Wednesday 29 January 2020


Are electric guitars much different to acoustic guitars?  
Not completely different. You can still play all types of music on an electric guitar. Electric guitars were invented so that they could be louder through amplification.
Early electric guitars were just acoustic guitars with a magnetic pickup stuck on.
As the body was an echo chamber and amplifier itself, making it louder became problematic as the amped noise would travel back to the guitar, bounce around the body and back through the pickup to create a screeching "feedback loop".
As they evolved, it became obvious that solid body guitars (no cavity & no soundhole) gave great feedback-free results at high volume. (around late 1930s) They really suit loud music.

The slimmed down electric guitar body suits many people who don’t like lurching over a jumbo sized acoustic guitar.

They are made to be amplified, so strings can be thinner as they don’t need to be acoustically loud. Thinner strings are easier to push down onto the fretboard. Lots of people like that.
Thinner strings  reduce the need for a thick neck to hold back the pressure of 6 steel strings.
Thin necks can be a joy to play, especially for people with smaller hands.

The difference between an electric and an acoustic is also about the sound. Without a large cavity in the body, and a body made of thin woods to vibrate in resonance with the thicker strings, the character of the electric sound is very different.

There are also electric guitars in a group we could call "electric-acoustic" which have hollow bodies but generally electric pick-ups.  The hollow body can cause the guitar to feedback at relatively low volume so this type of guitar is obviously not suited to loud playing. A good one might be loud enough you don't really need to plug in to enjoy playing it.
Many aren't particularly good at sounding like a typical acoustic with not much body for a sound.
When plugged in they feed back at higher volume so are not always good at being electric.
Why are they still popular? A lot of great music has been made with them and people like the tone produced. Many just look great too with arched tops and curved backs. 
Jazz players particularly like them but they can be versatile guitars with the main limit being volume level and use of heavy distortion which tends to create feedback problems too.

My wish is to have the best authentic acoustic sound with the easy to play advantages of a thin electric style body, thin neck and thin strings.
No-one has created such an instrument but hybrid acoustic/electric guitars with acoustic pick-ups, chambered bodies, thin necks and several different pick-up types (Like Godin Multiac) are extremely close to providing a versatile acoustic guitar that is also a good electric guitar. They are not a cheap budget line thing but the direction of this product is nearly perfect and about as good as it could get.

Acoustic guitars have a wider dynamic range and fuller overall tone.That is influenced by having chambers to amplify the sound and additionally the generally thicker strings.
Acoustic guitars with pick-ups usually use a piezo pickup which behaves more like a microphone.
Some have a piezo and a microphone as well so that the sound is as real acoustic as possible.

New technology has come up with the "modelling guitar" and "modeled guitar sound libraries".
Companies like "Line 6"  and "Roland"  have used modeled guitar sounds in the Roland guitar synthesizers, and the Line 6 Variax guitar.
Roland require an outboard box that carries the sound libraries of famous guitar sounds and you play your guitar but the sound is that from the library. It is very effective.
Line 6 went a different route and built the sound library and extra switching into the guitar itself.
It is surprisingly effective too.
There are plenty of examples of recorded music where an acoustic guitar sound or electric sound has been used that was chosen from sampled recordings (modeled guitar sounds), not a genuine played by hand, live acoustic or electric guitar sound. It would be difficult for most people to recognize this difference, especially in the context of other musical backgrounds.

But for me, they are not always effective substitutes.
I love acoustic guitar and the genuine subtleties of an instrument played by hand, but I need  an electric guitar as well for it’s part of a guitarist’s complete toolbox..

Electric guitar’s better at:

  • Speedy styles
  • Effortless chording
  • Easy bending
  • Teaming up with effectors for almost limitless sounds: distortion, flanging, reverb, delay,chorus,octave etc. 
  • Avoiding feedback, particularly at high volumes & using dirty sounds.
  • Live music home recording for the singer-player. When you don’t want your guitar sound mixed up with your vocal, the almost inaudible sound of an unamped electric won’t creep into your mic. Monitor through headphones.

Here’s some things you should know about your electric guitar:
The thin strings on most electric guitars are much closer to the fret-board than on most acoustic guitars. If you have been playing acoustic guitar, you may need to adjust your style so that you are not heavy-handed with the electric. If you are, the strings slap, buzz and vibrate against the frets.
Leads are from around cheap & nasty $6 to $30 for an average quality. Special quality with gold tips, better insulation, hot switch guitar cables with magnetic attachment (that is don't turn down your amp, unplug and switch guitar without pops and noise) etc. can cost hundreds. You must avoid treading on them. When removing them from sockets pull from the head of the lead - never the cable. I have a whole box of useless leads  so you can't be too careful with them. There is a correct way to roll them up so there are no kinks, knots or twisted cable. They last much longer if you are careful.
When playing, hook the lead under the guitar strap so there is no weight on the connection points. You’ll have less trouble with failed connections and are less likely to rip the connections out accidentally.
Not all leads are the same. Guitar cable is typically unbalanced (mono) cable which is the source of a lot of noise. The cable has 2 wires in it.
Speaker cable is different though sometimes appears with the same connectors. It has to carry high power signals not the tiny signals produced by electric guitars.
Some cable that looks like guitar cable is called TRS cable and it has 3 wires. 2 of the wires carry the same signal but out of phase. When the signals get to their destination, any difference in the signals is understood to be noise and is eliminated.  TRS cables are used for microphones and studio monitor speakers but won't work to reduce noise for an electric guitar because the guitar doesn't have a balanced signal output.

