They Have A Guitar, What Can I Get Them?

There is plenty of stuff for guitarists to spend their money on. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if guitar players were the most marketed audience among musicians.

Maybe you know someone that just picked up the guitar, has shown a lot of potential and commitment, and you'd like to feed the dream a little with a well-targeted gift for the holidays. Here are some ideas to feed the dream.


Pedals are basically little electronic boxes that you can plug in between your guitar and amp and can give you different sounds like distortion, overdrive, echo or delay, reverb, modulation effects, and so on and so forth. Have they been learning Enter Sandman but their amplifier doesn't quite deliver the metal badassery that the song calls for? You probably need a distortion pedal.

A description of the popular sounds is a little beyond the scope of this article, but there are two types of pedals: a dedicated pedal and a multi-effects pedal.

A dedicated pedal will do one sound very well and offer a little variation on that one sound. A multi effects pedal will offer many sounds but might not deliver them as perfectly as a dedicated pedal. A dedicated pedal might cost anywhere between $30-300 for one or two good sounds whereas a multi-effects pedal might cost $100-500 for 10 or 20 good sounds and a lot more flexibility.

For someone just beginning to get their toes wet, I would recommend a multi-effects pedal. Then once they find the sounds they use the most, they can collect the necessary dedicated pedals.

Boss Metal Zone (popular distortion)

Boss DD-3 Delay

Boss Tremolo (popular modulation effect)

Digitech RP55 Multi Effects Pedal (entry level)

Line 6 M9 Multi Effects Pedal (more advanced)


A pedal wouldn't be too practical for someone that only has an acoustic guitar, but a capo would be practical for both acoustic and electric. A capo is basically a metal bar with a pad on it that acts like an extra finger so that a player can move their open chords to other keys.

Capos can be very useful when you want to change the key of a song but not learn any new chord shapes. I'd say this is a must-have for players who learn songs to sing and play them, rather than just straight ahead guitar playing and no singing.

Shubb Guitar Capo-- the one I recommend most


Some of my favorite guitar publications are Premier Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player, and Guitar Aficionado. It's a great way to broaden one's exposure to new music, products, trends, artist interviews, gear discussion and analysis, and music lessons.

Guitar World

Premier Guitar

Guitar Player

Guitar Aficionado

Picks And Strings

A guitar player can never have too many picks or strings. Sometimes though, these things come with very personal player preferences. Make sure you check in or do some detective work before you spend money.

My go to source for guitar strings and picks

Tools I Use For Guitar Domination

Fair Use Clause, Copyright Act of 1976

"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include— 

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

I'm not a lawyer, but this law gives you very generous flexibility if you learn from it and teach with it, with material that might otherwise be prohibited from copying. Use it wisely and respectfully.

YouTube Player Settings

This one is pretty easy and right under your nose. Anytime you watch a video, click on the little gear in the lower right corner. You can change the speed of the video right there in the player. It's a nice quick fix if you just need to slow a guitar part down but don't want to go through a bunch of steps to go to a youtube converter, download the file, download an audio program like Audacity, and slow down the file. The only drawback is that you're limited to half speed or quarter speed. If you want smaller increments, use a player like Audacity. Watching a long video? You can also speed it up to 1.25 speed and save yourself a couple minutes.

YouTube period.

YouTube has gotten to the point where all of the old vhs instructional videos have been uploaded to the platform already-- I'm talking about all the old REH and Hotlicks instructionals that are worth their weight in gold. Some of the VHS copies are so obscure they're out of print and/or selling for enormous amounts on ebay and amazon. And, there are lots of great players out there who have transcribed or covered many of your favorite solos and licks. Just go look!


Audacity is a totally free open-source audio program for Mac or PC that will slow down music, or change the pitch, or loop a section, or all 3 at the same time. It's really one of my favorite practice tools. Got a fast guitar part you want to learn? Audacity. Want to learn a baritone guitar part but you only have a normal guitar and you don't want the floppiness of the strings? Audacity. Want to practice that fast baritone guitar part a thousand times without taking your hands off the instrument? Audacity.

Here is a great tool for slowing down all those shreddy guitar licks and solos.

Band In A Box

I've really only scratched the surface of Band In A Box since I got it but here it is in a nutshell: It's like having a team of world-class musicians at your beck and call, 24/7, they don't mind if you take all the solos, they won't complain, and they won't get tired or steal your beer.

I think it's a great tool for learning how to improvise: plug in whatever chords you feel like, choose whatever style you want, and go. Learn a new scale and you need to put the time into getting to know it? Put it in BIAB. Need to polish up on your [insert name of super obscure style] licks before you sub for that one band? Put it in BIAB.

