Gibson vs Fender best guitar brand

Gibson vs. Fender: Which Brand Do Pro Guitar Players Prefer?

Gibson vs Fender best guitar brand

In the Gibson vs. Fender debate, where do you stand? Here, professional musician Michael L. shares his thoughts on the two brands…  


There’s nothing like being a guitar player, am I right?

You’ve got your pick of genres to explore, from jazz to country to metal. You have amazing guitarists to look up to and learn from. And when it comes to gear, you have your pick of some of the coolest innovations to make your sound rock.

If you’re like most guitarists,  you like to talk about your gear, too. You’ll find heated debates online about the best guitar amps, strings, pedals, and more. And if you’re in the market for your first guitar, you’ll likely get a lot of (unsolicited) advice about the best guitar brands and models.

One of the biggest rivalries in the world of electric guitars is Gibson vs. Fender. Many guitar players have allegiances to their favorite company, although both produce professional-grade guitars.

So, which brand is better? To start, let’s review the history of both companies, as well as a general breakdown of the types of guitars offered. Then, I’ll share my personal preference between the guitar manufacturers.

All About Gibson Guitars

Gibson dates back to the late 1800s, when Orville Gibson patented a mandolin design that was much more durable than other instruments at that time. He sold these instruments out of a one-room workshop in Kalamazoo, MI, until his death in 1918. The designs lived on, however, as the company hired designer Lloyd Lear to continue creating new instruments.

In 1936, the company invented the first commercially successful Spanish-style electric guitar, the ES 150 (ES stands for Electric Spanish). Next came the P-90 pickup in 1946 and the Les Paul in 1952.

The Les Paul, perhaps the most iconic model from the company, was Gibson’s first solid body electric guitar. In 1958 Gibson also introduced semi-hollow body guitars with the ES-335. Afterward came the Gibson SG and Firebird in the 1960s.

Since then Gibson has stayed on top of the list of premier instrument manufacturers.

All About Fender Guitars

Leo Fender started Fender Guitars in 1946, and his first innovation was the production of solid body guitars. Up until then, electric guitars were made with hollow bodies, meaning that they were somewhat fragile and somewhat complicated in design. Leo Fender’s guitars offered a more straightforward design; the were bodies made from one solid block of wood and the bridges were simply attached to the body, removing the need for extra calibration of elevated bridges.

The first commercially available guitar from Fender was the Telecaster, originally called the Tele, in 1951. That same year Leo Fender also invented the electric bass. Until then, bassists had to use an upright bass, making it difficult to hear the bass while electric guitars and drums were being played.

Next, the Stratocaster hit the market in 1954, introducing a tremolo bridge (or whammy bar) to the world. Fender kept the amazing innovations coming, introducing the Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Jazz Bass, and Twin Reverb amp over the next decade.

Gibson vs. Fender: Style & Adaptability

When choosing between Fender or Gibson, there are many factors to consider. The main factor for me is style adaptability. Both Fender and Gibson have different models for different musical styles and tastes.

Gibson vs Fender

The Gibson Style

Gibson’s electric guitars generally sport humbucker pickups, known for their thicker, rounder tone. You also get less feedback, which limits the types of delay and overdrive tones you can experiment with, but ensures a cleaner and more consistent sound. Gibson mainly uses mahogany for their guitar bodies, which is what gives it that slightly darker sound.

Another feature that affects a Gibson guitar’s sound is the scale length. Gibson typically uses a 24.75″ scale length, producing warmer, muddy overtones.

Outside of the sound created, Gibson guitars also feel different to players. Gibsons typically have a longer fingerboard radius, at 12″, which means a fatter neck. With a fatter neck, the strings are at a more even height, which may help you play faster.

Gibson Guitars

Gibson Les Paul

Les Paul guitars in particular boast a full tone that can serve as an entire rhythm section if need be. With a switch of pickups, you can also find a lead tone that cuts through, while still maintaining low-end frequencies. Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, and Zakk Wylde are known for playing Les Pauls.

A Gibson SG, another example, is a straight rock-n-roll or punk rocker guitar. It’s shrill with big low frequencies, which is great for blues. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Angus Young, and Tony Iommi favor the SG.

The Fender Style

Fender guitars have a bit of a different sound, again because of the way they’re made. Fenders are usually made with alder and ash, producing a brighter tone and offering a lighter feel.

Fender typically uses a 25.5″ scale length, which provides a rich, almost bell-like tone.

And for its fingerboard, Fender typically uses a shorter radius (7.25-9.5″), offering a thinner, curved neck. Beginners and players with small hands might find these thinner necks more comfortable.

Fender Guitars

Fender Stratocaster

The single coil pickups of a Stratocaster, in particular, may be your preference if you like lots of treble in your tone and want to make lead lines pop.

Some famous Stratocaster players are Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Frusciante, and Jeff Beck.

Telecaster tone, on the other hand, has a bit of a flat thud to it. The notes generally don’t have a full sustain and the lipstick pickup promotes more mid to low frequencies.

Players like Joe Strummer, Keith Richards, and Prince favor telecasters.

Who Wins?

For me, it’s difficult to take a personal side in the Fender vs. Gibson debate. Both companies have produced legendary instruments that have shaped music around the world. Both have helped define electric guitar tone.

