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The 10 Best Guitar Brands for Acoustic & Electric Players

best guitar brands

Many beginning guitarists ask the same question: which are the best guitar brands? Is there a particular brand that outshines the others?

Finding the best guitar really comes down to your interests and determining the type of music you want to learn. Although the material you’ll learn for electric, classical, and acoustic is very similar up front, certain guitars are more appropriate for specific genres of music.

In this article, we’ll dive into several top guitar brands to help you decide which guitar is right for you, no matter your style.

Top 10 Best Guitar Brands

Most guitar brands offer a variety of different types of guitars. However, each company is most likely known for a particular style. Here are some of the best guitar brands to get you started!

Best Acoustic Guitar Brands

Taylor


Taylor is a brand known for high quality instruments and well-defined tone. They have been building guitars since 1974. Many of their top-end guitars are made in the United States, while cheaper Taylor models are made in Mexico.

While Taylor guitars are very nice, this particular brand comes with a fairly hefty price tag to match. If you’re ready to invest in your first long-term acoustic guitar, then this is an excellent option!

Breedlove


Breedlove is a lesser-known guitar brand that emerged just a few years ago. Their acoustic guitars offer a great sound, while their process for sourcing materials and testing for quality is a key aspect that sets them apart from larger companies. Instead of mass producing factory-made guitars, every Breedlove guitar is unique in its own way.

The Passport Dreadnought Mahogany guitar has become one of Breedlove’s most popular models because of the rich tone produced by its dark wood. You can see in the video above how the Breedlove style truly sets them apart from the rest of the industry.

Yamaha


You may know them for their motor division, but Yamaha was originally founded as a music company. They began with pianos and after being successful in that market, they built their guitar brand. Today, they’ve been building guitars for over 50 years and are still going strong.

Yamaha manufactures guitars that start in a very reasonable price range and end in the upper levels of the atmosphere. If you’re looking for variety, look no further. The various types of guitars that Yamaha offers have consistently good reviews and are great for all occasions.

Martin


If you have spent any time in the guitar world, you’ve definitely heard of Martin. They have been one of the top guitar brands, in the acoustic space, far longer than anyone else. In fact, they’ve been building guitars since the 1830s!

Many of Martin’s antique models have sold for thousands of dollars, even with some damage. Martin guitars have always been lauded for their perfect tone and comfortable feel. These guitars will definitely require more of an investment to purchase, but they are well worth the cost in the long run.

Arcadia


On the other side of the spectrum from Martin, Arcadia is a company that makes very good beginner guitars. Their focus is on providing you or your child with an affordable guitar to begin learning.

Their models range from the DL41 (a full-size acoustic guitar) to the DL36 (a ½ size guitar). These guitars are very affordable and can be purchased for $100 or less on Amazon.

Eventually, you will want to upgrade to one of the other top guitar brands on this list. However, if you’re just starting out on the instrument, Arcadia is a good way to go! Check out the DL41 in the clip above.

Best Electric Guitar Brands

Fender


Fender is a guitar brand that has risen to legendary status in the electric marketplace. While they are primarily known for their Telecasters and Stratocasters, they also offer some unique solutions for the acoustic guitar player as well.

Of the Fender electric guitars, the Stratocaster is a fan favorite. If you’re looking for a dirty blues sound like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix, you can’t get anything better than a Strat!

Gibson


Because of their unique innovations like dual-coil pickups, the Gibson sound has developed into one of the most recognizable tones available. This is one of the many reasons Gibson made our list of top guitar brands. 

The Gibson Les Paul is probably one of the most iconic guitars to emerge during the rock era. If you prefer the modern rock sound of Slash and his peers, then the Gibson Les Paul is the way to go! The only big drawback of Gibson guitars, for most beginners, is their price tag.

Epiphone


If you would like a Gibson-esque sound but are just starting out on the guitar, you need to check out Epiphone, a company that is owned by Gibson.

Their guitars follow many of the same processes as the traditional US-made instruments, however they are made overseas. This allows them to sell at a much more budget-friendly price.

Ibanez


For all the shredders out there, Ibanez is the perfect fit for you! Players like Joe Satriani, Paul Stanley, and Steve Vai all use Ibanez guitars because of their unmatched hard-rock capabilities. Along with a Floyd Rose tremolo system, Ibanez electric guitars give you the ability to do things other guitar brands simply do not.