The best tool for learning improvisation for any instrument, not just guitar.


VLC is a great video player that will play just about any format, so you can spend less time researching video players and spend more time watching your old guitar video files. It's very versatile and has a wide array of playback speed options too for when you want to transcribe all of those old Guthrie Govan bluesjamtrack videos.

Slow down all those videos by Joe Schmoe YouTuber who is just unbelievably talented on the guitar.

I know, I might catch some flak for mentioning this. The truth is, there is just more amazing material popping up on YouTube than the publishing companies can keep up with. And in order to learn it, you gotta slow it down and practice it. There is just too much amazing information out there and at our fingertips to say no. This is a great resource for converting youtube videos to files you can download.

Download all those videos by Joe Schmoe YouTuber so you can figure out all his guitar parts.

Intro to Open Tunings

In order to understand this post, you need to understand standard tunings and drop tunings.

What is an open tuning?

An open tuning is called 'open' because when you strum all of the open strings, they make a chord together. Open D tuning, for example, makes a D major chord (DADF#AD). Open G tuning is tuned to a G chord (DGDGBD). Open E is like open D but one step higher. Drop tunings are not open tunings, they're basically half open and half standard.

When does one use an open tuning?

Technically you can use open tunings any time you want to, and I encourage you to because it will take you out of your comfort zone and force you to try new things in new ways.

On average however, open tunings are used a lot in slide guitar playing. Open tunings are very friendly to the across-the-neck nature that a slide necessitates. Anywhere you place the slide along the guitar neck, you can play a chord with one finger, and simply move one or two frets above or below to play notes in between the chord tones.

Who uses open tunings?

In order to learn the nuances of different tunings, I recommend two things: Experimenting for yourself and also studying the masters. Here are a few famous slide guitar players and what they used. Learn their licks and use it in your own playing.

Duane Allman, Sonny Landreth & Derek Trucks- Open E

Elmore James- Open D

Keith Richards- Open G

Johnny Winter- Open G, D, and A



A Simple Explanation of Drop D Tuning

There are a lot of cool practical things about the guitar. For example: it's portable, any chord or scale shape you learn is moveable, and you can also change the tuning on the fly.

One of the most common alternate tunings is Drop D tuning, but before we talk about that, we need to understand standard tuning.

Standard tuning is, from lowest sounding to highest sounding string, spelled E-A-D-G-B-E. 

In order to get your guitar in Drop D tuning, you need to drop your lowest string (E(The 6th string)) down a step to D. That's all. Then the notes from lowest to highest will be D-A-D-G-B-E.

There are a couple ways to do this. One, you can use a tuner but make sure it's a chromatic tuner. If you don't have a tuner, you can tune the 6th string 7th fret to the same pitch as the open A string, then you will be in Drop D tuning. Or, tune the harmonic on the 12th fret of the 6th string to the same note as the open D string (an octave higher.)

The most common reason to tune to Drop D tuning is to enable power chords to be played with one finger. That's why you'll see a lot of heavier bands using the tuning.

Just as common as Drop D tuning is to tune everything lower by the same amount to get tunings like Drop C#, Drop C, or even Drop B. For example, Drop C# is Drop D with everything lowered by a half step. Drop C is Drop D with everything a whole step lower, and so on and so forth.

The only drawback to tuning everything lower is that it changes the tension on your strings. Try it! Once you start getting into Drop C# territory or lower, your strings start to get really floppy and will have more trouble holding their pitch. But it sounds so badass with the right gear!

Here is a quick and simple video to help you understand:

If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to like or share! Or just visit me in Shoreview MN :)

Thanks for reading & watching


Strings for Beginners

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: guitar string brands don't matter as much as string materials, construction, and size. 

I know, "but the guy at Guitar Center said..."

What Are They Made Of?

It depends on what guitar you have, and what string you're talking about. For example, acoustic strings are different than electric strings. E, A, and D strings are going to be different than the G, B, and E strings on an electric. On an acoustic, the B and high E strings are different than the rest.

There are wound strings and plain strings on a guitar. On an acoustic, the G is wound. On an electric, the G is plain (not wound). The E, A, and D strings are always wound. A wound string consists of a steel core with another smaller steel wire wrapped around it. The outer steel wire is usually plated with nickel on an electric, and bronze alloy on an acoustic.

Plain strings are just a steel wire with plating on it-- usually nickel for an electric and bronze for an acoustic. Plain strings are easier to bend than wound strings which is why the G is usually plain on an electric.