There are mechanical elements to the connection points that can come lose or break. Tighten loose nuts or the fitting may well drop out. This happens pretty regularly for the plug in point on your guitar.
Electrical components can also corrode. Any rust or corrosion in a circuit can stop it functioning cleanly and also add unwanted noise.
There are sprays to clean circuits. If you live in humid and salty environments you'll will need to spend more time maintaining the instrument.
Different pick-ups types are available. Single coil pick-ups were an early invention and though loved can be quite noisy with the long coils of wire in a pick up acting like a radio aerial.
Humbucker pick-ups were invented to reduce noise. Gibson are one of the main companies using this style of pick-up. 
A later variation is the active pick-up. It is rare in electric guitars but the pickup has a battery pre-amplifier which reduces the need for long coils of wire in the pick-up so they are relatively noise free.

An electric guitar has to have something to make it louder.
Guitar amps are specialized in this field and there are too many choices. A major distinction that bothers or attracts some people is that "old school" style uses valves in the circuit. The plus is a warm vintage sound. The negative is valves need to be replaced here and there.
Some offer a valve preamp and can potentially give you anything else any other modern amp has.
Many modern amps do quite well without valves, using only modern circuits. Many of these have huge multi-fx options which can be stored and arranged as favourites compared to the original old traditional amps which have few options.

These days there are easy alternatives such as plugging straight into the band's mixer, usually first going  through a foot pedal so the guitarist gets a whole range of different sounds with the press of a pedal and a built in tuner.
Most pedal boards also have headphone sockets for quiet private practice.
Some double up to become a recording interface to the computer.

Too many choices but for a live performance you always need some kind of amp with speakers.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

GALLERY Music Song Books from

Some people think I don't work but just because a lot of my labour is as yet unpaid doesn't mean it isn't work. It has been a  huge effort to learn and take time to make readable and playable scores of my songs and tunes. It's work, but I love it.
Recording and releasing these songs is part of the plan.

preview Blueseum songbook, a bunch of songs inspired by blues tunes.
In A While

13 original songs, lyrics, chords, lead line score and tab.

13 more original songs, lyrics, chords, lead line score and tab.

13 more original blues songs, lyrics, chords, lead line score and tab.

preview Book 2
Call Me Whatever (but call me tonight)
preview guitar solo instrumental
Francisco's Honour, inspired by Francisco Tarrega.

A bunch of new original tunes for solo guitar in score and tab.
The beautiful guitar pictured here is in the British Museum in London.

GALLERY: Teaching Books by Steve Zirkler

Duets contain chords where possible, student part
and partner part from near-beginner level reading. 
One of a series of 3 books aimed at the non-reader to present broad ideas
through pictures, charts and tabs. From near-beginner to advancing.
A book full of banjo tunes with lyrics in score, with tab and chords.
A book full of ukulele tunes with lyrics in score, with tab and chords.
The sort of overview for keyboard that I wish I had read when I first started.
Chords and basic reading as well as understanding
some of the useful features of keyboards.

A book of tunes to play in tab & score with accompaniment chords.
 Handy charts help get the best out of this much
more versatile instrument than most people think.
A book full of mandolin tunes with lyrics in score, tab and chords.

Some handy reference charts and tab paper.
Recorder tunes with accompaniment chords so music
making in large groups is more doable.
An achievement check-list for each tune.
Scripts and ideas to put music in your show.

GUITAR PICKS take your pick

GUITAR PICKS take your pick

Using a pick (or not) is a choice.

Classical guitar players using soft nylon strings and fingernails gain the benefit of having all of their fingers working. You don't need to use picks on soft nylon strings.  If you don't use flat picks, you develop finger-picking skill.

People using light-gauge strings on electric guitars can also enjoy using fingers and do a good job of it too, at least for many styles. Mark Knopfler is one stand-out finger-style guitarist.

Well known acoustic picker/songwriter James Taylor has been using glued on nails for years. Something that really feels like it is part of your body but has more strength and durability than nails has to work well.

Without fingernails, finger-pickers lose some of the bright top-end sounds. Skin touching the strings dulls the sound down. It can still sound good but it lacks a high range.

Long fingernails or glued on nails for better and brighter tone control isn't an option for many people.
Kids at school running round with long nails.. Ahhhhh.
Men in factories getting nails stuck in machinery... Ahhhh
Food preparation .. Ooops (Why is my cheesecake crunchy?)

Holding a flat pick cuts back some of the ability to play fingerstyle but it's an option many people are going to want to use.
Steel string guitars can shred your fingernails anyway.

Holding a flat-pick with just a little sticking out to pick the strings allows you to smudge out the bottom end to highlight "harmonics." Your picking hand position creates an opportunity to find a harmonic 5,7,9 or 12 frets higher than the fretted note you are playing and smudging out a little of the string vibration lets the higher overtones shine through.
You get more tonal range possibilities using a flatpick than fingers without nails. You can also aggressively attack a string without breaking your nails.

Picks range in price from a few cents to tens of dollars.
In the pic above the white gypsy jazz pick at the bottom is quite thick at 3.5m.m. handmade and hand-shaped piece of acrylic with grip material and ergonomic curves made in Holland by Michel Wegen and it is only $35. It's not the sort of everyday item sold in a music shop but it is surprisingly nice to hold and adds full tonality compared to most run of the mill picks.

