With each new beginner guitar pupil I meet, I find myself recommended certain must-have bits of gear – things I think make a guitarist’s life that little bit easier. Over the years I’ve found myself trying all sorts of different gadgets and gizmos, designed to improve our playing and make gigs run like clockwork.
Here are my top 4 recommendations for the guitarists toolbag – tech and gear I wouldn’t do without. It’s useful not only for guitarists, but for friends and family of guitarists who might be looking for great gift ideas for their budding Hendrix!
So, up first, Tuners:
1. Clip-on Tuners
Clip-on tuners are a great invention. Small enough to fit in your gig bag, and powerful enough to quickly pick up chromatic tunings through the vibrations of your guitar. There’s now a dizzying array of these on offer – just look at the range available from Rich Tone Music here…
I’ve found Snark clip-ons work for me – they have a bright, clear display, decent battery life, and seem really sensitive. Now costing only around £10-£12 they’re really good value.
They’re available in most local music shops and through online music shops (not Amazon though, eh)
2. Tuning Apps
If, like me, you often can’t remember why you just walked up the stairs, or where the cup of tea you just made disappeared to, you might also, like me, struggle to remember where your recently purchased clip-on tuner ended up clipped-on.
But, you always have your smart phone on you, right?
So, it’s lucky then that plucky I.T. entrepreneurs have flooded the Android and IOS App market with tons of free tuning apps. I like the recently pimped up TUNA tuning app.
There’s a more in-depth review of it here, but it’s a really easy-to-use app which can auto detect the note you’re playing (through your phone/tablet microphone so not ideal in noisy gig environments – hence the clip-on tuner’s use) It has an interesting and intuitive seismograph-esque display to help you tune up or down, and it gives you a little congratulatory beep when you get the note in tune. It’s got something of the computer game about it.
Thanks to the graphic display of the headstock and large note names, it’s great for beginners just getting to grips with learning the open strings, which tuning peg are which, and which way to turn it and the ‘AARGH I’M GOING TO PULL MY HAIR OUT’ sort of feeling when tuning. With this app you’ll be breezing through your tuning in no time.
(As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that I always encourage guitarists to tune their guitar EVERY TIME they pick it up, even if they think it’s in tune, or it was only tuned ten minutes ago. I am convinced there are impish little creatures who sneak around when our backs are turned to fiddle with tuning pegs – sometimes even when we’re playing.)
The app also has some fun learning games, and a very good Metronome. If you’re still not convinced, see this Youtube review here…
More advanced players might find it a little toy-like, and opt for more streamlined apps such as Cleartune, or the retro vintage valve vibes of Chromatic Guitar Tuner. There’s loads to choose from. Like I said, developers developed the heck out of tuning apps!
Here’s a good article listing some of the top Android apps out there to help you decide:
3. String Winder
Essential to avoid getting R.S.I’s, and not to mention extreme boredom, when changing your strings. Because you’re a good pupil, and practicing an awful lot every day, you’ll no doubt need to change your strings at least once a month, right? So, save yourself hours over the course of a year (I’ve done the maths, this is a fact) by using one of these nifty gadgets to quickly un and re-wind your string tension.
You can pick these up for one or two pounds in your local music shop, or if you’re feeling flush, get one of these winders with in-built wire cutter, for removing excess string
(see my previous article on string changes for more on the dangers of string-finger-skewerings!)
4. Guitar Leg Rest
For Classical Guitarists, the issue of ‘to footstool or not to footstool‘ is a very personal one. I’ve seen bar room brawls break out, fingernails flying, rasguedo backhanders and G String garrotings all over the suggestion that guitar rests are for cheats.
I sit on the fence nowadays. Sometimes, I love the connection I feel with the guitar and the ground when I’m slightly hunched over it, left foot planted on a footstool. When I bought my first Gitano guitar rest about five years ago though, I loved it. When I play corporate gigs, plucking away for one or two hours at a time, it really helps avoid leg and back strain. Now I’m in my *cough* late thirties, after over twenty five years of guitar practice, I’m afraid sciatica has come a-knocking. This means I need to take regular breaks from practice to roll around on the floor red-faced, stretching and contorting myself to find relief. I’ve also started doing yoga, but then I do live in Meersbrook, so that’s standard behaviour.
A guitar leg rest helps you achieve a more balanced posture when playing, with both legs planted symmetrically on the ground and your back more or less straight. After reading up on the Alexander technique and Madeline Bruser’s tome ‘The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Makig Music from the Heart’ (recommended), I’m sure this relaxed and balanced posture makes for better playing.
The Gitano rest is simple, unobtrusive, comfortable, and folds away so you can keep it on your guitar even when in the case. Available from the wonderful Spanish Guitar Centre in Nottingham.
That’s it for now – when I think of some more, I’ll follow this up with another article. Thanks for reading, and happy playing.