FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on Guitar

How to play guitar? Or, more specifically, ‘how to play acoustic guitar’?

People ask this question quite a bit and, surprisingly!, think there’s a short answer.  And maybe there is:  Play a lot, for a long time. : )  But, seriously, playing guitar (whether acoustic or electric or other) is a long-term process.  Really talented people pursue being an excellent guitarist for a lifetime. Sure, there are basic techniques and insights that will get you up and running in a month.  But the possibilities are so wide open that you’ll still be discovering new stuff decades later.

If you asked this question, but were really wondering, “How do I get started playing guitar?”, then I would recommend a) get an inexpensive guitar (don’t go expensive at first), and b) getting lessons.  Lessons can be from a local teacher – this is really helpful for the psychological effect of being forced to show up and look someone in the eye every week and admit whether you practiced.  Or video lessons, like the ones at JamPlay, are another great source.

What is fingerstyle guitar?

Fingerstyle guitar is a broad term for a style of playing characterized by using the flesh of the finger to pluck the strings (instead of a pick or plectrum). In the past, this term has referred to folks like Chet Atkins or Doc Watson.

This term is typically used right now to refer to a number of players like Tommy Emmanuel, Andy McKee, or even Ed Sheeran, who mix Country Travis picking, Flamenco percussion, Jazz tonality, Folk-ish alternate tunings, and Classical melodicism to create a very “modern” sort of fingerstyle guitar.

What is an acoustic guitar?

According to Wikipedia:

“An acoustic guitar is a guitar that produces sound acoustically—by transmitting the vibration of the strings to the air—as opposed to relying on electronic amplification (see electric guitar). The sound waves from the strings of an acoustic guitar resonate through the guitar’s body, creating sound. This typically involves the use of a sound board and a sound box to strengthen the vibrations of the strings.”

That’s a good technical answer to “How a guitar works”, but a bit hard to parse.  Visually speaking, acoustic guitars look like this:

Martin D-28

But they can vary in a lot of ways:

Body shape (cutaways or arm rests), number of strings (4, 5, 6, 7), type of strings (steel or nylon), pickups or ‘electrification’, color (wood finish, lacquer, paint), material (types of wood, graphite, other), etc.

In general, though, an acoustic guitar has 6 strings, is made out of wood, and has a big hollow chamber that generates the sound.

What is classical guitar vs a steel-string guitar?

This is the major divide in the types of acoustic guitars.  The divide looks (roughly) like this:

Classical guitars are: nylon-stringed, played sitting with a raised leg, have wider string distance, and prize “projection” as a key quality. Classical guitarists, Flamenco, Bossa Nova, and sometimes Folk players prefer these.

Classical Guitar

Steel-string guitars are: strung with “wound” steel strings, played standing or sitting, have a tighter neck, and a have a wide variety of selling points (recording sound, playability, as well as projection). Pop, Rock, Country, and many other styles prefer these.

Martin D-28

What is a loop pedal?

A loop pedal is a piece of guitar gear that allows to record what you’re playing in real time, then immediately replay it (and then you can play over that as a backing track). This has become much more mainstream thanks to Ed Sheeran. Read this post on guitar loopers and specifically the model Ed Sheeran used to use.

How to travis pick?

Travis picking is a technique of a) using your thumb to pick lower notes, and b) using your fingers to pluck the higher 4 strings.  By alternating these two, you can create a wide variety of “picking patterns”.  Travis picking typically has the thumb plucking the low notes on the beat (usually on beats 1 and 3, or on all 4), but people have taken this technique into pretty creative territory.

For an excellent tutorial on this technique, check out Don Ross’s videos.

How much is a good acoustic guitar?

You can get a good beginner guitar for under $500.  You can get a solid guitar that will last you through years of your student progress for $1000.  But check out this post for a bit more detail.

What’s the best acoustic guitar?

Well…this is a tough one.  Check out the “Age Old Wisdom” section at the bottom of this post.

Where to buy guitars?

I recommend buying guitars locally. Because playing guitar is such a physical, “feely” thing, it’s really best to sit down and play a number of guitars before buying one.

So it’s worth it to find a music store as local as possible and go try a few. If you live near a large city in a developed country, you probably have lots of options for this. If you don’t have a local store that carries acoustic guitar, then consider building it into any travel in the coming months.  Visiting Seattle for a weekend? Set aside an afternoon to go to some music stores and play some guitars. If you’re in a country or location that you can’t visit any stores, then the best option would be to participate in forums (such as this one) to get as much advice as possible.

Where to buy guitar picks?

You can get these at any guitar/music store.  Or you can just order them of Amazon.

If you’re wondering which guitar pick to use? My favorite general purpose picks are the Dunlop .60mms.  You can also reference this post for advice on thumb picks.

Where to buy guitar strings?

Again, you can get these at any guitar/music store.  Or you can just order them of Amazon.