In some ways they are a cross between Gibson and Fender. They have a similar body style to a Stratocaster while using the dual-coil pickups of a Les Paul. These guitars are primarily for rocking out and testing the limits of guitar engineering. If you want to shred with the best, go ahead and try one!

Jackson


Jackson is another brand that has re-interpreted the nature of guitar music. This is a brand you will rarely find outside of the metal and rock genres. Their guitars are designed to sound great with heavy distortion or on a clean channel.

If you want to play modern rock, a Jackson guitar is a great choice. Famous for their Floyd Rose Tremolo system, they offer guitars that range from $199 to $1,299 so there is something for everyone.

Ready to Start Playing?

Hopefully you found this list of the best guitar brands helpful. By now you know where to shop for guitars, but have you found a place to advance your playing skills? TakeLessons offers private, one-on-one guitar lessons with experienced and qualified teachers.

If you’re not ready to purchase private lessons yet, check out the free online guitar classes at Takelessons Live. At no cost, you can join a group of like-minded learners and begin taking classes on your own schedule.

Did we leave any notable guitar brands off this list? Let us know who you’d add in a comment below!

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DIY: Homemade Capo Tutorial in 4 Easy Steps [Video]

How to make a DIY Homemade Capo

If you want to learn how to make your very own homemade capo from scratch, keep reading. In this article, we’ll share four simple steps to put together a DIY capo on the fly – with just two materials!

When you’re jamming with friends and there’s a new vocalist in the mix, you might find yourself having to play in unfamiliar keys. If you left your trusty capo at home, no problem! Follow this easy guide and you’ll learn how to make a capo in no time.

DIY Homemade Capo Tutorial

You can solve the key-change conundrum with relative ease if you know how to make a capo on the fly. Essentially, you need a rigid strip of material that can be clamped onto the neck of your guitar.

Here are the materials you’ll need:

  1. A pencil or sharpie
  2. 2-4 rubber bands (medium thickness)

Yes, you only need two simple materials for this homemade capo. If you can’t find rubber bands, a good alternative is a hair band.

Now that you have all you need, here are the steps for how to make a capo.

Steps to Make a DIY Capo

  1. Make sure your guitar is in tune.
  2. Place the pencil or marker upon the desired fret.
  3. Fold the rubber band in half and loop it over both ends of the pencil.
  4. Add more bands as needed to achieve the desired tension. Check this by plucking each string and listening for a clear tone.

That’s it! This is such an easy way to put together a homemade capo on the fly, with materials that are readily available. Need to see the process demonstrated visually? Watch the steps in the quick video below:

5 Reasons Every Guitarist Needs a Capo

Now let’s take a look at some of the benefits of using a capo, in case you weren’t already convinced that you need one.

  • A capo creates a moveable nut or barre. For example, if you place the capo on the second fret, you’ve moved all the chords up one step (a C is now a D).
  • It allows you to play chord shapes that you’re already familiar with, but in a different key. So with a capo, a bit of transposing savvy, and a handful of chords, you can play some previously hard to reach tunes.
  • Using a capo allows you to explore different chord voicings, or inversions, which can make a chord sound brighter or darker, and add interest to picking.
  • It is helpful for changing tunes to a more comfortable range, or key, for vocals.
  • A capo adds depth when playing with other guitarists. Some can play open chords while others place capos at different locations, which creates a broader sonic range and textural interest.

Now you know some of the benefits of using a guitar capo, so even if you’re only slightly familiar with this tool, you can begin exploring its capabilities.

You’ve also learned how to make a capo very quickly and easily if you wish to try out these concepts without spending any money.

While practicing your skills, be sure to look into private guitar lessons or online guitar classes to help you achieve your musical goals, as personal feedback is a very important part of the learning process. Have fun with your DIY capo, and rock on!

TracyDPost Author: Tracy D.
Tracy D. teaches guitar, drums, piano and more in Edmond, OK, as well as online. She’s been teaching since 2010 and has her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Oklahoma Christian University. Learn more about Tracy here!