Sometimes strings are 'coated'. The composition of the coating depends on the manufacturer, but generally it is a variation on a polymer or plastic. This coating helps to keep the dirt and grime of of your strings, and lets them last longer. Usually coated strings are more expensive than uncoated strings.

How Do I Know When To Change Strings?

Pay attention when your strings are new because the aging process happens so slowly you might not even notice. When strings are old, they lose their shine, can become somewhat sticky, and sound a little less bright and jangly than they did when they were new. You probably won't notice a huge difference until you put new ones on.

The amount of time needed between string changes varies with the individual. It really depends on your body type (and indirectly with things like diet, fitness, composition, etc.). If your skin is acidic and oily, you will go through strings quicker. If you are dry, fit and consistently clean-handed, your strings will last a long time. It could be a matter of weeks or months. If you are a nashville player, you might change strings as frequently as every couple of hours.

How Can I Take Care of My Strings?

There are a couple of things you can do to maintain your strings so they last as long as possible. Most importantly, wash your hands before you play and wipe down the strings with a clean polishing cloth after you play. There are also string conditioner compounds that will help fight dirt, grime, Minnesota elements, and string-to-finger friction. Also, keep your guitar covered when not in use so that dust doesn't settle on it, and take care of your own body too. If you're desperate, you can boil your strings like Eddie Van Halen to make them last longer.

How Do I Know What Is Best For Me?

Like a lot of guitar products, the best way to know is to play it and/or experience it. The marketers want you to believe that all you have to do is buy the product your guitar idols use, but that's a stretch. Make a note of the players you like and what they're using, but don't forget to try it for yourself and put it through a somewhat organized evaluation process. For the best idea, record yourself to audio or video and review it, and also check out the documentation of other guitar players on places like YouTube or more independent record labels. 

Tired of the guitar store not carrying your favorite brand? This is my go-to website for buying that special set of guitar strings, especially in bulk.


Internet Tabs vs. Published Materials

Just about everyone that plays guitar in the modern era and has sought to learn something, or turned to the internet to get their musical fix, has come across guitar tabs. Nearly everyone who has encountered this internet phenomenon has probably been frustrated with the vast variation in quality that this format provides.

What Are Tabs?

Tablature, or 'tabs' for short, is a very straightforward and basic way of writing out guitar music. Basically it consists of six lines each representing a string on the guitar, and numbers representing the fret number of what is supposed to be played. The lowest line in the group of six is the lowest sounding string, and the highest in the group is the highest sounding. One simply reads them from left to right, like words on a page, and plays them in that order.

What is needed to make tabs?

On a computer, all that is needed is a simple word processing program like wordpad or notepad, and a little bit of familiarity with the program in order to place the notes where they need to be. Need an example? Just google your favorite song and append 'tabs' to the end of the query.

Pluses and Minuses

There are pros and cons for guitar tabs. In the most common formats, it's pretty hard to know by looking at the paper what the song is going to sound like if you haven't heard the song before. So in most cases you should have a recording of the song handy so you can follow along and play it like you hear it.

The other drawback with guitar tabs is that there is hardly any sort of regulations or checks and balances to filter out inaccurate tabs. Anybody can publish a guitar tab. So it's critical that you have some sort of experience with guitar in order to know what is worth paying attention to and what isn't.

On the other hand, since it's so easy to publish a tab on the internet, they can also be available much quicker than alternatives like published materials (books, magazines). Did your favorite band just release a new album? Chances are you can probably already find tabs for their songs online.

Published Materials (Books & Magazines)

Conversely, there are many more filters and checks and balances in the publishing industry to make sure that the transcriptions you're getting are accurate and educational. Think about it: If you are a major publisher, you have a reputation to uphold and it is in your best interest to make sure that your publications are accurate, thorough, and complete. Often times many of the transcribers have a wealth of education, experience, and insight into playing that allows them to make well educated decisions in the transcription process.

Most publications also provide rhythm notation with the tablature as well. This is good because if you know how to read music, rhythm notation will give you a good idea, if not exact, of how the music will sound. Even if you haven't heard the music before.

The Bottom Line

I know how to read music, but my personal favorite notation to teach with is tablature with rhythm stems attached to it-- it's most accessible and also has the most information in the format. One can tell what the song sounds like without hearing the recording, and it's presented in a straightforward way that is easy to learn.


Like what you read? Please share it with someone who needs it! It would mean the world to me. Just copy and paste the URL into your favorite platform. Better yet, come visit me at my teaching studio in Shoreview!

