.

It's also good to find out what strings your guitar came with, for a benchmark/reference.

Various string options for beginners.

Gibson Guitars: What strings to choose in general.

3. Plectrums (AKA "Picks")


There's so many varieties and choices here, it boggles the mind, and the choice of pick can totally change the sound your guitar makes!

For strumming chords, I generally go with a lighter pick. This makes for a less percussive, smoother-sounding chord, great for accompaniment. But if I am to pick individual notes, runs, riffs, or solos, I reach for a medium pick. Some players (especially electric bassists who use a pick) go with heavier gauges - to each his or her own. I generally stay away from materials that break, such as Tortex. You'll find out what's best for you.

Forget about that gadget that makes picks from credit cards. That material definitely breaks, fast.

Premier Guitar, always a great source of info, has this overview of picks.

4. A Guitar Tuner


Step one: Pick up the guitar. 
Step two: Check the tuning, and if necessary, take the time to tune it.

That two-step process hasn't really changed, but the variety of tuner technology is overwhelming nowadays. You can get a Tuner App for your phone that will pickup sound via the cell's microphone, and most digital audio workstation (DAW) software incorporates tuner plug-ins.

Many acoustic guitars have tuners incorporated into the body of the instrument, and this often has a "mute" switch integrated, enabling tuning in silence (instead of sending it to any plugged-in amplification). There are the clip-on varieties that attach to the headstock of the guitar. I view these as a good beginner / backup / backstage option, but they don't permit muting of the guitar signal sent out through the jack.

Then there are the stomp-box tuners. They look very similar to guitar effects pedals, but all they do is tune. This is the best stage option, as it can 'live" with other effects pedals, and when stomped, the tuner turns on, and the signal is muted. The soundman and audience will thank you!

Then there's tuning by ear. What? You don't know how to tune by ear? We need to cover that at our first lesson. It helps if there's a piano or keyboard around, but we'll get to that later. :)

Guitar (and other acoustic instruments that could be plugged in) tuner options.

"We Tune Because We Care" - THE BYRDS


5. A Capo.


Musicians most commonly use a capo to raise the pitch of a fretted instrument so they can play in a different key using the same fingerings as playing open (i.e., without a capo). This has led to people calling the capo a "cheater". But that's not the reason that players in the know use a capo.

Since it is used on the neck of guitar to shorten the playable length of the strings, a capo actually raises the pitch of the instrument, and causes it to sound different. This is handy both in live performance situations and in the recording studio when a different tone is desired, and very commonly when two guitar players wish to play the same chords while creating a fuller sound than they would playing in unison. Typically, one player would employ a capo, the other would not.

Also, is that song you're playing in a key that's difficult for you sing in? Move the capo around! Then just reference the root note to find the new key you're in. "Root Note"? What's that? Need to learn more notes on the neck (which I call "Neck GPS")? We should chat about lessons.

Like mousetraps, there are many types of capos. For live performance I'll use one of the various "quick release" types, but in the recording studio, I use the much more tuning-accurate SHUBB Capo.

Capo overview.


6. A Guitar Amplifier.


Acoustic guitarists practicing in the home needn't necessarily worry about this item, but an electric guitarist is certainly going to need an amplifier.

There's no shortage of guitar amplifiers on the market, and there's a constant flow of new developments and models on the scene. One of the tiniest options is also one of the simplest, most interesting, and downright FUN amplifiers out there. The Smokey Amplifier can be held in the palm of your hand, requires only a nine volt battery, and has no controls to worry about. Just plug in a guitar and go. It will even fit in your pocket while in use, AND it can be used as a distortion pre-amp just "in front" of a larger, more conventional guitar amplifier. I use one at lessons, and I've recorded with it. They're great.


7. A Good Guitar Setup


Can a beginner do a guitar setup themselves? No.
Do advanced players do their own setups? Sometimes, but often, no.

