Guitar Forever FAQ | Hub Guitar

Guitar Forever FAQ

photo by Hub Guitar

About This FAQ

This is intended as a living, growing FAQ.

Do you have a question not listed here? Please send a message. This page will be updated periodically. (Updated November 25 2016)

FAQ Contents

Questions about lessons

Questions about learning

Questions about technique

Questions about practicing guitar

Questions about shopping for guitars and accessories

Questions about guitar maintenance

Questions about transporting guitars

Questions about guitar picks

Questions about guitar strings

Questions about miscellaneous topics

Questions about lessons

Where can I find online lessons?

You can find online lessons for free here at Hub Guitar, at Justin Guitar, on YouTube, and on one of several other free guitar learning sites.

Should I take lessons?

Yes, if you can. If you find the right teacher, it will help alot.

How much do guitar lessons cost?

There are some people teaching for as little as $15 per half-hour, but you get what you pay for. On the other end of the spectrum, famous and highly in-demand teachers may charge $200 per half-hour—or more.

What makes a good guitar teacher?

Here’s a simple formula. Add one point for each qualification your prospective teacher has:

  • 2-3 years minimum teaching experience
  • A degree in music
  • Published guitar lessons of some kind
  • Active performing experience

How do I find a teacher?

Do a Google search. If you are an advanced player looking for an expert teacher, the best teachers often don’t advertise. To find one, ask any local experts you can find at the music store or college music program.

Questions about learning

Should I learn to read music?


Should I learn electric or acoustic?

If you’re not sure, buy an acoustic. This is a common choice because it’s less complicated to learn.

What’s the difference between open chords, barre chords, and power chords?

Open chords are played with open strings, or guitar strings that are not fretted by the hand. (If you reach for a guitar right now and hit one of its strings, that string will ring “open”).

Power chords are a two-note chord popularized by rock music.

And barre chords are a more advanced chord type that gives you more versatility to play a lot of different chords.

How should I begin learning the guitar? Where do I start?

Learn the first few chords and scales. Apply them to creating a song. Create your own goals. Find guitar resources and commit yourself to working through all of the materials you can find.

What are the notes on the guitar?

You’ll have these figured out once you’ve mastered two key concepts:

First: The strings on the guitar: EADGbe.

Second: The 12 chromatic notes in music: C, C♯, D, D♯, E, F, F♯, G, G♯, A, A♯, B.

Put it into practice: Now, to find the name of any note on the guitar, simply start at the name of its open string and count up the chromatic notes. For instance, the fifth fret of the “A” string is D. Starting from the open string A, count 5 notes up the chromatic scale: A♯, B, C, C♯, D.

How long will it take to learn my first song?

If you choose correctly, you should be playing a song within 2-6 weeks. Everybody learns at a different rate.

What should I do if I’m left handed?

You are strongly advised to get a left-handed guitar.

I am only interested in playing X, so why do you insist I should learn Y?

Learning guitar is a multi-disciplinary effort. It can be hard to “see the forest for the trees”. You should study all topics available, if possible, because you can’t really understand how useful something is until after you’ve learned how to do it.

What is tab, and should I learn it?

Tab is a way of writing down the notes to a song that focuses on how to play it on the guitar. Tab shows you specifically where to press with your fingers to play songs. Since you can find tabs to just about every well-known song that exists, it’s worth learning how to read.

How can I learn to sing and play at the same time?

Be sure you can play the part without singing, completely from memory. And that you can sing the part—completely from memory—without looking at the lyrics. Then, play each chord just once with no strumming pattern as you sing along without time. Slowly start to put it together with more emphasis on time.

Do I need to learn scales?

Yes. A guitar player without scales is like a bicycle without a chain.

Should I learn all of the notes on the neck?

Yes, and it doesn’t take as long as you might think. Start by learning some of the natural notes (C–D–E–F–G–A–B), and learn them in just one or two positions. Expand on this.

Do I need to learn music theory? Why?

You should know at least the basics of music theory if you want to get out of the intermediate level, if you want to write music, or if you want to teach music. Not understanding the basics of music theory dooms you to repeat yourself. Think of math, for example. If you solve problems the hard way, you will never be truly effective. If you learn the formulas for solving problems, you will recognize when you see a problem fitting that formula—and be able to solve it more quickly.

How do I learn to strum the guitar and switch chords?