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The 7 Best Guitar Picks for Every Kind of Guitarist

Cool guitar picks

The best guitar picks are the ones that help you achieve the tonal sound you’re looking for, while providing just enough grip and comfortability.

When you take a trip to your local music store or shop for guitar picks online, you will run across thousands of options. Don’t be intimidated! Every guitar player starts off trying a variety of different types of guitar picks.

Guitar picks are made out of many different materials including nylon, plastic, wood, stone, or metal. Some picks are floppy and some are stiff. They can also be small or large in size.

The cool guitar picks on this list each provide a great deal of tonal variation. So if you’re trying to get a nice and bright, jangly sound, or a darker, more muted sound, there is a guitar pick on this list for you!

The 7 Best Guitar Picks for All Guitarists

1. Sharkfin Guitar Picks

Sharkfin - Cool guitar picks

Sharkfin picks give you a lot of versatility, and the way they’re cut provides an easy grip. With a sharkfin pick, you get the traditional sounds that come from a regular pick, in addition to unique tonal qualities brought to you by the knurled edge.

You will be able to achieve different effects by dragging the knurled edge along your strings or brushing them as you strum. These unique guitar picks usually run between $1-$2 and are sold by Landstrom, Dunlop, and others.   

2. Stubby Picks

 

Stubby - best guitar picks

Its small size, hardness, and overall look make the stubby a necessary addition to this list of cool guitar picks. The stubby pick feels comfortable and has a bit of a rough grip which makes it easier to hold.

Numerous brands make stubby picks, such as Dunlop and V-Pick. You can find them for a little over a dollar, then try out multiple brands to see which one you like the best.

3. Nylon Flex Guitar Picks  

Nylon flex best guitar picks

This is a great option for guitarists who want a really floppy pick for strumming, and many reputable brands sell them. The Herco Flex 50 specifically produces a nice, bright tone and gives you all the flop you could need. It also has just enough grip to not slip from your fingers.

A Herco Flex 50 should run you about a dollar, though sometimes the thicker versions cost a bit more. If this option isn’t available at your local music shop, a good runner-up to this model would be the Jim Dunlop Nylon 60mm pick.

4. Star Picks

Star pick - Cool guitar picks

You should definitely consider adding a Star Pick to your collection of best guitar picks. The .73mm pick is an excellent choice from Star Picks because of its hardness. A hard pick produces a bright, biting sound. Some players prefer a pick to have that bite when it comes to playing solos, because it makes the solo pop out of the mix a little more.  

When using a naturally bright guitar like a Fender Statocaster, hard picks are great for getting a little extra tone above the rest of the band. The Star Pick has these advantages, but also seems to grip to your thumb pretty well. It has a small star cut-out which makes it really easy to hold. These unique guitar picks are fairly cheap, usually costing a little less than a dollar.

5. Tortex Picks

Tortex - best guitar picks

The Tortex picks by Dunlop come in a variety of colors and thicknesses, and are fairly inexpensive. Many guitarists like the feel of this pick. You will notice a considerable change in tone when using it, but you may like it if you’re into a more mellow tone.

When you’re using a Tortex pick, the tone does not really become muted, but the ringing quality of some strings are brought down. So if you have a guitar that seems a little too bright, the Tortex might be the perfect pick to help take away some of the harshness.

There are a couple other comparable picks that don’t darken the tone, such as the Clayton 1.07mm pick and the Dunlop Ultex pick. The Clayton is especially easy to keep a grip on.

6. Metal Thumb Picks

Metal Thumb Pick - Cool guitar picks

Metal thumb picks are probably one of the most useful and unique guitar picks to own. These metal finger picks are perfect for boosting the volume on your guitar just a little bit. For only a dollar you can’t go wrong.  

Some people find that using a regular pick is difficult because they are easily dropped, or they get cramps in their hands. The advantage of using a thumb pick is that it doesn’t fall out of your hand when you play.

You can find these cool guitar picks in metal, plastic, and some that are a hybrid of plastic and metal, although the hybrid picks tend to be more expensive. One good thumb pick to check out is the Dunlop 3040T.

7. Felt Picks

Felt picks - Cool guitar picks

Even though they’re marketed for ukuleles, felt picks are very useful for guitarists as well. Felt picks typically run around $1-$2, which is a bargain for the cool tonal variety they bring to your playing.  

