What do you need to become a great guitarist? Talent, willpower, and a lot of luck. Much like with any other form of art, these three seem to have become the trite holy trinity that everyone uses either as an explanation for their success or as an excuse for their failure. But if we look beyond the mere facade of the paths that artists have to go through, we will see that success depends not only on those three factors but on a meticulous approach to everything.
Every little detail counts. Any small change in plans can make or break your performance and, consequently, your career. That is why every musician makes sure they have the best tools for their performance. The tools, of course, as you might have guessed, are not simply guitars you choose, but also every single accessory that will make your performance smoother, better, and more memorable. That’s why we decided to create a list of the best guitar accessories that every aspiring musician should have.
Best Guitar Accessories
You know that ridiculous story about how a tiny stone killed the indestructible Goliath? Yeah, I know, does not sound plausible. Now imagine you are on the stage, your first gig after 6 years of rehearsing in a garage. You have been preparing for this moment your entire life. You start your first gig. Nervous, under the hot stage lights, you are sweating like a sinner in a church. Your fingers get sweaty and the only guitar pick you brought to the gig slips through your fingers just along with your dream of becoming the next big musician. Maybe the Goliath story makes more sense now. Picks, although a small accessory might be vital. When looking for the right pick of your picks (yap, I went there) you have to look at the four following aspects to choose the right pick: material, thickness, shape, and texture. Materials range from tortoiseshell to actual gold. The most common material, though, is celluloid. It also depends on what style you are going for: acoustic players should probably go for cellulose, indie – cellulose or nylon. With the thickness of the pick, it’s quite logical – thin ones produce lighter sounds, while the thicker ones produce heavier sound. Anything ranging from 1.5 mm to 3 mm range is for Jazz or even Metal. The shape of the pick is another one, for instance, if you want precise and clean sounds you should go for a pick with a pointed tip. There are variations on shapes, some are equilateral form, others have multi-pointed edge. It all depends on your preference. The final one, I would say is the most practical one and connects to the excruciatingly painful scenario I described at the beginning: texture. There are more smooth ones and textured one. It all depends on your preference. If you are performing in hot weather or in enclosed spaces with a lot of lighting, choose sandy textured picks.
So what is a pickup? It’s a transducer. Tells you a lot, doesn’t it? If you are like most people who do not have years of experience with musical instruments, transducer probably doesn’t ring a bell. A transducer is basically a machine that takes one form of energy and changes it into another. A pickup takes the vibrations from your strings and transforms them into electrical signals, which then will be fed into speakers, making a pickup one of the vital factors in how your guitar will sound. If you are not completely happy with your current sounds you might need to experiment with different pickups since they are the cheapest and the most effective way to hear the change in your instrument. There is a variety of pickups, but one of the bigger distinctions is between single or double coil pickup. The pickup itself is created by coiling a wire a thousand times around a single point. Logically, the single coil has one wire that’s coiled and double has two. The main difference in sound between the two is that the single coil pickup, although sounding great, is also kind of noisy. Not only does it pick up the sound of strings, but also the hum that might ruin your sound. Double coil, also called humbucker, cancels out that hum (that’s why it’s called humbucker. Genius, ain’t it?)
Cables, seems pretty straightforward, don’t they? Well, as you might have figured out by now, items that seem simple at first sight are often most overlooked once, but also most vital. Here I will try to list some of the major factors to consider when choosing cables for your guitar. First and foremost: length of the cable. Okay, don’t think of the cable for your guitar in the same way as other cables – the longer the more efficient and useful. The shorter the cable guitar the more accurate and clean the sound will be when it gets to the amplifier. Connectors are another factor. Although a lot of people assume that gold-plated connectors are the best ones, that is not entirely true. Yes, they are more durable, but they do not provide better connectivity or tone than other connectors. Reliability of the connector and the cable is vital. Cables for guitars, like any other cable, are not dealt the best cards in life, they are thrown around, ripped, stamped on, etc. So you need to make sure that the material that is used for your cable and connector (especially connector, since it’s often plugged in and out with no care and can be easily damaged) is durable.