First, practice the chords: make sure you can switch between them cleanly and quickly. Then, strum through them starting with simple patterns. Progressively advance to more difficult strumming patterns.

Do I need to do ear training?

Yes, it will help if you want to learn songs by ear, create your own songs, or just sound better.

Do I need to transcribe?

If you know any, ask two or three advanced players. They will likely all tell you that transcribing is a very good idea.

Questions about technique

I keep playing the wrong string. What do I do?

Stop doing it.

For more helpful advice, consider practicing string-skipping and other pick hand accuracy exercises. This is likely related to an inaccurate picking hand.

What is correct posture when I am learning guitar?

Standing, with a guitar strap: lift the chest, straighten the spine, pull the head back and bring in the stomach. Standard good posture applies here and the guitar does not change it much. Avoid letting your wrists grasp at the guitar using contorted angles. Tip the guitar neck up towards the ceiling. Don’t forget to smile.

Sitting, guitar strap recommended: sit in a simple, flat chair (folding chairs are perfect). Let your feet sit squarely on the ground, shoulder width, each pointing outwards by 45 degrees or so. Tip the neck of the guitar up to the ceiling. Keep the spine erect and head back. Try to avoid slouching over to look at the instrument, but accept that looking at the neck of the guitar is necessary sometimes. No smiling needed.

Should I play standing or sitting?

If you can, try standing. It’s better for your health, easier to play with the correct posture, and more versatile. (What if you have to perform a song but nobody can find a good chair for you?)

What do I do with my thumb?

Don’t worry too much about it. The importance of the thumb is exaggerated. The thumb will most often be placed behind the fingers fretting, giving them support by pushing into the neck of the guitar. Worry about whether you’re comfortable playing the guitar, and whether what you play sounds right.

Questions about practicing guitar

I only have time to practice for 20 minutes once or twice per week. How can I learn guitar?

You’re going to need to figure out how to commit 20 minutes per day as a bare minimum. You should rethink your schedule, your commitment level, your other obligations, and find a way to make it happen. If you can’t do that, you should give up on learning the guitar.

How often should I practice?

Every single day, forever.

How do I motivate myself to practice?

First, try not to waste your motivation pursuing ordinary goals like practicing the guitar. Instead, align your guitar practice routine with the rest of your life so that it’s easy, and the time passes quickly. Do it at the same time of every day. And pin it to some other habit, like after eating dinner or before brushing teeth. If you do this, you won’t need motivation.

Second, listen to your favorite player and imagine that it’s you. Realize the only thing separating you from this outcome is practice time. And commit yourself to finding the time to reach this goal someday, unless you might leave this Earth before having reached this dream.

Third, and perhaps most effective: narrow your focus to practicing every single day for 30 days. Once you’ve reached this goal, it will be more or less a habit.

What is the best time of day to practice guitar?

Whenever you have time is the best time.

In a perfect world, the morning is an ideal time because you can avoid 90% of the causes of skipping practice by practicing first thing in the morning.

How do I get the most out of my practice time?

Concentrate. Go to a dedicated practice space. Avoid distractions. Pick 1-3 topics to focus on; don’t flit about like a hummingbird. Concentrate on each topic for 15-25m, until progress is achieved. Focus on your weaknesses, fixing mistakes, and making progress.

How much should I practice?

As an absolute minimum, 20 minutes per day. If you can’t afford this commitment, guitar may not be for you.

For most players, 30-45 minutes per day.

For advancing players, one hour per day or more.

Questions about shopping for guitars and accessories

What makes a guitar sound good or not?

A guitar’s tone is affected by its design and craftsmanship, as well as the materials which are used to build it. The top and back of the acoustic guitar body affect tone a great deal, as do the bridge pins, saddle and nut to some lesser extent. There is debate as to what role that the frets or neck play in this.

For electric guitar, there is considerable debate about this topic. The most noticeable aspect of tone will come from the pickups, amps and effects used. But any part of the guitar (or signal chain) can affect the tone.

What makes a guitar feel right or not?

The guitar should be a good size for you and fit ergonomically with your body.

The nut width should feel appropriate for you; this means the neck of the guitar will feel neither too wide nor too narrow for your hand.

The string action should probably be low. Most players prefer it that way, especially beginners.

A short scale length can also make a guitar a little easier to play.

What books are good for learning guitar?

