Friday, January 10, 2014

CLASSICAL GAS?  Our good friend Adam C. wants to know:
I am 43 and interested in learning guitar.  Not particularly well, and not particularly expensively.  I have no known musical aptitude other than singing along respectably in the car and the ability to play some harmonica without causing others to flee.  I have never taken instrument lessons of any kind and haven't read music since middle school music class.  Essentially, I am interested (a) in training my brain to do something new, (b) playing along at a reasonable level with my kids, who do seem to have some musical aptitude (clarinet and drums/vocals, respectively), and (c) learning to play some of my favorite rock songs just for funsies. I do not aspire to membership in a band, weekend busking, a recording contract, session gigs, collecting a variety of cool axes, or other things that well-trained and talented guitar players might aspire to.

So I'd be very appreciative of any advice any of you guitar heroes can throw my way.  Should I start with acoustic, electric, or acoustic/electric?  Whatever I should start with, what make/model/accessories do you recommend for the beginner? Should I take lessons (live or online) or try to teach myself?  What is a humbucker pickup and should I want it?  You get the idea.  Thanks in advance for your wisdom.


  1. Becca2:56 PM

    I've never studied guitar, but I have taken drum, piano, violin, trombone and voice lessons, and I was in band for 10 years, so take this with a grain of salt, but I'd say start by taking lessons from someone, and tell them the same thing. You can learn proper technique that way, and probably get some good tips for the future (where to buy music, maybe groups who meet regularly, online resources, all that kind of stuff). It's so much easier to learn something from someone who knows rather than fumbling and guessing. If you take lessons from a music store, sometimes they will even let you rent an instrument for the duration of your lessons, and you can try different ones until you find the one that works for you. Have fun!

  2. Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar! (

  3. Scott_DC5:38 PM

    I love this question. I am a lapsed guitar player. I took lessons when I was in middle school in order to impress a girl, and I know just enough chords to be frustrated when a song contains those I don't know. Don't underestimate the importance of a few in-person lessons with an instructor who will teach you proper hand/finger/body positioning, because while you can learn to strum and read tabs via DVD/YouTube/etc., if you are holding the guitar wrong, you will give it up quickly because it will hurt and becoming annoying. I bought a guitar a couple years ago (I'm now 34) to try to "take it up again" -- I virtually never play it, but when I started back up, I was amazed by how effective the new learning tools are, such as iPad apps that can show you the music, photos/videos of the finger placement, and sync with music and video. So, you should take a few lessons with a human, then supplement or replace with a computer, IMHO. Oh, and start with an acoustic -- they are MUCH easier to learn on. You can get one that will plug into an amp if you decide you need to dial it up. Here's a good one:

  4. The Pathetic Earthling6:40 PM

    This post had me thinking about one of these:

  5. Adam C.7:18 PM

    Thanks for the suggestions, Becca!

  6. Adam C.7:20 PM

    Thanks - this is great!

  7. I started teaching myself guitar a few years back. Actually was progressing fairly well, but got off track with changing jobs/moving cities/meeting now-husband.

    I used an acoustic guitar, which seems to be the standard for learning guitar.

  8. gretchen11:34 PM

    I have a fairly strong musical background in piano, but was totally unsuccessful teaching myself to play guitar when I tried. I would definitely spring for lessons at first, both for technique and for accountability.

  9. Benner1:20 PM

    I'd recommend an Epiphone dot (semi hollow electric) or steel string acoustic. Don't worry about pickup settings for now unless you have a very particular sound in mind ( a humbucker is a double coil, which cancels electric hum - the resulting sound is "fatter."). In my opinion, how the guitar feels in your hands is the most important. Electric means buying an amp, and that means twice the expense roughly, but they are easier to play and you get to rock. You don't need accessories other than a pick, capo if you want to sing along, and you can get tuner apps on your phone. I like to use a slide, but that means learning open turnings, so I'd hold off.

    Agree on lessons. I never took any specifically, but I'd have been hopeless without a music theory background.

  10. bill.1:23 PM

    I tried this off and on for a few years and it's extremely difficult. Tried self-teaching, tried about 6 months of lessons with an excellent teacher, and I sucked. Now the guitar sits in the corner collecting dust and mocking me. I'm thinking about trying again; maybe just pick one song and brute force learn it. (But if anyone in Atlanta wants to make an offer on a beautiful Ibanez Artwood (AW120-RDV) with a deep resonant sound...drop me a line.)

    My biggest problem is basically having no flexibility in my left hand, making it extremely hard ( and sometimes painful) to form chords. Then trying to change from one chord to another was laughable. I've kicked around the idea of of flipping the guitar and restringing it and trying fingering with my right hand. Hopefully your fingers aren't as gnarled as mine apparently are, but this was a lot harder than I expected.

    Good luck.

  11. bill.1:53 PM

    I've also thought about restringing as a 3 string and getting a slide, like Seasick Steve, here.

    Though if I had time for weekly lessons I probably trade in the guitar and take up the double bass.

  12. Adam C.8:55 PM

    Just wanted to thank everyone again for their ideas and encouragement. Got swamped at work this week and couldn't reply in real time, but I appreciate all the advice!

  13. Sorry, it's been a busy weekend. Here are my two cents.

    If you want to learn solos, you're looking at an electric guitar and an amp. However, if you want the kind of skill you can pull out during the after-dinner drinks part of a dinner party, you should grab an acoustic. Just in case you turn out to be awesome, I recommend thinking ahead and getting one with a pickup, and with an onboard tuner if you can.

    Since moving to NYC, I've twice picked up acoustic guitars with onboard tuners and pickups for under $250 at Sam Ash. Bring somebody who can play already with you when you shop, let them whack away at whatever model you're looking at (Washburn and Fender are both worthwhile options for this kind of purchase) to see how the action is and how well it stays in tune. Then, if you're at a Sam Ash, tell them you'd like the floor model if possible, narrow down the margin of error in case other guitars of the same model don't feel the same.

    Then go get yourself a fake book. "The Ultimate Fake Book" line is a good one. It shows you the chords (with charts) to a lot of popular songs, as well as the melodies if you want to pick them out. That's how I learned to play.

  14. Adam C.7:04 PM

    Thanks, Paul!

  15. Absolutely the right decision.