Most of the others pictured are flat bits of plastic or nylon at less than a dollar.
There are some thumb-picks too.
So what pick?
World famous Australian picker Tommy Emmanuel says "choose the heaviest pick you can".

Why? Because it produces the fullest and loudest tone.  I agree but nahh, not for me.

I am not especially impressed by loud. Fuller tone isn't necessarily on my must have list either.
Great tone is and that doesn't always require a brick to pick with.
All recorded music is processed so it becomes electric. Tone can be adjusted with added bass, middle or treble and volume can be as loud as you want.

A heavy pick has no flex and is unforgiving. A total pro like Tommy can manage it fine but many people would benefit from choosing a medium flexible material pick with some grip material in the holding area.  The pick won't snag as it has a bit of bounce. You'll make less mistakes. It won't slip out of your hand with the grip material helping. Try medium size and medium thickness. The famous brand nylon ones never break. I can break most of the other picks pictured in an hour of playing an acoustic guitar. The flexibility of the flat pick means you can thread it through the strings when you aren't playing and you won't lose it.

Don't go for the hugest pick, you aren't going sailing.
Don't go for a small one, less to grab means you have to hang on tighter creating stress in your finger joints.

Thumb-picks are favoured by some players too. Many great pickers use or have used them.
Chet Atkins, Jerry Reid and Tommy Emmanuel are amongst great players who have  influenced many others with "Travis" picking styles. Merle Travis was an influential American picker who
maintained a steady bass line with his thumb picking while playing the harmony notes, even solo
parts with the other free fingers.
I have several thumb-picks but in truth I have never found one that feels like it isn't strangling the blood from my thumb.
If you have access to a large music shop with a large selection, you might find a good fit. Try them. Buy a few and see how you like them.  Everyone is an individual. I teach music so I look at people's fingers all the time. Some people's fingers are fatter than my thumbs. Finding finger picks to fit you is a personal thing and you will have to search far and wide to find something that feels like you.
You may even want to file and shape the product.

There are similar products available for fingers too, some in steel.  I tried those too but nothing feels like part of your body like fingers and nails to me, but I do like to use picks with steel strings.  They give a great range of sound and are particularly good for rhythmic playing and clear definition.
I often use a flat pick combined with my ring and middle fingers.

The "pick of destiny" was  Jack Black's Holy Grail to fantastic guitar playing.
Don't watch that movie with your kids. (bad language warning)
There are many fun items to pick from. They aren't necessarily good tools.

Monday 27 January 2020



A big area of concern is from parents who fund their kids music lessons. They get upset when they don't see their kids practice or improve, at least not fast enough for their expectations.
We all want students to improve. Most won't enjoy playing if they don't but kids are not a set and forget appliance with a long battery life and an automatic timer.

It will feel like wasted  money paying for music lessons if the kid doesn't practice but that isn't quite the whole picture.

Parents must set up some kind of education in accountability for their kids to prepare them for making the most of  any opportunity to develop a worthwhile hobby or skill.

Accountability has to align with reality.
Making sure kids have time to practice is important.
Routines are important. All learning disciplines needs this.
Practice has to be consistent whether we are happy, sad, busy, feeling lazy, have visitors, have schoolwork to complete or not. Excuses we all know about and we don't want to make them a habit. 
Think about these situations.
#1A kid has 6 activities on every week and homework from school. That's super busy.
When is there time for daily practice?
Reality check: Parents need to limit activities to a point  that the kids are not constantly in motion. Perhaps 2 activities outside of school is plenty for most people.

#2 A kid  has massive breaks from an activity because the family takes a long vacation, or misses lessons often through various disruptions. The kid loses both routine & momentum to practice.
Reality check:Is it possible to access an instrument during the trip? (a smaller portable one?)
Could missed lessons be rescheduled?

#3 A kid with free access to t.v., computer, games, toys but has few boundaries set has a bewildering choice.
Reality check:Could  eliminating at least some of these choices helps to steer a kid into more desirable choices?
My parents did. Strict bedtimes and stay in your room but in your room you have only 2  accessible choices- reading or playing music.

Has the parent actually discussed expectations to practice with the child?
Is the child clear about what is expected and what are the consequences of not meeting the terms ?
Reality check: Have this discussion early. Have this discussion regularly.  Be fair about what you expect from a kid. A kid is not a professional who might spend 5 hours practicing daily.
What could you realistically expect and achieve?
An expectation can be very specific.
'If I pay for these lessons I need to see you spend a minimum of 20 minutes daily on playing.'
'I want you to perform a song at Christmas, Mum's birthday and send a video of you playing to Grandma.'
'I want you to be a good librarian and collector for your music sheets'.
'If I don't see you practice regularly and get some tunes sounding good, I'm going to stop lessons and use that money to take mum to Hawaii. You'll have to stay with grandma.'
'I want you to teach me how to play some tunes.'

Sometimes parents send  kids to lessons without any real expectation that they will get much from it at all.  If the money doesn't bother you they will at least get an experience.
They always learn something, and it's not always about what you planned.

Sometimes they learn a little and later, even much later, they start back at it with more intent and more success than ever.
Most education is about planting seeds and the harvest of a dormant crop can come much later.