However, I will have to side with Fender in this arena. I love the feel of Fender instruments, particularly Jazzmaster and Telecasters. Both have broad, flat necks that fit my fingers and a tone that sounds divine. The Telecaster has an honest thud to its sound and the Jazzmaster gives you a full range of tonal experimental possibilities.

What Other Opinions Are Out There?

Search through any guitar forum or blog, and you’ll find tons of information about Fender, Gibson, and other guitar brands. If you’d like to research some more before casting your vote, here are some articles and posts to check out:

Your Turn

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Don’t have an opinion yet? If you’re trying to decide which guitar to buy, don’t just trust the poll results. Try out different guitar brands, models, and styles, and you’ll find what you like best.

And once you have that perfect guitar, it’s time to improve your skills! Search for guitar teachers in your area and get help with playing chords, songs, and much more. Good luck!

Photo by Larry Ziffle

Willy MPost Author: Michael L.
Michael teaches ukulele, guitar, drums, and music theory in Austin, TX. In addition to private lessons, Michael teaches music to special education students and foster children with Kids in a New GrooveLearn more about Michael here!

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guitar tone

Of Tubes and Tones: The Only Guitar Tone Guide You’ll Ever Need

guitar toneEvery guitarist wants great tone, but what if you’re not entirely sure what that means? Guitar teacher Noel S. breaks down the basics of guitar tone and shares what every electric guitarist should know about their gear…

We’ve all heard great classic guitar tones from our favorite musicians and felt motivated to hit the practice room or visit the music store, determined to achieve the same results. Finding a way to achieve those results, we’re faced with the infinite choices of strings, pickups, amps, tone settings, and effects, which leaves us looking for additional knowledge of how mastering guitar tone all works.

It’s easy enough to get creative with imagery-based tone descriptions like “warm,” “bright,” “mellow,” “harsh,” “clean,” “dirty” and so on, but many guitarists feel frustrated by the subjective nature of these types of descriptions. For students who want clear pathways to the guitar tones they love, we require definite terms to communicate those elements which produce guitar tone.

So, to enhance your knowledge of guitar tone, check out the following terms to know, gear to experiment with, and musicians to listen to as you embark on your path to becoming the guitarist you’ve always aspired to be.

Guitar Tone Terms to Know

Pitch: Any note you pluck on the guitar is heard as a “pitch,” defined as the fundamental cycle-per-second sound vibration produced (typically measured in units called “Hertz” or “Hz”). Say you played an A note on the 5th string open. The whole string vibrates at 110 cycles per second to produce the fundamental note – its lowest vibration speed for the note that you’re playing. That is the pitch of A that you hear.

Overtone: Your A string is also vibrating in halves, creating a sound that’s called an “overtone.” This doubling of vibration speed produces the first overtone, heard at the same time one octave higher.

Your A string vibrates in thirds as well – three equal pieces, producing the second overtone. Even higher divisions of string vibration occur at the same time you pluck, and as the number of divisions goes higher, the less audible the sound of that overtone is.

As a side note, understanding vibration speed explains why the first guitar string is called “high E,” even though it’s located lower (physically speaking) than the other strings. It is also why moving “up” the guitar neck is a sideways and downward movement.

Timbre/Tone: Play that A string again, this time stop only that string’s vibration. You will discover that the D string is also vibrating a little bit, because of the overtones contained in that fundamental A noted you plucked.  You’ll hear it as “A1,” or the same note sounded as if the D string were plucked at the 19th fret.

The human ear hears only the fundamental A as the defined pitch, but it hears those overtones as what is called “timbre” or “tone.”  That allows us to hear which instrument or voice has sounded the fundamental note. Your ear takes in the sound of the fundamental note, plus all the overtones, then your brain recombines this information into a perception of tone.

Bass: A fundamental note contains energy that moves with a specific frequency, categorized into ranges, or bands, known as “bass,” “middle” and “treble.” Frequencies ranging from 20 Hz to 300 Hz receive their regulation from your amplifier’s bass control knob.

Pluck your low E string, and adjust your bass knob from zero to 10. Then, perform the same experiment with your high E string, noticing that low E changes considerably, while the high E string doesn’t. That’s because your high E string is tuned to a standard 329.63 Hz above the range for bass frequencies.

Middle: The best frequency range for human hearing is the midrange: 300 to 4000 Hz. Most human vocal sounds are produced in this range, which explains why our hearing tunes in to sounds in this band of frequencies. This fact reveals one cool way you can help create sonic space for your band’s singer, by omitting notes in your guitar chords that would crowd his or her midrange-frequency space. Note that most of our guitar’s fundamental range falls within the midrange, and we can set that control higher than our bass and treble.

Treble: Finally, treble encompasses sounds from 4000 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Remember our definition of tone? Sound vibrations known as overtones are generated by a string moving in halves, thirds and continuously smaller divisions, with audibility diminishing and disappearing after the seventh division.

So, high-string riffs from above the 12th fret can have a consistent and dynamic level, great tone and well-balanced audibility, provided you keep the treble or presence knob on your amp from venturing far beyond the midpoint. The pain from hearing too much treble will let you know when to back off.

Guitar Tone and Gear

In order for you to gain confident knowledge of the guitar sound you want, it’s important to know the following descriptions of tone controls, amplifiers, pickups and effects pedals. As you experiment with these sounds, be sure to listen to guitarists who have used these effects in their music.

