Tips

If, like James, you’re not a trained musician, you may find the following notes helpful.

CAPO
Essential if you are a lazy singer or you want to play with other people without having to transpose lots of chords. Just play an “E” chord with the capo at fret 2 and you have an F#(Gb) chord

Buy a good capo i.e. one that:
– holds the strings (not too) firmly (the capo replaces finger pressure)
– is easy to put on and take off (try it in the shop)
– doesn’t get in the way of your playing (some are very bulky)
– is going to last (forget the elastic or webbing ones – except for emergencies at a camp-fire)
– has the right profile to match your guitar neck

Clifford uses Schubb capos but there are plenty of others to choose from.

TUNER
It is useful and usually more pleasing to have a tuned guitar. Depending on the type of guitar you play, and whether you are playing at home, on a stage or at night by a camp-fire, there are different tuners to choose from. E-guitars are usually tuned through an external plugged in tuner.

For a guitar with a resonance body, you can use a tuner which has a built-in microphone BUT this can be severely, adversely affected by external sounds. Suggested tuner characteristics:
– Piezo pick-up (you clip it to the guitar and it picks up the vibrations)
– Chromatic scale monitoring (it shows you the note you are playing, not just the 6 normal notes of guitar strings). Very useful if you want to play in open-tuning (more on this later)
– A lighted scale that is visible – essential if you are playing in dimly lit areas
– An approach scale to the note you want – easier to turn the string key the right amount
– A response that is positive i.e. signal doesn’t wander around
– Adjustable meter position – so that you can twist and read the meter, depending on where it is fixed
– Battery operated (have a spare battery)

Extras
– Microphone – you can check your voice or other sounds
– Basic frequency adjustment – if you play guitar with someone playing an instrument that cannot be tuned e.g. an accordion, you can adjust the tuner basic frequency (normally 440Hz) so that their note ‘A’, for example, shows as an ‘A’ on the tuner. You can then tune your guitar to the new basic frequency. How the instruments sound together depends on the instrument internals (some people say it depends on alcohol consumption)

James still uses a Korg AW-2 but there are more robust tuners about these days.

STRINGS
You should consider your playing style and the type of guitar. Apart from the obvious metal and nylon considerations, there is the issue of how high to set the strings and the tension. You can punch away at high-set, high-tension strings with a plectrum but you may find it hard work playing finger-style without picks. Clifford has no experience with finger-picks and he rarely uses a plectrum, of which there are hard and soft types – or make your own!

CHORDS
As James tends to sing or accompany songs, rather than play guitar music, it is not a handicap that he cannot read music – as long as there are chords he understands. Chord books can help to get ideas of how to play a chord whereas the internet offers more comprehensive and arguably easier search options.

SEARCHING FOR SONGS
You are probably aware that there are lots of options, including text / chords / sheet music / videos, many of which are free and legal. If you are looking for a particular genre – irish folk, 20s jazz etc. you may find it better to tap into special-interest groups rather than general search engines. You can often get extra help, such as suggestions for chord shapes and alternatives. This is how James has built up a repertoire of some 400 songs.

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