The muted sound that you get when playing with a felt pick is truly unique. It’s not muted to an extent that you can’t hear your instrument, but it certainly changes the tone and can make your guitar sound like a totally different guitar. This pick would be very useful in recording sessions if you’re trying to go for the sound of two different guitars, but only have one.

Final Tips

No matter what type of guitar or genre of music you play, there is something on this list of best guitar picks for everyone. Most types of guitar picks run for less than a dollar, so if you can afford it we recommend buying a bunch and trying them all out.

If you want to start out small, try the thumb pick and felt pick first. These guitar picks are the most distinct in the tonal sounds they create, so you’ll be able to really experience and appreciate the variety that different guitar picks can provide.  

This selection of cool guitar picks should give you plenty to try out and practice. You can find them at your local music store or online. Remember that a good guitar teacher can help you learn proper picking and strumming technique, and TakeLessons is the place to go if you want to find an experienced guitar teacher in your area.  

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches acoustic, bass, blues guitar and more in Winston Salem, NC. Willy has been teaching for over 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to adults in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

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20 Different Types of Guitars & The Legends Who Played Them [Infographic]

Different types of guitars

While certain types of guitars are standard in modern culture, the instrument has a wide variety of expressions that is nearly impossible to tame. From the ancient Greek kithara to the guitar-like lute from pre-modern Spain, the many different types of guitars vary just as much as the people who play them.

Some types of acoustic and electric guitars are more common than others. Steel string dreadnought acoustics and Stratocaster-style electrics are likely to be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the guitar. But some guitarists find they can’t do what they want with just 6 strings. 

In this article, we’ll start with the most common types of guitars, and then move toward the most exotic. We’ll also share the moments that made these guitars legendary.

*Click the “Play” button next to each guitar to hear the legend who played it!*

Different types of guitars

20 Different Types of Guitars – Acoustic & Electric

#1 Fender Stratocaster

  • Guitar Type: Solid-Body Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: Eric Clapton

It’s hard to overstate the influence of the Stratocaster. A tremendous pedigree of electric guitarists have made history on this type of guitar. It’s been reissued in hundreds of different designs and is by far one of the most popular types of electric guitars. The slanted, double-cutout body and three-pickup control setup give the Stratocaster both a visual signature and sonic versatility.

This guitar probably had its first major introduction to the public from Buddy Holly, but Clapton was one of its most influential proponents. Check out this clip from the song “The Weight” where Clapton pulls the soulful voice of this guitar into its full bloom.

#2 Martin D-45

  • Guitar Type: Steel String Dreadnought Acoustic
  • Legend Who Played It: Neil Young

For most guitar enthusiasts today, this is what “playing the guitar” means: the snap and brightness of a 6-string steel, which has strong projection and durability. Many guitarists favor the versatility and clarity of dreadnoughts, but especially singer-songwriters.

The Martin D-45 is one of the most common types of acoustic guitars. Check out Neil Young playing a well-loved song that he added to the Rock n’ Roll tradition, below.

#3 Fender Telecaster

  • Guitar Type: Solid-Body Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: Buck Owens

The foundational favorite of country and rock guitarists, this model is known for its single cutaway body, 2 single-coil pickup system, and characteristic “twang.” Modern country greats like Brad Paisley have predecessors like Buck Owen to thank for popularizing this guitar. Check out Buck and his band playing “Act Naturally.”

#4 1969 José Ramírez 1a “AM”

  • Guitar Type: Classical Nylon Acoustic Dreadnought
  • Legend Who Played It: Andres Segovia

Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and fingerstyle genius Earl Klugh favor classical guitars for their round, sweet tone and stability when playing complex lines. These tend to have higher actions (the distance between the strings and fingerboard) and wider necks than many other acoustics.

When played with the correct nail technique, they create an unmistakable tone that has been enjoyed by European audiences since the 1600s. For a taste of the secret sauce, listen to the grandfather of modern classical guitar playing the legendary tremolo piece, “Leyenda.”

#5 Gibson ES-175

  • Guitar Type: Hollow-Body Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: Wes Montgomery

The Gibson ES-175 has become the iconic example that represents an entire class of guitars: hollow-body electrics. The rich, mid-range tone of these guitars was made legendary in jazz by players such as Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. (Although the guitar has subsequently found its way into a myriad of other popular styles). Check out the haunting ballad “Round Midnight” below.

