Everyone who decides to learn how to play the guitar knows that they must start out by purchasing a guitar. What they don’t always consider are the accessories they will need, not only to begin the process, but also to continue and progress in their learning.
Today, I will cover my personal top 10 acoustic guitar accessories. I will even throw in a little education and knowledge I have acquired through my 37 years of playing.
I will start with the things I feel you will need first, then we will get into items that you can add along the way as the need arises. Let’s jump right into it, shall we?
1. Guitar Picks / Plectrums
I think we all know what a guitar pick is and why we need it. What you may not know is how many different picks there are. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, thicknesses and materials. Some of these characteristics, particularly the material used and the thickness, can produce very different tones.
Since the varieties are endless, I can only offer my preference and my advise to you. When starting out, don’t get too worried about all the different picks out there. Find one that feels good and is not too thick (around 0.50 should work). As your playing progresses, take some time and try different ones. Experiment a little.
Michael’s choice – The pick I have used in recent years, and which is my personal favorite, is the Ultra Cool by Cool Picks. I use the medium (0.80), but they come in all thicknesses. When your hands sweat, these picks tend to stick to your fingers so you don’t drop the pick as often. I like them a lot.
Alternate choice – The “Tortex” pick by Dunlop has been the “go to” pick for many players over the years. They have a somewhat non-slip surface to assist the player in not dropping the pick. Many famous players have used the Tortex picks and it continues to be one of the most popular picks in the world.
2. Guitar Strings
When you purchase a guitar it will already have strings on it. The problem is, they may not be very high quality. Guitar strings can greatly affect the tone and feel of a guitar. Simply restringing a guitar with high quality strings can make a less expensive guitar sound like a much higher quality instrument.
When choosing new strings you must take into account what the strings are made of as well as the thickness of the strings or “gauge”. If you choose a string gauge that differs too much from your current string gauge, you may need to have the guitar’s “set-up” adjusted for the new strings.
Michael’s choice – I use the Elixir Acoustic 80/20 Bronze with NANOWEB Coating. These are some of the best strings you can buy and they are used by many top guitar players. They have a thin coating on the strings that keeps dirt out of the winding and extends the life and performance of the strings. I prefer the Custom Light gauge. These are a thinner gauge than most guitarists use. I have always used lighter strings on all of my guitars. They are just more comfortable to me.
Alternate choice – D’Addario EJ13 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Custom Light Guitar Strings. This set of strings is not coated, but they sound great. They are also considerably less expensive than the Elixir strings. You can’t go wrong either way.
3. Guitar tuners
When your guitar is not in tune, it makes playing more difficult and not as much fun as the guitar will not sound “right”. This is where the guitar tuner comes in. A tuner is not only necessary to have your strings tuned with each other, but also with other instruments you are playing along with. It makes jam sessions so much more fun!
There are many guitar tuners on the market, and most of them are very easy to use.
Michael’s choice – For a clip on tuner, I recommend the Snark Super Snark Model G. It is a good tuner and at around $20, it won’t break the bank. As for stage use, I have been a big fan of the Boss TU-2 tuner pedal. The updated version is the TU-3. They are about $100 dollars and will take a beating and keep working for years.
Alternate choice – There are other clip on tuners out there that are more accurate. Though some are more accurate, some of their benefits can only be realized on very high quality instruments. If you are looking for a great clip on tuner, and price is not your main concern, I would recommend the Polytune clip-on tuner by T.C. Electronics. It is fantastic, however, it is also more expensive.
4. Guitar Straps
At some point, you will want to play your guitar while standing. You will definitely need a strap for this. I find it a little tough to recommend a single strap. You should probably just find one that looks good to you and is wide enough to be comfortable holding the weight of the guitar. I would recommend a minimum width of 2″.
Another thing to note is that some acoustic guitars do not come from the factory with strap buttons to connect a strap to. If this is the case with your guitar, you will need to add these to your guitar first. If you are not completely comfortable doing the work yourself, please have a professional guitar shop do this for you.
Michael’s choice – My favorite strap is made by Levy’s. I have used it for years and it is still in great shape. I would highly recommend this company and they make many to choose from.
Alternate choice – Any strap you like.
A capo is a device that clamps to the neck of a stringed instrument in order to shorten the string length, thus changing the pitch of the strings. It allows the player to play a song in different keys without changing the chord shapes being played.
These are invaluable as you begin playing along with songs in which the tuning is different than that of your guitar. Capos also make it easier to transpose songs into different keys that may be more suitable for the singers vocal range. Even though at first you may not fully understand their uses, it will become more apparent as you become more experienced.
Michael’s choice – Kyser Quick-Change Capo 6-String. I personally own the black one, but they do come in other colors. The Kyser quick-change capo is very easy to use and can be re-positioned in seconds. Mine has held up for years and still looks and works the way it did when it was new.
Alternate choice – G7th Performance 3 ART Capo – 6 String. Though I have not personally used this capo, it gets very high praise and excellent reviews. It is priced much higher than the Kyser, but seems to have a sleek and low-profile design. This could be a future purchase for me.
