Using strings that complement your playing style will help your guitar to sound its best. I recommend that you only replace a set of strings when you break one (and that is very rare for me). This stops you wasting money and time with unnecessary restringing and ensures you make a long term investment in the most appropriate strings for you.
Silky steel strings – Great for absolute beginners whose fingers haven’t hardened up and need softer strings to be comfortable. A great compromise between steel and nylon strings for a multipurpose acoustic guitar that can manage some classical playing.
Some guitarists prefer all their strings to be the same gauge. Even gauges give a good overall tone.
I prefer my guitars to have a thicker bottom string for a meatier sound. Ernie Ball Hybrids were excellent when I was using heavy drop tuning.
Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalts – For an experienced electric guitar player who demands long-lasting strings with a good frequency.
Bass guitar strings – I’ve only broken the strings once a friend’s bass (sorry!). Because there are only four of them and they are a lot thicker they are less likely to break than strings for other guitars.
Cleaning guitar strings
To help strings resonate nicely and be less brittle it is advisable to keep them clean. Here are my three guitar string cleaning tips:
Always wash your hands before playing guitar. Do not let others people play your guitar with grubby hands.
Buy a fretboard cleaner. Apply it to the full length of each string using a clean cloth. Do this every couple of months. Cleaners containing lemon oil work well. In the UK I used to buy a brand called “Fast Fret”. Some say furniture polish works well, but there are disputes over whether this shortens the life of your strings.
For bass guitar strings it’s good to occasionally – maybe every few years – boil your strings. Yes, boil them! This loosens them up and cleans them, improving their life time and their tone.
Tuning your guitar is your first task whenever you pick up your instrument. This can be tricky to do if you are putting new strings on your guitar or are still training your musical ear. I’d encourage you to persevere- being able to tell which strings are out of tune and manually adjust them is a useful skill to have.
For greater accuracy in tuning people use digital tuners (I’ve never seen anyone use old school tuning forks!). I like my little old Korg tuner, it is a trusty little accessories: I’ve had it in my kit for years!
Most models of tuner have red lights indicating your string’s a bit flat or sharp, and a green midpoint shows a good note. Some even attach to your guitar, which is helpful if you’re not blessed with a third hand or a suitably sized table. These digital tuners work fine except when you’re in a noisy environment when other sounds can interfere. My device includes an input socket to plug into when there are other sounds in the room, but this is not ideal. Also, when you’re preparing to go on stage it can be nerve-wracking fiddling with tuning pegs, adding to your stress levels when you should be focusing on your upcoming set.
Modern tuners can be very compact and are better at tuning a variety of guitars. Some can even clip onto your guitar so you can play and see the display easily at the same time:
One excellent product I recently saw reviewed is a digital tuner integrated with a panel attached to the rear of the guitar head that automatically adjusts all six pegs for you! It seems you can select a higher accuracy for the sake of a few seconds extra tuning. Based on this YouTube video featuring the Tronical tuner, I reckon this tuner could even adjust tuning on stage between songs!
What tuner do you use? Have you got any experience with the Tronical tuner?
Amplification is important for all electric guitar players to get right. Finding the right sound can be like searching for the holy grail. Whether you already use built-in effects or prefer external pedals, amps are becoming so good these days that they might seem to make pedals obsolete. However many friends of mine (myself included) would be hard pressed to give up their trusty pedals and rely solely on what an amp offers.
That said, I love the distortion from a Marshall amp when coupled with a Gibson guitar: it creates a good, solid, universal tone. But Marshalls aren’t cheap. The Marshall MG series seem like good value, though finding one in stock to play in a guitar shop in Raleigh is like trying to find rocking horse poo! Most guitar shops sell various brands, and some specialise in used amps. From experience I can also recommend the Roland cube- they are cheaper than Marshalls.
Whatever amp you are considering, or even if you’re wanting a head and speaker setup, my only advice is that you MUST check out the sound with your guitar in person before buying. It’s also a perfect opportunity to feel the weight and size of your amp (generally the larger the speaker the heavier the amp)- is it portable, will you be able to take it to gigs or open mic nights with ease? Do not just order online, you are chancing disappointment and a lot of wasted money.
Have you ever looked at an electric guitar and wondered how it produced those mysterious sounds? When people first take up guitar the anatomy of the instrument can be confusing. It is important to understand the parts of a guitar and how they produce the sounds we hear to learn, play or build a guitar.
The strings of a guitar stretch up from their lower fixing on the bridge and bend up over a raised piece called a saddle. From here the strings are suspended along the neck, which is divided into frets designated by glued metal lines perpendicular to the strings. At the top of the neck the strings are wound by pegs on the guitar head. Strings vibrate once they are plucked or strummed. The note that is produced depends on the length, tension, weight, and springiness of the string.
On an acoustic guitar these vibrations cause changes in surrounding air pressure (soundwaves). The front section is called the soundboard and has a distinctive hole in (the soundhole). The shape of the guitar’s body affects its tone (the frequency of the soundwaves). Soundwaves are amplified at the back of the guitar’s body (the soundboard), and emerge from the sound hole and through the air as audible sound.
For electric guitars there is no hole and the body of the guitar is solid. String vibrations are detected by an electromagnetic pickups (bar magnets over a wire coil), sending a signal down a wire that is made audible by an electronic amplifier. (The same principle is applied by electric pickups used to amplify sound from acoustic guitars.)
There are also completely electric midi guitars like the You Rock Guitar. I’ve watched various Youtube videos of these, and I was not impressed. Acoustic and electric guitars are handcrafted wooden instruments. No synthesised alternative has come close. Perhaps I’ll continue this rant in a future post…for now enjoy the sounds made by your acoustic and electric guitars y’all!
Do you like figuring out how things function and working with your hands? Fancy a project making or modifying a musical instrument? Here are some links that get into the nitty gritty of how to build your own instrument and how guitar components work:
At this time of year lots of people are buying Christmas presents. If you’re thinking of buying a guitar as a surprise present for someone special then DON’T. Instead take them on a surprise shopping trip or buy them a gift voucher for a local guitar store. Guitar players will know and feel what’s right, and even if the recipient is a complete beginner they should have a say before any purchase is made.
Style over substance? It is worth spending lots of money on a guitar that looks a certain way when you can probably buy something that looks less assuming but sounds better?
Wood. You may find a maple neck easier to move up and down on a fretwood than rosewood. This preference depends on your playing style.
Pickup configuration. A strat style guitar with regular pickups is more suited to blues, jazz and rock, whereas something like a Les Paul or SG with humbucker pickups is more suited to heavier styles of music.
SCREECH! If you want to sound like Steve Vai, Van Halen, or White Snake then you’ll need a guitar like an Ibanez with a floating tremolo to make the guitar screech.
Weight. If you’re going to be standing playing your guitar for hours on end with it hanging around your neck.
Secondhand guitars. You can make them feel new by getting the guitar setup, buying a fretboard cleaner, and putting on a fresh set of strings.
Haggling You’re already spending a lot of money on a new guitar, see if you can get good accessories like cables, a case, or a guitar strap thrown in or heavily discounted.
The most important thing
Does the guitar feel right to you? Before you go to a guitar shop do your research about different makes and designs. Avoid the temptation to just order online – you need to play one first, in the same way that you wouldn’t buy a car before test driving the same model. When you get to the store pick up a guitar that looks right and play a variety of things on it. Test it out on a rig that’s similar to the one you have at home. Even if it feels perfect make sure you then try at least four other guitars in the shop to compare it with, including a type you might not have considered. You need to try a range of guitars before making your decision.