How Guitar Amps Effect Tone

An amplifier’s true tone needs to be measured at power inputs of at least 30% volume, and then measured again at 50% and beyond. The tone descriptions below follow those standards of measurement, and differences in tone between tube amps and solid state amps emerge only within those categories.

Tube Amps: Transformers on a tube amplifier provide a natural, high-frequency gate that keeps a guitarist’s high-note overtones in check, which is a desirable quality. When the amp warms up, and the transformer reaches a point of core saturation, tube amplifiers deliver a level of compression to the tone, evening out the dynamics of the guitar sound during performance. This reduces the chance of a note sounding like it was plucked too hard, too softly, or with an abrupt attack. It provides a more sustained dynamic level of loudness, another desirable quality for guitar tone.

Fourth overtone harmonics are produced by tube amps, and the interval produced by this tone delivers more sustain to the fundamental note. For examples of tube amp sounds, listen to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” intro. You can also check out Stevie Ray Vaughan recordings, such as “Crossfire,” “Voodoo Child,” and “Pride and Joy.” Want to hear more? Try Steve Vai or Angus Young’s recordings.

Solid State Amps: The sharper sound wave generated by these amps provides for a more sudden “attack” portion of your tone. The overtone primarily produced by these amps, the 3rd harmonic, provides for a quicker decay of the sound. These characteristics lend themselves very well to a precise attack of each note – an instant response. Listen to B.B. King’s “King of the Blues” solo for an example of a solid state amp sound. Or, check out guitar recordings from Andy Summers of The Police, such as “Every Breath You Take.”

Stack Amps: Since the guitar tone effects from amplifiers present their most desirable qualities with the volume turned up to a certain amount, guitarists require these amps only for performances in very large venues. Smaller amplifiers provide better tone conditions for recording and practicing, and restaurant, bar or club performances.

My experience performing up and down the New York City andNew Jersey coastline started with a solid state Polytone Amplifier. I needed more volume for every venue where the band performed, so I got rid of it and bought a used Roland Jazz Chorus 120, which sounded great at low and high volumes. I’ve performed with it for decades and never spent another cent maintaining the Roland.

How Guitar Pickups Effect Tone

Guitar pickups effect tone to the extent that some effects pedals now feature settings with a design for each type. Every pickup takes physical variations in acoustic sound energy and converts them to electric sound energy. The materials used and the way that they’re used makes the difference in tone.

A  pickup affects guitar tone in many ways, such as the strength of its magnetic field, size of its magnetic field, diameter of the wire wrapped around the magnet, its location on the guitar body, and how the guitarist is playing. When choosing a pickup, keep in mind the range of frequencies you’d like to emphasize in your tone, the abruptness or subtlety you’d prefer in a sound’s attack, and the dynamic curve in your sound’s sustain and decay. Discover these points by experimenting with this information and listening to examples of guitarists playing different types of pickups.

Piezo Pickups: Piezo pickups use quartz crystals to receive and transmit sound energy. They’re mounted in the saddle bridge of guitars that use them. The very accurate dynamic response to a guitarist’s string displacement (how hard you pluck) surprises people upon first trying Piezo pickups. That’s why everyone who uses them also uses a compression effect to even out the dynamics.

On a related note, string displacement affects tone, too! A downward displacement of 45 degrees toward the soundboard or body is the goal I always recommend to students. Compare that tone to a sideways pluck and also an upward pluck (away from the soundboard or body). In each case, we take note of how all of these parameters affect the presentation of our overtones, our note’s attack, sustain and decay. These are the important factors in determining the guitar tone we want.

Listen to Jesse Cook perform “Mario Takes a Walk” and also Sting’s recording of “Fragile” to hear good examples of the Piezo pickup tone.

Single Coil Pickups: Your plucked guitar string sends sound vibration into the magnetic field, emanating from copper wire coiled around a magnet, which makes up the single coil pickup. This results in the vibration of the magnetic field, as well. When the magnetic field is in flux from this vibration, an electrical signal is generated and amplified though your amp.

The field of magnetism produced by the single coil pickup covers a smaller area than the field of magnetism from Humbucker pickups. A smaller range of harmonics (overtones) are captured from a smaller field of magnetism, providing for less low and midrange-frequency overtones. This results in the single coil pickups generating a tone that occupies a tonal space in the higher midrange; giving the tone a clearly audible presence for the listener. Check out Yngwie Malmsteen and Eric Clapton to hear single coil pickup recordings.

Humbucker Pickups: Humbucker pickups are designed to provided the answer for the single coil’s tendency to pick up surrounding electromagnetic fields and accompany the guitar’s tone with an annoying “hum” sound. Two magnets were used in Humbuckers to cancel out extraneous electromagnetic hum noise.

Since a larger field of magnetism captures a greater range of middle and low-frequency overtones, Humbucker’s put out more of the lower midrange of tonal space. This sound is very desirable, especially for riffs or chords using the lower strings. Listen to Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin perform “Rock and Roll”.

Effects Pedals and Your Guitar Tone

There are many different types of effects pedals on the market, and all of them are designed to alter the tone of your guitar. Here’s a great guide to the main types of effects pedals from


The order of adding effects and using effects pedals generates from common sense and practical experience. Place the wah pedal before your compressor to obtain a more abrupt attack to your sound, or after the compressor to provide a more subtle attack and a lower and middle-frequency boost.