If money is an issue then you should for your family's sake meter it out with the greatest care as to how well it is appreciated because skills like money are sometimes quite hard to come by.

A parent's job has plenty of tough moments and how to set a steady course in a storm requires all the patience and skill in the world. We don't want to destroy the fun of a hobby by turning it into a job and yet the real fun and excitement comes from putting the work in so that growth happens.
It is a paradox.
Best of luck.



For a large part of my life I've been a teacher.
Aside from explicitly introducing ideas and providing demonstration and instruction, a large part of that role is to be an ENCOURAGER.
Acknowledging achievement is not about perfection, it is about growth.
Perfection might happen but growth is the pathway. 

All learners have to go through a process before they achieve a good product.
As a youngster I realized fairly early on that I wasn't going to get a free ride or praise for nothing.
I came from a time when you didn't get a participation award.

I don't need a pat on the back for every effort I make but I was fortunate to have an excellent first teacher who kept track of my progress systematically. That was as close to praise as I got.

As a kid learning music it was pretty tough trying to get better while sharing a room with 2 brothers,  big brother saying "shut up" and whacking me. It was far from a supportive induction to a musical career. It wasn't a bad childhood, it just wasn't what some people get in terms of praise and support.

As an adult I was dirty when my partner commented I sounded bad.  A softer approach might have been to quietly say " that is why we practice, you are listening to the process, not the product."
It would have been the smart thing to say and much kinder. There are diplomatic ways to respond to criticism.

Most of the people we get to see or hear singing and playing music have actually worked for at least a few years on developing their art.
In fact most music we hear has been worked over in studios where the best of multiple performances has been chosen for presentation and even then parts have been worked over and corrected.

The audience sees the “product” of several years work and training, maybe even 25 years or more of practice and refining skills.

Anybody watching you at work on your music will see  mistakes and endless repetition to get something right.
One small piece of music might take a week of practice to get right, so family or friends get to listen to (suffer) what looks like 98 % failure.

They sometimes thoughtlessly say “You can’t sing”  or "You can’t play !"

Maybe you’ve been told this by someone, even someone who loves you.

Why people do this is because they haven’t learned that what they are seeing is the process, not a final product or a published work.
They are failing to see that you are trying to work something out, and for this, if they love and care about you,(or consider themselves a teacher) they could use some help to develop the language of support.
You might respond by saying " I am a beginner, and practice is about building skills over time."

Although they might not  “get it” just yet, be patient with them and take some of your own light into the world.
Teach them how to be good supporters through explaining the work needed before the success shows through.

Realize that sometimes you need to carry your own light to get you through those situations where your friends, family and sometimes even teachers have not the language skills to support your efforts.
It is far easier to criticize (or present a very correct solution) than to do something right.
There are many who have made it their habit, even a profession to be critics.

You might be able to teach them a better way to support and encourage a society which helps us all become better people.
Don’t let others negativity and judgments be your guide as to how you should be running your own life.

Any parent or teacher that reads this might feel that they have at least sometimes slipped in their duty to use language that is helpful, not destructive.
Supportive language is not about false praise. It is about recognising the small steps that pave the way to progress. Each small step is a building block to the next achievement.


There are 2 main types of strings -nylon and steel.

Guitars are built with a particular string type and set-up in mind so it is important to stick with that unless you want to fiddle around with fix-ups.

Steel strings have a much greater tension than nylon.  

Putting steel strings on a nylon stringed classical guitar will rip it apart. The bridge is weak and lifts, the plastic on machine-head poles strips, there is rarely adjustable steel reinforcement in the necks on these guitars and the neck pulls forward from the extra tension. The softwood fingerboards aren't made for a strong sharp wire.
Never put steel strings on a classical guitar!

Putting a low tension set of nylon strings on a steel stringed guitar will  cause the neck to relax backwards and the poor adjustment causes rattles and inaccuracies. Electronic pick-ups often won't work with nylon strings as they are not magnetic. 

Steel strings include various alloys and are prone to rust and  build-up of grime from your fingers which badly affects their performance. Extend the life of your strings by wiping them clean over and under with a cloth after playing. Dirty strings are gritty and sound dull. You can’t slide around on dirty strings easily.
Some steel strings have a poly-coating to protect the strings from sweat and rust. Elixir brand (pictured) are well known for this but other brands including  D'Addario and Galli have this product too.  They retain a bright sounding quality longer.
Some people detest the feel of the slippery coating, others the sound, others the much higher price. I have some on a few of my guitars. Some sound great with these strings, others are better with cheaper strings.
Expensive strings break just as easily as cheaper strings.  I play fairly aggressively live and lucky to get about 16 hours of play out of them before things start snapping. Most people will get a much better life out of strings than that. Some strings dull up faster than others. The first thing you notice as strings age is the brightness fades.

If you live near the beach where everything rusts, coated strings are worth the extra. I also use them particularly on  guitars I play infrequently so whenever I get those guitars out of  storage, they are always good to go. Since the price is double that of uncoated strings you expect to get a longer life and you generally do, especially in harsh environments,

Strings lose their ability to be tuned after a period of time and need replacing.
Typically as strings age the guitar is in tune played  lower down the neck, but gets progressively out of tune as you move into playing higher notes up the neck. "Intonation" is the word we use to describe accuracy of pitch on a stringed instrument such as a guitar.
Some strings last only 3 weeks before becoming completely untunable, others lasting years. Maybe a bad batch of steel alloy gets into the product chain from time to time but not all strings are equal.

