What guitar player doesn’t like a new toy? New guitar, new amp, new pedals… the reality is that while that may inspire you to play more, it doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. Guitar players tend to think that without the latest gadget they’re missing out or that’s what’s going to get them to the next level. Pete Thorn or Tommy Emmanuel sound like they do because of their fingers, not because of their amp or pedal or string gauge or pickup etc.
The important thing is to remember that the tone quest doesn’t have an end. What I thought I wanted/needed/liked/loved a year, two years or ten years ago doesn’t always hold up. Something new comes up that grabs my attention. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve picked up because something sounded great in a review or what the new “it” thing, that I ended up selling because it didn’t agree with my existing stuff (guitars, amps) or it just didn’t suit my playing. It’s about the journey, not the finish line.
To get the most out of your guitar playing, I find that really you need 3 things: a properly set up guitar, loop pedal and a metronome.
Properly Set Up Guitar
No matter how cheap or expensive your guitar is, it’s a good idea to get it set up. I’ve seen brand new guitars that needed a set up before they were even playable. A set up essentially is the fine tuning of the instrument – insuring the guitar’s neck is adjusted properly, adjust the action (how high the strings are from the fretboard), make sure the things that are suppose to move are lubed up and all the other things that goes on in a set up.
Before grabbing that new guitar, make sure yours is as playable as it can be. Most setups range from 30-60 dollars and some can even do it while you wait. Do a quick google search of your zip code with a “Guitar Shop” or “Guitar Luthier” and see what your local one charges.
This is the number 1 thing to do to enjoy what you already have instead of thinking something else (that you’ll have to get set up as well!) is the answer.
If there is a gadget I couldn’t recommend enough it’s a loop pedal. Don’t get a fancy one with a bunch of features you don’t need right away, get a basic loop pedal for around $100. The brands don’t matter. They all do the same thing: allow you to play with yourself, by yourself, in real time.
Playing along with a song is great to practice, but a loop pedal is all on you. You don’t have the all-star band backing you up with their impeccable performance, you have yourself. A loop pedal allows you to be in control of what you’re playing, plus you’ll spend less time on youtube looking for that perfect backing track to work on what you’re working on.
Whether it’s pop, jazz, rock, R&B, being able to work on Rhythm and Lead playing using one tool is invaluable. It’ll be the best $100 you ever spend.
Oh and those fancy ones with the extra features? Getting good at a simple loop pedal will let you look at the features of a fancy one and decide if that’s something you wish your current one did.
Loop pedals are more fun than a metronome, but a metronome gives you minimal information, test your timing and see how honest you are within your playing. Playing along to a metronome is challenging as it’s so unforgiving. A band can speed up or slow down to compensaste for someone else speeding up or slowing down, a metronome doesn’t.
It also forces you to listen instead of just playing. Without listening or hearing that click, you’ll be off of it right away.
Try strumming (no chords) with just the metronome, playing a song with a metronome, soloing using a metronome. Metronomes are tough, but just like everything else, they get easier the more you do it.
This is not to say that pickups or a tube amp won’t effect your tone or how you play, but make sure you can get the best out of the gadgets by getting your fingers and ears in tip top shape.