Guitar Survival Kit
Playing guitar is a never-ending journey, so you best be prepared. It’s important to have the right tools in your guitar survival kit. Beginners especially may wonder what essentials they need before embarking on this trek into the six-string jungle. Of course, this varies depending on your path. I assembled the following kit from the perspective of not only a guitar player, but also a performer and a songwriter. Your kit may vary.
When you are a beginner, it’s hard enough to sound good with your instrument. Give yourself every advantage. Start by including a tuner in your guitar survival kit and making sure your guitar is in tune. This is especially crucial if you are playing with others. Poor pitch sounds even worse when contrasted with accurate pitch. Plus, performing out of tune can make everyone a little uncomfortable and distracted. Tuners are cheap too, so there really is no excuse for not having one. You can find them for under $10. Plus, there are ton of free guitar tuner downloads on the web that you can install on your computer or smart phone.
Practicing with a metronome or a drum look of some kind is a great way to develop our sense of time. You don’t need to use one all the time, but regular use of this tool should improve your rhythm. Like tuners, metronomes are cheap and are also available as downloads to install on you computer or phone.
Even if you prefer sitting while playing and performing, it’s good to mix in some standing once in a while. And if you are going to stand, you will need a strap. I like one with some padding and extra width to help spread out the pressure. Varying your playing position can help you avoid the overuse injuries that can plague musicians. And when you sit…
Not all chairs are good for playing guitar. The three key traits should be: no arm rests, very little if any recline, and the correct height (your thighs should be level). A padded seat is nice too. There are some nice chairs designed specifically for musicians that I hear are very nice and effective. That said, the chairs from my kitchen work well. That said, I don’t recommend sitting all the time. I think it is healthy to mix in standing while playing. I also think you can feel the groove better.
You don’t have to play with a pick. In fact, you may run into a finger stylist that will ridicule you for using one, pointing out that you have five fingers on that hand and should use them all. Just tell that person you wish you could play half as well as him. It should placate his ego…for a while. But I digress, if you do play with a pick, keep some extras on hand in your guitar survival kit. They disappear like socks in a dryer.
It’s simple. Guitar strings break because you have angered the Guitar Gods by not packing an extra set in your case. If you carry an extra set in your guitar survival kit, the strings won’t break. You might want to bring two extra of the high E strings just in case.
The nice thing about keeping your guitar on a stand at home is that it is more convenient to grab and makes it more likely that you will pick it up and play. I prefer the wall-mounted variety so as to keep my floor less cluttered. I also love my compact travel stand that I always bring to a show in case the venue doesn’t have any. A word of caution: In drier climates or seasons it can be harmful to the wood of your nice acoustic guitar to store it out in the open. See Humidifiers.
Keep extra batteries handy. Most guitarists have a set up that requires batteries in some fashion — acoustic preamps, effects pedals, tuners, and metronomes need battery power. And later, if you’ve done your job, you will also need them for your hearing aid. Just kidding. My lawyer told me to tell you to keep the volume down.
When don’t know a chord or want an alternate voicing, a chord finder is a great ally. You can get one on paper, as a digital hand held unit, or download one to your comput
er or phone.
It is quite nice to be able to prop music upright to read it instead of having to bend over to read it off of a flat surface. I like the stands with the extra shelf for pencils, etc.
Humidifiers – Dry climates can damage the wood of an acoustic guitar. It is important to keep the humidity up (but not too high). I have seen in a nice acoustic guitar shop in Minneapolis where they run six to
eight room humidifiers in the showroom during the winter months. For most of us, it is easier to just keep humidifiers specifically designed for instrument use in the case with the guitar. Some humidifiers are quite fancy and require distilled water. I use something less fancy that was made by my friendly neighborhood luthier, but still works quite well. It’s a travel container for a bar of soap with two large holes drilled in the top with a wet sponge inside. I use two of them. You probably don’t have to use them year round. Check with local shops for their advice. I’m in Minnesota and I was advised to use humidifiers when there are no leaves on the trees.
I like to keep a bottle of guitar polish around to wipe down my guitar. A clean guitar is a happy guitar. I especially enjoy the satisfaction of thoroughly cleaning the fretboard when the strings are off. There are a lot of guitar polishes out there, but I suppose any quality wood cleaner would suffice.
A small pair of wire cutters is nice to have so you can clip the extra string off of your tuning pegs after you’ve put on a fresh set.
Napkins make for a good story, but a quality is where it’s at. Don’t settle for a cheap spiral notebook either. The pages eventually get torn out from overuse.
It’s nice to have a quality pen and/or pencil if you do a lot of writing. My favorite pen is heavy, smooth, a bit wide, and has a soft rubbery cushion for my fingers. I also like to use a mechanical pencil. It never needs sharpening.
I’m not necessarily talking about anything fancy here, just something you can record lyric and melody ideas with when inspiration sneaks up on you while on the go. Most phones allow you to record bits of audio. Or you could pick up a portable digital voice recorder.
Zen Guitar is a wonderful pocket-sized book written by the late Philip Toshio Sudo. It is filled with great insights and quotes from the greatest guitarists the world has ever known that are sure to inspire you in your playing.
Listen To Music
Listen to it. A lot. And try and branch out into styles you don’t normally listen to, even if it’s just for a song. And go into that listening for something positive. It might motivate you to practice more, too.