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My Top 5 Tips for Guitarists

I‘ve been a gigging guitarist for over 20 years, and I’ve made all the mistakes you can possibly make. If you’re new to the guitar, or even if you’ve been playing a while, here’s my top 5 tips for getting the most out of being an axe slinger.

1. Get your guitar properly set up

Do not underestimate the power of a good set up. I fully believe that it is practically impossible to buy a “bad guitar” nowadays – products from Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan and China easily compete with the established American brands, some of whom (naming no names) are frankly coasting on their name value and have been for decades.

Whatever your guitar is, and no matter what it cost, spend the £50 or so for a proper professional setup. I’ve built my own guitars from scratch, and I know how to set neck pitch, intonation, adjust a truss rod and shim a neck – but I know I can’t do it as well as my trusted local guitar tech (shout out to Phil and Lloyd at MOR Music in York at this point).

Trust me – it will make your guitar easier to play, nicer to listen to and a joy forever.

2. Use strap locks

Personally, I use Schaller straplocks and always have. Why? Because, like many of you I had that sickening moment at an early gig when my pride and joy hit the deck, ruining the song, the set but thankfully not the instrument in this case.

Let’s face it, even if you’re a Kurt Cobain-type and don’t care about the welfare of your instrument, scrabbling around on the dark stage trying to reattach your strap in the middle of ‘Freebird’ will only bring you the contempt of your bandmates.

They’re not expensive, and they’re easy to fit. Get on it.

3. Loop your cable through your strap

So simple, you’d think everyone would do it. But they don’t. Put your cable round behind the strap button at the heel of your guitar – this makes it very difficult for you to tread on your cable (because it effectively goes behind your body) and if you do, the lead isn’t pulled out of your jack socket.

I remember watching a live video of the band Poison (don’t hate – it was probably the 80’s) and their guitarist CC DeVille pulled his own cable out. It was quite hilarious, but he was probably on enough drugs not to care – you most likely won’t be.

4. Don’t buy cheap cables

For the love of all that is holy, do not buy shitty cheap cables. I used to compere a lot of ‘Battle of the Bands’ competitions that featured eager young bands, and every week without fail, some young Herbert would look round at me, stood stageside, with a look of great loss as his guitar cut out completely until he ‘waggled the lead a bit’.

This goes for patch cables too – that £1.99 special is going to take down your entire rig. Think about it.

If you buy decent gear, especially items like leads that are in constant motion and stress, it will last you. For example, I use George L’s cabling exclusively. Very expensive, yes – but I’ve used the same two guitar leads for the past 15 years. I kid you not.

5. Get guitar lessons – but not too many

I had my first guitar lesson at the age of 36 – by which time I’d been playing about 22 years. At this point, through sheer practice alone, I was quite good. In just a few short hours, a very talented man showed me a few new concepts and my playing jumped about 10 levels.

So, no matter where you are on your journey – get some good basics down. You can always go back, and they’ll always be useful – and yes you do need to know some theory. Blues scales and pentatonics will get you so far, but you won’t be able to explore the instrument or find your own voice until you get some deeper knowledge. If you’re a real student of the instrument this should excite you.

There is one caveat though – if you’re just starting out, get enough lessons so you have plenty to work on, then practice by yourself. I’ve known people who have had years and years of guitar lessons, and they end up sounding just like their guitar teacher. You need to get your own thing going on – remember, it’s an art form.

So there you have it. Simple ways to make your guitaring easier and less stressful. Have I missed anything?


  • Lara July 24, 2013

    This is great. I’m guilty of buying cheap leads and have probably already spent what you spent on the George Ls. And why don’t I do number three? I’m so embarrassed.

    Have you got a clever way of marking which expensive leads are yours at gigs? “Mine are the ones with the bits of masking tape on them” doesn’t sound cool and isn’t a winning argument .

    • Alexander July 24, 2013

      Hi Lara!

      Well, it’s easier for me because all but one of my cables are attached to my pedalboard, and run to my amp like a multicore using some plastic wrap stuff.

      Plus, not many people use George L’s anyway so there’s rarely more than one on stage at any one time.

      Other than that, I’d suggest getting some plastic tags for each end and stick your name on, or even some white electrical tape and a permanent marker.


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