Changing Strings
It's not rocket science to change a string but some people actually pay someone to change strings.
Try it. It is better to understand how things work. Before you start, look at it, think about it. Think which way tightens the string because you want to replace them and have strings tighten or loosen as they were meant to and in the same direction as the usual set up.
Strings can be very sharp. Don't stick yourself.

Buy a set.  If you only change one string it is cheap, but you find one new string is bright and the others are dull. Best to change a set.
Strings have different gauges. Notice on one of the steel string packs the numbers 12-53 yet another set starting at 11?  Acoustic guitars typically are ok at 11 or 12.
Electric guitars are often from 10 or 11 for an average set.
Nylon strings tend not to have the huge range of  the most popular steel variety so a standard pack like the Rotosound with ball ends won't be hard to manage.
Take just one off to start. 
Electric guitars can be easy to just thread the string through the hole and the ball end will stop it falling out.
Acoustic Steel Stringed Guitars usually have bridge pins that need to be carefully levered out without breaking them or you'll need to buy a spare. A coin of the right side might make a good lever.
The string ball end goes in the bridge hole.
The bridge pin has a groove groove. It is there to lodge the ball end in and stop it slipping out.  Bridge pin groove to face the sound hole, insert the ball end to the hole, replace the bridge pin and pull the string to feel the ball end lock into the bridge pin groove. It will click in but you might have to jiggle the string  around and twist the bridge pin slightly to line them up.
Push the pin home and check it is firm and the string can't yank out.

Nylons require fishing line type ties but you can buy ball end nylon strings and avoid all that knot tying and slippage with these slippery suckers. The higher strings are particularly slippery and need good knot tying skills.

Now the other end threads through the machine-head hole. About 3 to 5 wraps around the post is enough. Less for thicker strings with grippy surfaces and more for thinner slippery strings.  One wrap is going to slip, 20 wraps is too much. Any extra string is not useful and you will cut it off with side-cutter pliers when you finish.
As you wind it on, keep the string tight so there is no slack and wind it on in the right direction. You don't want the different strings touching each other at the tuning knob end.

When you have it up to tuning tightness, stretch the string at the top and bottom and you usually find a bit of slack comes out and you must re-tune. Do this a few times and the string should be fairly well bedded in and you won't have endless tuning problems due to slack in the string winding.

There are  2 main types of machine-head posts, open or closed (as in most classic guitars). The open type is easier and faster because with a steady hand you can wrap the string around the post rather than wind, wind, wind, wind....Even with a winding tool this takes too long.
Wrap wrap wrap, then wind. It's faster.
On the closed in machine-head posts you have no choice but to thread the string through and get winding but if your string is way long, you don't need to keep all of it. Nylon is slippery so be sure you have a few extra wraps on the highest strings, maybe 6 or 7  is a good number.
Cut the extra string off with enough length you can safely bend it out of the way rather than have a hard sharp straight piece ready to stick you if you get your hand near it.

If this went well change the other strings. Don't take all strings off at once, the neck may move due to a large and sudden change in tension.

If you are seriously poor you might keep your old used strings as a spare just in case one breaks.
Yes I have been that poor. Keep the others as spares anyway in case you break one on the weekend you can still keep playing.

True Story
As a kid I once sold my guitar because I couldn't  tune it. I was ignorant, but I took my guitar to an equally stupid music shop assistant to try and have the problem fixed and he couldn't do anything about it. Nobody ever told me strings wear out. I guess no one told him either. (and nobody told me that a lot of uninformed idiots work in the music industry. )
In fairness, many  music shop people aren’t guitar players. They might play drums so their advice might not be best.  It isn't rude to ask them what they play. They are often inexperienced people who may not have even read a book about a guitar.
Strings stretching and effects of body chemicals on strings changes their properties over time and can render them useless. Change strings regularly if you can. New strings sound brighter and are slick and nice to play.

String Choices
You will have a choice of strings to buy  based on what you prefer: extra light to heavy. I prefer light gauge. In my experience, extra-light strings are more difficult to keep in tune with ultra thin strings having almost no tonal character. You simply need a bit more metal vibrating to produce tone through a resonant body. Ultra light strings are also more prone to breakages.
Heavy strings are tonier in my opinion but are both harder to play and much more difficult to bend or use vibrato, that rapid wobble. It’s plus and minus. Different materials have their own sound so it’s trial and error to find what you like for your instrument.
The enormous range of string materials and gauges makes it harder.

When I was a lad, there were fewer choices. At the dawn of rock n roll the Gods Of Rock like Jimi Hendrix was playing quite a heavy string (he couldn’t buy extra light) and it is a testament to his musicianship and vice-like grip to think he was able to play at speed and bend thick strings.
Today’s guitar player can buy very thin to thick strings and everything between.

Light strings to give deeper notes will have to be looser and may slap around quite easily.
Heavier strings to give high notes will have to be tighter and might put stress on the bridge or machineheads. All that choice might just cause you problems.

Guitars straight out of a factory tend to be set up for a certain string gauge and you should try to find out what that is so that replacements are easier to source. Keep the empty packet so you have a reference for replacements.