There are many good books for learning the guitar, and they are a fine supplement to any practice routine. The more books you have, the more you’ll have to choose from in your practice, and the more motivated you’ll be to play.

What brand of guitar is best for beginners?

Recording King guitars are an excellent value for the money. Seagull and Walden both make excellent entry-level guitars. The Martin LX1 and the Baby Taylor are also recommended.

What is a capo? Do I need one?

A capo squeezes all notes on one fret, effectively simulating a guitar that is tuned higher. For instance, a capo on fret I will make the guitar behave as if all notes are tuned up by a half-step.

If the music you want to play calls for one, buy one. It’s a useful tool. Most guitar players probably own one.

What is a slide? Do I need one?

A slide is a glass or metal tube used for a special warbling effect heard in blues and Hawaiian music. It is not recommended for beginners unless you have a strong interest in this style.

What accessories do I need for my guitar?

Necessary: An extra set of strings, some picks, and a strap.

Recommended: A stand, a string winder, a gig bag.

How much should I spend on my first guitar?

As much as you can afford—at least $300 USD and perhaps up to $600. If you can afford a guitar in this price range, you will increase your chances of getting an instrument that is a pleasure to learn on. Be sure to have your guitar evaluated by a technician after purchase for common problems with new guitars, including high action, tall frets, and other nuisances.

What kind of guitar should I get (size?)

As for guitar body size, most players benefit from getting a slightly smaller-sized guitar. The larger full-body guitars can feel awkward at first.

As for fretting notes, if you have a hard time finding a guitar that feels comfortable, you may want to try a “wide nut width” guitar. You may also want to try a “short scale length” guitar. These two variations make playing guitar easier for some people in some cases.

Do I need a metronome? What’s a metronome?

A metronome is a time keeping device that has been used by most serious music learners since it was invented. You do need one.

You can get a pretty good metronome for your phone, iPad, etc. If you don’t have a smart phone, buy an electronic metronome.

Questions about guitar maintenance

How do I take care of my guitar?

Keep it away from extreme heat, cold, humidity and dryness. In the winter, keep it inside the case with a humidifier. Get it set up once a year. Get a stand for it so you don’t knock it over all the time.

Why doesn’t my guitar stay in tune?

Changes in humidity can affect the guitar’s tuning throughout the day. Playing the guitar can pull the strings out of tune from small amounts of added tension placed on them. Playing guitar bends is a good way to get a string pulled out of tune quickly. Poor quality tuning heads will sometimes slip out of tune.

Knocking the guitar on the floor or touching the tuning machines in any way is likely to put the guitar out of tune.

Your guitar may also never have been tuned properly, leaving you to the maddening result of thinking it always goes out of tune when in fact you’ve never properly gotten it in tune.

What do I do if my string broke?

Buy a new set of strings and change it.

You should probably take the opportunity to change all of your strings.

My G string keeps breaking. What gives?

If the G string is a wound one (as the E, A and D strings are) then it’s no wonder why it broke. Because that string will have a winding around it, its core is actually thinner than the high E string. So when the core breaks, the whole string comes apart. Wound G strings are the thinnest string on your guitar.

Why do I need to change my strings?

Your strings will wear due to damage caused by the frets, moisture and other “chemical influences” from being touched by human hands. They will become rusty, corroded and have visible wear on them within 3-6 months of use, or 30-50 hours of playing, whichever comes first. Many players feel their guitar is more pleasurable to play with a new set of strings.

How often should I change my strings?

Most players should plan on changing their strings around every 50 hours of playing, or once every 2-3 months, whichever comes first.

Why should I put new strings on the guitar? I just bought it.

The strings on your new guitar were installed by the builder or factory. They were chosen for longevity. And the guitar may have been touched by many, many people since then. New guitars usually have gritty, corroded strings on them by the time they are purchased. It’s a good idea to change them.

What is a ‘set up’? Why should I have my guitar ’set up‘?

A set up is like a tune-up for your guitar. A technician checks the instrument and makes sure that it’s up to par.

A set up can make your guitar smoother to play. It is recommended once a year for serious musicians.

A set-up can address common issues such as:

  • Tall frets, causing buzzing and a cheap “scratchy” feeling when bending a string
  • Neck problems, causing high action and string buzz
  • Action problems, causing the strings to be high and unpleasantly difficult to press down on
  • Intonation problems, causing some notes on the guitar to sound out of tune whether you play them correctly or not

I broke a string. Why did that happen?

