Y'all are a bunch of wankers!

Learning Guitar


For quite some time now, I wanted to do something extra in my life which is not computer related. And I think learning to play guitar will be a nice idea.

Unfortunately, I don't have a clue about where to start. My questions:

1. I don't know anything about music apart from the fact that I love to listen to music. Can I still learn guitar?

2. Which guitar should I start with? Bass (Electric) Guitar or Acoustic guitar? 6 string/12 string?

3. I was thinking that I will buy a second hand guitar from craigslist, should I keep any particular things in mind when buying second hand guitar?

4. How difficult it is to hear a song and start playing it on your guitar?

And finally, any recommendations for guitar tutor in NJ/NY area?

P.S.: Mark, Do you teach guitar?
Permalink JD 
March 14th, 2005
Guitar is pretty easy to learn a few chords and play the rhythm part for simple songs, but it's really hard (in my opinion) to become talented at. Buy a cheap, 20 year old electric guitar for under $100 and then download some guitar tabs. You'll be able to play dozens of great tunes within a week or two. But getting to the next level (bar chords, solos, alternate tunings etc.) requires a great deal of effort, the kind that can only be fueled by true passion.

I think piano/keyboard is probably easier to learn and play at a higher level. Maybe start with one of those Casio keyboards with the keys that light-up, or watch a few of the PBS training videos.

A lot depends on the type of music you like. If you're an AC/DC fan, you'll probably shirk the keyboards, and vice-versa if you're an Elton John/Billy Joel fan.
Permalink Elemental, like uranium 
March 14th, 2005
I don't want to learn keyboard because I would like to give my finger something else to do after using them furiously on computer keyboard! ;)

And thanks for the comment, you have give me a new hope about being able to learn Guitar! :)

Permalink JD 
March 14th, 2005
1. Yes!

2. Personal opinion? Get an old acoustic 6 string. It'll be harder on your hands, but it's good to build up hand strength, and will make the transition to electric seem like butter, should you want to do that. Plus you don't need to buy an amp! Yet.

3.aigslist, should I keep any particular things in mind when buying second hand guitar?

If it's an acoustic, I would check how far the strings are above the neck (I check at the first and twelfth frets). This distance is called action. It should be lower at the first fret, but not a whole lot higher at the twelfth. Maximum distance should be around a quarter inch, give or take? Somebody who has a guitar handy can fill you in on acceptable ranges, I'm bad recalling distances from memory. :) Too low and you'll get fret buzz. Too high, and you'll only be playing by the headstock.

Every bad acoustic I've seen has had terrible action, and been an absolute bitch to play that way. This is sometimes correctable by adjusting the truss rod, but I've never had much luck with it.

4. How difficult it is to hear a song and start playing it on your guitar?

I still can't do it, and I've been playing for ~6 years. But I don't have perfect pitch. The advent of tabs (read: sheet music for people who can't read sheet music) makes it so that just about any song you could possibly want to play has been painstakingly transcribed buy somebody on the internet with no less than 13% accuracy.

I can't play a song by ear, but I can play a tab, and find out if the guy knew what he was doing in about 30 seconds.

Someone on here with more experience than me can correct me if I'm way of base (I believe Brad Wilson and MarkTAW both play, but I might be wrong). HTH, Cheers.
Permalink Pseudo Masochist 
March 14th, 2005
BTW, sorry about the quoting, I obviously forgot to delete the original text in 4 and (part of) 3. :)
Permalink Pseudo Masochist 
March 14th, 2005

Thanks for your reply.
To be honest, I could not understand anything from your tip about buying guitar. I think I will ask someone knowledgeable to come with me while shopping for second hand guitar.

Btw, I know that Mark plays Guitar but I didn't know that Brad Wilson plays guitar as well.

Permalink JD 
March 14th, 2005
I've been playing for years (about fifteen I think). Here are my opinions:

1. Judging from myself and many others I know who play, the guitar is very easy to get started on but very difficult to master. You really don't need to know anything to get started because guitar music can be written as tablature (rather than traditional sheet music) making it very straightforward to read. Basically, this is a diagram of strings with the fret numbers of notes for a particular piece marked on them. The first time you pick up a guitar, it's possible for someone to show you some simple things that can have you instantly playing music that you recognize (though it probably won't sound too good). From there, you can go on for a lifetime learning and trying to master new things -- reading sheet music, learning theory and scales, playing by ear, improvising, rock guitar, jazz guitar, classical guitar, and on and on.