#6 The National Style O

  • Guitar Type: Resonator Acoustic
  • Legend Who Played It: Son House

Resophonic guitars, made mostly by European companies, were favorites of the 20th century Bluesmen. Every legendary country, blues, and rock musician drew inspiration from players of this style.

Son House was one of many legendary examples of Bluesmen who used open-tuned, resonator guitars. With their raw feeling and creative exploration with bottleneck slides, these players set the precedent for the coming generations of popular musicians. Keep in touch with the roots and watch Son House play “Death Letter Blues.”

# 7 Fender Precision Bass

  • Guitar Type: 4 String Electric Bass
  • Legend Who Played It: James Jamerson

Some discover the bass as a first instrument, and others as a crossover from the guitar. Jamerson actually started on the upright bass as a classical player on his path to becoming the legendary bassist that drove dozens of Motown hits.

His unmistakable warm, round tone was a combination of the bass’s design and special modifications like flatwound strings and foam mutes. The hearts of many were won by his melodic bass style and thumpy drive as a rhythm player. Numerous legends even as great as Victor Wooten trace their devotion to bass to Jamerson’s influence.

#8 The Höfner Bass

  • Guitar Type: 4 String Electric Bass
  • Legend Who Played It: Paul McCartney

The tone of this bass is instantly recognizable to any Beatles fan. The emphasis in the mid range and the plunky attack gave a unique flavor to dozens of Beatles songs, such as “When I’m 64.”

Paul also liked the balance it created on stage, given the fact that he played left handed and the bass was a symmetrical body design. See this late performance of “Don’t Let Me Down” to feel the magic for yourself.

#9 Maton EM-TE

  • Guitar Type: Electric-Acoustic Dreadnought
  • Legend Who Played It: Tommy Emmanuel

Maton guitars are typically outfitted with an internal microphone as well as a piezo saddle pickup. This allows for tremendous variety and clarity in the percussive tones Tommy Emmanuel gets out of his guitar, while leaving his fingerstyle tone beautifully intact.

Be prepared to be blown away by his performance of “Mombasa,” and let your imagination stretch what you thought was possible with an acoustic guitar.

# 10 The 12 String Guitar

  • Guitar Type: Steel String Dreadnought Acoustic
  • Legend Who Played It: John Denver

Known for his melodies and lyrics, John Denver arranged his songs with an extremely wide instrumental palette. At heart, he was just a guy with a guitar singing to people, but the use of a 12 string brought a twist of flavor to his repertoire. Check out the orchestral version of “Annie’s Song” and be inspired.

# 11 Gibson Lucille

  • Guitar Type: Semi-Hollow Body Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: B.B. King

The Gibson Lucille possesses a slightly more moderate tone than the full hollow-body, while still blending acoustic sweetness and electric drive. This unique guitar has other special modifications too, like the elimination of the f-holes to reduce feedback. B.B. King, also known as the King of Blues, has a legendary affection for this and many of his other guitars.

# 12 Gibson EDS-1275

  • Guitar Type: Double-Neck Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: Jimmy Page

Though innovators like Michael Angelo Batio and Justin King have branched out into their own uses of double neck guitars, Jimmy Page’s live performances of “Stairway to Heaven” made the heroism of the double neck guitar a fundamental part of rock history. The legend is available for all to experience in the performance below.

# 13 The TRB JP2

  • Guitar Type: 6 String Electric Bass
  • Legend Who Played It: John Patitucci

For those who just can’t get enough notes, the 6 string bass is a platform of the imagination. Heavily used in both metal and jazz, one of the first recognized 6 string bass virtuosos was John Patitucci. Patitucci played for Chick Corea on many of his influential albums.

The additional scale length on the high C string gives melodies a quality that is hard to find on any other instrument, and the low B can…well, shake the floor. Experience Patitucci’s fusion style with his electric quartet playing “Ides of March.”

# 14 The Twang Machine

  • Guitar Type: Cigarbox Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: Bo Diddley

The Twang Machine is just one of the many examples of unconventional body types. Having both the look and sound of a tin can, this unique guitar was one of the many showman tactics that made Bo so popular. Check out this performance at the presidential inauguration concert of 1989, when he’s still in great form!

