What You’ll Need: wire snips pliers (maybe) a cloth to wipe down guitar guitar polish (optional) a “string winder” (optional but recommended)
Begin by finding a flat surface on which to lay the guitar. A table works well, but the floor works in a pinch. Position yourself in front of the instrument, with the guitar’s sixth string closest to you. Completely slacken the sixth (lowest) string of the guitar, by turning the tuner. If you’re unsure of which direction to turn the tuner to slacken the string, pluck the string before you begin turning the tuner. The pitch of the note should get lower as you slacken the string.
Once the string has been completely slackened, uncoil it from the tuning peg at the head of the guitar. Next, remove the other end of the string from the bridge by removing the sixth string bridge pin from the bridge of the guitar. Commonly, bridge pins will provide some resistance when trying to remove them. If this is the case, use a pair of pliers and gently coax the bridge pin out of the bridge.
Discard the old string. Using your cloth, wipe down any areas of the guitar you can’t reach with the sixth string on the instrument. If you have guitar polish, now is the time to use it.
It is important to note that some guitarists remove all strings from their guitar at once and then replace them. I highly advise against this procedure. The six tuned strings of a guitar produce a great deal of tension on the neck of the instrument, which is a good thing. Removing all six strings at once drastically changes this tension, which many guitar necks don’t react well to. Sometimes, when all six strings are replaced, the strings will sit impossibly high off the fretboard. Change your strings one at a time to avoid a variety of issues.
Probably the most important consideration, when choosing what type of guitar to learn on, is what type of music will be played on the instrument. If you’re a fan of rock music, and want to learn to play rock guitar, starting on electric guitar is a logical choice. If, however, you’re a fan of acoustic music, and want to learn to strum your favorite songs, an acoustic guitar is probably best for you. The importance of the above philosophy can’t be stressed enough. If you get stuck with the wrong type of guitar, you’re going to have much less motivation to pick it up and play it regularly.
Note to parents: this same principle applies when picking out a guitar for your child. Try to realistically assess what they’dlike best, as opposed to what you’dlike them to play. Their progress will be noticably better when playing a guitar they like.
Ease of Learning
Depending on your personality type, this might either play a major factor in deciding which guitar to start on, or might be irrelevant. Some people find if they don’t see results quickly, they get discouraged, and lose interest in playing guitar altogether. If you think you (or the person you’re buying for) are one of those people, an electric guitar is probably the instrument to start on. Electric guitars have smaller bodies, smaller necks, and it’s much easier to press down the strings. Essentially, you can start playing the *basics* of guitar much more quickly and easily on an electric guitar, than you can on an acoustic. Having said that, there are a few knobs and buttons on an electric guitar that can complicate using it somewhat.
Understandably, paying a whole lot for a first guitar isn’t very desirable, especially if you’re not even sure if playing guitar is something you (or whomever you’re buying for) will stick with. For this reason, acoustic guitars are more often the choice for a first instrument, since they tend to be slightly less expensive. Electric guitars require the purchase of an amplifier, and a guitar cable, so they can end up costing a little more. If you want to learn on an electric guitar, but budget is a serious issue, many guitar stores offer starter electric guitar/amp packages at very reasonable prices.
Making the Decision
Now I’ve given you some things to consider, it’s time for you to decide which type of guitar is best suited for you, or for whomever you’re buying for. Let’s summarize – if the person in question frustrates easily, or listens to and wants to play “hard rock” music, definitely think electric guitar. If, however, the person in question wants to learn songs to sing along to, and can handle a slightly steeper learning curve, then an acoustic guitar might be in order.
Once you’ve made a decision, take a look at the following page for a few recommendations on specific guitars to buy.
The quest for the ultimate tone is a constant struggle for guitarists. I’ve yet to meet a guitarist who is wholly satisfied with every aspect of their sound. Coaxing a great tone out of your guitar and amplifier is certainly a frustrating experience for most of us – even with great equipment, that “perfect sound” always seems to be just out of our grasp. Let’s examine several ways of changing your guitar sound without shelling out wads of coin for a new axe or amp.