2. I'm not sure why you put "Bass (Electric) Guitar". A bass guitar is a different form of guitar than the typical six string. Bass guitars usually have four strings and are tuned an octave lower than standard guitars. When you think of guitar, you probably aren't thinking of bass guitar. As far as electric versus acoustic, I started out on electric and don't regret it at all. 99% of the music I listen to is electric so it would've made no sense to start on an acoustic and I probably would've lost interest fast. Base your decision on whatever music you want to play. If it's mostly electric, go with an electric. If it's mostly acoustic, go with an acoustic. Definitely start with a six string. Twelve string guitars are sort of a specialty guitar for getting a certain kind of sound and really not that common (relative to six string guitars).

3. Make sure it stays in tune. Nothing is more annoying than having to constantly retune. Honestly, I'd lean towards going with something new and cheap rather than something used. The build quality of low end guitars is pretty good these days and you'll probably have much better luck finding something decent new (particularly if the used guitar hasn't been taken care of).

4. Depends totally on the individual. I was able to figure out some fairly tough stuff by ear early on but I know others who aren't too good at figuring out simple stuff after years of playing. How well you do will be a combination of your natural talent level and how much work you put into this particular area (as with anything).
Permalink SomeBody 
March 14th, 2005
Get an acoustic six string, unless you immediately want to start playing in a band with other people or you really want to play heavy, distorted rock. A new one so it will have decent action (i.e. will be easy to play). Go to the store with someone who can play guitar and get the one in your price range that you think sounds best, and that person tells you plays fairly easily. Get a capo too, the black one that clips and has a metal spring on it, and an electric guitar tuner.

Then learn the seven chords every guitar player starts with.

G major
a minor
b minor
C major
D major
e minor
F major

And the four barre chords you'll use to play everything else: Major & minor on the E string and A string.

Go online and find some tabs/chord charts for your favorite songs. In my opinion, it's only by learning your favorite songs that you'll bother to continue to play, that makes it fun, and it gives you something to strive for.

If you want to learn bass, my advice is pretty much the same, except get an electric bass (a Fender Jazz is a good starting bass), a decent amp and skip the thing about the chords. Most bass players eventually learn to play guitar as well, I think bass is the more difficult of the two, despite what every guitar player who can't play bass but tells their friends to learn bass says.

Also, bass is a social instrument - it mostly exists to interact with the other instruments, while guitar can be played on it's own, or with just a voice.

I don't really teach professionally, but I'd be more than happy to give you some pointers and get you started.
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 14th, 2005
>>Honestly, I'd lean towards going with something new and cheap rather than something used.

I second that. I too have been playing since my early teens (though I only started to take it seriously last year.)

10 years ago, a low end guitar was an unpolishable turd, but these days they are perfectly good instruments. Go for a cheap strat (SX and Squire are decent). Make sure the shop sets it up for you though. El cheapos have poor setup from the factory and it will be a while before you can do a good setup yourself.

And oh, my fave guitar at the moment is a Jackson JS-1 which can be had for $150. I kid you not. Its better than the $800 ESP I was playing for 5 years. (With my old metal band Excrucia =)

Go electric. Its a lot more fun in the beginning, and fun is good. Instead of getting an amplifier, you might want to consider an amp modeler like Behringer Vamp or Line 6 POD. That will give you a wide range of sounds, and you can use headphones so you can play in the middle of the night. And again, they are fun to tinker with.
An amp more or less has to be a little loud to sound good.
Permalink Eric Debois 
March 14th, 2005
"Action" is how high the strings are from the fretboard (neck). The farther the strings are, the harder it will be to push them down.

You can adjust this with something called a "truss rod," but acoustic guitars and electric basses are notorious for not being able to be adjusted enough to be playable again.

Basically, the tension from the strings is very hard, and pulls at the neck, causing it to bow foward. A truss rod is a metal rod inserted into a curved channel in the neck. Tightening the rod causes it to push along the curve and move the neck back into place. It's a really brilliant design and was invented by Leo Fender back in the 50's.
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 14th, 2005
> Instead of getting an amplifier, you might want to consider
> an amp modeler like Behringer Vamp or Line 6 POD.

Or a pignose, so you can still play on the beach.
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 14th, 2005
Definitely find a guitar-savvy buddy to help you go shopping, don't try to buy blind out of the classifieds.

Let him know how much you want to spend before you go out. You don't want him thinking $400 while you're thinking $100.

To get good, play every day.

Good luck.
Permalink Matt Conrad 
March 14th, 2005
I also think that electric is the way to go if you're just getting your feet wet. Simply because it's a little easier on the fingers, and that's one of the things that tends to dissuade beginners.

