Guitar FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Learning Guitar

Q.What kind of guitar should I get to start?

A. We recommend starting on an acoustic guitar. If you start learning guitar on an acoustic, it will ensure you develop strength in your fingers and become a more rounded guitar player. It’s also much easier to transition from acoustic guitar to electric guitar rather than the other way around. The acoustic is more portable and doesn’t need to be plugged in to be heard, as well as often being less expensive than an electric guitar. That said, another great option is an acoustic electric guitar which gives you the ability to play both acoustically and with an amp. For more on this topic, please see our blog post Choosing a Guitar

 

Q. Should I buy a guitar,or rent a guitar to start?

A. If you are serious about studying guitar, we recommend buying one, but renting can be a good option under certain circumstances. If you make a good choice with your guitar purchase, chances are you’ve made a good investment. Renting is a good option if you feel tentative about your commitment and just want to try things out without spending much.

Another good reason to rent might be if you are not sure about whether you want to learn on a right handed or left handed guitar, in which case you would probably want to try a right handed guitar for a while. Fortunately, there are retailers in Toronto that have good rental programs. If you sign up for lessons, we can help you get a great instrument whether you choose to buy or rent. For more information, please see our blog post Where to Buy or Rent a Guitar

 

Q. I’m left handed. Should I get a left handed guitar?

A. We encourage all beginners to try using a right handed guitar first. There is a great advantage to learning to play guitar right handed, which is that the vast majority of guitars in the world are right handed and you never know when you might be called upon to play someone else’s right handed guitar. It’s kind of a shame to be limited to being able to play only left handed guitars.

However, if you feel strongly about it and aren’t bothered by the lack of availability of left handed guitars, by all means go ahead and get a left handed guitar. After all, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney and Albert King did alright with theirs!

 

Q. What is a guitar “set up” and do I need one?

A. A “setup” is the process of adjusting and fine tuning the components of a guitar. It improves the sound and playability of the instrument and should be performed by a qualified guitar technician. The main focus of a set up is to assess and adjust the distance between the strings and the fingerboard. If the strings are too far away from the fingerboard, the guitar will be hard to play. If the strings are too close, you will get buzzing sounds and inaccuracies that will negatively impact your sound.

While not necessary, a set up can mean the difference between a guitar that is fun and easy to play and one that is not, depending on the condition of the guitar being worked on. Setups are highly encouraged, especially for brand new guitars that have never been played, or older guitars that may have been affected by heat and humidity over long periods of time. Set ups are usually quite affordable and worth the investment. For an in-depth look at guitar setups, see our blog post Guitar Setups – Getting the Most Out of Your Instrument

 

 

Q. I have long fingernails. Do I need to cut them to play guitar?

A. Unfortunately, long fingernails are a serious impediment to playing the guitar properly since they will essentially prevent you from pressing the string down on the fingerboard. If it’s any consolation, the fingernails on your strumming hand (usually the right hand) can remain long and in fact can be useful for playing classical and folk styles, provided they aren’t too long.

 

Q. What kind of strings should I get?

A. This depends on the kind of guitar. There are three main types of strings: 1) Acoustic guitar strings 2) Electric Guitar Strings 3) Classical Guitar Strings. Acoustic and Electric guitar strings come in different “gauges” (thicknesses), so you should investigate what gauge is appropriate for the instrument, or determine what gauge your current strings are if you are comfortable with them.

Apart from gauges, there are many different brands and levels of quality. We recommend that you talk to your teacher for expert advice. Also, be sure to read out blog post on How to Choose Guitar Strings

 

Q. How often should I change my guitar strings?

A. This depends on how much you play, but generally it’s probably a good idea to change your strings at least every 6 months. You will want to change your strings if they appear old and worn and/or are not staying in tune. Many professional guitarists change their strings often because they like the fresh sound of new strings. Some even use brand new strings for every performance. But if you are just at home practicing, or perform only occasionally, there is no need to change your strings that frequently.

 

Q. What kind of pick should I use?

A. Choosing a guitar pick is a very personal matter and experimenting with different picks is key to finding what you like best. There are no rules when it comes to guitar picks, but there are a couple of guidelines: 1) a thicker pick will give you a bigger sound but will be harder to control 2) a thinner pick will be easier to use, but will produce a softer tone. That said, we recommend talking to your teacher or guitar retailer to get the best advice on choosing the best picks for your style and preferences.

Picks will vary in thickness, size, shape and material. Most are made of plastic. Thickness is usually described as light, extra-light, medium, heavy and extra heavy. There are also finger picks which are used for country and bluegrass styles. Classical guitarists play exclusively with their fingers and rely on their fingernails to produce their sound.

Q. What kind of amplifier (“amp”) should I get for my electric guitar?

A. There are many different kinds of guitar amps and they come in many different sizes, styles  and power levels with different features. A beginner will only need a small practice amp with limited features and these will usually cost less than $100. Power levels are expressed in “watts” and a small practice amp will generally range from 3 to 20 or more watts.