If you change strings from an ultra-light set to a heavier set, the neck tension changes, pulling the neck forward and making the gap between fretboard and neck (the action) higher.
If you change strings from a heavier set to an ultra-light set, the neck tension changes, relaxing the neck backwards and making the gap between fretboard and neck (the action) lower so you may get fret buzz.

Changing string gauges causes movement and you may need to adjust the neck. Once I have a guitar set-up the way I like it, I replace strings with the same gauge as the last set.
I have different guitars with different set-ups.


  1. Most electric guitars have an adjustment for the length of the strings. String length should be adjusted so that the notes at the 12th fret are the same pitch as the open strings. Be sure to adjust strings only when they are fairly new.  Different strings have different materials and diameters so there are length adjustments on some guitars to get the string to perform at its best. 
  2. Secondly adjust the height of the strings from the bridge. The nut at the top end has gaps filed down to a certain height. If it is well made it should be pretty right but as age creeps in the strings can carve their way down and sit lower than they should. Occasionally these nuts need to be reset or replaced.                                                                                                            String height can be a personal preference. Some slide guitar players like a higher action so that the slide won't bump against the frets. Some players prefer a very low action so that very fast playing is possible.                                                                                                                          I prefer my strings as low as possible without causing any fret vibration. Most electric guitars require an Allen key to raise the spacers in adjusting this height. The height at the nut rarely needs adjustment but you can file it down if the factory set-up wasn’t perfect or pack it underneath or just replace it.
  3. Thirdly, the pick-ups can be moved closer or further from the strings. The closer the magnets are to the strings, the higher output from the guitar. Higher level signals from the guitar to the amp may affect the tone, probably producing a dirtier sound. You can move the bass end or the treble side of the pick-up to alter the balance. I prefer an even balance between bass and treble. After all, I don’t want to go to my solo with no treble to cut through with. Some players prefer an all down low sound.                                                                                                                    If  the pick-ups are too close to the strings there will be buzzes as the strings slap on the pick-ups.
  4. A fourth adjustment is the truss-rod in the neck of the guitar. This metal rod inside the neck resists the forward pull on the neck from the strings. Inevitably, most guitar necks will need some adjustment as this continuous force drags the neck forward and wood is a flexible material. Tightening that truss rod will push the neck back into line. Don’t over-tighten lest you break something. If you attempt to do this, do it little by little.

Don't buy a guitar with a high action. That is when the strings sit high above the frets rather than close to them. If you really like the guitar,  ask the dealer to adjust it before buying it. It is not easy for an amateur to get it perfect.
It is impossible to be sure that a guitar with high action can function well with a lower action without first making the adjustments and then checking the entire fretboard for dead spots and buzzes.

A good luthier will measure the distances of strings from the frets at the open position and higher up the neck in the playable areas before and after an adjustment as objective proof of an improvement. A professional set-up to adjust the truss-rod will cost you $50 or more.

A lot of math and trial and error went into developing strings and largely strings have been developed for guitars tuned in standard tuning.
As guitars can be tuned to many different notes changing away from standard tuning will change the intended purpose of the string to be at a fixed length and tension to something different, possibly no longer tuneable for your setup, so sloppy they rattle and sound terrible or too tight they break. You may need to reconsider many factors of setup and string gauge.
This is why the job of the instrument maker exists. The luthier has expertise in the build and setup including the mathematical perfection of choosing the right strings.



There is no unanimous sentiment about whether a lefty should learn right-handed style.
At the beginning, everything feels awkward for everyone. Every new movement, every new position needs to be practiced, whether you do it righty or lefty style.
I have had several great lefty students who seem totally at ease learning right handed and have accomplished significant skills.
We use 2 hands  with both working  in very complex ways so you need to use 2 hands anyway.
You wouldn't buy a left-handed piano for similar reasons.

If you are a lefty playing lefty style you will struggle to buy a good instrument with a much more limited range available and struggle to sell your old instrument. You'll struggle to find someone who can play it well so you know it is a good instrument. You will pay more too.

My advice – try a right handed guitar. I’m sure success is about persistence and that stuff in your head called attitude. It’s not purely physical but I know there are others who disagree.

The following famous & successful  lefties are reputed to play right handed:
Gary Moore  (Thin Lizzy and later successful solo career)
Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band)
BB King
Paul Simon
Vinnie  Moore (UFO)
Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Kansa,Living Loud, Steve Morse Band)
Joe Pass  (possibly)
Bruce Cockburn  (Canadian acoustic picker – Wondering Where The Lions Are)
Billy Corgan ( Smashing Pumpkins)
Elvis Costello
Johnny Winter (Texas Bluesman)famous multi-instrumentalist brother Edgar’s progressive rock band  recorded quality cutting edge music for its time. Check out Frankenstein.
Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)
Michael Hedges (Played Harp Guitar  amongst other  guitar variants with featuring  tapping styles)
Robert Fripp (King Crimson)
Steve Cropper(Booker T, The Blues Brothers) Played on Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay
Noel Gallagher (Oasis)
Chris Rea (check out his  album On The Beach well known for his slide guitar tone and warm husky vocals))
Chris Martin (Coldplay)
David Bowie
David Byrne (Talking Heads)

What about a righty playing lefty style? The world’s "greatest" Beatles cover band is the Bootleg Beatles out of the U.K. Well I've seen them and they were pretty fantastic.
They are an awesomely talented group who do their utmost to render authentic versions of the Beatles repertoire. The Bass Player mimicking Paul’s left handed style is reputedly a right-handed player who taught himself to do it lefty style so he could really carry off the role of Paul McCartney. And he is an amazing player and singer. If it isn't true (and I can't promise that) it is at least a great story.


