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Top 10 Tips for All Guitarists

10 simple tips to get the most out of your playing

This month I thought I’d stray a little bit from the norm and share some tips I’ve learned throughout the years. Some are dead-simple, while others might be a little left field. Either way, they’ve helped me tremendously so I hope they will shed a little light for you!

1. Maximize Tone and Clarity
Most of us love to have enough gain in our tone to feel “safe,” but it is most likely more gain than we need. Try this: dial in the amount of gain that gets you into the zone, then back it off until it gets uncomfortable to play. At that point add just enough to make it tolerable. Your tone will have more clarity and definition and you will project your sound

2. Sharpen Your Pick
When you wear down a pick or have jagged edges on it from too many pick scrapes, drag the pick across the carpet and you will literally melt the pick smooth. Of course, this only works with plastic picks and is best on industrial carpet, but it’s amazingly effective. Because of the way it melts, it’s like buffing the pick out and making it ultra smooth. Use it on both sides of the pick for a super sharp shredder attack!

3. Keep It Simple
Try unplugging all your pedals and go straight from your guitar to the amp. You may rediscover what it is about that direct relationship you came to love in the first place.

4. Economize Your Motion
Unless you’re really digging into a note, there is no need for your pick to travel too far past the string after the attack. The farther it goes past, the farther it has to come back to strike the string again. If you want to have any sort of speed, reign in that hand! Same goes for the pinky on your fingering hand. They tend to want to rise up when not in use. Slow everything down and spend time controlling how far the pinky rises up after releasing a fretted note. In time you will find this old dog can learn new tricks…like sit and stay!

5. Sing and Play
George Benson showed us the magic of matching his guitar to his voice. To be able to express what’s in your head and heart at the speed of music is a powerful thing. Practice by singing a line and duplicating it on the guitar. To be able to call and respond to yourself will get you in touch with your musical self and that much closer to truly letting your guitar sing.

6. Change your pick, change your tone

Click to read this month's feature on alternate pick types.
With so many pick options available today, try breaking out of the norm and use a different pick. Go to the store and grab a handful of different types (heavy, light, large, small, plastic, nylon, etc.) and go to town. You’ll be amazed at how much changing up this everyday tool can make an impact on your sound.

7. Stop strings from getting bound up in the nut with lip balm

Believe it or not, ChapStick is excellent for getting rid of friction at the nut. In a pinch you can dab a little right where the string meets the nut and work it in. I’ve used this many times when there was nothing else available and it’s incredibly effective. Try it next time you’re doing the solo for "Heartbreaker" or "Living Loving Maid" and need to bend the string behind the nut. Go Pagey!

8. Keep your vintage amp safe
Most of our favorite British amps were meant to be run on 220v, which means 110v for us in the U.S. Wall outlets in the U.S. and club/venue power varies widely from 115-130 or higher. Use a Variac and a volt meter to set the power to 110v before plugging in your amp and it will thank you by running at the voltage it was designed for. Heck, do it for your new amps as well. My power runs easily as high as 128v out of the wall at my home, so you better believe I’m saving my vintage amps by using this tip.

9. Wash your hands!
You can preserve the life of your strings and prevent premature aging of your instrument by having clean hands when you play. Sure, wiping down the neck after you play a sweaty gig is a good practice, but what about that extra minute before you play? Even if it’s just you playing your own instrument it will extend the life of your strings and make playing more pleasurable due to having less gunk congesting the guitar. If you live in colder climates the hot water will also loosen up your hands and shorten your warm up time significantly. Bonus!

10. Throw away your tuner
No, seriously, get a pitch pipe or pitch fork and start training your ears again. Learning to tune without the automatic benefit of matching pitch to an electronic device should be mandatory for all guitarists. Take the time to get in touch with the guitar by seeing the relationship between the strings and their tuning and use your ears. If you can’t tune without a tuner, today is the day to learn because if it hasn’t already happened, your batteries will die one day when you least expect it. Be prepared.