Here is a series of great YouTube videos from guitar teacher Andy Crowley for anyone who is a complete beginner or is returning to guitar after a long break. I’ve been playing for over 50 years but sadly my technique does not reflect the time I’ve spent strumming.
That’s me on the right at an open-air gig in guitar hero pose*. It doesn’t matter that I could play better, I love playing the guitar and I hope, when you have finished these ten 20 minute lessons, you will too!
On this page as well is some information about how to tune your guitar and a few suggestions if you don’t yet have a guitar to play.
If you are holding your guitar and it’s in tune, click the YouTube below to get started!
Tuning your guitar
It’s important to get your guitar as close to in tune as you can to make your guitar sound good. The standard tuning notes are from low (6th string) to high (1st string) are E A D G B E.
- Refer to a tone sound and tune each sting by ear – Fender have a good web page at https://www.fender.com/online-guitar-tuner/acoustic-guitar-tuning/
- Use a tuner app that listens to each string and indicates whether in tune, again Fender have a free mobile one https://www.fender.com/apps/tune-app-guitar-tuner/
- Clip a small tuner on the end of the headstock, e.g. https://www.gear4music.com/Guitar-and-Bass/HT-55-Headstock-Chromatic-Tuner-by-Gear4music/
- Splash out on an automatic Roadie 2 tuner for £100 at https://www.thomann.de/gb/roadie_roadie_2_tuner.htm Actually, I have one of these and whist a luxury they allow using different alternate tunings very easily.
Always turn your tuning pegs up in pitch, if your string is too sharp bring it back down flat and tune-up again. This way you will keep the string taut against the tunng peg.
You can just tune the low E (or any sting) and then match the rest of the strings by tuning A string to 5th fret on the E string, D to 5th fret A, G to 5th fret D, B to 4th fret G and top E to 5th fret B. i.e. 5|5|5|4|5.
https://www.youtube.com/embed/0xxeRFEP1Y4If you are picking up an old guitar, it will surely benefit from a new set of strings.
When playing regularly you might replace every year or sooner (a set of strings is a great present for someone to buy you on your birthday).
Here is a YouTube video from Fender on how to replace a set of strings.
You can buy strings online from any music store or Amazon, expect to pay around £7 for a set and make sure they are for either Acoustic or Electric guitar, as appropriate.
Buying a Guitar
Any full-size guitar you have will suffice to start on and will enable you to make a better choice after getting through these ten lessons but if you don’t have an instrument or fancy treating yourself, here are some of my suggestions for budget guitars.
It’s much better to try out lots of models in a guitar store but as it may not be so easy to get the opportunity, Thomann offers a free return with 14 days service, if not delighted, which I have used in the past and is easy to do (checked with them 17/April/20). Other online stores may charge for this (Andertons costs £15 for example) so make sure you ask before you order.
So, if you do order online make sure you unwrap carefully, keep the packaging and treat with kid gloves until you are happy with your new guitar.
Note: I have not played these models and this info is just based on reviews.
Note: for left-handed players, you will need to choose a left-handed model rather than just restringing a right-handed guitar e.g.
Some Budget Guitar Ideas
Essentially your choice is between a steel-string folk acoustic or an electric guitar with an amplifier. It’s probably a generalisation, but for beginners, an acoustic guitar sounds better initially and an electric is somewhat easier to play with its lower action, the height of the strings above the neck. Many guitarists will have at least one of each type.
What should my budget be?
As a rough guide £100 to £200 shoud get you an instrument that will sound great. £200 to £600 may give a better instrument but it’s not always the case. Even £600 to £1200 guitars can come off the production line with small problems. If you have £500 odd to spare and buying unplayed then go for a recognised brand like Martin, Yamaha or Taylor for acoustic guitars or Fender, Ibanez or Gretsch for electric. I’ve owned dozens of guitars over the years and my current instrument is the red mexican Tele I’m playing in the picture on stage. I had a budget of £500 for a new guitar but bought the tele 2nd hand in a music store for £350 after playing it. So I love it, but then again someone else traded it in!
You can easily pay up to several thousand pounds for an acoustic guitar, but over the last few years, there have been many models released offering great value and playability.
Here are some examples:
This gets rave reviews on YouTube, it’s a parlour guitar nearer to 3/4 scale which will give it a slightly lighter tone. You can pay a little more for the electric pickup version and save on the delivery charge.
I’ve played a few cheap fenders and they have all been pretty good. Gear4Music has a wide range and offer returns but check how much it might cost before ordering.
You really can’t go wrong with Yamaha guitars and GAK is a great Brighton based shop (but check the returns policy and costs). This is large folk guitar so will have a deep rich tone.
A solid spruce top concert-sized guitar again from GAK. The link has a good overview of different types of acoustic guitars.
Electric guitars use a magnetic pickup to send a signal and you will need some kind of amplifier even for semi-acoustic guitars with a hollow body. You can’t really use headphones, it just doesn’t sound right (unless you get a pair of these!). You can get a practice amplifier preferably with reverb or echo otherwise the electric guitar can sound a little dry.
