Do you want to start playing guitar? Whether you want to learn to celebrate your heritage or to express yourself through songwriting, you should know it takes a long time. But if you’re dedicated and put in the hard work, “anyone can play guitar,” as Radiohead says on their first album. In many ways it’s true. Once you have the inspiration and motivation to get started, here are the five things you will need.
This is obvious, but the other details are not. What kind of guitar do you want? Will you learn acoustic songs, electronics, or both? What do you feel more comfortable with? Even if you buy an acoustic guitar you can buy one that plugs into an amp and effects pedals just like an electric. What about the shape? The color? The style of your guitar doesn’t matter as much as people think it does, but it is also a way to express yourself and your type of music. When you have decided that you want to learn guitar, think about how dedicated you are and spend even more time thinking about what guitar you should buy.
When you are buying a guitar, you should also purchase some picks. You may want to learn how to finger-pick, but that takes more skill and time to learn. Start with picks. What size picks do you want? What about the elasticity? You can buy soft, hard, and medium picks, but there are also nuances between these elasticities. If you don’t know which one you like you can pick a few up and try them out or simply go with the medium pick because it’s right in the middle. Picks are one of the first things you will need whether you’re plugging in or not.
Next, if you are playing an electric guitar you will probably want to pick up an amp. This can be a small practice amp that you use in your room. It doesn’t have to be big or loud. While you can also buy an amp for an acoustic electric guitar, you may not need to right away. People who buy standard acoustics won’t need one at all. Depending on your learning curve, your style, and budget, an amplifier is at first an optional purchase—but who doesn’t want to hear their guitar through an amp?
Then, if you do buy an amp you will need at least one cable. Although you should probably buy a few extra, one cable will get you started. That is, unless you feel very dedicated to playing guitar already and want to invest in some effects pedals. This is not mandatory to get started, but if you have a little extra to spend, a stomp box distortion pedal will get things moving. When it comes to cables, don’t buy the cheap ones. High-quality cables usually come with a warranty. If it breaks, you‘ll be able to get a new one.
Guitar straps are one thing that is overlooked. You will want to stand up while playing, so you should buy a guitar strap when you purchase the guitar. Sitting down when you are playing is very different from standing up. If your goal is to play on stage then you should definitely practice standing up in addition to sitting down. Remember that acoustic guitar straps are different from electric. Straps range in price, but if you want it to last a while you should invest in a nice one. Feel the fabric and materials it’s made out of. You should be able to tell pretty easily how long it will last you.
These are the basic things you need to play electric and acoustic guitars, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to effects and accessories. Everything from slides to capos to electronic bows are available. Once you get the fundamentals down, guitar is a crayon box of creativity. While you need the tools to paint the canvas, the most important thing is the motivation. Inspiration comes first, but motivation and dedication to hard work is the most vital. Your fingers will hurt. You will fail. But if you push through, you will get better and better.
Ryan Beitler is a writer, journalist, and musician. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_beitler