On the other hand, a really good accoustic sounds gorgeous. I've got a 1963 Martin accoustic guitar, and the rich sound makes almost anything sound good. The action on it is kinda high, but oh, the sound.
Permalink Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea 
March 14th, 2005
Go electric. Its a lot more fun in the beginning, and fun is good. Instead of getting an amplifier, you might want to consider an amp modeler like Behringer Vamp or Line 6 POD.

I definitely agree with the modeler advice. Beginners have it great these days because, not only are inexpensive guitars much better now, but amp modelers give them the opportunity to get sounds that are similar to much more expensive (and louder) rigs. Line 6 and Behringer also make modeler amps if eventually being audible to others is important to you -- they still have headphone jacks for silent practicing. I think the amps start out in price around $80-$150 (the same price range as the extremely crappy non-modeling amps that I had to start out with).
Permalink SomeBody 
March 14th, 2005
Mark - Your posts are good. But here's a beginner and I guess he wouldn't be able to make sense of most of the things you are talking about.

JD - You can refer the following book. It's a very good book for a beginner.

How to Play Guitar : Everything You Need to Know to Play the Guitar - Roger Evans


Most guitar players resort to tab. I know a person who plays classical guitar and doesn't listen to the popular western music. He's a purist who says one should never read tab and only sheet music. Though he's taking an extreme he's got a point. Sheet music has rhythmic information that tab doesn't. The following book bridges this gap.

Rhythm: A Step by Step Guide to Understanding Rhythum for Guitar - David Mead


The good thing about this book is that you can start without a guitar. Learning the rhythm would help you to pick tunes easily. You can start trying to do simple tunes by yourself like 'Happy birthday to you..', 'Do Re..' or 'Yankee doodle'.

You should do the songs that are simpler and then go to more difficult ones even if you like the difficult song better. For example, 'Two steps behind' by Def Leppard is simpler compared to 'More than words' by Extreme.
Permalink Senthilnathan N.S. 
March 15th, 2005
"Your posts are good. But here's a beginner and I guess he wouldn't be able to make sense of most of the things you are talking about."

Probably. My second post was a clarification of an already confusing post someone else made, and I didn't really expect it to be understood. My first post was more of a "step by step" thing, and absoutely assumed he had some other method of learning, I don't magically expect him to learn what a G major chord is, but when he does get a guitar I want him to know that these are the things he needs to learn.

This is just based on observations on how people actually learn guitar. You learn the open chords and a couple of barre chords, and then start learning your favorite songs. "Jane Says" is a favorite because it's exactly 2 chords, but that maybe he's not a Janes Addiction fan.

The electric guitar/acoustic guitar debate... I guess it's a matter of personal taste. You should probably listen to the guitar players in the audience on this one. The reason I'm as good as I am on guitar (and I'm not saying I'm all that good) is because I had an acoustic lying around next to my computer and whenever I had a few minutes, I'd pick it up and strum a few chords, and I have fond memories of going to the beach or park with my friends and playing songs.

Electric guitars are more interesting to discover because of the wide range of noises you can get out of it, but it's much easier to sit around the campfire or living room playing an acoustic guitar. You can also "rock out" on an electric and play really loud (even if it is through a headphone amp), which is probably important in the early days.

I guess I view electric guitar sort of like I view bass - it's the most fun with a full band. If you're just strumming chords, learning songs and hanging out with your friends, the acoustic is always the weapon of choice. If you're on stage and want the full adrenaline rush of being in a rock band (or want to imagine that you are), the electric is probably the way to go.
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 15th, 2005

Thanks for all the responses. It has definitely helped me! :)

Though, I am now confused about whether to buy a electric guitar or a acoustic one. I want acoustic because I want to go to beach, sit alone and play some music. But as quite a few noted, elecrtic guitar makes it easy to learn and I am all for a good easy start. But then I will always need an amp and power plug to play my guitar. Is there a way we can have best of both the worlds?

Btw, what is modeler? I tried searching google for it, but results are full of links to various sites selling modeler but no site explaining what it actually is.

Permalink JD 
March 15th, 2005
What is accoustic-eletric guitar?