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to tinker with your guitar sound is to experiment with different sizes and gauges of picks. Using a very thin pick produces a sound drastically different than using a heavy one. Many jazz guitarists tend to favour using heavy picks (1.5 or 2 millimeters) because it tends to thicken and darken up their sound somewhat. Thinner gauged picks tend to give guitarist’s a brighter sound, although it tends to produce tone with a shade less depth (I personally can’t stand really thin picks, but some people swear by them, as they feel it gives them much more speed). When choosing picks, be sure they are well-made, and the edges of the pick aren’t unintentionally rough, as this can interfere with your ability to play notes cleanly. I have found Jim Dunlop picks to be of excellent quality, but there are many excellent brands of guitar picks available.
Another easy way to alter your sound is via experimenting with different string gauges. A guitar strung with extra light gauge strings will sound completely different than the same guitar strung with medium or heavy gauge strings. The String Anatomy 101 website offers explanations of different types of strings. For links to various string manufacturer’s websites, as well as online guitar string retailers, visit the guitar string links page on this site. (It should be noted that changing string gauges on a guitar generally neccesitates an intonation adjustment. You can learn more about how to do this by reading the Intonation FAQ.)
Making little adjustments to your guitar’s setup, such as clamping down floating bridges, or adjusting pickup height, can also make a world of difference in the sound your guitar produces. If you own a Stratocaster, the Strat Tips website offers some great tips on how to go about making these adjustments, and what the “optimal” settings are. You’ll find a ton of other ideas for tweaking your axe in the Guitar Repair Archive.
If none of the above procedures offer a tonal solution drastic enough for you, you can always consider replacing a pickup or two. The problem is, there are hundreds of electric guitar pickups on the market, and it’s hard to guess what a pickup will sound like in your guitar until you’ve already bought it and put it in. The Harmony Central site offers an excellent resource; the Electric Guitar Pickup Database, a collection of reviews by guitarists, on specific pickups. The archive is huge, and chances are, you’ll find at least several reviews of the pickup you’re considering for purchase.
Sometimes, the best way to go about finding a sound that is right for you is to emulate someone else’s guitar sound, and then, over time, make adjustments to it. Use the archive of famous guitarist guitar set-ups on this site to experiment with other guitarist’s sounds, and try to evaluate what you do and don’t like about each.
This should get you off to a great start in re-examining the sound you’re getting out of your guitar. Remember – much of your guitar tone comes not from the guitar itself, but from the fingers in your fretting hand, and in the way you strike the strings with your pick. Adjusting the amount of pressure you’re exerting, the type of vibrato you’re using, the part of your finger that comes into contact with the string, etc., can affect your guitar tone almost as much, if not more, than any of the above suggestions. Good luck!
Just a little bit more technical talk before we get into playing more chords and songs. Don’t worry, this shouldn’t take you more than a couple of minutes to memorize!
Every note on the guitar has a name, represented by a letter. The names of each of these notes is important; guitarists need to know where to find these notes on their instrument, in order to read music.
The image to the left illustrates the names of the six open strings on the guitar.
The strings, from sixth to first (thickest to thinnest) are named E, A, D, G, B and E again.
In order to help you memorize this, try using the accompanying phrase “Every Adult Dog Growls, Barks, Eats” to keep the order straight.
Try saying the string names out loud, one by one, as you play that string. Then, test yourself by pointing to a random string on your guitar, then trying to name that string as quickly as possible. In following lessons, we’ll be learning the names of the notes on various frets on the guitar, but for now, we’ll just stick with the open strings.
Get yourself an armless chair, and take a seat. You should be sitting comfortably, with your back against the back of the chair. Slouching significantly is a no-no; you’ll not only end up with a sore back, you’ll develop bad habits on the guitar.