If you can afford it, another solution is a multi-effects pedal like the £60 Zoom G1 Four paired with a powered speaker like this £80 Active PA Speaker. You will also need a pair of 1/4inch cables. The Zoom has tons of effects like Chrous, Fuzz, Echo etc., plus a looper (think Ed Sheeran) and drum machine which is great for practising. There’s even a tuner built-in!
Here are some suggestions, you can usually find reviews on YouTube of any guitar you fancy.
Gear4Music’s own brand offers this two humbucker pickups with middle single-coil pickup model for a wide range of tones. It comes in white and sunburst finish as well. You can also get it with a reverb amp for £160 with a gig bag, strap, lead and tuner in the Seattle Guitar and V35RG Amp Pack at £160.
If you are looking for that Dire Straits sound, you’ve come to the right place at Thomann. The single coils can be a little buzzy unlike humbuckers but you can’t beat that sweet tone especially with two pickups selected and “out of phase” for that hollow feel. You could pair it with this Harley Benton HB-15GXD JamBox £70 amplifier and a Guitar cable.
Classic Les Paul style guitar with two humbucker pickups from PMT (check returns policy). Humbuckers have two coils to cancel hum and give a dark rich tone. This also comes in a fantastic value set for £200 with amplifier etc.
Invented by Leo Fender in 1950, the Tele is a piece of wood with two pickups and a neck bolted on, yet its simple design was the first generally available electric guitar and a truly classic design. Squire is the budget range from Fender and moves up to Affinity (£300 odd) Mexican made (£500 odd) and American made (£1000 and up).
Inspired by the Gibson 335 Dot (£2000 more expensive!) this semi-acoustic looks the part and sounds pretty good. You do need an amplifier for it though. Also available as a guitar set with amplifier and accessories for £230
I could fill pages with suggestions but these will give you a flavour and idea of costs. Prices do vary widely so if you like a guitar that is not an own brand, check on Google for the best price. Often own brand guitars are actually made by the same factory as well, so again, shopping around can reveal a bargain.
Here is a round up of some online guitar shops, click a name to open in a new window.
A capo clamps to the guitar neck and lets you play open chords higher up without having to hold down the strings like a barre chord. Some guitarists use them all the time, others not so much but it is impossible to play many songs without one.
Something to be aware of is that often songs in music books have been transcribed by someone without using a capo and consequently you get these really weird chords played at the open position which the original songwriter actually wrote with a capo at say 4th fret using simple shapes like C and G.
A capo is also useful for transcoding (or changing the pitch) of songs originally played at the open position into a pitch which is more suitable for your voice range.
This one https://www.gear4music.com/Guitar-and-Bass/Deluxe-Acoustic-Electric-Guitar-Capo-by-Gear4music/8NN from Gear4Music is fairly reasonable at £7, its the better quality clamping style.
Very much a personal taste of course, there’s a vast selection of songbooks. Unfortunately, songbooks, especially album selections, can be a little disappointing, usually not written by the original artist or even having any resemblance to the song. A benefit nowadays is you can look up on YouTube how to play or hear a song and there’s always several excellent tutorials listed.
Also, watch out for songbooks that are really intended for pianists with guitar chords added as an afterthought, unless you play piano, these will be a hindrance. Also “easy guitar” books whilst tempting can often dumb down a song so much you lose the essence. Another aspect to consider are songbooks that show the chords throughout the entire song, many just show the chords for the 1st verse/chorus and it’s very hard to keep jumping from the lyrics back to the start to see the chords.
Heres a couple of suggestions.
The Great Acoustic Guitar Chord Songbook – This has a good selection of songs suitable for the acoustic or electric guitar which are well transcribed with capo positions.
How to Write Songs on Guitar – A superb course on songwriting and guitar playing with tons of detailed and fascinating information, recommended.
Joni Mitchell Complete So Far – Rather expensive at around £50, but if you are a Joni fan it’s well worth it and with her tunings, the songs are surprisingly easy to play.
There’s lots of mobile apps and software around for teaching guitar from beginner to advanced and loads of resources on YouTube.
One system I can say is great for learning electric guitar is Rocksmith (around £20 to £50) which runs on Windows/Mac/PS4/PS3/Xbox One/Xbox360. You can pick up older releases on eBay or Cex. Make sure you get the version with the special “Rocksmith Real Tone” 1/4 inch jack to USB cable needed or you will have to buy it separately. You will also need a pair of powered speakers like the ones used for PC’s to hear the sound if using the console version or laptop (headphones work too but not the TV sound, it’s too slow).
Rocksmith has a library of many popular rock songs and teaches you how to play them. It looks a little like Guitar Hero, the difference is it listens to your playing and gradually ups the speed and complexity as you get better until you are playing the entire song correctly. Also, it has a built-in effects unit to emulate the actual sound used by the band. With lead and rhythm parts, a bass mode, tuner, Jam sessions etc. etc. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
P.S. * the Guitar Hero picture above was taken on stage at a gig at Osterley Park stately home open-air party, we were the first on, very early in the afternoon and I was facing a huge empty field with 3 or 4 families setting up picnics and a small child sitting cross-legged holding a balloon in front of a massive stage! Rock and Roll.