# 15 The Purple Rain Guitar

  • Guitar Type: Special Body Electric, Telecaster Style
  • Legend Who Played It: Prince

The late legend played a sizable collection of uniquely styled guitars. Taking the visual appeal of the guitar to another level, Prince had several special body designs made especially for him.

Having spent a lot of his career experimenting with symbols that expressed his values, Prince’s singular body designs pointed not only to his artistic flair but also to his personal beliefs. Watch him play his famous “Cloud” guitar in the video of “Purple Rain” below.

# 16 Martin LX1E

  • Guitar Type: Miniature Acoustic
  • Legend Who Played It: Ed Sheeran

In popular music, it’s the little things that count. Tons of artists are competing for the narrow band of sounds available in the pop genre, so finding a secret weapon that helps you stand out from the crowd can go a long way. Ed Sheeran has the gift of bringing a unique flavor to his radio work as well as his live shows.

His signature mini-Martin is a key tool, and it’s one of the more unique types of acoustic guitars. It draws audiences in with an effect that can only be described one way: if you want to be heard in a loud room, whisper. The piezo pickup is also great for looping percussion. Check out Ed’s live version of “Tenerife Sea” for a taste of how it all works.

# 17 The ESP MX220

  • Guitar Type: Active Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: James Hetfield

In an era where Metal was just beginning to distinguish itself from Hard Rock, Metallica guitarists were leaning toward using active pickups to define their sound. Active pickups have a brighter sound and compress the signal to give the tone more sustain.

This sound gave 80s thrash metal bands greater control of dynamics through effects processing, and greater ease with speed techniques like shred picking. The look of this guitar also became a signature for Hetfield, as you can see in this live rendition of “Enter Sandman.”

# 18 Epiphone Zenith

  • Guitar Type: Tenor Guitar
  • Legend Who Played It: Ani DiFranco

Even at her commercial peak with “Little Plastic Castle,” Ani DiFranco was never an A-List celebrity. Anyone seasoned in the culture of singer-songwriters would tell you that her individuality as an artist surpasses that of most folk legends in the 60s, and her guitar technique is a marvel of spontaneity.

She would also most certainly win the Guinness Record for most guitar switches per show, and her Epiphone Zenith would be one of the more interesting guitars in the line-up. Rather than trying describe it, watch DiFranco playing her fan favorite “Little Plastic Castle.”

#19 Ibanez TAM 100

  • Guitar Type: Active 8 String Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: Tosin Abasi

Certain players have been able to define the creative direction of a genre purely on the basis of their ability and artistic vision. Tosin Abasi is one such artist who brought the use of 7+ string guitars into greater favor among progressive metal players. For guitarists who just can’t get enough notes, this guitar itself can be the inspiration for the music.

#20 The Hamer 5-Neck

  • Guitar Type: Multi-Neck Electric
  • Legend Who Played It: Rick Nielsen

Cheap Trick’s lead guitarist developed a guitar with 5 necks modeled after different sounds he liked: a 12 string, a Les Paul Junior, a Fender Stratocaster, a whammy bar neck, and a fretless electric.

The Hamer 5-Neck is certainly one of the most outlandish types of electric guitars. Though admittedly unwieldy to play, many electric guitarists will identify with the hunger to have access to more sounds. Watch Ricky capture the vibe in this classic performance of “Surrender.”

Each of these guitars is famous because a great player created a moment with an audience that carried that memory with them long after. If you’re a guitarist, remember to take every opportunity to explore the different types of guitars on your journey.

Taking a look at the many types of acoustic and electric guitars out there will help you expand your creative horizons, find an instrument that captures your unique sound, and deepen your experience as a guitarist. Feeling inspired to take guitar lessons? Check out the guitar classes at TakeLessons Live for free today!

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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

Which guitar brand is best? Cast your vote here:

 

Which guitar brand is better?

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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 ScaleTrainer.com:

ahandyguidetoguitareffects_4f935b76c43ea

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:

Materials:

-New Strings
-Wire Cutter
-Needlenose Pliers
-Tuner
-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

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.

SamuelB

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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