To even out your dynamics before adding effects, you can place the compressor at the beginning of the effects chain. A distortion pedal adds overtones, so place it before the equalizer so that you can control those added tones.

Phasers and flangers add a slightly delayed or out-of-phase sine wave to your original sound, which is something you wouldn’t want to add a lot of overtones from your distortion pedal to. Put these types of effects after the distortion and EQ. 

Look at the descriptions of your reverb/delay sounds. You will see words like “large hall,” “small hall,” “dome,” “tunnel,” and “studio.” What would my tone sound like if I were playing guitar in one of these locations? That’s why we want our total tone package in place before adding these effects.

Using the science, recorded examples and your own experimentation, keep on improving your guitar tone. We can achieve a lot more than we ever thought possible with great improvements in sound quality!

Looking for more tips on improving your guitar tone? Check out this awesome guide from Guitar Chalk.

An experienced guitar teacher can help you perfect your tone, technique, and repertoire on the guitar. Find your guitar teacher now!

Noel SNoel S. teaches guitar, piano, and music theory lessons in Beachwood, OH. He holds a Masters degree in music from Dusquesne University and he has been teaching since 2001. Learn more about Noel




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The Best, Baddest, Loud Guitars for Metal

The Best, Baddest, Loud Guitars for Metal

The Best, Baddest, Loud Guitars for MetalOn a quest to find the best guitars for metal? Guitar teacher James W. shares a few of the baddest guitars around…

Why are metal guitars so easy to play? The simple truth is metal has been around a long time, since way back in the 1960’s, and technology has kept pace with musician’s demands. Read on, and we shall see how knowing what to look for in a guitar makes or breaks your crunch lead!

1. Schecter Guitars

These guitars are perhaps the holy grail of metal masters. They are completely modern in design features. By focusing on killer design and affordable custom options, Schecter Guitars from the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys, California knew when to listen to young musicians carefully and knew what to create to lead the way into a new era. It’s hard to find a cooler, high-end guitar aimed so specifically at the metal genre. Even though they started out by copying manufacturers like Fender, they didn’t take long to move on and create original designs for pickups, body shapes and wiring, and custom paint with a very high standard for attention to detail.

Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars. Very Bad!

2. Fernandes Guitars

This maker is another great innovator from the valley, and truly one of the best guitars for metal. Fernandes created the ground breaking sustainer pickup for guitar in the 1990’s. It holds notes forever at the flick of a switch or footpedal. As we all know, sustain of notes is an important part of the metal guitar sound. Just ask for their Vortex Model for metal. He builds guitars that look cool, play well, and have a fast neck. Need I say more? Even used, these guitars are highly sought after.

Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars. Super Bad!

3. Fender Guitars

Some folks don’t know about this one. The Fender Custom Shop in Corona, California will make virtually anything you want – within reason that is, and there are a few metalheads working there. Adding twin blade and custom humbucking pickups by Seymour Duncan or Fender paved the way. Just strike up a convo by asking them about the guitars they like and their tattoos. Surprisingly, they will even answer the phone themselves and are very helpful. Your dream guitar awaits, and dang, it feels so good.

Rating: 8 out 10 Stars. Cool Bad!

4. Jackson

Now here is a company, also from the valley, that almost went under when Kurt Cobain made his “Jagstang” hybrid Fender guitar the cool guitar to own in the 1990’s. Suddenly sales went to nothing. So, Jackson Guitars went on vacation and returned as a custom shop and were revived in the early 2000’s with new ideas and a new love of music and musicians. Metalheads who think Randy Rhoads is the guitar player to follow buy these guitars. The Jackson RR III Randy Rhoads “Sharktooth” Model is back in demand. And the pickups just scream.

Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars. Awesome Bad!

5. Gibson

Normally I would not think of Gibson as a metal machine maker. But Zakk Wylde of Ozzy Osbourne’s band has proven metal can reign supreme on his custom signature bullseye design pop art Les Paul. These guitars are slightly pricey, but you get a sleek neck, custom Zakk Wylde pickups, Floyd Rose trem, and more. Everything about this guitar is designed to withstand a brutal assault on your worldwide tour and come back for more.

Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars. Serious Bad!

6. EVH Wolfgang Stealth by Eddie Van Halen

A guitar that is EVH can handle anything. It is Eddie’s guitar of choice; for the last two years it is all he plays on stage. It’s built to Eddie’s specs, a road warrior made for the metalheads around the globe. Comes with patented EVH Drop D-Tuna designed and invented by Ed himself for instant drop D tuning and instant return to regular tuning. If you love EVH “brown sounds”, this guitar is very high end with a reasonable price. It even has a NAMM Award for best value. You can’t do much better than this.

Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars. Totally Killer Bad!

When you’re choosing a new guitar, it all comes down to your own personal needs and what your ear tells you just sounds best. So have fun, and try them all before you buy. Happy rockin’!

For more guitar tips and tricks, taking private lessons with a great guitar teacher is the way to go! Guitar teachers are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person depending on locations and availability. Search for your guitar teacher now! 

James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!