Now, pick up your guitar, and hold it so the back of the body of the instrument comes in contact with your stomach/chest, and the bottom of the neck runs parallel to the floor. The thickest string on the guitar should be the closest to your face, while the thinnest should be closest to the floor. If this isn’t the case, turn the guitar the in other direction. Typically, a right-handed person will hold the guitar so the headstock points to the left, whereas a left-handed person will hold the guitar so the headstock points to the right. (NOTE: to play the guitar as a lefty would, you will need a left-handed guitar.)
When playing the guitar sitting down, the body of the guitar will rest on one of your legs. In most styles of guitar playing, the guitar will rest on the leg farthest away from the headstock. This means, a person playing the guitar in a right-handed fashion will typically rest the guitar on his/her right leg, while someone playing the guitar in a lefty manner will rest it on their left leg. (NOTE: proper classical guitarist technique dictates the exact OPPOSITE of the above, but for this lesson, let’s stick to our initial explanation)
Next, concentrate on your “fretting hand” (the hand closest to the neck of the guitar, when sitting in proper position). The thumb of your fretting hand should rest behind the neck of the guitar, with your fingers in a slightly curled position, poised above the strings. It is extremely important to keep these fingers curled at the knuckles, except when specifically instructed not to do so.
Knowing most of the basics about a guitar will make learning how to play the guitar easier; the basic parts are the headstock, the nut, the neck, the body, the sound hole, the bridge, the strings and the keys. Most of these parts are pretty self explanatory; the strings run from the bridge over the sound hole, up the neck, are secured by the nut, and attached to the tuning keys to achieve the desired sounds.
The next difference is between the types of guitar, there are several, however most novice guitar players would only be concerned with the two very basic types, the acoustic and electric. Which someone would decide to learn guitar songs on, would depend on which type of music that person wanted to play; if the kind of music a person likes is played with mainly an electric guitar, the logical choice would be an electric guitar, or the same would be true with an acoustic.
Learning Guitar Songs: Pieces of a Song
Just like the guitars themselves, learning guitar songs, requires one to learn at least the very basic parts of a song; there are two ways to read music from a song, in the form of sheet music and in the form of tablature. Something a beginning guitar player can expect to learn is the three chords G, C, and D first. These are some of the most frequently used chords in learning guitar songs; and in formal lessons these are usually the first chords taught.
Trying Out a Few Songs
When someone is first learning chords and their way around a guitar, learning guitar songs can seem impossible; but once a player has mastered the three basic chords mentioned above there are actually several songs that exclusively use these chords, especially from the 1960′s or 1970′s. Trying to play songs can keep a new player interested in the instrument, although beginners likely won’t be able to change chords fast enough to make it sound quite right, just being able to get down the general idea can instill confidence in a student.
The old saying practice makes perfect holds true with any instrument; for the guitar, besides remembering the position of the chords, one must also practice strumming, rhythm, changing chords, and how to recognize the correct sounds the guitars are supposed to make. Achieving a strumming rhythm is just as important as learning the chords, when learning to play guitar songs.
Choosing a Method of Instruction
A person makes the best teacher, they would be experienced and able to give constructive criticism, and be an active participant in the guitar song learning process. A close second for learning guitar songs are DVD instructional programs, these allow the student to watch and listen as if there were an actual instructor present. Also the DVD systems, allow the person learn at their own pace.
The next best method of learning is through a CD system; these systems may not have video instruction, but will often have good illustrations that are simple to follow. The least constructive, yet still somewhat effective method of learning is over the internet; learning over the internet is virtually the same as CDs, with the exception of an online teacher may have a forum, and some music or video clips, as a point of reference. The major downfall to learning guitar songs over the internet is that one must practice in front of their computer.
A number of the most talented musicians in the world share a particular tale of woe. All of the years that they spent standing in front of screaming crowds, playing amplified instruments in venues that may well have been somewhat cramped, comes to a fairly obvious conclusion. When you ask them their name they won’t be able to tell you. Not because they are drunk or on drugs, but because they are pretty much deaf. It is something that can be hard to avoid, if you are going to play the big shows, or if you simply enjoy playing loud.