Permalink JD 
March 15th, 2005
Its an acoustic guitar, so it has a sound box, but its also got a pickup so you can amplify it. Original rock and roll was often on a semi-acoustic which helped to give it that sound. I think that kind of style was inherited from jazz though.
Permalink Simon Lucy 
March 15th, 2005
Amp modeler -> Digital device that can simulate how various guitar amplifiers work, and process the guitar signal accordingly. Like having a bunch of guitar amps in a little box.
Permalink Eric Debois 
March 15th, 2005
Acoustic/Electric guitars - they're so/so. You can't "rock out" on them because of the feedback - the guitar will start to resonate because of the amp, and you'll get a feedback loop and go deaf. Also, they're still acoustic guitars, so you don't get the benefit of them being easier on the fingers. The main point of acoustic/electric's is so you don't have to fiddle with a microphone near your strumming hand if you want to play to a large room.

I understand the point of electrics being easier to play, but I'd still err on the side of acoustic.

If you do get an electric, you can get, as I said, a pignose amp or a.. I think they're called mouse amps, and Fender has the Amp Can, and there's the amp in a pack of cigarettes amp and the tiny marshall amp that gets really really loud.

I was in Key West, playing guitar on the streetcorner with some guy I met and some guy came over and asked if he could jam with us. He took out one of those tiny marshalls - the thing was practically the size of an iPod, maybe two and weighed a few ounces. They have them on the counter next to the guitar tuners and capos. He turned it up real loud and started playing Smoke On The Water. I'd been on the streetcorner for a few hours, but before his song was through, the cops came by and ran us off, it was *that* loud.

Amp Modellers - Simple explanation: They're like Photoshop filters that try to emulate film grain so your digital photos will look old or classic.

Complex explanation: If you take a sound like a starter pistol or a balloon popping and run it through an amp, you know what the amp does to every frequency. The resulting file is called a "convolution" and you can now process another signal with that convolution, and get something that resembles the amp sound.
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 15th, 2005
Thanks once again for the clarification, it sure helps!

And yeah, you guys rock! :)

Permalink JD 
March 15th, 2005
Wow! a guitar topic! I'm in!

I'd suggest you get a 6 string acoustic guitar to learn. Its the simplest and most economical way. If you get an electric, you'll have to get a guitar and an amp. You'll also be spending alot of time adjusting the amp and guitar's control knobs.

Assuming you're getting an acoustic, look into one that sounds decent. Nothing fancy. I reccommend you get a guitar that holds value incase you don't like it and want to sell. With that in mind, I would recommend getting a basic solid top dreadnought guitar. Solid top means that the wood on the top of the guitar is real wood and not laminated or plywood. You should look into the Seagull S6 ... solid cedar top, sounds great, and can be found for under 300 new. If you look on ebay, these guitars hold their value well.

Assuming you were to get an electric, I would stay away from those all in one packages. They'll sound ok to you when you first play, then they'll sound worse when you get playing. Then you'll want to sell the guitar and amp, but no one wants to buy it from you unless its dirt cheap. I would reccommend looking into buying an Epiphone electric, or a mexican fender guitar. Then get a decent sized practice amp. Something with 10" speakers and versitile sound. Loud enough to sound good, but soft enough to be used at home. Look into the Vox Valvtronics. They have a 10" speaker "modelling" amp with effects for about 300.

As for practicing. Start with your basic chords as mentioned earlier. It also helps to find some easy songs that you like. Practicing songs helps you to train your strumming hand and works on the transition when you change chords with your other hand. Songs like Good Riddance by Green Day or WonderWall by Oasis is a good place to start.

Have fun playing!
Permalink Joseph 
March 15th, 2005
Amp Moddeler explaination:

Its an amp that emulates the sound of other amps. There are alot of famous amps, mostly old tube amps (vintage amps that use vaccum tubes as trasistors), that are highly regarded for their great sound. Amps range from great clean sounding amp to loud crunchy sounding amps. An amp modeler tries to digitally reproduce the sounds of these amps in one package.
Permalink Joseph 
March 15th, 2005
What kinds of music do you want to play? That might give us a better idea of whether you should go with acoustic or electric.
Permalink SomeBody 
March 15th, 2005
If you get a quality acoustic it is not that much tougher on your digits. I really recommend seagull guitars:


There are hand-made, have a solid top, and a nice wide neck.  The "entry level" model is about $279.00 US.  You just cn't beat it. I have a couple of seagulls and a couple of martins. One aspect of a guitar hat is bing overlooked here is the sound. Seagulls just sound gorgeous and play easy. If an instrument is easy to play and sounds good you will be more apt to progress quicker.

Also, do yourself a huge favor and spend the extra 30 buck for an electronic tuner. It is mandatory.
Permalink Woodie 
March 17th, 2005

This topic was orginally posted to the off-topic forum of the
Joel on Software discussion board.

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