Mass-produced guitars often have production variances; no two will TRULY be the same, right out of the box. They ALL need a setup at sometime, to allow for seasonal temperature and humidity variances, but to also keep the instrument in its best, playable, condition. I always say that although we can do basic adjustments and maintenance, it's best to put your instrument by a qualified professional periodically, especially if you are noticing a different feel from the instrument, dead spots, buzzing in places, or un-playability in general.

An overview of guitar setups.


8.  Notepads


If it don't make the page, it won't make the stage.

Have stuff on hand to write down ideas! There are all types; lined ones are nice. In a pinch, even a pizza box will do. Write. That. Idea. Down....

9. A piano or keyboard.


What? Isn't this about guitar stuff?

Yes, that's why I'm bringing up the piano. With some "ivories" around, better (and more) composition, music theory, different sounds, a totally different hand work-out, and maybe (gasp) even more FUN... all come possible, easily. Even the cheapest one is better than none! Don't believe me, read up over at the awesome REVERB.COM site...   Then maybe even book a piano lesson with someone I can recommend!

10.  The D'Addario/Planet Waves Pro-Winder.


A peg winder, bridge-pin puller, and string cutter.

All in one? Really?

Yup. I have one. You want this inexpensive tool - get one!

11. A guitar case humidifier.


In low humidity (arid desert climates, anywhere with a "Winter"), wooden instruments can dry out and shrink; frets can stick out past the edges of the fingerboard, cracks can develop in your acoustic's top, bridge and action issues can happen.

Keeping a humidifier inside your guitar case can prevent these nightmares. Plenty of commerical gizmos are available, but... see the video above for one of several known Do-It-Yourself solutions.

12. Metronome And/Or Drum Loop Device.

It's not even up for debate: Practicing with a rhythm device makes you a better player. Period.

I jumped right into things early on, almost immediately, courtesy of a four-track cassette recorder and a metronome; I would record the metronome clicks onto a spare track and use that as my guide while recording onto the other tracks. I wouldn't keep it in the final mix.

Nowadays, there are all manner of metronome apps for the phone, and even more fun, drum machine loop apps for the phone. Get to it: There's no excuse for not practicing with a rhythm device.

If you have a computer and Garageband, you've got drum loops built into your software.

Or, if there's a good drummer at your disposal... that's the best option.

Have fun, and please do not be shy about suggesting items for number thirteen and beyond!




I seek serious students who want to have weekly guitar or bass lessons at their location or at my studio in Manorville, Long Island NY.

I draw from my thirty-plus years of experience performing, touring, recording, teaching and writing to ensure the guitar and bass lessons I offer feature an enjoyable balance of technique, theory, rhythm, chord relationships, scales, melodies, writing, and even singing fundamentals, if desired.

I always encourage students to pick songs they'd like to learn or work on. I keep it fun and often let the song be a teaching aid for music theory. I help students set goals and progress as far as they'd like.
- Great references available upon request.
- Refer a new student, get a free lesson.

Guitar and Bass Lesson Policies

Rates: 40 dollars for a half hour, 70 dollars for an hour.
If lessons take place at my studio, take $10 off.

Schedule: Lessons will be at a regular time each week unless notice is given in advance that the student is missing a lesson or is stopping. I reserve the right to remove a student from my schedule in case of excessive cancellations or non-payment.

Holidays: We do not meet for lessons on holidays or during holiday weeks.

Cancellations: The times by which a lesson must be cancelled are as follows:

• For lessons scheduled at 2pm or before - by 5pm the night before.

• For lessons scheduled after 2pm - by 10am the day of the lesson.

• If the lesson is not canceled by that time, the student must pay for the lesson, regardless of the reason for cancellation.

Payment: In cash, at the end of the lesson. Please be sure to have payment ready each week.

Contact Info: I often send out helpful email updates with tips and tricks. Along with parent email and phone number, I request student email and phone number, and any land line phone number at the residence, to keep a database of students who have lessons with me.


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