Equipment and Accessories

88. What do capos do?

Capos shorten the length of the fingerboard on a guitar. This changes the key the song is in. If you play a song in the key of C with C, F and G chords, but it’s too low for you to sing, you can put a capo on the neck, say on the fourth fret and you’re playing in the key of E using the same chord shapes.

89. Did classical guitars really use cat gut for strings?

Although nylon has been the material of choice for classical guitar strings since the 1930s, in the old days they used gut, though generally not cat gut. Sheep was the intestine of choice for string makers.

90. How do I find a good starter guitar?

Choosing the right guitar on your own can be a gamble for a novice. Sometimes you get lucky: I knew a guy whose dad took him to a store back in 1952 and told him to pick out whatever he wanted. He chose a Gibson. Fifty years later it’s still his only guitar.

More often you’re not. A student from one of my classes bought a cheap guitar because she liked the color. She had no way of knowing that it had a problem with the neck angle because she lacked experience. By the time she asked me to diagnose the problem it was too late to take it back to the store. She was stuck with an unplayable guitar that was impossible to re-sell. It wasn’t her fault. Whoever sold it to her in the first place should have caught the problem.

So my first advice is this: develop a relationship with a reputable guitar shop. Make a pest of yourself. Learn about guitars and find out who you can trust. If you go to the kind of shop where they love guitars, you will find people who know what they're doing. I’d stay away from guitar starter packs from a mega store and anything from Esteban. Find a good shop.

If you’re in the right kind of shop these are the sorts of answers they’ll try to coax out of you: What kind of music do you want to play? How serious do you plan to be? What are your ultimate goals? Do you plan to study with somebody? How much can you spend? You don’t have to spend a fortune. You can find a decent starter guitar for $100-$300 (U.S.). But if you can afford a better one, go for it. Good guitars are an investment, and a reputable shop will never let you walk out the door with a lemon.

91. Should I buy a guitar online?

Buy online only if you know a lot about guitars (or know someone else who can offer an evaluation) and only if you can send it back for a refund.

92. What's the best way to use a guitar strap?

Although a long strap has been fashionable for forty years or more, it's best to adjust the strap so that it's fairly short. If the sound hole of an acoustic guitar is somewhere around the middle of your torso, and the headstock is level with your face, then you're probably holding the guitar up high enough. I recommend having two strap buttons: one at the end of the body and one where the body and the neck of the guitar meet. This works much better than tying one end of the strap to the headstock.

93. Which looping device do you use?

I use a Boomerang most of the time. Although sometimes I use my Boss Loopstation. The Boomerang is a little more stable, and it's big and metal and solid on the floor when I'm gigging.