Jimi Hendrix took a right handed Fender Strat guitar, reversed the string order and flipped it to make it into a left handed instrument. Well it famously worked for him but there would have been a number of other adjustments made to this guitar before it was playable including adjusting string saddle heights and string length spacers at the bridge as well as changing the nut at the machineheads end. There is also the compromise of getting up into the higher notes because the cutaway isn't on the correct side. The pickguard (scratchplate) is also not quite right to protect the finish on the instrument.
Many guitars don't have the adjustment points of a Strat guitar, especially acoustic guitars with fixed bridges glued on at angles.  To get it right would require removing and likely replacing the bridge and at the opposite end the nut as the grooves are fat where they need to be skinny. Detailed work requiring specialized skills.
My advice, don't bother unless you want a project that may or may not work out the way you hope.

What BEGINNER GUITAR should I buy?

So many guitars to choose from, so where do you start ?

WHERE TO BUY Beginners are at the mercy of  salespeople but if you shop in a guitar shop the chances are good that you'll get a playable instrument  regardless of the spend. That's because guitar shop people know guitars. 
Just be sure the salesperson actually plays guitar. If they can't demonstrate it, they aren't qualified as a salesperson.

The advantage of guitar shops is being able to touch, feel, play ,see and hear the item with the help of professionals around you.
You wouldn't buy your meat from the baker. Don't expect to go to a piano shop and find a good range and expertise with guitars. Find a guitar oriented shop.
People who work in guitar shops love guitars. That's an important distinction to make.

Pawn shops may seem like bargain centers but think about it. They make money selling high priced short term loans, not really by being in the music business. 
The quality of their product is extremely variable as is their expertise and judgement as to what is a fair instrument at a fair price. I've seen plenty of overpriced stuff in these shops. They are businesses, not bargain centers and guitars are not their core business.

Take an expert or experienced player with you if you shop there or stay away. The same applies to any secondhand shopping. 

If the guitar needs adjustment or a repair it may well cost more than the new product. Guitars get bumped and a few bum frets can ruin an instrument. The cost of  replacements on a cheap instrument is not justifiable.  A professional set up with maintenance can cost $100 easy. 
Buying on the internet has risks with a lot of unknown brands that may or may not be good. You might get lucky but you might get stuck. 
If you buy through the internet, do your homework, read reviews, buy a recommended brand and specific model and note the return policy.
Most manufacturers build to a range of price points  "cheap to top shelf ", check those model numbers carefully. The "brand" can be a good guide, but you still have to observe that different models have huge variations in their quality.

Customers come in all shapes and sizes physically and budget wise so let's sort out who you are -  Big person, medium or small. Hand size too is very important.  The instrument should be comfortable and feel balanced. The fingers should fit on a string without stepping all over the neighbouring strings. A hand should be able to reach around the neck so the fingers can stretch to the lowest and highest strings.
Though it won't always happen (but always ask) the salesperson should put the guitar in the hands of the buyer to try at least for size. 
I've met several guys with really fat fingers who have been sold a thin neck guitar when it is clear if the salespeople had looked closely at this person's build they should have recommended something with a wider neck. When each of your fingers is thumb sized, the gaps between strings become more important. Smaller build people will essentially be more comfortable with more compact guitars.
Match the size to the player. You wouldn't buy a kid size 14 shoes. It's just dumb.

Guitar Size - It's often true that larger body acoustic guitars are in fact louder. 
For me it's tone first, and loudness, though sometimes handy, runs second.

#1. If you are a quiet singer with a loud guitar the balance between the 2 won't work.
# 2. A loud singer busker with a loud guitar might be a good match.
#3. If you record both guitar and voice at the same time in the same room, a loud guitar will mix in with the voice and won't be flexible for making a good recording. In this day and age with amplifiers being quite cheap I wouldn't worry about how much volume the instrument  puts out unless you are case  #2.

Weight affects the way you play and can be a nuisance. My first electric guitar was a vintage instrument constructed of very dense wood and after playing it with a guitar strap around my neck I would have a sore neck and fierce headache. I will personally never buy such a heavy item again.

QUALITY AND FRILLS COST MORE- DO YOU NEED IT? Beautiful, well crafted guitars they don't come cheap. If the woods are solid (not laminates), rare and hard species like ebony,  the hardware goldplated and inlays carved out and tastefully designed it will cost more. Do you need this and can you afford this is a question you must answer yourself. 
I own many guitars which have such artistic integrity but they weren't my first.

Even so these are not the sort of thing you would put in the hands of an uneducated person such a a kid. 
Kids especially should learn to look after a cheap thing first before they are trusted with a high quality/cost thing. Kids are often rough or a bit clumsy & dropping a $100 guitar is better than breaking a $3000 guitar. Most woods in guitars are softwoods and they break easily. An expensive instrument is not necessarily stronger.