When you have been holding up your 4-5 kilo guitar for several hours on end, you will definitely know that you need support, otherwise half of your effort and strength, instead of going into playing on your guitar, will go into just holding the guitar up. The process of choosing straps is not as technical as with other accessories. Some of the main details you should look at are the material of the strap, thickness, and style. One of the most standard and affordable materials for straps is nylon. On a higher end, nylon is mixed with other material like leather. Although with higher quality material like leather, you will be sure that your strap will not rip, you might not be fully comfortable with it for long periods of time, especially in humid and hot spaces. The comfort of the strap also dependent on the thickness of the strap. Usually, the standard width is 5-8 cm. The thinner ones might be uncomfortable, but it’s never only about one aspect of the strap- a combination of different factors creates different comfort levels, so make sure to try out a strap yourself before buying it. As for the style, I guess it is quite self-evident: whether you want straps with pink dinosaurs on it or plain black strap, there are thousands and thousands of them out there, you can have your pick.
If you just bought your first guitar and you are all pumped about buying accessories to make the sound on your guitar million times better, you are probably skipping the step that you should take care of before anything else. That step is safety. Surely, if you just bought a guitar that cost you 6 month of your salary you will not be excited about even the slightest chance that your guitar might break. In that case, you should definitely be getting strap locks. Let me try to explain the vastly complicated and elaborate mechanism and the idea behind strap locks. Are you ready? Are you sure? Okay. Strap locks lock your strap to your guitar. Mind-blowing, I know. Sometimes we think that the simplest things can be overlooked with no consequences, but believe me, my friend, there are way too many guitarists who have watched their guitars slip and break. Also, benefits of having strap locks overweight its price (which is basically close to nothing, compared to other guitar accessories) so why not be on the safer side and just get one.
Unless you are planning on locking yourself up in your basement with your guitar and never seeing the light of the day ever again, you should probably get some sort of a case or a gig bag to transport your beloved. The choice between the case and gig bag depends on two things: budget and level of security you require. You should be getting a case for your guitar if you want full safety and do not mind splurging out. The other thing you should keep in mind is that unless you are Jimmy Page or someone of that caliber you won’t be getting help from your assistant to drag your case around everywhere. So it might be a little bit challenging to drag your case, along with your guitar and accessories all over town, so try to find a case made with material that will be sturdy, but lightweight at the same time.
In case you are on a budget and cannot afford a case, or are enchanted by the idea of breaking your back by dragging your case around everywhere, you should be getting a gig bag. Although most gig bags do not provide the same level of security for your guitar it is still better than nothing. There are economy bags that are very cheap and lightweight because they have no padding, but they will probably serve more as simply transportation accessory rather than protection. There are also deluxe gig bags that, in my opinion, are the golden medium between a gig bag and a case. They are lightweight but have padding to protect your guitar, they are easy to travel with but come at a lot less cost than cases. Also keep in mind, that the more expensive gig bags have more space for keeping your accessories.
A capo is clamping device that is attached to the neck of the guitar and shortens the string, thus raising the pitch. Let’s say you want to play a song in a different key, but still want to use basic chords in open position – you will use a capo. Capos basically work like nuts. Okay, let’s explain nuts to anyone confused – nuts, located between the fretboard and headstock, control spacing between strings and lateral string placement. They function used for vibration termination. So, a capo is basically a nut that can be moved around. It controls pitch, but does not change lateral string placement like nuts do. There are capos that encircle all strings, and then there are ones that encircle only 2-4. string, giving your guitar more tonal variation.
