“We are living in a material world, and I am a Material Girl” – Madonna: Material Girl
“Oh girls just want to have fun” – Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Imagine my delight when the faculty of this esteemed Online Guitar College, in an effort to coordinate our teaching, decided to try “themes of the month” and then picked Shopping for July!! Well, OK, it wasn’t exactly shopping, per se, but it was about how to buy guitars, or equipment or other stuff. To me, that’s Shopping! And as a red blooded American Female, I Love to Shop! I know, I know, that’s such a typically feminine response. But hey, this is the Other Side. I don’t want to completely stereotype girls; I know plenty of women who hate to shop. But I’m not one of them. And one thing that I’ve found in guitar lovers from beginner to expert is a love of buying anything and everything to do with their passion! If you’re looking for good advice on how to shop for guitars or equipment, be sure to check out the other shopping for guitar articles.
I find that shopping for a guitar is much like shopping for anything else. The available information can be overwhelming, especially on the internet. There are a million web sites about every kind of guitar and every style. I have a few simple shopping rules that I like to follow which apply to clothing, TV’s, cameras, cars, houses and yes, guitars and guitar accessories.
Do I really need a new outfit, or am I just completely taken in by the picture of the model wearing the outfit?
First, decide what you want the item for. This is a good step into deciding if you really need it. Obviously a budding guitar player without a guitar has a good reason to buy one. Of course, if you already have several, then figure out if a new guitar is going to add some dimension to your playing. Ask yourself if you really will play it before you commit your hard-earned dollars. Then do the research on the guitar. Check web sites, talk to friends, talk to musicians. Decide how much of a budget you have and do your best to stick to it. Remember, the guitar only needs to be new to you. It doesn’t have to be a brand new one. Used instruments can work very nicely.
Hmm, should I get a short dress or long?
Many of us have been asked what kind of guitar to start with, acoustic or electric? The conventional wisdom is that acoustic is somewhat harder to play, so if you start with that, you’ll be able to play anything. However, you will then have to figure out how to amplify the sound if you do end up playing with anyone else (especially brass players; they are loud!). My first guitar was an acoustic and an electric ended up in my lap as a birthday present when it became obvious that I was serious about playing. There are acoustic-electric guitars on the market as well. These can work well for many.
The most important thing you have to do, though, when looking for a new guitar, is try them on. Just like a good outfit, you have to try it on, make sure it is comfortable and it never hurts if it looks good. I went to the local music store (OK, it was a rather large store, the East Coast Music Mall) I walked into their acoustic room and being someone who’d never strummed a guitar, I basically picked one that looked and sounded good to me. As I’d mentioned in the first Other Side article (The Other Side), even if I strummed just one note, it sounded and looked great! As I got used to playing it more and more, the big dreadnaught size became somewhat of a challenge to play. I’m a rather, um, vertically challenged person, and my hands are not the largest. Let’s just say my glove size is small. However I can hit an octave and 1 on the piano, so I knew my dexterity would be alright. I’ve since gone back to the acoustic room to try and find a guitar that fits better, and while I have found a few, I’ve yet to find one that I like better than my first. Playing the electric, with the skinnier body, has been fun to learn as well. I can do different things with that guitar than I can with the acoustic.
A neat website that takes into account the smaller female shape, especially for girls, is www.daisyrock.com . They advertise for younger girls, but this 40-something girl wouldn’t mind one…
Earrings, or maybe a belt to match…
And let’s not forget to accessorize! A good-looking guitar strap, an adjustable one, is invaluable in making the playing experience a more pleasant and comfortable one. The joy in buying one is that you can find one that shows your style. I’ve a plain red leather one to go with my beloved deep red Guild and I’ve one with geckos (or iguanas?) in reds and blacks to go with my Red Fender Strat. I like lizards!
A barrette, or some kind of hair thing…
There are also many kinds of picks to choose from. A friend of mine who is a mean lead guitar player prefers the fat picks over the paper thin kind. He feels it gives him better control. I’m still at the stage where anything that reduces blisters on the right hand from strumming is a good thing. I showed up at a rehearsal for a gig one night with no picks. Since I was playing with a lot of brass musicians, a bass player (who doesn’t use picks) and only one other guitarist (who uses those finger picks (picks that are fitted to each finger instead of the ones you hold)) I had no one to borrow from. As it was my turn to bring the take out for dinner that night, I turned a plastic knife (the blade part) into a pick. It worked surprisingly well.
Shoes, gotta have shoes that work with the outfit!
Speaking of accessories, amplifiers are a necessity if you have an electric guitar and a treat if you have an acoustic. There are little ones and big ones and opinions on each. I’ve a small one, portable by car, but awkward for planes. There are little ones that pack well for flight as well, if you plan to be a traveling minstrel. Of course, if you have an acoustic and an amp, you now need a pickup. I have a terrific Seymour Duncan that I bought online via Sam Ash Music (www.samash.com) that fits nicely and relatively unobtrusively into my Guild. Now when I play with those loud lead guitar types, I can actually be heard strumming. Amazing what technology can do for us.
Can’t forget a matching purse!
Tuners are another item that I feel are a good accessory. While it is important to learn how to tune your guitar by ear, it’s essential to tune correctly if you want to play with others and sound like you’re playing the same song. Chromatic tuners are more reliable than quartz tuners. Chromatic tuners are also helpful for alternate tuners. They may be a bit more expensive than quartz, but are worth it in the long run.
The outfit that looks killer on one person just doesn’t work on another.
Again, you can shop online or in person for one, depending on what’s easier. Our webmaster (and college dean) often puts links on our Home page. The web makes comparison shopping for accessories so easy, and you can supplement that with an experienced musician’s opinion. But remember that opinions are exactly that. Do the research and then come up with your own opinion before you spend your hard earned (or begged) cash. Majority opinion is helpful, but ultimately it’s your guitar and gear.
Lest you think this is an incredibly sexist article, let me point out that while women are often known for their flair in dressing, or in accessorizing, no one has more flair than a lead guitar player. That is, after all, What They Do, musically speaking. So you can’t tell me that the fun in shopping for this stuff is just for girls; it’s for everyone who loves guitars. So get on out there and shop ’til you drop!!
n.b. This column continues in a series dedicated to the female musician. As always, I would love suggestions on topics you would like to see covered. Please email me and tell me your story. I enjoy hearing each and every one. Shopping stories are always welcome!