A metronome is a time-keeping device. It makes an audible and/or visual signal at any desired tempo. A metronome is a very important practice tool. As you work on guitar skills, a metronome will help to build a foundation of proper rhythmic timing as well as force you to increase your efficiency in specific tasks. One example of this is when learning scales. As you practice playing scales, the metronome will allow you to gradually increase your speed at a rate that is challenging, yet comfortable to you.
Michael’s choice – Korg TM-50 Tuner / Metronome combo. Korg makes many different metronomes, and I have not tried them all. I own 3 metronomes, and the TM-50 is the one I use all the time. Although it does have a tuner as well, I would recommend a clip-on tuner for your acoustic guitar.
Alternate choice – Wittner MT50 Metronome. The MT50 is inexpensive, but will provide everything you need from a simple metronome. The “click” is loud, but there is a visual flash that can be used for silent practice.
Unless you want to put your guitar back in the case or gig bag every time you get done playing, you will need a guitar stand. I will tell you from experience, if you keep your guitar on a stand, you will pick it up and play it much more often. “Out of site, out of mind” as they say. Guitar stands are inexpensive and do not need to be fancy.
Michael’s choice – K&M 17541 Acoustic Guitar Stand. I feel this is the best guitar stand due to it’s stability and quality. Unlike many other similar stands, the K&M 17541 is very well built (in Germany) and is a bit heavier than most models. What does this mean for you? It means that your guitar will not fall over and get damaged. The more expensive the guitar, the more important this becomes. But, even if your guitar is not too expensive, you may not be able to afford to repair or replace it. You can’t go wrong with this stand.
Alternate choice – Many local music stores offer basic guitar stands that will do the job for around $15 – $20. Having said that, they are NOT as stable as the K&M and you should be extra careful to not accidentally bump into the guitar while it is on the stand.
8. String Cutters / String Winders / Adjustment tools
Alright. If you are just beginning to play the guitar, you are probably thinking, “I need tools to work on my guitar”? No, of course not, well, kind of. Okay. We already talked about new strings, but we didn’t discuss how to change them. If you decide to change them yourself, which almost everyone does, there are a couple tools to make this job much easier.
The first tool you will need is a pair of cutters. This is to cut the excess string off after you have finished winding it around the tuning head. The other tool that makes string changing much faster is a string winder. Cutters and winders are both inexpensive tools and can be purchased virtually anywhere that guitars are sold.
Later on, if you decide to get more involved in “setting up” your guitar, you will need a small guitar repair kit.
Michael’s choice – D’Addario Planet Waves Pro-Winder String Winder/Cutter. The Planet Waves multi-tool will be all you need to make string winding and cutting a breeze. Well worth the low cost.
Alternate choice – If you are on a seriously tight budget, you don’t NEED a string winder. The guitar can be strung without one, it just makes it much faster if you have one. As for cutting the strings, you don’t even NEED to do that. I have known many guitarists that just left the excess hang off of the headstock. It always looked messy to me, but that was their preference. Cheap cutters are also available anywhere tools are sold, even Walmart.
9. Music Stands
This is one accessory that music teachers would wonder how I placed it at #9 on this list. In fact, the truth is, if you are taking any kind of formal guitar lessons, this needs to be a much higher priority. It is only because I played guitar by ear for nearly 25 years before I began learning anything about tab and sheet music. Having said that, I have always been self-taught and have never had a guitar teacher. That’s not to say that I have not learned from others. Quite the contrary. Nearly everything I have ever learned over the years has come by way of others who have graciously shared their knowledge. The internet is full of great teachers willing to help aspiring musicians.
Where were we? Oh yeah, music stands.
Michael’s choice – Any wire music stand should do the job. Some are better than others, it’s up to you on this one.
Many acoustic guitars come equipped with a pickup installed so that the guitar may be played through an amplifier. If your guitar is not of the electric/acoustic type, then you will need to purchase a pickup in order to use an amplifier. There are many pickups to choose from.
Michael’s choice – Bill Lawrence A-245C Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Pickup. What I like about this pickup, especially for players who are just starting out, is that it can be installed and removed within seconds. Unlike some other models, it does not become a permanent fixture on the guitar. It also sounds quite nice considering it’s low cost.
Alternate choice – K&K Pure Mini. The pure mini is a 3-head, bridge plate transducer. It produces great tone, however, it requires a much more involved installation. This pickup should be treated as a permanent installation on the guitar.
One for the road, literally
As an added bonus, I will mention the need for a case or gig bag for your guitar. Assuming you will use this guitar somewhere other than your room at some point, I urge you, no, I command you to buy a good quality guitar case or carrying bag for you instrument. Too many things can go wrong when you put a guitar in a vehicle without it being in a case. If you care about your guitar and want it to serve you well for years to come, buy a case when you buy the guitar. Many guitars are priced with a case, however, some are not. You can even negotiate a free case when you buy the guitar. I worked at Guitar Center in Los Angeles, and we threw in free cases on many deals. It was better than not getting the deal.
A hard case is always preferable, however, I have an EM20 by Levy’s that is also very good. Any protection is better than nothing.
Well, now that you have my top 10 acoustic guitar accessories, it’s time for you to go find yours. Our opinions may differ a bit, which is what makes music so beautiful and individual. Experiment. Find your favorites. Be yourself as you continue growing through your music. No one can ever be a better you than you.
Feel free to leave a comment or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!