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Learning Guitar: How to Change Guitar Strings

How to Change Guitar StringsLearning how to change your guitar strings may seem daunting, but new strings can make a huge difference in the sound and intonation of your guitar. Let guitar teacher Noaa R. walk you through the process step by step…

Changing your guitar strings is an essential maintenance skill. In addition to sounding bad, old strings are difficult to play and prone to breakage. Strings should be changed at least on a monthly basis, and more often if you can afford it. Changing them is very easy, fortunately. Here’s how:


-New Strings
-Wire Cutter
-Needlenose Pliers
-String Winder (optional)

It’s best to change the strings one at a time so that the tension exerted on the neck doesn’t fluctuate too much.

Here’s the step-by-step process for how to change guitar strings:

1) Remove Dead String

Loosen the string using the tuning machine. If you have a string winder, this is much faster. Pull the end out of the tuning post and clip the bent portion. This leaves the string tip straight so that it can be easily pulled out through the bridge by the ball end. Wrap and discard. Needlenose pliers can be useful here for extraction, especially if one of your strings has broken and a curly fragment is lodged in the post of the tuning peg.

2) Insert New String

Unwrap the fresh string and insert the straight end through the appropriate hole in the bridge. With a Stratocaster-style bridge, this insertion point is accessed under the panel on the back of the guitar. On other guitars with front-mounted tailpieces, such as Les Pauls, the insertion points are found at the back of the tailpiece just behind the bridge. Pull the string all the way through until the ball end catches securely.

In most acoustic guitars, the strings are held in place by small pegs called bridge pins. You can remove them using a coin or a pick for leverage, or with special tools found in almost any music store. Feed the ball end about halfway down the peghole and insert the pin, lightly pulling up on the string until you feel it wedge snugly. The goal is to trap the ball end between the narrow tip of the peg and the wall of the cavity. If pulling on the string pops the peg out of place, start over. It takes a little practice to get the feel for this, but you’ll pick it up quickly.

3) Secure String And Tighten To Pitch

Pull the string all the way through the appropriate string post until it is taut, then pull it back out about one or two fret lengths to create some slack. Then kink it around the string post to set the length and tighten, counterclockwise, until your tuner indicates the desired pitch. A string winder speeds this process, but be careful not to overtighten as the string may snap. As the string wraps around the post, guide the protruding string end so that the coils sit nicely on top of and around it, keeping it secure. Clip the excess length from the post and discard.

4) Stretch String

The string, under tension for the first time, will naturally drop in pitch. To condition it, fret the string with one hand at the 12th fret. With the free hand, place a thumb against the guitar for leverage and use your fingers to gently pull the string up and down about an inch from the body for 15-20 seconds. The pitch will drop significantly; tune it back up to the correct note and repeat.

Be careful not to pull too vigorously, especially with the smaller strings, as you run the risk of snapping them. With each stretch, the amount of pitch correction required will decrease. When a stretch results in little to no change in the string’s pitch, you’re done. Move on to the next string and repeat the process.

5) Repeat Steps 1-4 With Remaining Strings

6) Fine Tune And Jam

Once all the strings have been changed and excess material has been discarded, give each string one more quick stretch and retune. You’re done! Enjoy the newly-rejuvenated sound of your instrument and the slick, smooth mobility of fresh strings! Now go practice!!

If you’d like one-on-one assistance learning how to change guitar strings, or help with anything else on your guitar, taking lessons with a private guitar teacher is the best way to find out what you want to know. Search for a guitar teacher near you today!


Noaa R. teaches guitar, music theory, and composition lessons in Jamaica Plain, MA. He is a current student at Berklee College of Music and he has been teaching students since 2011. Learn more about Noaa.



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4 Tips For Maximizing the Lifespan of Your Acoustic Guitar

4 Tips for Maximizing the Lifespan of Your Acoustic GuitarWhether your acoustic guitar is brand new or gently used, you can do a few simple things to keep it in great condition! Follow these tips from guitar teacher Samuel B. to get the most out of your acoustic guitar…

Let’s face it. Acoustic guitars can be an outright nuisance to keep in shape. They’re delicate, sensitive to both humidity and temperature patterns, and often have weak central support. While the desire to keep yours both easily accessible and on display in a stand or on a rack is more than understandable, doing so increases its vulnerability. A few simple storage and maintenance provisions will prolong its shelf life and reduce (if not altogether eliminate) the need for repairs.

1. Keep it in the case when you’re not playing.

Although I recommend a hard shell case, any padded one will do just fine. The trick here is to keep your instrument out of the open air while you’re not playing it. An unpadded soft shell case will not be much help here. Find a trustworthy robust alternative to protect your instrument.

2. Be sure your strings are the proper gauge.

Installing over-sized strings is a very easy way of creating otherwise avoidable bends in the neck. My experience has been that most acoustic guitars (at the least the ones I’ve played – Takamines and Martins) are light gauge friendly. Some of the more robust models (such as Guilds for example) rely on a heavier gauge of guitar string for optimal sound. It’s best to find out as much information as possible about a model’s gauge compatibility before purchasing it. If you have questions about the right gauge of string for your guitar, talk to your guitar teacher or chat with an expert at a local guitar shop.

3. Keep the truss rod tight.

The truss rod is the thin metal shaft aligned with (and within) the neck adjustable with an allen wrench. “Lefty loosey, righty tighty” is the relevant mnemonic device. Although I’ve heard opinions on both sides of the fence here with regard to whether it should be regularly tightened or regularly loosened, I’ve had the best results by checking it for tightness (for resistance to a clockwise turn in other words) in the middle of every string change. If you’re not sure your truss rod is at the right level of resistance, you can always have it looked at by a professional.