Many guitarists spend at least a few nights a week standing in front of an amplifier that is taller than they are. Even though they wear earplugs to dampen the noise, that is still not dissimilar to standing in front of a jumbo jet as it prepares for take-off. And when they are playing loud in a small venue – which a lot of bands do on the way up – the sound reverberates right back at them. It can’t be good for the ears. So is there any way to avoid this? Well, simply sticking to best practice is a wise idea. Don’t play seven days a week – in fact, three nights in a row is considered a bit much by some.
Earplugs are more than advisable, as is standing further away from the amps. Another tip would be to play a bit quieter – but that is considered a mortal insult by any guitarist worthy of the title.
Going Deaf In Guitar Playing For A Living?
If you want to become a musician for fun, for profit or for any other reason, there is no escaping the fact that a little bit of money will need to be spent. Time and money are just two of the investments you will need to make to do it properly, and it is fairly important to get value for money in the early stages. Being able to learn the guitar means knowing how good you sound, and your first guitar may not need to be expensive and classic – but it does need to be of a sufficient quality to sound like a guitar. Otherwise you could be extremely naturally talented and not know it.
It is possible to find decent second-hand guitars, and this may be your best option as a learner. They will occasionally be passed on by guitarists who have learned the important tricks, and need to add something to their sound that can only be achieved with a more expensive guitar. If you take this approach, it may be worth asking to hear them play – if they sound good on the instrument, then so can you with enough practice. Once you have your guitar you’ll need to move on to other useful items. For example, if you are going electric, you’ll need a decent amp – otherwise you’re not going to hear yourself play.
The best bet is to ask around in music shops and – on occasion – ask the person who is selling you the guitar. If they want to keep their amp – which is highly possible – then they may well know somewhere good to buy one. After all, they bought their own.
The First-Time Guitarist’s Shopping List
Some of the most proficient guitarists in the world are not known to many people, because their versatility makes them ideal session guitarists or members of touring bands. If you can play the one style, but play it enormously well, then you’re one of life’s band members. But if you can play every style to a level of impressive proficiency, then a session role is something to consider. There will always be a band, in whatever genre, who need a guitarist like you.
The guitar has popped up in all kinds of music over the years. Of course it has a place in punk music, although there are many who would argue that anyone could be the guitarist in a punk band. A solo rock singer will need session musicians to play their songs when they go on tour, while the increasing number of dance acts who prefer to put on a live show rather than do a glorified DJ set means that there is a challenge for session musicians – you may well know how to play the entire back catalogue of Bryan Adams, but the skeletal guitar lines that pop up in a lot of drum ‘n’ bass music are a different kettle of fish.
The different genres that use the guitar all use it differently – some would compare the styles to different tools. A punk guitar style will be similar to using a hammer, and a rock guitarist will work more with a saw. The more intricate and fragile playing which is, strangely, familiar to both folk and dance music, is more like a paintbrush. It’s all the same instrument though – a wonderfully versatile one.
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How Different Genres Have Used Guitars
Before they became one of the most famous bands in the world, Radiohead had a debut album called “Pablo Honey”. As well as the multi-million selling single “Creep”, the album featured a song called “Anyone Can Play Guitar” – something that a lot of frustrated musicians have since found to be slightly inaccurate. Much as we try, there are some of us who feel that the likelihood of us ever managing to get something resembling a tune out of a musical instrument is at best limited. Given the iconic nature of the guitar, this can be frustrating.
There can be very few of us who do not love music. Whether or not we can play, we tend to have an ear for things we like, and even in the recent global recession record and MP3 sales were barely harmed – because people like to have music even when there is no prospect of spending big on other purchases. If you need to stay at home more, then you may as well have a good soundtrack for it. But what are the chances of providing your own soundtrack to all of this? Well, a bit of perseverance and the ability to think outside the box may well provide you with the opportunity.
Maybe not everyone can play guitar. But if you have tried a few times and been met with noises that sound unhealthy, that doesn’t mean you have no ability. All it means is that you need to refine your learning process.
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Anyone Can Play Guitar