Unsolicited Guitar Advice

I found this old draft post sitting around so I decided to polish it up. Sometimes I teach guitar, and sometimes people ask me how to get started. So, here it is in one place.

Learning Music

Listen to a wide variety of music, and purposefully take yourself out of your comfort zone. Try to play along with everything (whether by ear or by getting the score).

Learn what I call the “piano chords”: the 3-note chords played on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings.

Learn standard notation.

Learn to play the bass as well as the guitar. This is crucial for developing your rhythm sense — learn by playing classic funk, R&B, and jazz tunes. Play along with The Meters.

Books that really helped me when I was getting started were The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer and The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick. I’m sure there are many more awesome books out now. Let me know! When you’re ready to bend your ears and fingers, check out Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene.

Get The Real Book.

Buying An Instrument

Play many, many guitars for a long time each before buying an expensive guitar. Once you know you are serious about playing, do buy a quality guitar. As of late 2015, a high-quality solid-body electric guitar is likely to cost at least $1,500 and as much as $3,000. Beyond that price level, though, lie diminishing returns, specialty instruments, and vintage/collector instruments.

Consider building your own guitar from parts. Warmoth, Stew Mac, and other parts vendors supply exceptionally good stuff. The aftermarket pickup vendors like Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, Lindy Fralin, et al. are excellent and almost always sound better than the stock pickups on a factory guitar.

Alternately, you can get a pawn shop prize or a factory guitar, and fix it up. That can work amazingly well.

The things that matter most about a solid-body electric guitar are, in order:

  1. The neck (straight, stiff, sounds good)
  2. The set-up (intonation, action, fret dressing, nut)
  3. The pickups and associated electronics
  4. The quality of the hardware

Rule of thumb: the more hollow the body is — the greater the volume of air inside it — the more it contributes to the sound of the guitar and hence the more it matters. If a guitar has a bad neck (warped, twisted, soft sound and feel), you'll have to replace it or get a different guitar. Obviously, bolt-on necks are easiest to replace. Pretty much everything besides a warped neck can be fixed.