If money is no object buy the best.  Big brand names like "Gibson, Martin, Fender, Yamaha, Taylor, Maton, Ibanez and the like are often expensive and especially so in Australia but these manufacturers have proven reliability over many years. If you have no help and you have to make a decision based on a name, it's safe and it's also safe to say you may pay more than you need to.
You can spend less and get equal or better quality if you know something or someone to help you choose.  Many choose by brand as they are unable to see or hear the differences. That's not to say these products are bad, but equivalent quality instruments without famous brand labels are available.  Professional level instruments will give better results and that's a fact. The best is not always a matter of money. It can cost as much to make a poor instrument as a good one due to the variability of a piece of wood and the choices made by the luthier. The other factor is where it comes from as the cost structure and then taxes can inflate a price. 
My friend bought a perfect replica of a famous model at 25% of the original brand item price but he knows what good is.
There may be ethical choices you like to consider too. Maton Australia use plantation timbers whereas many other manufacturers are still ripping up forests in Madagascar to get rosewood and ebony for guitar necks. (sound of lemurs crying)

CHEAP or MID PRICED BUT GOOD is a great way to start for most people.Make sure the instrument has good tone and playable action without buzzes across the neck.  
Get the salesperson, your teacher or an experienced player to demonstrate it. Your ears will have to judge whether it has the potential to sound good. Get them to play every note slowly. If there are rattles (assuming the player to be good) then the string does not align well to the neck and scrubs out on the frets. Don't buy it. 
Assume anything you buy (especially that which is not set up well from the start) will only get worse as it is used. 
Don't believe that instruments get better with age. Most just get worn and broken. Have you got better as you've got older or are you falling apart like an old car?

Check if the strings are a long way from the neck as this makes it harder to play.  
"Action" is what we call it and a low action makes for less physical effort to pin the string down on the fretboard.
It's true the best tools are helpful and the best tools often cost more. But a good instrument doesn't cost a lot these days thanks to China, experience in manufacture and a world where machines have taken a lot of guesswork and rough measurement away from the manufacturing processes.

As guitar is a 2 handed activity (and I have taught plenty of lefties on a regular right handed guitar and it never seems a problem for those who just get on and play, I recommend using a standard right hand setup. 
More on this in a separate article.

There are 3 basic choices from cheapest to most expensive.
1. Classical Guitars are nylon stringed. Traditionally wider neck and soft strings are ideally suited to finger style. Modern variations include cutaway body for easy access to higher frets, pick-ups and a built-in tuner for use with amplifiers. 
Some have slimmed down necks which may make them less useful as finger style guitars so check the fit.  Beginner models of reasonable quality from around $100 with a soft carry bag. Nice and soft on the fingers and light and comfortable to play.
There are generally 3 sizes:- half, 3 quarters and full size. 

2. Steel Stringed Acoustic Guitars (folk guitars) These also often include the variations as noted above. Almost all acoustic instruments I own have a cutaway neck and pick-up and they most certainly make the instruments more flexible.Beginner models of reasonable quality start from around $200 with a soft carry bag.
They range in size from half to jumbo.

3. Electric Guitars  come in many configurations but beginners are likely to find the most common form follows the design of a Fender Stratocaster which has 3 pick-ups, 5 way switching, a tremolo arm (whammy bar), tone and volume controls and 22 frets. 
This versatile design is suitable for almost any type of music. They are solid body guitars and there is a bit of weight in that. It is not so convenient to turn an amp on every time you use it. As I get my practice in lots of short bursts I find that part of electric guitar inconvenient.
Beginner models tend to come with inferior but functional  tuning knobs (machineheads), and cheaper pick-ups than the Fender items made famous by so many guitar heroes. 
A generally lighter guitar string and thin neck makes them quite easy to play and definitely easier to bend strings than any other guitar type.
When packaged with an amp and bag, the amp is often the most basic. 
A better amp has at least 2 footswitchable channels with a set of controls (volume, treble, bass and overdrive) for each channel. A footswitchable control means you can have a clean sound and a dirty sound set up and change sounds with just a tap of your foot. The ability to
use guitar fx is a great attraction. Many small amps have a range of built in fx these days.  
Cheap basic amps might give you a range of sounds but you have to play with the knobs to get what you want. You'll pay a few hundred more for a better amp. Beginner packages with a basic amp of reasonable quality range from around $350.
They range from half size to full size. I am wary of half sized guitars as the quality of beginner ones is not always good and often enough have unstable tuning.
As with all appliances, electronics can wear out or need servicing. Cables are quite breakable and need replacements sometimes.(and spares) Be aware of potential added costs.

Each guitar type have their strengths and there is overlap in the skills required for each so learning on any of them is not going to be a waste. 
Steel strings are harder work for beginners to use for fingerstyle. 
Classical guitars of full size with soft strings usually have slightly wider necks which make your hand have to stretch further.
Electric guitars with thinner necks and lighter strings are the easiest to manage physically. They also have less problems when played loud with amps as the solid body cuts out feedback issues.  Beginners playing through amps is something the rest of the household might not appreciate. At least get an amp with a headphone socket and as deafness is a new disease of the 21st century teach ear safety actively.

I personally love acoustic guitars with their greater dynamic range and that sound which  I never seem to  tire of. I love the portability and convenience of not needing cables and appliances. For some reason I find it hard work to bother plug something in and turn it on.

There is no one solution and no correct solution to finding which way to go from the 3 choices. 
No one tool does everything and that's why I have several of each type in my studio.  
Accept each has a limit and buy one to start that meets your budget.