As a beginner guitarist, I imagine you found it a minefield choosing that first guitar for yourself or your child. There’s so much choice. Do I get an acoustic or an electric? How much should I spend? What size guitar should I get? But once you’ve got it, you’re ready to go. Having said that, I’m hoping the shop assistant advised you on a few key accessories to purchase. But if they didn’t, here are my thoughts on a few extra pieces of must-have equipment you should own as you start out on your guitar playing journey.
Picks (or plectrums). Now I have a lot of students come to me for guitar lessons and sometimes they’re quite reticent to use a plectrum. I completely get it. They feel a bit weird and are awkward to hold, it doesn’t feel very natural, and hey, why can’t I just use my fingers. Mark Knopfler and Ritchie Kotzen do! Hear me out though. It is far easier to play certain things using a pick than it is to use your fingers. Need to play a fast guitar line or quick riff? If you practice with a plectrum and can learn to alternate pick (picking up and down the string), this will be far easier in the long run than using your fingers. Don’t get me wrong, I play using my fingers all the time. Whether it’s fingerstyle acoustic or playing a blues or country hybrid lick, but this tends to come later. Trust me, if you practice using a pick, you’ll reap the benefits, and it will become natural within a couple of weeks. Then you can always return to learning how to play with your fingers at a later date.
Footrest. Though seen mostly used by classical guitarists to help with their specific posture when playing, a footrest is invaluable for the smaller guitarist. If you have a child learning to play the guitar, you need one of these. Cheap and easily accessible off of amazon, your child will thank you when they’re no longer dangling their legs uncomfortably off of the chair or sofa. Playing the guitar with good posture is really important for technique and a footrest will certainly help. To be honest, I’m 6ft, and I use one occasionally as I find them really comfortable. If you have a little guitar player in the family or just want to try one to see if it’s comfortable, I strongly recommend investing in one.
Tuner. Everyone needs one, everyone should have one, and there are loads out there. There’s nothing worse than playing a guitar that’s out of tune. It makes my toes curl! There are lots of different types of tuners. You can get the classic digital Korg or Boss tuners that come in a rectangular form. They have a digital needle which tells you when you’re playing the note in tune, and these often come with extra features such as a metronome (we’ll get on to that later). Then you have the clip-on tuners which attach to the guitar’s headstock. I use the TC Electronic Polytune clip-on tuner when teaching as it’s convenient, accurate and has a small profile. The ability to play all the strings at the same time and it tells you which are out of tune is an awesome feature. However, when playing live, my preferred tuning method is in pedal format. It’s great for accessible at your feet and can mute the sound when you need to tune. For beginners, my advice would be to go for a clip-on tuner. They’re affordable, accurate and really convenient, so this would be my top choice; a must-have accessory.
A capo. For the beginner guitarist, this accessory is simply indispensable. When you start out, it’s going to be a while before you’re playing barre chords. So it’s going to be tricky to play some songs in their original keys without one. This is where the genius behind the capo comes in. Simply clamp it on the guitar neck across the strings on the fret it needs to be, and there you have it. Instead of playing those seemingly impossible barre chords, you’re now free to play open chords and play along to your favourite song, in its original key. Let me give you an example (I’m sure I’ll have a lesson on this at some point). Let’s say you have the chords E, Bm and A. You’re at the point where you’re comfortable with the open E and A chords, but that Bm barre chord is just proving too difficult. However, if you take your capo, place it on the 2nd fret and now play, D, Am and G. Technically you are still playing E, Bm and A, but now using the much simpler and familiar open chord shapes you may already know. That’s why every beginner guitarist should own a capo. I use a Kyser capo and have done for years, it’s never failed me, keeps the strings down without any buzz and is interchangeable between by electric and acoustic. There are plenty of other options out there, so Amazon is your friend here.
Music stand. Now this for some may seem a little old fashioned and redundant but trust me, a music stand is so useful for various reasons. Firstly, if you’re having 1-2-1 lessons, and your teacher is giving you music, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than having your sheet music on your lap, or on the sofa next to you, and staring down at it. It will be better for your neck and guitar playing posture to have the music at a comfortable, eye-level height. Say you decide to get a book to learn out of, or a friend or family member buys you a songbook. Bet you’re happy you bought that music stand now. The final, not so conventional reason to own a music stand, is if you’re having online lessons. A lot of my students don’t always have computers or laptops that are ideal for online lessons, but all of them either have an iPad, Android or smartphone device. But if you don’t have a case for your device where you can tilt it, it can be a right faff to find the right angle and to adjust during a lesson. I use multiple camera angles when I teach, and my iPad is on my music stand for providing closeups of the fretboard. I can easily adjust it to move up and down the neck or to angle it for the student to view my picking hand. If you’re having online lessons, I can’t tell you how much nicer it would be for yourself, and the teacher, to prop your device on the music stand and not have to worry about it toppling over mid-chord.
Metronome. Now possibly not something that you’ll be using straight away but definitely an accessory that will come in handy early on and will help with your time-feel. Whether it’s practising scales, licks, chord changes or a particular part in a song, a metronome can be an invaluable tool to any guitar players arsenal. Now most of those rectangular, digital tuners we talked about earlier (such as the Korg and Boss models) have metronomes built in, so it’s another good reason to perhaps buy one of those. They also have different settings and tones within them, making them more customisable to suit your individual needs and preferences. You could opt for the more classical style of metronome, which has the pendulum swinging back and forth, often with Italian, classical terminology written on them. Aesthetically speaking, these look great but maybe not the most practical for the contemporary musician. Whatever your choice, practising to a metronome has many benefits, and is an affordable way to help level up your playing.
Smartphone/tablet. We’re living in the 21st Century, so why not utilise the amazing technology that we have at our disposal. Most people own either a smartphone or tablet device. You can access various tools on your device, making it the ultimate practice tool. Download an app such as GuitarTuna which enables you to tune your guitar, using the in-built microphone to pick up the sound. Surprisingly accurate, options galore (with the paid plan) and a built-in metronome thrown in for good measure. A stand-alone metronome app might be a better fit for those wishing to have more flexibility over customising the options, but why not opt for something more exciting altogether? Why not head to YouTube and look for some backing tracks to practice that pentatonic scale over. Quist and Elevated Jam Tracks are my personal favourites. You could even download an app such as Drummit, which enables you to create over a million drum beats to loop. Now, playing over a drum track is far more interesting and inspiring than playing over a click track, in my opinion. You can use your device to learn songs from YouTube and search for tabs on Ultimate Guitar. You could subscribe to guitar courses such as Truefire or JamPlay. There are so many possibilities with a device these days, why not take advantage of it?
I have all of the above accessories and apps and use all of it for my teaching and own personal learning. Create a space where you have all of this readily available, and you’ll be flying. You can spend as much or as little as you want on these accessories to suit any budget. My advice would be not to go too cheap on the capo. You want something that’s going to work well and last. I can’t remember how long I’ve had my Kyser capo because it has been that long! I hope this has shed some light for you as a beginner guitarist, and if there’s anything else I can help with, or you have any questions, feel free to send me a message on the various social media platforms (which can be easily found on my site), or comment below. Keep playing, and enjoy learning.