The Best Way to Improve Your Sound

So you bought an entry level instrument for your beginner and they've been taking lessons for awhile, they've learned how to take care of it, they've gotten used to the dimensions of the instrument and stopped bumping it on everything around them. You want to upgrade their sound without spending a fortune and buying another all-out guitar.

Practice First

First, the best way to improve your sound is to practice. Much of a player's sound is in their fingers and how they use them. Eric Clapton will sound like Eric whether he's plugged into a $100 Squier or his one-off ~custom~ custom shop Strat (yes, I said it twice). There are countless stories of stars who reached the dressing room, found a cheap piece of junk to warm up on, and made it sound like a million bucks.

Did you practice?

The second best way to upgrade your sound without spending a fortune is to upgrade your pickups. Pickups are the electronic, magnet-containing gizmos under your strings that pick up the vibrations and send it through your controls to the amplifier. There are thousands of pickups out there and they all can sound slightly different than each other, even the same model by the same company.

Tone Detective

The way to approach a pickup decision is to reverse engineer it and do your homework-- find a sound you like, experiment with the products they use, and find your own sound. Be careful though-- every pickup company wants you to look at their endorsers and choose your pickups from there. That's a good start but not the best way. Those pros have thousands of dollars and hours invested, and hired more pros just for their sound. So take that information with a grain of salt, and then go to youtube and find regular, run of the mill average Joes that have made videos of them using the product. Their sounds are going to be closest to what you can get, so make your decision from there.

Tweak It

When you find the stuff you like, have a pro install them-- it's well worth the money to have it done right. It might take some experimentation to find the combination you like, but the YouTube approach will get you in the ballpark. With the prices for mid-level instruments these days, it's a valuable alternative.

Email us if you're in the Minneapolis & St. Paul area and you're looking for a reputable repair man, we know the best.

First Instruments For Beginners

So your child just told you he wants to learn guitar. He's always sung along to the radio in the car and you think he's pretty musical so you decide to surprise him for christmas. Your buddies at work all recommend acoustic guitars for beginners (they're more quiet) and Martins and Taylors are the best, so that's what you get him. After all, you want the best for your kid, right?

Good intentions, but not necessarily good choices.

Everybody Loves Music

Just because your kid sings in the car or bangs on the kitchen pots and pans doesn't mean you should buy him a big name guitar and lessons-- lots of kids do these things. Making noise and singing at the top of your lungs is a primal instinct for many children. I recommend enrolling your kid in an early education music class as a musical litmus test of sorts. These classes have lots of musical games and activities, and there is also a social element in the group setting.

Electric For Starters

One of the biggest hurdles when you're first learning guitar is simply the physical task of getting your fingers to do what you want them to. Electric guitars use lighter strings and usually have lower action (string height) so they will be easier on the fingers. They also won't hurt as much while a beginner is getting callouses. 

Many parents associate acoustic guitars with lower volume, but they don't know or realize that an unplugged electric is more quiet than an acoustic.

An electric guitar is also more durable than an acoustic. Young students bang their guitars on everything. They're just not used to the dimensions and balance of a guitar, nor do they realize that a wooden guitar responds to simple environmental changes like temperature and moisture in the air. No joke, these Minnesota winters are harsh on my St. Paul guitars, even the loaner guitar I keep in my teaching studio. So buy them a good student instrument while they learn how to take care of it, and get them the Martin later. It'll give them something to work toward.

Too Cheap

I've received lots of inquiries from potential students before they had an instrument, and they usually want to know how much to expect to pay for an instrument. My ballpark figure is $200-$500, anything less is a toy and not an instrument, and anything more is a liability in the hands of a beginner. Some people are shocked when they hear these figures, but really it's no big deal compared to other instrument prices. Don't believe me? Check out the prices on violins and saxophones.

Buy Used

If you feel savvy enough, you can get a better instrument for a better price and overall better value if you buy used. In general, shops that sell used gear feature 'pre-approved' stuff on their shelves. They're not going to take in junk if they can't get rid of it. Ebay also has great deals but you have to be more savvy to not get ripped off.

Moral of the Story

Don't buy them the Martin or Taylor yet. A high end instrument might sound better and be made better but it could be discouraging to a beginner when it reveals the flaws in their technique. Save that for later and teach them dedication and work ethic in the meantime.

For the dollar, this is a very good value pack for beginning guitar players. I've seen many new students learn successfully on these guitars and still have a decent guitar when all is said and done. It will include everything you need to get started, except a guitar teacher :) If you you're looking for a cheaper price...let's get real: this is a cheap price.