Upgrading Your Gear: Must-Haves For the Intermediate Guitarist

14357876100_e62e4f0581_kIs your guitar gear stage-ready? If you’ve been playing for a while and you’re ready to start performing, your set up might need some upgrades. Follow this guide from guitar teacher Nathan D. and enjoy rocking out… 

So perhaps you’ve been playing steadily for a few months to years, and you’re taking this whole “guitarist” thing seriously. Maybe you now have a band, and want to start playing out. There’s plenty of necessities to get or upgrade guitar gear as you start to go a bit more pro, and countless sticker-shock options as well. What do you need to know before going on a crazy, card-maxing shopping spree?

Ideas For The Road

A floppy gig bag will need an upgrade, so definitely buy a hard-shell case to protect your instrument. Consider the hardships of packing your guitar into your tour vehicle and traveling. It will pay for itself after a hard drop out of a van door or trunk, or even a single pass through the TSA’s often brutal gauntlet.

Buy a few supplies for your case. I keep a spare string winder, a pack of strings, a tuner (or pitch pipe, as they don’t need batteries that can leak if left unchecked), and a few extra picks. A pen and some paper won’t hurt, either. You never know when you’ll have to trade info with a promoter and run out of business cards (bar napkins easily get thrown out).

If you live in dry climates, I shouldn’t even have to tell you to have a humidifier in your guitar case. However, if you’re going on tour or vacation, it’s not the first thing you might think to pack. You don’t know what the weather will be from state to state (or continent), so it’s worth the twenty dollar or more investment.

Suggestions For The Active Stage Rocker

Consider installing strap-locks onto your instrument, especially if you’re in an act that flails around a lot. Be aware of the current size of the strap screws in your instrument. You may be drilling a deeper or wider hole for larger screws to properly secure the locks. Have it done by a pro if you don’t want to potentially split your body apart (or ask a reliable carpenter friend).

It’s not worth putting strap-locks onto a guitar strap that will break at your next practice. Please don’t repair your straps with duct tape. If it looks shoddy, get a new one. Also, if you notice that your shoulder gets fatigued after wearing your guitar for an hour, immediately upgrade to a wider strap with some padding.

If you’re tired of pulling your cable from your amp (regardless of its length), become entangled with mic stands and bandmates, or have ever pulled your amp to have it fall directly onto pavement, you might be a candidate to go wireless. There are budget packages that run for only a couple hundred dollars or less, just check the reviews on your favorite retailers’ websites. It’s incredibly fun to run the full distance possible through or around your audience while playing, whether it’s an outdoor show or in a bar.

Playing With Power

Here’s the big one: your practice amp probably won’t cut it live. Even if a microphone and PA is used in conjunction with it, relying on a tiny, low-watt amp and/or stage monitors doesn’t always work out very well.

Don’t be the player on stage that insists on using a microphone on a 20 watt amp, constantly glaring at the poor sound guy, angrily shooting a finger repeatedly upward, and yelling to crank you up in the stage mix.

You’re going to need at least a couple hundred watts to be loud enough. If you can’t hear your playing while on stage with drums and other instruments (and actually want to play with a band), you’ll need a new, more powerful amp.

Prepare to shell out several hundred dollars to a grand (or more). Note the differences in buying an all-in-one versus a speaker cabinet setup and separate amplifier (or head unit). You can always upgrade the amp if you buy separate units, but in any case you can always upgrade the speaker(s) down the line. If you’re handy, you can also build your own speaker box with plans found online.

Don’t rule out using a small yet powerful amp to power any speaker box, as my $300 200 Watt ZT Lunchbox (it’s the size of a lunchbox) is actually powerful enough to power my 4X12” Marshall cabinet. However, its built-in 6.5” speaker actually is enough for me in most small venues.

Bring your instrument to the store to try out different amps, don’t just go by reviews. You don’t want to pay return shipping on a 100 pound amp if you decide to buy online without even trying it in person. Your sound doesn’t need compromises, plus your wallet could take a big, non-refundable hit for a simple mistake.

When you purchase or construct a new, more powerful amplifier setup, you can always keep your little old amp for low-volume practice, or sell it to a beginner.

For more great amps check out this list from Music Skanner.

Last Words To You Rockers

My final, very important advice is have ear protection. Your ears are your most important organs as a musician. Tinnitus is not fun. I’m in my early thirties and I have already started developing it in my left ear, and sometimes it wakes me up at night. There’s plenty of options in foam, rubber, and silicone models that are under twenty dollars.

That being said (and hopefully heard), a wide assortment of guitar gear possibilities await you. Has some of that anxiety calmed of what to do next? I hope some of these suggestions help you out. You’re at an exciting stage of being a musician! Keep playing!


Nathan D. teaches guitar, bass, drums, and more in North Wales, PA. His specialties include rock and heavy metal styles, but he teaches every genre. Learn more about Nathan here!


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