Whether you are a big fan of Elmore James or want to imitate “Catch Hell Blues” by The White Stripes to the minute detail, you will probably get into slide guitar technique at one point or another. Slide technique is usually used in blues, or music incorporating blues style. Slide, as a device, is a tube, usually fitted on little or ring finger, usually put against the strings, parallel to frets, to create a vibration that gives the sounds extra depth. Slides are usually made out of glass, metal, or ceramic, but some musicians use other objects. Syd Barrett, for instance, used his Zippo lighter as a slide. Unless you are a music prodigy who can use a Zippo lighter or a wood stick instead of a slide, you will probably be looking for an actual tool to make your learning/slide skills easier. Two major factors to keep in mind are the fit and thickness of slides. You would not want to be concerned with whether your finger fits properly or whether the slide will just fall off mid-rehearsal, so choose wisely. As for thickness, there are pros and cons to both thick and thin slides. Thinner ones are less durable, but give you more control of the string, with thicker slides the effect is opposite.
Okay, so how hard can it be to choose a stand, you might ask as you roll your eyes at the salesperson trying to tell you about various stand options. Well, actually, stands are one of the most overlooked accessories, that might damage your guitar (scratches, or full on break) if not chosen properly. There are various types of stands: A-Frame, wall hanging, racks, etc. What kind of frame you choose depends on your budget and where you will be keeping your guitar. For instance, A-Frame is really cheap and if you are traveling, you can collapse it and travel with it, no problem. But if you are keeping it, let’s say in your living room with people and pets walking around, and someone bumps into it, say buy to your precious guitar. Wall-hanging stands are great because they don’t take up floor space, no one will bump into them, and they are on a cheaper side. Setting wall-hanging stand can be a little bit tedious, plus I personally always feel like the guitar might fall off suddenly, no matter how safe it actually is. If you own multiple guitars, racks or multi-guitar racks are a great option. One thing to keep in mind when choosing your stand is the finish of the guitar. Contact between metal and plastic wears the finish off. If your guitar has a polymer-based finish, then you’re fine. But with nitrocellulose, it gets a bit more tricky. You have to look and the finish of your guitar before buying the stand.
So, you’ve chosen your guitar, pick, cables and anything you see necessary for practice. Not really, because you’ve forgotten about one of the most important accessories for your guitar – tuner. A device that will function as your ears. It detects the pitch of the strings and displays it (either with needle dial, LED or LCD display). Some experienced, old-school purists will argue that you should be tuning by ear, not by a device. Well, those purists can go back to the old days and use horses instead of cars. If a device that will make your performance better and more precise is out there, why not use it? There are tuners that are very basic like needle dial, and some with LED display and auto-pitch detection, showing you the ideal pitch so that it’s easier for you. I would say the most important thing in deciding which tuner you are going to get mostly depends on how much you are willing to pay for it, because any tuner, at the end of the day, just shows you whether your pitch is right or wrong. No need to splurge out on something that can be purchased for a lower price.
Last, but not least is a metronome. Metronome is a device for measuring tempo in beats per minute (BMP). It usually helps beginners develop a sense of rhythm. All you have to do is basically set your desired tempo on it and practice with it. Digital metronomes are preferred by many because they are more versatile with tempi. You should probably get metronome if you are a beginner and try to develop your timing skills, but make sure you do not practice only with a metronome and become fully dependent on it. You can buy a metronome but there are many free versions available online and for download on your phone. Metronomes are very handy when you have a band or are collaborating with someone, it helps adjust everyone’s rhythm and make it as harmonious and cohesive as possible.
Now that you are more acquainted with some of the best guitar accessories that will make your sailing in the sea of musical success or struggle smoother, you are left to choose which ones are the most important for you at this point. First of all, like with anything else, you should keep in mind your circumstances. Are you a beginner or advanced player, how expensive is your guitar, will you be carrying it around everywhere or keeping it in your room, these are some of the major questions you need to answer before splurging on accessories. If there’s one thing I would like you to take from this guide is that details and the smallest accessories sometimes play the biggest part in achieving the best sound. That and safety of your guitar should always be your priority. No one will care if you have the best amplifier or are an amazing talent if you broke your guitar and cannot perform.