4. Change strings as infrequently as possible.

This may come as a surprise, but a college bandmate brought this to my attention at one point. While it’s true that professional musicians change strings after every performance, an instrument being used in a mostly non-performance capacity does not need this level of maintenance. As a matter of fact, changing strings too often is actually not good for an instrument that isn’t receiving regular full-length concert treatment.

Nightly string changes are perfectly appropriate for instruments like Willie Nelson’s “Trigger”, Bruce Springsteen’s “Excalibur”, and Neil Young’s “Old Black.” After all, these three are regular conduits of colossal energy and need to be equipped with the appropriate elements to support it. However, an instrument being used for lessons, wood-shedding, or songwriting does not need this attention and actually benefits structurally from having the same set of strings retained for as long as possible.


Samuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!



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5 Things to Know Before Buying a Used Guitar

130674346_b0b161761f_oIf you’re in the market for an inexpensive guitar, you’ve probably noticed there are many, many used guitars for sale. How do you find a great guitar and avoid the lemons? Follow this guide from guitar teacher James W. and you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect new-used guitar…

Buying a used guitar can be a fun and rewarding experience if you know what to look for and what to avoid. Let’s delve into the details in a step-by-step way that makes sense. First off, what kind of guitar do you wish to own? Since buying is the pain and owning is the pleasure, it is good to know what to look for.

1. Let Me Give You A Hand

Are your hands big or small? I recommend that you choose a guitar based on your ability to wrap your hand all the way around the neck. This is not just personal taste, it’s a physical thing. There’s no point in making things harder by picking a neck that is too big to play comfortably, with strings too high off the fretboard to play a chord or two.

Search for the kind of guitar you love to play and check it to see if the setup was done recently. If you are not sure, ask the owner. Chances are they bought this guitar used or new and had to have the strings lowered and the intonation set for it to play in tune. Are the tuners looking new? Were they an upgrade? Good tuners will keep the strings in tune longer, and a good setup means the guitar will be easier for you to play.

2. Tonewoods

Mahogany, maple, rosewood, spruce, alder, ash, and basswood.  Ah the wonderful phrase: “That guitar has good tonewoods.” Most good acoustics have a spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Some use maple for the top or other laminated woods for the back and sides of the guitar. I do not recommend buying a guitar with laminated back and sides. Laminate guitars can be too easily damaged and dinged or dented. Stick with quality solid woods. Something else to consider: Tonewoods have warm aural qualities and improve in sound with age.

3. Pickups

Look for guitars for sale with stock pickups by Fender,Fishman, Gibson, Godin, Dimarzio, EMG, or Seymour Duncan, as these are all quality makers. Today there are as many types of guitar pickups as there are musical genres. If you listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn play blues you may say single coil is the way to go. Both single coil and humbuckers are passive and rely on magnets to work. Listen to them and compare the tone of each one through a good amp like a Marshall all tube( valve) amp or a Fender Champ Amp. Then decide what you prefer. Remember to keep it simple and put good strings on that guitar once you get it home. Ernie Ball Slinkys (0.10’s) for electric guitars and Elxirs for acoustic guitars are good choices. I also like EVH Premium electric guitar strings.

4. To Coil Tap or Not to Coil Tap

Coil tapping is simply rewiring the guitar tone and volume knobs (a.k.a. pots) to “push and pull” so you can get more variety of sounds out of one guitar. In the case of my Telecaster, coil tapping has given me the sound of up to 7 guitars in one. If you see an electric guitar with this built into it and everything else looks good including the price then you may have found your prize. Snap it up!

5. Invest in a Hard Shell Case

A hard shell case can keep your pride and joy safe from just about every calamity known to man. It may be a used guitar but you still invested your hard earned dollars in it, so it’s wise to protect it. A hard shell case will cost more than a gig bag, but it will pay for itself in peace of mind. Trust me on this. I cannot express the trauma you feel when a baggage handler at the airport throws your guitar on the conveyer belt!

It’s good to understand the choices and maybe even be a bit picky. Educate yourself by going into your local guitar store and trying out several of their guitars for sale to see what makes you smile- “I like that one but I don’t like that one” and so on. Always buy trusted brands like Fender and Gibson and Martin with quality parts built right in. Look for a guitar that has been maintained in good shape by the previous owner. Guitars are like cars; they must be maintained and cared for. And remember, if you have any questions along the way, your guitar teacher will be happy to help!


james-walsh-150x150Post Author: James W.
James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!


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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.

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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Key Tools and Tips for Guitar Care and Maintenance

Stu Box Guitar Care KitA guitar is a big investment — so make sure you’re taking good care of your instrument! Learn some important tips for electric and acoustic guitar maintenance in this guest post by Jacksonville, FL teacher James W...


We have a saying in the artist community: “Take care of your tools and they will take care of you.” This is also true of guitars! Your guitar is your friend, just like your computer and iPhone or smartphone. Taking good care of your instrument is easy and simple if you just follow these steps for electric and acoustic guitar maintenance.

1. Purchase two cleaning cloths, such as a soft shammy cloth used for dusting furniture or a terrycloth. Even an old towel that is clean will work just fine. Use one cloth for cleaning and one for wiping.