Under normal circumstances, bending will not break a string. Experienced guitar players do not often break strings. With experience you will learn to avoid this.

A string may have broken due to poor technique, it being strung poorly, or issues with the guitar/string itself.

Strings can also break when the notch in the neck or saddle of the guitar is not smoothed out properly. This is unlikely, however. A guitar technician can answer your question more specifically.

Heavier strings are harder to break.

My guitar doesn’t sound right. What’s wrong with it?

Your guitar may need to be set up, or your technique may need improvement.

Questions about transporting guitars

How do I mail or transport a guitar?

Be sure to pack it carefully. It is often recommended to loosen the strings a bit so that they’re not under such high pressure. You can mail a guitar directly in its hard shell case. For softshell cases, put it in a box and pad all of the corners.

Internationally: Check with customs. If it is an old instrument, be advised that some older instruments are built with restricted woods and may be confiscated by customs. A duty is sometimes imposed on imported instruments. Shipping insurance may not be a bad idea.

Domestically: Bring it to the post office, USPS or Fed Ex to be weighed and mailed. Shipping insurance is recommended for valuable instruments.

How do I travel with a guitar?

In the United States, all air lines are obliged by mandate of congress to allow you to carry on your instrument at no cost if it fits in the overhead. So get there early.

When traveling abroad, international airlines may have different rules but they generally recognize that passengers expect to carry on valuables such as guitars. In fact most encourage you not to check valuables, leaving them little choice but to allow it as a carry-on. A soft-shell case is best as it’s easier to get into the overhead. However, if you are forced to check an instrument in a soft-shell case, that is definitely not good.

It’s a great idea to get a special smaller-sized guitar for the sole purpose of traveling.

Do I need a case or gig bag to transport my guitar to my lesson?

You can travel short distances with a guitar without a case, and even take it outside with you. But if it rains you’re out of luck. A gig bag is recommended at minimum.

Questions about guitar picks

What pick should I use?

It is suggested that beginners start with a 1.00mm delrin ‘standard shape’ guitar pick.

Should I use a pick or play with my fingers?

You should probably start with a pick. You may choose to experiment with fingerstyle guitar. Many people play both ways.

Does it matter what the pick is made of?

Most picks are made out of “celluloid”, “nylon”, or other fancy words which basically mean plastic. Yes, it matters but you’ll have to try different types out for yourself. Keep in mind that the shape and thickness of a pick can also affect how it feels and sounds.

What is the ideal pick thickness?

As players advance, they tend to prefer slightly thicker picks. Thinner picks are best for strumming chords; thicker picks are better for playing lead lines. Beginnersa re encouraged to use a “standard” shape pick, between .8mm and 1.1mm.

Questions about guitar strings

What strings should I use?

Light-gauge phosphor bronze strings are recommended for acoustic players.

For electric players, light gauge (.09) strings of any type.

DR Strings is a trustworthy and affordable brand.

Questions about miscellaneous topics

I am an adult and I have no musical training. Can I still learn guitar?

Yes. Anybody can learn the guitar at any age. You may be surprised by what you can do if you really practice.

What’s the right age to learn?

Right now.

Anybody can learn and enjoy music at any age, between about 4-100.

I think my hands are too big or small to learn guitar. What should I do?

Stop thinking about it.

If that doesn’t help, and you really think it’s a problem, get a new guitar. Big-handed players can buy a 12-string guitar and re-string it for 6 strings. Or find a guitar with a wide nut width.

Small-handed players can find a guitar with a narrow nut width and, more importantly, a short scale.

Do I have to cut my fingernails to learn guitar?

You will need to trim your fretting hand fingernails very short. It’s worth it, though.

Why do my fingers hurt?

The skin on your fingers is not well adapted for holding down hard steel wires. Within two or three weeks the skin will toughen and you will likely not be bothered by this.

If you experience any tingling, burning or other odd sensations associated with nerve pain, stop immediately and ask a doctor.

What are some pitfalls beginners should avoid?

Don’t listen to the advice of the unqualified. Be careful what you believe, especially on the internet.

Don’t drown yourself in self-consciousness and doubt.

Dedicate as much time as you can to playing, especially in the beginning.

Should I tune with an electronic tuner or by ear?

Electric tuners are more accurate. Due to limitations of the human ear, most people cannot get their guitar in tune accurately without one. Don’t be afraid to use one.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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