Guitar Survival Kit

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.

PLAYING

Tuner

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.

Guitar survival kit tuner

Solar-Powered Tuner

Tempo Keeper

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.

Strap

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…

Chair

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.

Picks

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.

Strings

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.

Guitar survival kit Guitar Stand

Collapsible Guitar Stand

Guitar Stands

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.

Batteries

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.

Chord Finder

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.

Music Stand

Guitar survival kit Music Stand

Music Stand

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.

MAINTENANCE

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

Guitar survival kit instrument humidifier

Instrument Humidifier.

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.

 

Polish

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.

Wire Cutters

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.

SONGWRITING

Guitar survival kit notebook

Write when inspiration hits. You might forget.

Notebook

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.

Writing Instrument

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.

Recorder

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.

INSPIRATION

Zen Guitar

Guitar survival kit inspirational book

Zen Guitar

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.

Get Better Faster – Twelve Tips For Guitar Practice

TWELVE TIPS FOR GUITAR PRACTICE

As musicians, we strive to get better at playing our instruments. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to improvement. We must practice and put in the time. Therefore, we should assess how we practice. Given the amount of time you could dedicate to your instrument over a lifetime, make sure you make the most it. The payoff can be huge.

Let‘s crunch some numbers. Say you practice 45 minutes a day, five days a week. But really, you only practice 30 because you often get distracted –- checking emails, noodling your favorite Rolling Stones lick, etc. That’s 1 hour and 15 minutes wasted a week. If you practice 50 weeks a year, that’s 62.5 hours. Now, let’s say you started playing at age 16 and, like Les Paul, you kept playing right up until your death at age 94. You would have lost 4,875 hours of practice time. Time you had a guitar in your hand, but didn’t maximize. With smarter and more efficient practicing, you will save time and get better faster.

Below are my 12 tips for improved guitar practice. Most, but not all, will help you practice more efficiently. A couple are just general advice that I have found helpful in my own practice. Many are ideas that you may already use, but hopefully you will find at least one new and useful concept.

1 – Expectations

Determine a realistic amount of time you can dedicate to practicing during the week, make it a goal, and live up to it. Don’t overreach. If later you find you want to spend more time practicing, great. Do it. But if you set unrealistic expectations you might get discouraged and quit.

2 – Schedule

Once you’ve determined how much time you can dedicate to practicing, make it part of your daily routine. Cramming for three hours the night before your lesson is not ideal. Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to eat three times a day. You only need to practice once a day! Awesome. If possible, practice at the same time of the day. If you are not used to this, try an experiment. Find a week on your calendar that’s not too crazy. Commit to practicing 30 minutes a day at the same time each day. After only one week, the difference in your playing will be fairly significant. Now, factor that out over a year or a lifetime and you are inspired.

3 – Practice Space

Create an environment that makes you want to spend time there with your instrument. It’s nice to have a dedicated space for practicing that is quiet and free of distractions. No TV. Turn your phone off if you can. For me, having a clean and organized space also helps me focus.

4 – Rest

Be rested when you practice. Obviously, it is much more difficult to focus on what you need to learn if you are interrupted by fits of yawning. For me, I am most rested in the morning and that’s when my focus is at it’s peak.

5 – Plan Your Time

It’s also important to develop a routine within the practice time itself. Determine the skills you typically work on then plan out the order you will do them, as well as how much time you will dedicate to each. Consider doing your least favorite things first. For me, that’s finger exercises, scales, and sight reading. After that’s accomplished, I move on to the fun stuff…songs. I like to review older songs first as a warm up and then finish up with any new material.

6 – Focus

Concentrate on the practice material at hand and nothing else. Do not allow for distractions. To quote Bart Simpson, they are “time burglars.” Time burglars are different for everyone. For me, one is noodling. I used to have a bad habit of breaking up my practice by playing quick little riffs. The riff would only take ten seconds, but I might play it 20 or 30 times during a session. Plus, it would take time to regain my focus on the task at hand.

7 – Tune

This may seem obvious and unnecessary, but take the time to tune your instrument. If you are a beginner and don’t know how to tune your guitar yet, take the time to learn.

8 – Play Slow

You will perfect challenging pieces sooner if you play them at an appropriate tempo. What’s appropriate? Slow enough that you don’t make mistakes.

9 – Record

Maybe not every time, but it is useful to listen back to your playing — whether a practice session or a performance. Imperfections that are not always apparent while you are playing them will often jump out at you when you hear them on a recording. I find this especially helpful for improving rhythm and tempo.

10 – Tempo

Often, we are so overwhelmed with just trying to play the correct notes that playing with a consistent tempo becomes an afterthought. Don’t let it be. Your performance will sound much better if you can maintain a solid inner pulse. For help with this, practice your material (songs, scales, etc.) with a metronome, tapping your foot down on each beat and raising it on the upbeats. Once you master the inner pulse of a song, then you can begin to experiment with varying the tempo for artistic expression.

11 – Posture

Sorry to kill the mood, but it’s time to talk posture. Rock on! Good posture and form will help you avoid overuse injuries and stay comfortable during practice so you can be focused and avoid being distracted by sharp stabbing pain. For example, I used to have a problem with my upper shoulder muscles tightening up because I would slouch forward. By keeping my back straight, I can play longer and not get sore. Consider standing for at least part of the time and, when you’re sitting, make sure you have a chair that is conducive to playing a guitar (or whatever your instrument). A big, soft La-Z-Boy with arm rests is not a good idea.

12 – Mistakes

Don’t make any. Just kidding. Kind of. Just remember that there are times to correct mistakes immediately and there are times to play through them without stopping. The latter is especially important when you are preparing for a performance. If you make a mistake while on stage, you will want to keep playing and hope no one notices. And since you’ve been practicing with a metronome (see Tip #9), your tempo will remain solid through that flubbed note and no one will be the wiser.