What I wished I Knew Starting Out

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Joined: 10/07/08
Posts: 1,602
Registered User
Joined: 10/07/08
Posts: 1,602
04/04/2020 5:45 pm

I was watching a video from Rhett Shull about things he wished he knew starting out. I recommend it. I agree with everything he talks about. With this in mind, I thought I'd mention a few I wished I had when I was starting out. Recall that I started in about 1982 and to learn, you had to work at finding information.

(1) This might seem like elementary stuff but; we all learn at a different pace and require different levels ofeffort to get to the same place.

I had a friend start guitar a year before I did and by the end of that year, he was pretty comfortable playing most any song he tried. I thought I should learn as fast as him. I did learn very (very) quickly. My problem was: Not understanding my own progress but comparing myself to his.

My wife is starting guitar right now. She's been playing for a few weeks. That's it. Is she playing like a master? No. None of think that anyone would be a master after a few weeks.

However, she's learned the basic cowboy chords and can somewhat play the Dolly Parton song 'Jolene'. Is the strumming pattern on point? Not really but her chord change, though not super clean, are pretty good. Better than I'd expect at this point. Thing is, she asked me to play it (never played it before) and I strummed it out pretty much as it is supposed to be played. She had that moment of 'I'll never be that good', even though she'd asked to to stum to watch how it's supposed to be played.

Which leads me to my next point...

(2) Expecting to be as good as the greatest guitar player you love.

Not that some day you won't be as good but as a comparison starting out? That's a tough one. Striving to perfect a song you love is a great thing. Like the comparison I made in my first point; you can also bury yourself with dejection when you can't quite get it.

The larger point here is to be sure you do not lose the fun of playing. Both my first points are about this. Do not lose the joy of playing at whatever level you're at.

(3) I have a crappy guitar...

You may actually have a crappy guitar. You may desire a $3000 Paul Reed Smith guitar but that seems out of reach.

My gear discussion is below but don't lament that you don't have the premium gear but don't settle for something unplayable either.

We all have different budgets so any suggestion about 'getting guitars' must be filtered through the lens of a budget. To effectively learn guitar, you need to have a playable instrument. That is the minumum as a beginner.

It's likely not going to be that $3000 PRS but spending $200 on a poorly made guitar is probably not (most of the time) gonna get the job done. If it's all you can get, that's great. Play what you've got. If you don't like playing it; you'll never want to pick it up. Thus, get the best playable instrument you can afford.

My wife, in her beginnerness, wanted a 3/4 sized guitar. Originally we got her the Taylor Baby. She did not like that guitar. Ultimately, it is an inferior 3/4 sized guitar. When she started lessons, she got frustrated. In the end, we got her the Martin Mini 3/4. She harped a bit about spending the money (mere weeks after my last guitar buy) but when she started practicing with the Martin, she loved it and enjoyed that tough path of learning.

(4) Submitting (or not) to the gear gods...

This is the pot calling the kettle black. I have a pretty good number of decent guitars. I have lost the battle of GAS (Guitar Acquistition Syndrome). It has beaten me. Which is fine today. When I was lucky as a beginner to have had my one decent guitar.

My first guitar was a '68 Gibson Les Paul. I worked for my dad for a summer and that was my 'pay'. It was awesome. The dumbest thing I ever did was get rid of that guitar. For a beginner, I had a pro-level instrument.

After a certain amount of time playing, and the budget to do so, buying gear is fun. It's like Christmas. A new toy.

This was a point Rhett made in his video and I'll add my spin; don't get wrapped up in gear if you aren't sure what you actually need.

Each guitar I own serves a tonal purpose. But I know what I was looking for in an instrument's sound. Same thing with pedals and effects. Do you know what you're actually buying or is it something everyone else says you need to have.

I will never user a compressor in my set up. Never. I remember in the 80's, everyone I knew was getting one. It was 'the thing' everyone was using their chase their tone. I always got the tone I wanted out of gear so I never bothered.

A literal conversation I had when jamming with someone, they said to me (more or less); 'Hey man, love your tone. It's really chunky and tight. Ever thought about a compressor?'. If I sound good, why do I need it? Funny...

The point is; don't get gear unless you know the purpose of that peice of gear. You're wasting money otherwise.

(5) I have a theory....

As a beginner, it can be very intimidating to learn theory. I played for a few years without understanding much of anything other than what stuff (songs) sounded like and figured out from there a little bit of scale shapes and all that.

Here at GT, there is a great procession of lessons to get you to understanding music theory as it applies guitar. It can just seem so overwhelming. Like learning math, learn about adding and subtracting before you start worrying about how you can't formulate a quantum theory.

This means learning the structure of a chord and what the 3rd, 5th and 7th are in that chord etc.

Which still sound intimidating to a beginner but in the simplest terms; if you're playing a chord, there are some note that will sound right and other will sound wrong. It's all a trick of counting. Math in the most simple form.

The same goes for scales. They all have fancy names and different places on the fretboard but really, they're just repeating patterns of the same notes.

When you start digging in to theory, remember, it's more like reading a map and less like quantum mechanics.


I figured this was just a thread starter of random thoughts on starting out. Everyone has their own story like mine but I thought I'd share.

# 1
William MG
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Joined: 03/08/19
Posts: 1,652
William MG
Full Access
Joined: 03/08/19
Posts: 1,652
04/04/2020 7:23 pm

Good read Jeff.

This year the diet is definitely gonna stick!

# 2

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