2. You’ll also need to purchase string cleaner and polisher — I recommend Kyser or Jim Dunlop brands. I also recommend Lemoil by Stuart Box from Melbourne, Australia as it contains natural quality products but also smells good with eucalyptus oil added. It does a great job of cleaning and helping the wood last a long time. The tone of the wood is important, as it is pleasing to our ears. And these products are made for guitars only. Do not use furniture polish, as it is not good for the strings.

3. Use a humidifier. This will keep your acoustic from splitting across the top and sides from heat on those hot summer days when stored in its case. You can buy a guitar humidifier from Sam Ash or Musician’s Friend for about $10. If the ten bucks is hard to come by, use a small empty film container (poke a few small holes in it), and a clean piece of sponge inside that is lightly moistened. Squeeze out excess water. You can use tap water or purified bottled water.

4. Always clean your strings before you play and after. They will last longer. Spray a small amount of cleaner on a cloth, and wipe clean until you have removed all of the dirt and grime. A good time to clean the neck and headstock of the guitar is when changing strings and all the strings are removed. If you love your guitar, it will love you back and continue to sound good. Cleaning every time you put new strings on just makes it all the easier. And yes it is ok to spray the guitar as long as you are careful not to go overboard and use too much cleaner. A little goes a long way.
5. Do not store your guitar in a car trunk on summer days when there is extreme heat. Guitars last longer and retain their good sound when kept at a comfortable temperature and humidity level that is safe for the woods. Wood ages and dries out very slowly, so sudden and extreme changes are not good.

6. Always wash your hands before playing. Dirt and oil from your hands will make strings rust and sound dull. You can actually protect your strings and make them last longer by keeping them clean. I prefer Elixir Strings for my acoustic guitar, as they are coated with plastic to keep them around longer and saves me money. They cost more, but I can make them last for months. For electric guitars I use EVH Premium Strings as they are quality made but only cost around $5 a set.

My Typical Guitar Care Kit

7. Put together a guitar care kit that will fit in your hardshell case middle pocket. Use a Ziploc bag so you can easily see what is in there and keep stuff free of dust. Don’t have a hardshell case? Then buy one from SKB or from the company that makes your guitar. Any guitar maker will tell you a guitar kept in its hard case is protected from everything. My friend’s Ovation Hardshell Case kept his guitar unharmed when he was on the road and his house had a fire. The guitar case was scorched but the $800 guitar was untouched! It was worth the money paid for the case.

8. If anything gets spilled accidentally on the guitar, use a soft cloth and wipe until it’s dry, and then use your cleaner/polisher as instructed. Don’t panic — most guitars that are made to last a long time can handle a mishap or two.

9. Last but not least, replace the frets when they are worn out. This ensures that the notes you play are true and in tune. Guitars are not unlike cars in that you have to maintain them.


james-walsh-150x150Post Author: James W.
James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!


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15 Holiday Gift Ideas for Guitar Players

SONY DSCNeed some holiday gift ideas? Check out the best gifts for guitar players in this guest post by Los Angeles, CA guitar teacher Nils B...


It’s the time of the year when most retailers offer some pretty decent discounts on a variety of gear. Assuming the basics (picks, tuner, strap, gig bag/case, cable, and amp) are already accounted for, these are some good suggestions, either to pick up for yourself or as a holiday gift. Most of these can be found in the $10-$50 range.

Apps & Software

• Tuner apps: These can be found for free or relatively little, and work great as a main tuner, or as a backup, since most people take their phone wherever they go.
• Metronome apps: A metronome is an absolutely essential practice aid, and these virtual versions often feature quite advanced options like polyrhythms and automated tempo changes.
• Multitrack recorder: Most phones and tablets offer a basic voice recorder, but you can open a whole new range of possibilities with a multitrack app specifically meant for audio recording and editing. It’s great for quickly saving ideas and even complete songs, or easily creating your own jam tracks.
• Modeling apps: These offer software emulations of amplifiers and effects, either as post-processing (as part of a multitrack recorder) or in real time, and usually work best in combination with interface cable.
• Interface cable: In case you’re not satisfied with your phone’s built-in microphone for accurately capturing your guitar’s sound, there are also a good number of audio interfaces/adapter cables available for phones and tablets, enabling you to connect your guitar (or any other instrument) directly to your device for a higher-quality signal. These work great in combination with most recorder or amp/effects modeling apps.
Miscellaneous apps: In addition to the aforementioned apps, there is a whole range of ear training, fretboard trainer, and chord dictionary apps available, all of which are great tools to extend your musical knowledge.


• Strap locks: These prevent your guitar strap from slipping off the strap buttons, and have been an absolute lifesaver for me. I have them on all my guitars and all my straps, for ultimate interchangeability. There are various different models and designs available, which all pretty much do the same thing.
Capo: This is a small clamp that clips onto any position on the fretboard, shifting the key of the open position. These are essential for guitarists who prefer open chord shapes instead of barre chords, or anyone who would like to be able to utilize more advanced open chord voicings in different positions/keys. There are lots of different models available, and it is important to make sure the capo is compatible with the guitar it is intended for.
• Slide: This is a cylinder that fits around one of the fingers on your fretting hand and substitutes the frets, allowing for smooth transitions in pitch and a very expressive vibrato. Different materials (glass/metal/ceramics) give different sounds and preference is really a matter of taste.
• Ebow: An EBow is a small, battery-powered device that replaces your pick and creates infinite sustain on whatever string you float it over. It takes a little while to get used to, but it turns the guitar into a whole new instrument. You can also combine it with a slide for even more interesting sounds.


