When you ask a bunch of people for guitar-playing tips, you usually come up with some that get mentioned again and again. “Practice a lot.” “Play with others in a live session.” “Learn how to tune your instrument.” “Listen to other guitarists’ styles.” These are just a few of the ones that get repeated most often. This does not make them silly suggestions, by the way. Rather, they are actually such thorough recommendations.
That said, all that repetition can be a bit worrisome. After a while, you do start wondering if that is all there is to it. Have you possibly heard so many guitar tips that people have ended up cycling them already?
There are some guitar tips that do get mentioned a little less often, though. They are still full of sound, sensible advice for students of the instrument despite that. Below we will go through two handfuls of them. So without further ado, here are 10 guitar tips you don’t normally hear.
- Do you use an electric guitar? Then pay attention to your cord!
Sure, everyone minds their chords when learning to play the guitar. The quality of your cord actually has an effect on how you sound, and it is never too early to train yourself to get the right tone. There are a lot of factors that go into the quality of a cord. The absolute cheapest cords tend to be the worst ones, although price does not always tell you a cord is really as good as its tag promises. You have to put it through its paces by testing.
Does the cord make a discernible sound through the amp if you hit it? Does your signal get distorted even at just a few meters of cord length? This indicates a bad cord. You should also make sure to get a cord with nice, tough plugs because these get worn down over time.
- Still learning scales? Practice on all areas of the fretboard.
This is a tip focused on giving you more versatility, both in your present playing and your future technique and composition (if that should take your fancy). Learn to play each scale on different positions early on so that you do not unnecessarily limit yourself.
- Wash your hands before using the guitar.
This applies whether you use a plectrum or not. The fact is, the oils and dirt on our hands get transferred to the strings on the instrument, which can and do wear out. The more dirt tends to get on them, the faster they wear out and the quicker the guitar begins to sound “off” until you have them replaced.
- If using electric guitars, learn which guitar-amp combinations work best.
No, you cannot get the same sound with a different guitar-amp combo. You might not be able to pick up on it at first, but most people with sharper ears do very easily. You have to test which guitars really do sound best with which amps. Often, the pairings can be brand-based. This is fairly understandable given that many companies want to develop amps/guitars for their own lines of guitars/amps. The result is that guitars and amps from the same company often sound better together than pairings of devices from different manufacturers or brands.
- Avoid guitar teachers who keep emphasizing generalized instruction.
If the guitar teacher keeps telling you that he cannot help you learn the particular style you want to learn despite you having advanced sufficiently in lessons to give it a try, you might want to move to another one. Teachers who do not have a specific area of expertise or musical genre preference are not often the best ones to get. They may also be hiding a lack of teaching experience or versatility by deferring the matter to someone else.
- Don’t be afraid to download guitar-playing apps.
A lot of them are games, yes, but have you ever heard of gamification? It is the concept of transforming something—usually something educational—into a game-like version of itself. Thus you get apps where you actually enhance your guitar skills by playing certain games or quizzes. They may not turn you into the next Stevie Ray Vaughan but they usually do not hurt either, and some can even help a little.
- Understand that even things like finish can affect your instrument’s sound.
Sounds odd, but it is true. Some finishes are just more flexible than others, and they impede the sound less when you play the instrument. When vibrations are not regulated by an overly thick finish, the guitar sounds like it has better resonance and gives you a generally better sound.
Other finishes, on the other hand, can dampen your sound. Plastic and the really heavy modern finishes do this. If you think you sound darker on a particular guitar than on another, consider checking the finish before deciding to adjust your playing style entirely.
- Consider a second-hand guitar
Second-hand guitars can actually be great buys for guitar students, who are often short on money. Second-hand guitars can be found for really low prices and in decent shape, and there are many that have been broken in with love so they even feel more comfortable to use after that. You do need at least one guitar professional to help you gauge which second-hand buys are worthwhile and which are not.
- We mentioned learning to play scales all along the fretboard earlier: you should also learn to play them on all of the strings.
Learning this helps you get used to recognizing the different shapes in different positions. Again, it improves your technique and versatility.
- When choosing a way to learn to play the guitar, do not think you absolutely need to get personal instruction.
Yes, a personal instructor is usually the best way to learn an instrument—but this assumes that the personal instructor is a good one. There are unfortunately a lot of people who claim to be guitar teachers but who are actually quite bad at it. Knowing how to do something does not make you a great instructor though: just think back to your university days and remember the professor with two PhDs who could not seem to explain anything properly.
There are also a fair number of persons for whom issues like shyness get in the way during personal instruction. And then there is the cost, for personal instruction can get pretty expensive.