We recommend getting an amp with “reverb”, which is an echo effect designed to mimic the sound of a large room, as well as “overdrive” or “distortion” settings if you want a hard rock sound. Other effects are available but rarely needed for the beginner. We always recommend talking to your teacher for the best advice on getting your amp, whether you are a beginner or an advanced player.

 

Q. If my child gets an electric guitar for lessons, will it make a lot of noise?

A. Electric guitars, when plugged into an amplifier, have the potential to be quite loud. However, it is possible to turn the amplifier down to a low level. It is also possible for a student to practice on an electric guitar without it being plugged in at all, in which case it is very quiet. In addition, most practice amplifiers have a headphone jack which makes it possible for the student to practice using headphones.

 

Q. Can I use an older guitar for lessons?

A. It depends on the condition of the guitar and would require a proper assessment to determine if it’s suitable or not. In general, most guitars are playable even if they’re old, but some may need repair or a “setup” in order to be comfortable to play. If the guitar has not been humidified or well cared for for many years, it may not be playable.

When you take lessons, you will want an instrument that you really enjoy playing, sounds great and doesn’t hurt your fingers when you play it. Our teachers are all qualified to assess the playability of musical instruments and can help you.

 

Q. Do I need to humidify my guitar?

A. It’s important to keep any musical instrument in stable conditions of temperature and humidity. This is especially true of wooden instruments like acoustic guitars. Although electric guitars are made of wood, they are less affected by changes in temperature and humidity than acoustic guitars because the wood of acoustic guitars is very thin in comparison and is unfinished on the inside of the sound chamber, leaving it exposed directly to the atmosphere.

The wood of electric guitars is usually thick and coated with a protective finish. In general, a relative humidity of 50% at room temperature is recommended for guitars. There are a variety of guitar humidifiers available and we suggest talking to your teacher for a recommendation.

 

Q. I want guitar lessons for my child. What size guitar should I get?

A. Guitars come in many shapes and sizes, so it’s important to choose the right size for yourself or your child. If you sign up for guitar lessons for your child, we recommend talking to us before you buy for tips on choosing wisely. For very small or younger children, you might even want to start them on ukulele, which is like a tiny 4-string guitar. The next size up option from that would be the “guitarlele”, which is like a very small guitar; it has 6 strings like a guitar but is tuned higher.

The next sizes from there in standard guitars are 1/4,1/2, 3/4 and full size. There are some other variations in these sizes, but it’s always best to go to a trusted retailer in person with your child so a knowledgeable sales associate can help you make the right choice. Buying a guitar online is not a good idea and should be avoided due to a high probability of unforeseen problems.

 

Q. My fingers hurt when I play the guitar. Is this normal?

A. Pain in your fingertips is perfectly normal when learning guitar. The skin on fingertips is soft and will hurt until calluses form, which can take a couple of weeks or more, depending on how much you practice. For best results, practicing everyday for about 30 minutes is recommended. Wrist pain is not normal and is usually the result of incorrect posture. This is why it’s important to study with an experienced teacher so you will learn to hold and play the guitar correctly.

 

Q. How soon until I can impress my friends with my guitar playing?

A. Progress on any musical instrument is usually measured in months and years. With consistent, disciplined and focused practice, you could be playing some pretty impressive riffs in a few months. For more ambitious projects like learning complex songs or intricate guitar solos, think in terms of 1 to 3 years.

Remember, the time you put in at the beginning is foundational and is not as exciting as the work you’ll be doing years down the road. Work hard, practice daily and keep your eye on the prize. You’re almost guaranteed great results if you follow a few simple guidelines and stick to them. That said, you can play simple songs in your first lesson!

 

Q. My fingers are extra large or very small. Can I still play guitar?

A. Yes you can. Although hand and finger size extremes can be an impediment to playing guitar, these issues can usually be overcome through proper technique and choosing an appropriate sized guitar. In general, acoustic guitars have larger neck width than electric guitars, and classical guitars have the widest necks available. Small hand and finger size can easily be accommodated with smaller guitars that have thinner necks.

 

Q. I Watched A Video On YouTube – Can I Do My Own Guitar Setup?

A. The short answer is yes but you probably shouldn’t. There is a huge difference between a DIY setup and a setup done by a professional guitar setup and repair technician. YouTube is an incredible resource but anyone can post a video on how to set up a guitar and watching a few short videos isn’t going to be a substitute for years of training and skill gained through dedicated training and practice. Even a Seasoned Luthier or Guitar Tech will be the first one to tell you that the first guitar they ever serviced wasn’t the best example of their work and these are people who make their living at repairing and servicing guitars.

If you are truly serious about wanting to learn how to do your own setups we recommend you buy a cheap used guitar and practice on that before attempting to service your own guitar. In fact some of the settings on your guitar are measured at 1/1000 of an inch and if you don’t have the tools or know how to execute these sensitive adjustments you will do more damage than good. Guitar Repair Technicians have specialized tools and deep knowledge of the mechanics of both acoustic and electric stringed instruments. Putting your guitar in the hands of a Professional Guitar Setup and Repair Technician will ensure every adjustment is executed perfectly and your instrument will likely increase not decrease in value as a result.