• String winder/cutter: These make installing new strings a breeze; plus, they are cheap and fit in any gig bag!
• Multitool: These generally include a screwdriver and truss rod/bridge/saddle adjustment hex keys, essential for on-the-fly adjustments to your guitar’s setup, but they also come in handy for any odd job that requires a screwdriver.
• Cleaning kit: This generally includes a microfiber cloth, a cleaner, a fretboard conditioner, and occasionally a polish. Keeping your guitar clean does not only make it look better and play nicer, it also prevents damage to the wood and hardware.


• Single or multi-guitar stand: This is a great accessory to have if you use more than one guitar live, or if you want to keep your collection at home safely stored.
• Wall hanger: These make your guitars double as cool-looking wall decorations, plus it’s also a great way to save floor space.

Whether for a beginner or a more advanced guitarist, these are great additions to any player’s arsenal of tools and supplies, and there’s something here to fit everyone’s budget. They’ll make the perfect gift for the guitarist in your life, keeping him or her inspired and motivated, or in some cases they simply make life easier — which means more time can be spent playing instead!

NilsBNils B. teaches guitar, ear training, and music theory in Los Angeles, CA. He attended various schools for his training, including the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. Nils has been teaching students since 2002. Learn more about Nils here!




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What’s the Best Guitar Tuner? | An Introduction to Electronic Tuners

5494696834_4e7750d615_bWith so many options for guitar tuners out there, which type is best for you? Read on as Los Angeles, CA guitar teacher Nils B. reviews the pros and cons for several types…


The abundance of options and technical terms in combination with big price differences between tuning devices can be quite overwhelming for any beginning guitar or bassist, so in this article I will give a brief overview of some of the best guitar tuners, and their respective pros and cons.

Most electronic guitar tuners share the same general concept, in that they visually display the detected pitch on some type of dial, telling you whether to tighten or loosen the string in order to reach the desired pitch. Also, most are so-called ‘chromatic tuners,’ which means they are able to display any of the 12 notes (as opposed to just the six different pitches of the open strings on a guitar), and generally do so automatically, which gives the user more information (in case a string is way off its intended pitch) and allows for easy tuning to alternate tunings.

Where they differ is mainly in their format, way of detecting pitch, and accuracy.

1) Pedal tuners

– These are designed to be used on stage, and to be activated with your foot, like other guitar effects pedals.
– Most rugged and reliable, have brightest and clearest display, and higher-end models are generally the most accurate (thanks to something called strobe technology).
– Because of this, they’re also generally the most expensive, starting at around $30 going up to $200.
– 1/4″ input only, so they do not work with purely acoustic instruments, as they don’t have a built-in microphone to pick up the signal.
– Usually powered using either a 9v DC wall wart or a 9v battery, although not all pedal tuners take a battery.

2) Handheld tuners

– These are small boxes, with a display similar to that of pedal tuners (but smaller) or occasionally using actual physical needle.
– These start around $15 but can get a lot more expensive as they get more accurate.
– Battery powered (usually 2 x AA or AAA, and tend to last quite a while).
– Work with electric as well as acoustic instruments, as they generally feature a built-in microphone as well as a 1/4″ jack input (but generally no output, unlike pedal tuners).
– They’re light and compact compared to pedal tuners.

3) Clip-on tuners

– These are relatively new, and clip on to the headstock to determine the instrument’s pitch by measuring the vibrations that are being picked up through the clip.
– Relatively cheap, as they can be found for as little as $4, but are around $15 average.
– Small (even smaller than handheld tuners).
– Battery powered only, but they have a decent lifespan, and some even have an auto-off feature.
– Easy to use  — just clip on, or leave on your headstock permanently.
– No 1/4″ jack input, so they are not in line with whatever signal your instrument is sending out, which is a good or a bad thing, depending on the situation.

4) Virtual tuners

– These are apps that utilize the microphone of whatever device they are installed on, be it a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
– May cost you a couple dollars, but there are a couple of good free ones out there, too, such as 123 Guitar Tuner.
– You’re unlikely to forget it, as most people take their phone wherever they go.
– No 1/4″ jack input (unless you buy a separate input cable).
– Requires a host device.

In my personal opinion, because of their affordability and ease of use, a clip-on model makes for a good first tuner, maybe in addition to a (free) app as a backup. One of the big advantages of clip-on tuners is that they do not pick up ambient sounds, so they work even if you’re in a noisy environment, unlike the tuners that utilize a microphone (virtual and handheld types), but you do not need to physically connect them via a cable (like pedal and handheld types) either.

Also, it’s important to realize that however convenient electronic tuners may be, it is strongly encouraged to always try to tune by ear first. This can be challenging in the beginning, but is well worth the effort. Experienced musicians only really need to use a tuner to double check, when the environment is too noisy, or when they need to be more discreet (e.g. onstage).

NilsBNils B. teaches guitar, ear training, and music theory in Los Angeles, CA. He attended various schools for his training, including the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. Nils has been teaching students since 2002. Learn more about Nils here!



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