More frequently asked questions?
Q) What is the most important thing I should consider when buying a guitar?
A) Without a doubt, the most important thing is the size of the guitar. I have seen many smaller people buy big guitars, which means they are simply never going to be able to hold the guitar correctly or feel comfortable. On the other hand, I have seen bigger people buy smaller guitars with thin necks and their fingers are simply too big to fit in the frets.
The number one rule is to get the right-sized guitar for your body shape.
Why do I find it so hard to hold the chords down?
A) There are basically two reasons why people initially find it hard to hold the chords down without them buzzing.
1) It takes time for your hand to develop the muscles which are required to hold down all 6 strings. Try and have a little patience.
2) The strings are simply too high above the fretboard and you need a hand of steel to hold down the strings.
The answer is to take the guitar to a luthier and get the guitar set up properly. It won't cost much but could make all the difference between success and failure.
What kind of plectrum should I use?
This is a really important question because it affects both the sound of the guitar and the speed at which you can play.
Over the years I have seen many students turn up with plectrums which were so big they would be better off using them as skimming pebbles on the beach.
First of all, I would always recommend a smallish "tear-shaped" plectrum. The reason for this is that you do not want to move your hand very much and thus using a small plectrum will allow you to get very close to the strings on your guitar without moving your hand too much.
Secondly, there are really two choices as to which thickness of plectrum you use. If you are simply going to strum chords I would use a 0.6mm plectrum. If you want to play lead guitar I would use a plectrum that is at least 1mm thick. I, for example, use a 3mm jazz plectrum because I want a warmer, less harsh sound.
I have dozens of different plectrums so if you come for a guitar lesson it's simply finding the one that you like the sound and feel of.
Should I use a strap?
I would always recommend playing with a strap. The simple reason for this is that it will help you to hold the guitar at the right angle. Without a strap, most students hold the guitar far too flat and consequently it is very difficult to get a good hand position. By using a strap or a guitar stool this will help you hold the guitar at about a 40-degree angle. This will not only allow you to hold the guitar higher but also to get a far bigger finger stretch across the fretboard. Just try it and see the difference.
What strings should I use?
This is a question that most people don't consider at all. There are a huge number of different guitar strings on the market and they all have different characteristics.
Most electric guitar students tend to go for a 10 gauge string. This allows you to bend the string easily and you can get a really low action on the guitar. The only problem is this gauge of string will give you a thinner sound. I personally like a warmer sound and therefore used 12 gauge strings.
For the acoustic guitar, it is normal to use a heavier gauge string. Most students would use an 11 or 12 gauge string. Here people normally want to use the guitar as an accompanying instrument and thus don't want such a bright sound.
Of course, the best way is to try out a few different strings and see which ones you like best.
What is the ideal hand position?
This is a really important question because it is drastically going to affect the speed and ease that you can learn to play the guitar.
Basically, you want to have your thumb low on the neck and your fingers high. This will allow you to get a large stretch across the fretboard and put each of your fingers in a different fret.
If you keep your thumb high and your fingers low it will make it almost impossible for each finger to go into the next fret. You will end up with all your fingers bunched together and playing lead guitar with 4 fingers will be almost impossible.
Over the years that I have been teaching the guitar, I would say that this has been the biggest single mistake that I have seen students making and if your hand position is wrong at the beginning you will find it very difficult to change the habit later.
How much practice should I do?
This is a really easy one to answer. The fact of the matter is the more you play your guitar the better you are going to get. If you simply come to a lesson and don't practice during the week then it is going to be very difficult to improve. A lot of people now have multiple interests and thus find it hard to fit everything in. The fact of the matter is that if you want to get good at something then you have to put the time in. There is simply no way around this and of course, learning the guitar is exactly the same.
As a basic guide, I would say that you need to practice what we have learned in the lesson at least 15 minutes a day. Each of the lessons has a target to help you improve, so if you don't practice what we have learned then learning the guitar quickly is going to be hard.
I do believe what Carlos Santana ( the great Mexican guitarist said ) " I never practice I just take my fingers for a walk." Learning the guitar should be something that you really want to do and not just something you have to fit into the day. So just let your fingers go for a walk and you'll improve quickly.
How do I clean the fretboard?
There are a huge number of products on the market to clean your guitar's neck. The most common product is lemon oil and this will help to get rid of all the dirt and grime that has built up while you have been playing. You would be amazed at the amount of dirt that you will get on the fretboard and this will make moving up and down the neck feel very rough. A well-conditioned fretboard will feel silky smooth and will allow you to play much faster and more accurately. I actually use butcher's block oil to clean the board. This not only gives you a fantastically smooth feel but will also darken the wood, which I think looks much better. I tend to clean the fretboard at least once a week to make sure that the guitar is in tip-top condition.
What is the most important accessory to buy when learning the guitar?
The number one thing that you should invest in after buying your guitar is a tuner. If the guitar is out of tune it is simply going to sound dreadful. Even one string out of tune can really make a difference. There are a vast number of small digital tuners to choose from that tune the guitar by the vibration of the string. When the guitar is in tune the letter will generally go green. If the needle is to the right of the letter this means the guitar is tuned too high. If the needle is to the left this means the guitar is tuned too low.
One important point. Make sure you are very careful the first few times. It is very easy to break the string.
What is the power chord?
This is the chord that is used all the time in Rock guitar and is the reason why learning the electric guitar initially is so much easier. Basically, this one shape will allow you to play every chord that you will ever need. You only need three fingers to hold the strings down and simply slide your fingers up and down the fretboard to play the different chords in the song. How cool is that!
To see some of the other questions that I am often asked click the link and have a look at the bottom of the page.